Friday, January 27, 2006

What's in a name?

click photo to enlarge
"Why are all fire engines called Dennis?" That used to be the start of a terrible schoolboy joke a number of years ago. The picture above provides the answer. The firm of John Dennis, coachbuilders, of Guildford in Surrey, have for many years supplied the country's fire and rescue services, as well as airports and the armed services, with a range of specialist vehicles. This nameplate is on a fire engine of the 1950s. I photographed it at Fleetwood's "Tram Sunday", an annual event that features not only trams, but a variety of veteran and vintage vehicles.

What appealed to me about the Dennis name here was its symmetry and the combination of colours - the deep red, polished chrome and matte black. But, if the lettering hadn't been so well designed, I probably wouldn't have taken the photograph. Lettering and logos have always been important to businesses. However, today they are seen as absolutely vital to the success of a company. The design of the Dennis logo has moved on from this configuration. They, like many firms, see a need to regularly update a design and thereby the company's image, through tweaking the original concept. Sometimes, in design terms, this is for the better, and sometimes it isn't.

The serpentine curls of the flourishes in this incarnation of the Dennis name echo heraldic and calligraphic devices, but there is also something of the Art Nouveau about it too. Interestingly, flourishes have been the vogue in many logos in recent years. Unfortunately, they have often been used as casual underlines and flicks, and they can appear, at best, half-hearted. The example above is stylistically characteristic of its period, and by contrast with many of today's designs, exudes great confidence. It is splendid piece of work.
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen