As a small child, I was willingly dragged to visit Chi Chi the giant panda in London Zoo. Its biggest attraction, Chi Chi was one of the word’s most endangered species and unwittingly at the time the inspiration behind one of the best all-time logos.
The World Wildlife Fund (now the Worldwide Fund for Nature) is sixty years old next year. Its symbol was based on a sketch by environmentalist and artist Gerald Watterson and refined by one of the WWF’s founders, Sir Peter Scott.
Scott chose the panda because it represented “an animal that is beautiful, is endangered and one loved by many people in the world”. It also happens to be in black and white which is a useful characteristic for creating a graphic symbol.
The logo has undergone several tweaks over the years, but remains very true to the original concept. In 1986, Landor streamlined the panda, adjusting the angle and taking away the line between its ears.
Known as amodal perception, the blank space between the ears makes us join the gaps and draw the circle ourselves, emphasising the logo’s curvaceous quality.
In what could have been considered a bold move, the Landor version also removed the panda’s eyes.
Rather than making it harder to engage with, it actually had the opposite effect, as it now resembled the facial proportions of a human baby, creating an arresting image that we can all relate to on a very instinctive level.
The most powerful marks are usually simple or abstract, while the lack of detail helps add impact, it makes it difficult to instil any emotion or provoke any real engagement.
Equally, figurative logos are notoriously tricky to pull off (think Prudential’s windswept mock-classical figurehead, or the dreaded BT Piper).
It’s incredibly difficult to find the right balance, but WWF (along with a few others such as the Penguin logo) is one of the very best examples.
What’s quite remarkable about the WWF logo is that it is more potent than ever. With 41,415 species on the IUCN Red List, and 16,306 of these endangered species threatened with extinction, the WWF’s conservation work has never been more critical.
The WWF is clearly proud of its symbol and its heritage, and like the best managed brands, has treated it with respect over the years.
Chi Chi was a gentle giant, and her image stands for protecting the vulnerable—something that resonates with us all more so now than ever before.