Brand Identity Review – The Case of the Redundant "H"

In June 2012, North York General Hospital issued a public RFP in search of qualified firms for a corporate identity and brand refresh initiative. This RFP was issued barely 6 years after NYGH was rebranded in 2006. The reasons for the change were not made clear from the documents provided as part of the tendering process. This post focuses on the visual identity signature now being prominently used, as it should be, on everything from the website to patient charts and building signage.

According to the visual identity designers’ description of the work: “The icon consists of two Hs intersecting to form a mosaic, representing North York General’s commitment to excellence, to our patients and to the community”. Fair enough, and the resulting new visual identity can be seen as creatively fresh, graphically pleasing, and likely satisfying a number of the strategic business criteria set by the client… in short, an overall success.

I would offer a different perspective however, one that points to a flawed decision process or to a lack of forethought that failed to anticipate important issues.

Where the identity fails in my view is when it is seen in the cold light of implementation, specifically in the all-important area of signage and wayfinding. What becomes immediately evident here is the confounding redundancy of the message that quickly negates the intent of the new identity. Why would a new icon intended to help graphically convey core values of the institution be reduced to a reverse image of the already mandatory blue hospital identification signs that dominates the roofline of the building from every approaching angle?

This issue occurs primarily as a result of the colours chosen. When seen from a modest distance, the yellow “H” – made more abstract by its 90 degree rotation – visually disintegrates into 2 yellow dots leaving the icon to read as a singular blue H.

The rationale for the intersecting Hs concept was motivated, according to the designers’ website, by the organization dropping “Hospital” from its official name to shorten it to North York General, as it is more commonly known. Using the letter H as the building blocks of its “mosaic” icon was viewed as a clever way to retain the notion of “hospital” within the visual signature. This is a rationale that in my view does not hold water for three reasons:
1) There is little doubt that the North York General is, and will continue to be identified as a hospital, across its various sites, whether the word is part of its name or not;
2) Seizing on the notion of “hospital” as a means of differentiation via the use of an icon based on the letter ‘H’ is simply ineffectual; and maybe more importantly,
3) No part of the proper name of the institution comprises the initial H.

The redundancy is also evident on signage at the various entry points to the campus

There is however a potentially greater failing to consider here. Upon the launch of its new visual brand in 2013, North York General’s Director of Corporate Communications declared: “We are confident this new identity will provide the hospital with the differentiation it deserves within the industry.” He may wish to reconsider his statement. With the state-of-the-art new HUMBER River Hospital – the most technologically advanced and possibly most important new healthcare infrastructure project in Ontario’s history – coming online later in 2015 and located just 10 minutes down the road, opting for a visual mark centered on the letter ‘H’ may well fall short of its most basic branding objective for North York General.

 Disclosure:

Jean-Pierre Veilleux was lead design consultant on the 2006 rebranding of North York General Hospital. The program was intended to raise the profile of the institution in the community and position the hospital as a super-regional teaching facility and main institution within the newly implemented Central Local Health Integration Network. He held similar positions on the rebranding of 4 other major healthcare institutions in Ontario in the past 10 years.