brand · case studies · user experience

National rebrands to nab… and I don’t trust ’em!

new NAB logo

And now for something completely different, I’m going to perform a little amateur brand analysis.

This all started a few days ago when I was on a bus and I noticed (either on another bus or on some other form of outdoor advertising) that the National Australia Bank seemed to have changed their logo….

This is the old logo: Old National Logo

No doubt you’ll notice a few changes. Firstly, they’ve followed the fine example of Kentucky Fried Chicken and embraced the acronym. So, no more National, its now nab. Which segues nicely into the next change – they’ve embraced the lower case. And, finally and more subtly, they’ve done some work on the red star to make it look ‘more dynamic’.

There is a great case study in brand transitioning on their website at the moment, where you can see a flash movie literally tearing down the old logo and replacing it with the new one. They have a bit of content dedicated to rationalising the re-brand, which includes some reassuring copy including this:

We’re still the National Australia Bank. But we’re also calling ourselves NAB; after all that’s what you’ve always called us. Our new logo reflects this and the new energy you’ll start to feel at NAB. (from the NAB website)

eh. I don’t know. I’m not convinced. Something about this new logo doesn’t work for me. Lets consider what it might be.

1. Embracing the Acronym:

…But we’re also calling ourselves NAB; after all that’s what you’ve always called us.

Really… well, yes, the logo does say NAB, and yes, we’ve all called the National Australia Bank ‘the NAB’ for many years. Does that mean that I want the National Australia Bank to start calling themselves ‘NAB’… well, no, actually, I don’t.

Why not, you ask?

Two reasons. First up, I don’t want my bank being more informal than they are now. Actually, I want them to be MORE formal. I want them to be polite and trustworthy and to have clean fingernails. I want them to wear a smart suit.

These are the people who look after my money, dammit. I want them to be sensible and conservative. And I want them to have people looking after me. Enough tellers so I don’t queue all lunchtime, enough customer services people so I don’t have to wait on the phone, enough web developers so that the online banking is reliable and efficient and I don’t have to go into the branch!

I don’t want them being all casual and friendly with me. I have friends for that.

An another thing. Nab. Forget the acronym, think of the word.

Definition of 'nab'

Is that not a pretty inappropriate and unpleasant word for a bank to use?

Are we so familiar with the use of the acronym that we don’t care about the implications of the actual word?

(or am I being overly sensitive because I was a bank teller in a past life?!)

2. the lower case logo

Lower case logos are pretty popular these days. AT&T rebranded in November 2005 and unveiled a new lowercase logo. Why? The press release tells us:

Lowercase type is now used for the “AT&T” characters because it projects a more welcoming and accessible image.

AT&T new logo

More welcoming and accessible, eh? I don’t think so. I think it looks casual and childish. There’s nothing authoritative about that logo, in my opinion.

They’re not the only ones though. Around about the same time, UPS relaunched their logo. Using lowercase. At least their logo looks kind of nice. (in my entirely subjective and unjustified opinion!)

UPS logo

Do we want to be friends with brands?

I’m happy to be friends with my brand of music player, my lipstick, my clothing labels. Maybe even my mobile phone. But not my laptop, not my universitym and certainly not my bank. I want those guys to be

strong, respected, authoritative, safe, conservative, sensible, large. Make them all friendly, approachable and accessibly, and you take away a lot of the reason I chose that bank, uni, computer manufacturer in the first place.

Of course, I’m working on the premise that lowercase lettering conveys that accessible, friendly, welcoming,

open feeling (which seems to be why a lot of brands claim to use it). There are other ways to read it. An analysis of the UPS logo redesign suggests that lower case can be associated with service.

The choice of lower case letters sends a message of service; this puts the customer above the corporate entity (via Logoworks)

You know. This doesn’t sit right with me. Although I can kind of see how it works with the UPS logo.

For me, though, in this situation. That ‘service’ feeling isn’t created by the lowercase letters. Its created by the brownness. Brown says ‘I’m not so special, I’m just brown’. Especially when its combined with that gold / yellow colour. Its a uniform. Its not special. It serves.

Upper or lower case, doesn’t matter. That’s my take, at least.


Why on earth am I interested in this anyway? I don’t design logos.

True enough, but typeface is a tool that I (as well as the visual design team) use to send signals to users.

Even when wireframing, I often find myself using lower and upper case letters strategically. Sometimes it is because I want to create a more friendly, welcoming, fresh, contemporary effect. And sometimes I need to create a sense of trust and authorativeness.

Taking a walk through this case study and trying to understand why this new logo perterbed me as it has turns out to be quite instructive, I think, in considering when using all lowercase can be a helpful visual tool in interface design, and when its actually going to be counter productive.

of course, it all gets very complex when your client wants to be authoritative yet friendly and welcoming… another topic, another day!

Speaking of which, it looks as though the nab have also redesigned their website lately. urgh. what a contradiction. You go and spend a fortune on a warm, friendly, welcoming logo and then you design a cold, unfriendly, not particularly userfriendly and pretty much uninspired website to put it on. Where’s the sense in that? I hope the branding people are hopping up and down about it.

NAB website redesign

what do you think? am I talking utter rubbish?

how do you like the new logo?

do you have some thoughts on the psychology of the lower case?

Related reading:


nab to spend big on miniscule brand change

nab banking on the brand

nab set to launch new look logo

analyzing logos – UPS case study

Strategic Name Development – AT&T Logo Followup

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5 thoughts on “National rebrands to nab… and I don’t trust ’em!

  1. Lelak’s comment is good – you DON’T see it as an acronym, you see it as a word, and the word has negative connotations. Seems like the latest in an unflattering series of mistakes from NAB.

  2. I’ve always called it National Australia Bank, never Nab, mainly because of the connotations. I never thought they would formalize it, for the very reasons you outline.

  3. You are so right, Leisa. Though, we’re a lowercase generation, aren’t we? Capital letters seem too emphatic, or something. Too formal. Casualness is the dominant mode. There are people I’ve known and hung out with for years and I still don’t know their last names…

    NAB’s branding people should really be dressed down. I mean, really.

    melissa ;)

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