SPÖ adapts visually – Design Diary

The Social Democratic Party of Austria (SPÖ), which last held government responsibility in 2017, is currently undergoing a visual overhaul. The party’s logo was changed and the use of typography was redefined. Since the SPÖ regional associations are traditionally given a large leeway in designing brand communication, a uniform external image still seems far away.

The SPÖ has not been part of the government since 2017. In November 2018, Pamela Rendi-Wagner took over as federal party leader. Rendi-Wagner is the first woman in SPÖ’s history to hold this position. The next national council election is planned for the autumn of 2024. In current opinion polls, the SPÖ is roughly on par with the FPÖ and ahead of the ÖVP.

Just over 25 years ago, the SPÖ changed its party logo to a red tile, based on its “sister party” SPD in Germany. In 2019, under Rendi-Wagner’s presidency, the letters moved from the middle to the lower area of ​​the tile. In this way, the relationship with the SPD logo was strengthened. The SPD, on the other hand, has largely dispensed with the depiction of the logo including the red tile for several years, for example during the last federal election campaign (2021). SPÖ has also followed this line of design for a short time, but not consistently.

In the fall of 2022, SPÖ began to adapt its visual appearance to use only the letters as the logo sender. In the banners published on Facebook, the letters now appear free-standing in front of a colored background, both in red and in white as a negative form.

At the beginning of the year, the new logo entered the spoe.at website. At the same time, the profile picture was exchanged on Facebook. The old logo is still used on YouTube.

SPÖ logo – before and after, image source: SPÖ, image montage: dt

Released instead of embedded in a square: SPÖ’s new party logo is now a pure type logo. Instead of being slanted (italic), the letters in the new word mark are straight. Figuratively speaking, the SPÖ does not swing to the right, but to the left.

In connection with the website spoe.at and in various applications, the letters “SPÖ” including the slogan “Social Policy for Austria” are used. SPD has used an identical structure for the logo for several years:

SPÖ / SPD letters, image source: SPÖ, SPD, image montage: German
SPÖ / SPD letters, image source: SPÖ, SPD, image montage: German

Figure above: while taglines are in the font in both cases TheSans is set, the shape of the letters is different in “SPD” and “SPÖ”. The latter letters are also in the font TheSans set, designed by Lucas de Groot in 1994. The one i future The set SPD wordmark was already used in this form in the early 1980s, at that time without a surrounding square.

In recent months, SPÖ has successively changed media applications and advertising material to a new look. The 5-point plan “Time to the Tipping Point” (PDF) released in November 2022 not only uses the redesigned logo, but also makes adjustments to the font and typography. In recent years, SPÖ has used several typefaces in its visual communication, including the typefaces Kievite, WorkSansAriel, Caliber, YOUR, GTSectra, new rush and TheSans. Recently published media are primarily in TheSans set, as well as the aforementioned 5-point plan – the following is an illustration of it:

SPÖ – visual appearance / typography, source: SPÖ
SPÖ – visual appearance / typography, source: SPÖ

So far, the party has not commented a word on the change of visual appearance – no corresponding press releases or announcements have been published. The exchange of the logo on Facebook has so far gone largely unnoticed.

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Bringing a federal party’s visual communication – in the sense of an umbrella fire – into the individual state associations is a Sisyphean task, now more than ever. It may be many years before a corporate design approved by the party leadership is adopted by all state associations, at least largely or to some degree. Even before the transition process is halfway completed, a new advertising and communication line is already being rolled out.

While election campaigns used to be limited to a few weeks before an election, election campaigns under the influence of digital media have become permanent, at least that is the impression. And when societies change and are subject to more changes, the communication of brands must also be aimed at new focal points (content), goals (strategic) and requirements (technological, linguistic). Parties, or the agencies they commission, are no less imaginative and creative in this regard than consumer brands. Whether they succeed is a completely different question, also because the success of such communication measures cannot be directly converted into vote shares. Clicks on ad banners can be measured, but whether gains or losses are due to communication measures can hardly be proven empirically.

Brand management in the context of political parties also resembles a tightrope act. For not only in relation to substantive positions, but also in the matter of external representation, state associations generally assert themselves a certain autonomy. A paternalism of the federal leadership is not very well received in the federal states and in general in the base. In the context of brand management, this inevitably leads to conflicts. Because brand communication needs a certain consistency and commitment to be successful.

A look at the logos of the SPÖ state associations (Fig. 2) makes it clear, and the SPÖ is also an example for other parties, also in other countries: commitment and uniformity look different. Every SPÖ state association does its own thing, that is the impression. The logos differ in terms of colour, shape, structure and the typography used. A stylistic jumble that does not communicate community and political agreement, but instead embodies differences and thus also substantive disagreement (metaphorically).

SPÖ state associations' logos, source: SPÖ state associations
Fig.2 Logos of SPÖ state associations (excerpt), source: SPÖ state associations

As a state association, it goes without saying that we prioritize content that is geared to the respective state policy. When you focus on your own state policy, however, the view of the “big picture” is obviously lost. Because the variety of styles does not convey affiliation to a higher level group and brand/party whose values, ideas and agenda one shares, rather it communicates difference.

Democracy thrives on differences of opinion. In brand management, however, heterogeneity is counterproductive. It should be clear that a clearly defined position and message can hardly be achieved against the background of cacophonous communication.

It says a lot about a brand when, like SPÖ in recent years, it constantly changes the typeface as part of its communication: Kievite, WorkSans, Caliber, YOUR, TheSans, GTSectra, new rush …. – this is how a brand that does not know what it stands for communicates. A brand in the self-discovery phase. ShouldTheSans used consistently as a corporate typeface, this could be the beginning of more homogeneity in visual terms.

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