Many of you might not know this but the Commercial Bank of Kuwait logo was designed by one of the best design agencies in the world, Pentagram back in 1979. Not only that but the designer who worked on the Commercial Bank identity, Alan Fletcher, is also among the most influential figures in British graphic design history. I decided to share with you what Alan Fletcher said about the Commerical Bank project back in the 1980’s and also the idea behind the logo itself.
The text below was written by Alan Fletcher
Designing in the Middle East requires certain cultural adjustments to one’s normal working pattern and lifestyle. The Gulf States are seven hours’ flying time from London with a time difference of three hours. Travel by Arabic airlines is like arriving in the Gulf before you’ve left. It’s a dry journey – no alcohol. At midday, Muslim passengers are likely to say prayers prostrated in the aisle; one wonders about the flight deck! Normal working hours are 8.00 am to 1.00 pm, and even then a government survey indicated that the oil-rich Kuwaiti only works an average of ten minutes each day. Friday is a holiday but they work Saturday instead. Appointments, are not necessarily appointments, and frequently involve hours (if not days) of waiting.
The Commercial Bank of Kuwait had catered only for institutions and businesses within the Gulf States until it decided to expand into international markets and enter retail banking. The new policy created the need for an appropriate visual identity. Since the bank had neither the experience nor resources, it appointed Tony Vines, via Ogilvy and Mather, New York, to set up a marketing department and create a new identity within eighteen months. Vines flew to London in 1979, interviewed various advertising agencies and designers, and on reaching a rapport with Pentagram commissioned us to work on the program. His fast response to locating a design resource set the pace for the hectic schedule that followed.
In architecture the term ‘fast tracking’ describes the method of designing whereby the architect keeps one jump ahead of the builder. In this case the severe deadlines and cultural differences made it more of a jump in the dark. The brief stipulated that the corporate identity and design style should be Arabic in flavor, but be understood internationally. The symbol, in particular, was required to mean something to both an Arab and a Westerner. Designing within these constraints reduced the normal available options. The two different scripts precluded using the alphabet to form a logotype such as Unisys, or initials such as IBM. An abstract mark would take too long to establish. A pictorial device might have encouraged the client to insist on a heraldic solution such as a scimitar crossed with palms. However the design of the symbol proved to be the least of the problems. Designing from right to left, in a script and language one didn’t understand, and within an unfamiliar culture, required keeping one’s head fast on its feet.
The new Commercial Bank symbol is an amalgamation of calligraphy and image. the words commercial and bank are rendered in kufic, a geometric script, to make a decorative star, recognizable by anyone as a distinctive pattern and, additionally, readable to an Arab. The dual language identity has English type in Paul Renner’s Futura with a compatible Arabic script especially drawn by Ahmed Mustafa.