Cross instead of cathedral – new visual appearance for the diocese of Essen – design diary

The Essen Foundation gets a new visual look, and from now on the Minister of Essen will no longer appear in the logo. Instead of the bishop’s church, the outline of a cross will be used as a figurative mark in the new logo.

The Roman Catholic Church in Germany is divided into 27 administrative districts, the diocesan councils, also called dioceses. In terms of area, Essen is the smallest in Germany. With the transition to a new visual appearance, the intention, as stated in connection with the presentation, is to give visual expression to the process of renewal in the Catholic Church between the Rhine, Ruhr and Lenne regions, which has been underway in i.a. . eleven years. As a symbol of the change and of the “new social culture” within the Ruhr diocesan church stands the dialogue cross, which from now on is included as a figurative mark in the new logo.

Essen Stift Logo - before and after
Essen diocese logo – before and after, image source: Essen diocese, image montage: German

Instead of a silhouette of Essen Minster, also known as “Essen Cathedral”, a cross is used as a figurative mark in the new logo. The cross is not formed by surfaces, but by two rectangular and rounded, magenta-colored frames lying on top of each other. As he said on the occasion of the presentation of the new logo, this cross-representation has been used in various variants and purposes in the diocese of Essen for several years. Due to the high level of acceptance, it made sense to take this form up when reviewing the company’s design.

What is also new is that the letters “Bistum Essen” are no longer the only word mark. The focus is now on the two-line term “Catholic Church”. Below is the much smaller set name “Bistum Essen”. This is to ensure better visibility for the general public. “We can no longer assume that everyone knows exactly what the term rigid means,” explains Pastor General Klaus Pfeffer. At the same time, such open and broader symbolism through the cross and the letters invites many organizations, institutions and parishes to embrace this logo. “There is a good chance that in this way we will be more recognizable in public communication with the diversity of our entire diocese,” says the pastor.

Essen diocese corporate design - flag
Essen diocese corporate design – flag, source: 31m

Four years ago, the Diocese of Münster introduced a new visual identity and expressed in the process a very similar desire: They wanted not only to improve the appearance of the diocese, but also the perception of the Catholic Church as a whole. In this context, Münster firmly urged other dioceses to adapt the presented new design. Two years later, the diocese of Fulda followed this “invitation” and took over the design concept developed for the diocese of Münster, adapted its color and has used it for its own external presentation ever since (dt reported).

The logo, now presented by the Essen diocese, is similar in structure and architecture to the quasi-prototypical diocese of Münster logo, but stylistically goes in a different direction. The typo is also different (font: outfit instead of Your Next Pro / spelling: mixed instead of uppercase letters). The visual and linguistic similarity (“Catholic Church”) with the diocese of Münster and Fulda was intentional, as the press office of the diocese of Essen stated dt on request. However, the “dialogue cross” has been a form of identity for the foundation Essen for 11 years. “As a well-known, popular and lived symbol of the common path in our diocese’s ‘future image process’, it was the right sign for us to make visible the change in the CD – therefore we did not want to take over the Münster / Fulda junction”, according to spokesman Ulrich Lota.

The new visual appearance of the diocese of Essen was created in collaboration with the agency 31M (Essen).

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It should have been clear that the Münster diocese’s logo can only to a limited extent function as an umbrella brand (see my comment in the interview). Because this logo is not designed as an umbrella brand, not as a brand that combines several sub-brands, but rather it was aimed solely at the ideas and requirements of an individual diocese. It is therefore not surprising that Essen rigidly now goes its own way. Whereby the linguistic adoption of “Catholic Church” clearly shows a connection, both in terms of content and the logo architecture as such (figurative mark on the left / word mark on the right / “Catholic Church” in two lines).

The new design, now used by the Essen Foundation, can be described as modern and contemporary, visually appealing and practical. The difference between the old and the new logo is huge. To what extent the breach of expression that took place on the visual level also corresponds to a changed inner attitude, I can not assess from a distance. For Otl Aicher, one of the most influential German designers of the 20th century, it was precisely this interaction, the dialogue between the exterior and the interior, that formed the basis for creating a visual appearance. According to Aicher, the inner position and the resulting outer image are interdependent. Or as Erik Spiekermann likes to say in his incomparable way: “If you smell from your mouth, the new hat will not help you”. Conversely, one can say that a changed external form is worthless unless it is accompanied by an internal change.

For the new design of the Essen rigid to have a lasting positive effect, it also requires a changed inner attitude. In other words, in order to credibly convey the visual appearance of the diocese, similar deeds are required for the purpose of manifestation. This makes clear how closely design, communication, politics and in this case ethics, social action and religion are linked.

Where the synodal path that German bishops initiated in the spring of 2019 in the wake of sexual assault in the Catholic Church will lead is still unknown. At the very least, the will to reform will be made known to the outside world. Now, the Roman Catholic Church in Germany is not a brand that can be helped to get a better image through a smart campaign or influencer marketing on TikTok, YouTube and Instagram. The Catholic Church in Germany can hardly be grasped with brand management. Dividing it solely into the visual makes it clear how difficult it is to understand this particular brand.

Logos for the founders of Germany
Logos for the founders in Germany, photo montage: dt

The wide range of forms of expression used by the 27 founders of Germany in their logos (see figure on the left) inevitably creates an impression of heterogeneity. Each pin seems to do its own thing, one might say. Corporate design, on the other hand, is about creating homogeneity in order to achieve a better perception of the brand through communication and advertising initiatives. In the social and societal context, plurality is seen as an enriching value. In the visual field, such a wealth of different communication solutions found in ecclesiastical administrative districts is counterproductive, at least when identical or at least similar messages are to be sent. That the German dioceses are part of a common unit / brand, namely part of the Catholic Church, can not be seen by the 27 signatories, some of which are very different. From a realistic point of view, the probability of something changing in this cacophonous overall picture is not very high. But simply using the same logo architecture described in the article, plus adopting the name “Catholic Church”, would smooth out this image noticeably.

A game of thought: The City of Melbourne and also the MIT Media Laboratory once had a dynamic visual identity, ie a design concept, with which on the one hand the uniform communication of all brands is guaranteed and at the same time the respective sub-brands / sub-units are given some independence. Could this concept also be applied to the Catholic Church in Germany with its dioceses? In any case, the technical, conceptual and creative means, that is, the tools for such a solution, are available in the design of the company.

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