Abbey National
‘Umbrella Couple’

1950s–2003

Design: Eric Winter (UK)

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For over half a century, a charming silhouette of a couple under an umbrella was one of the most familiar logos on Britain’s High Street. The symbol signified the Abbey National Building Society (est. 1944), a former financial institution that specialised in mortgage lending.

Dated from the early 1950s, the original version of the Abbey National logo was a rather benign comic-book-style illustration of a strolling couple sheltering under a roof-shaped umbrella. The drawing was created by Eric Winter, an illustrator of children’s books, most notably the Ladybird series. According to Winter, the inspiration for the odd-shaped roof was a house opposite his studio in Broxbourne, England. By 1961, the illustration was redrawn and simplified to the more recognisable graphic form.

The adoption of an umbrella as a visual metaphor in the financial sector, is a common ploy to communicate the concept of security and reliability. The Citigroup and the former Dutch insurance company RVS are just two other examples. Unlike these, the design of the Abbey National logo is somewhat naïve or vernacular. In fact, the untutored design beginnings of the mark delivered an unambiguously different, welcoming, helpful and customer-friendly message. An atypical approach that was amplified by popular 1970s advertising campaigns, such as ‘Get the Abbey habit’ that featured the logo contained within a thumb-up icon.

By the late 1990s, after a demutualisation process and an unsuccessful venture into the wholesale loans business, the Abbey National faced great difficulties. In a bid to revive the bank’s flagging fortunes, chief executive Luqman Arnold declared that the institution was “turning banking on its head” by refocusing on the retail consumer. In 2003, the brand name was shortened to Abbey and the bank adopted a soft, pastel-coloured logotype (by Wolff Olins). After enjoying a long and prosperous life, the couple with umbrella were forced into retirement.

Within 18 months, Abbey was cannibalised by Santander, the giant Spanish banking group, who proceeded to rebrand all branches with their ‘Flame’ logo, and red and white livery (by Landor Associates). In January 2010, the Abbey name was ditched for good; thus bringing to an end, 66 years of financial heritage.

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