Design: KDW (IRL)
Throughout the 1990s, many national telephone companies decided to change their corporate identity in order to meet the challenges of deregulated market-place. In the process, many design icons were lost. One such example was the logo of Telecom Éireann (TE), the national telephone company of Ireland.
Telecom Éireann was established in 1983 after the division of the Department of Posts and Telegraphs into two independent entities. The company’s trademark was designed by Peter Dabinett of Kilkenny Design Workshops (KDW), which was the world’s first state-sponsored design agency from 1963–1988. The logo combines the traditional Irish uncial forms of ‘T’ and ‘E’ in a modern graphic simplicity. The joined initials neatly suggest several relevant ideas, as in a telephone dial, handset or coiled cable. In the motif, international style converges with the spiral ornamentation characteristic of pre-Christian Ireland, to convey a modern semi-state company proud of its local heritage.
For nearly 16 years, the ‘Snail’, as the TE logo was nicknamed, appeared on public phone-boxes, vehicle liveries, signage, uniforms, stationery, call-cards and the daily televised weather reports.
Nevertheless, an Irish government review (from 1998), had shown that, given changes in technology, competition through liberalisation and owner-ship changes, the range of services provided by Telecom Éireann went far beyond straightforward telephony. What was needed, according to the study, was a brand that accommodated all aspects of the business. The review also showed that Telecom Éireann was a company which was monopolistic, not particularly friendly, and had a ‘nine-to-five’ culture.
In 1999, the company was rebranded as Eircom, with a new logo composed of a stylised orange globe (developed by the Identity Business). Many in the design community united in grief for Dabinett’s masterpiece and were highly critical of the adoption of yet another ubiquitous ‘swoosh-ball’ – a brandmark that only expresses the homogeneity of globalisation. Unlike the Telecom Éireann logo, Eircom’s globe is a bland, uniform design isolated from the particulars of Irish visual culture. The rebrand was also viewed as a missed opportunity, as traditionally the image of a country’s telephone or postal company is the most powerful expression of its design.