In 2005, Wimberly Allison Tong & Goo celebrated a milestone that few architecture firms ever reach: Its 60th year in business. Over those years, it had grown from a small Honolulu firm designing hotels in Hawaii to a global six-office practice engaged in a broad spectrum of hospitality projects, from spas to theme parks to convention centers.

So at the 60-year mark, after George J. "Pete" Wimberly had died and his fellow founders had retired or were preparing to, the firm's leaders paused to re-examine the face they were showing the world. Did their 20-year-old logo still represent who they were? This is the abridged story of an 18-month process of research and intensive brainstorming. The end result? A new visual identity.

Created in the 1980s, the firm's old logo referenced a traditional Japanese chop mark, the signature stamp an artist would put on a woodcut. The allusion to Asia was deliberate: At the time, the firm was contemplating opening its first office outside of Hawaii and wanted to steer clear of anything that smacked of Hawaiiana. "We had a desire to be more global, not just a Hawaii firm working in the Asia-Pacific," explains current CEO Ron Holecek. "We knew we were going to be dealing with [sophisticated clients like] Ritz-Carlton."

While suitably Asian, the "chop" logo had some visual drawbacks. Its four letters are stretched thin and compressed into a tight square; the borders around them look confining. By contrast, the new logo-launched in September after the firm solicited feedback from dozens of employees and from clients and worked in consultation with branding experts-"literally broke out of the box," says Howard Wolff, WATG's marketing director.

Because the company wanted to express continuity as well as change in the new logo, Wolff says, it "decided to keep at least one, if not two," of the old logo's three signal features: red, square, and composed of the initials WATG. "We kept the initials, and we kept the red?not the same red," Wolff continues. But with the removal of the cross-stroke in the "A" and an open "G," the new logo, he says, "suggests an openness to new ideas, to new relationships."


LOGO:

Created in the 1980s, the firm's old logo referenced a traditional Japanese chop mark, the signature stamp an artist would put on a woodcut. The allusion to Asia was deliberate: At the time, the firm was contemplating opening its first office outside of Hawaii and wanted to steer clear of anything that smacked of Hawaiiana. "We had a desire to be more global, not just a Hawaii firm working in the Asia-Pacific," explains current CEO Ron Holecek. "We knew we were going to be dealing with [sophisticated clients like] Ritz-Carlton."

While suitably Asian, the "chop" logo had some visual drawbacks. Its four letters are stretched thin and compressed into a tight square; the borders around them look confining. By contrast, the new logo—launched in September after the firm solicited feedback from dozens of employees and from clients and worked in consultation with branding experts—"literally broke out of the box," says Howard Wolff, WATG's marketing director.

Because the company wanted to express continuity as well as change in the new logo, Wolff says, it "decided to keep at least one, if not two," of the old logo's three signal features: red, square, and composed of the initials WATG. "We kept the initials, and we kept the red—not the same red," Wolff continues. But with the removal of the cross-stroke in the "A" and an open "G," the new logo, he says, "suggests an openness to new ideas, to new relationships."


PRINT:

(Before)

  • before
The firm's old marketing materials had a staid, buttoned-up look. Small-point text in the Garamond and Futura typefaces (above, right) appeared against a white background, and photographs were printed small; they conveyed distant, pleasant settings, rather than a vivid experience of place. But the dual use of the WATG logo and the full name Wimberly, Allison, Tong  Goo (above, left) betrayed a larger problem: For years the firm had been going by two names, each of which had spawned regional variations (such as Wimberly in Hawaii and WAT-gee in the United Kingdom).

    Credit: WATG

    before The firm's old marketing materials had a staid, buttoned-up look. Small-point text in the Garamond and Futura typefaces (above, right) appeared against a white background, and photographs were printed small; they conveyed distant, pleasant settings, rather than a vivid experience of place. But the dual use of the WATG logo and the full name "Wimberly, Allison, Tong & Goo" (above, left) betrayed a larger problem: For years the firm had been going by two names, each of which had spawned regional variations (such as "Wimberly" in Hawaii and "WAT-gee" in the United Kingdom).


(After:)

  • after
With larger-point type (Optima) and full-bleed photos, the new marketing materials pack more visual punch into a small, accordionlike package. The new logo (bottom) floats free of the old, cumbersome firm name. John Burgess, the creative director of Incite Partners, a Seattle branding consultancy that worked with WATG, says the naming decision was a toss-up between two choices: Respondents split almost 50-50 between adopting `Wimberly' [as the official firm name] or not, Burgess recalls. Although Wimberly was humanistic and easy to remember, he says, the firm ultimately decided that to abandon the long-established WATG name would be too dramatic a shift.

    Credit: WATG

    after With larger-point type (Optima) and full-bleed photos, the new marketing materials pack more visual punch into a small, accordionlike package. The new logo (bottom) floats free of the old, cumbersome firm name. John Burgess, the creative director of Incite Partners, a Seattle branding consultancy that worked with WATG, says the naming decision was a toss-up between two choices: Respondents "split almost 50-50 between adopting `Wimberly' [as the official firm name] or not," Burgess recalls. Although "Wimberly" was "humanistic" and "easy to remember," he says, the firm ultimately decided that to abandon the long-established WATG name would be too dramatic a shift.

  • after
With larger-point type (Optima) and full-bleed photos, the new marketing materials pack more visual punch into a small, accordionlike package. The new logo (bottom) floats free of the old, cumbersome firm name. John Burgess, the creative director of Incite Partners, a Seattle branding consultancy that worked with WATG, says the naming decision was a toss-up between two choices: Respondents split almost 50-50 between adopting `Wimberly' [as the official firm name] or not, Burgess recalls. Although Wimberly was humanistic and easy to remember, he says, the firm ultimately decided that to abandon the long-established WATG name would be too dramatic a shift.

    Credit: WATG

    after With larger-point type (Optima) and full-bleed photos, the new marketing materials pack more visual punch into a small, accordionlike package. The new logo (bottom) floats free of the old, cumbersome firm name. John Burgess, the creative director of Incite Partners, a Seattle branding consultancy that worked with WATG, says the naming decision was a toss-up between two choices: Respondents "split almost 50-50 between adopting `Wimberly' [as the official firm name] or not," Burgess recalls. Although "Wimberly" was "humanistic" and "easy to remember," he says, the firm ultimately decided that to abandon the long-established WATG name would be too dramatic a shift.


WEB:

(Before)

  • before
Mid-'90s and brochure-oriented is how Burgess describes the old WATG website (screen grabs left and above). Text-heavy and static, the site lacked a searchable portfolio of projects, Wolff says, noting that it was, nevertheless, perfectly functional and received a decent number of hits. Still, it really didn't express the emotive qualities of what hospitality design is all about, in Burgess' words.

    Credit: CHARLIE BROWN

    before "Mid-'90s and brochure-oriented" is how Burgess describes the old WATG website (screen grabs left and above). Text-heavy and static, the site lacked a searchable portfolio of projects, Wolff says, noting that it was, nevertheless, "perfectly functional" and received a decent number of hits. Still, it "really didn't express the emotive qualities of what hospitality design is all about," in Burgess' words.

  • before
Mid-'90s and brochure-oriented is how Burgess describes the old WATG website (screen grabs left and above). Text-heavy and static, the site lacked a searchable portfolio of projects, Wolff says, noting that it was, nevertheless, perfectly functional and received a decent number of hits. Still, it really didn't express the emotive qualities of what hospitality design is all about, in Burgess' words.

    Credit: CHARLIE BROWN

    before "Mid-'90s and brochure-oriented" is how Burgess describes the old WATG website (screen grabs left and above). Text-heavy and static, the site lacked a searchable portfolio of projects, Wolff says, noting that it was, nevertheless, "perfectly functional" and received a decent number of hits. Still, it "really didn't express the emotive qualities of what hospitality design is all about," in Burgess' words.

(After)

  • after
With full-screen images and background technology that makes it easy to add a blog post or details of a new project, the new website that WATG launched in September is far more interactive and inviting than the old one. We went from a lead a week [through the site] to a lead a day, says Wolff. Some clients say they can attribute bookings to guests coming initially to our site. The site also does a much better job at reaching out to prospective employees via job postings and employee blogs.

    Credit: CHARLIE BROWN

    after With full-screen images and background technology that makes it easy to add a blog post or details of a new project, the new website that WATG launched in September is far more interactive and inviting than the old one. "We went from a lead a week [through the site] to a lead a day," says Wolff. "Some clients say they can attribute bookings to guests coming initially to our site." The site also does a much better job at reaching out to prospective employees via job postings and employee blogs.


WATG's founders:

  • WATG's founders: (front row, left to right) George J. Pete Wimberly, George Whisenand; (back row, left to right) Jerry Allison, Greg Tong, Don Goo.

    Credit: WATG

    WATG's founders: (front row, left to right) George J. "Pete" Wimberly, George Whisenand; (back row, left to right) Jerry Allison, Greg Tong, Don Goo.

  • The firm's Kona Hilton, built at Kailua Bay on the Big Island in 1968.

    Credit: WATG

    The firm's Kona Hilton, built at Kailua Bay on the Big Island in 1968.