In the past, banks have arguably been perceived as somewhat slow to adapt their branding and services to remain relevant in the digital age.

After all, many have been around for decades, if not centuries, and have mostly endured throughout history as trusted financial establishments. Until recently, that is.

A 2017 YouGov survey found that just 55% of British people trust banks, and only 36% trust them to work in the consumer’s best interests. As a result, several have attempted to throw off their stagnant reputations and take on new visual identities fit for the 21st century with its increasingly demanding customers.

The recent flurry in rebranding across the financial sector has perhaps also been spurred on by agile fintech competitors like Monzo which seem to be successfully disrupting an otherwise steadfast industry. So far this year we’ve seen Mastercard and Halifax refresh and simplify their branding to suit a mobile world and largely digitised content.

At Monotype’s recent event Brand Talks London, Santander’s Juan Erquicia and Interbrand’s Borja Borrero and Lucas Machado gave an inspirational presentation on the ins and outs of Santander’s rebrand back in March 2018, and I’ll be sharing some of their key insights with you below.

As Santander’s Executive Chair, Ana Botín, explained in a tweet, “There were two driving forces why we decided the brand needs an update. One, technological. Our brand must work in an ever more online and mobile world. Secondly, we need a brand to reflect the bank’s cultural transformation the bank’s motivation to visually transform itself.”

The flames

The Santander flame logo is something we all recognise from passing high street branches over the years, and it is a design element that has remained consistent to its branding since it was first founded in 1857. Therefore, rather than creating something entirely new and unrecognisable, the logo has been tidied up without straying too far from its heritage.

One of the most important reasons the logo was simplified was to make it “more recognisable when reduced for small screens”, explained Erquicia. In order to do this, the design team at Interbrand revised the logo using a geometric grid before adding a series of perfect circles in the centre, which guided the placement of any flame curvatures:

santander logo grid

The result caused the flames to take up a larger amount of space on the final image and streamlined their curves to produce a flatter and more exaggerated appearance overall. It is particularly worth noting how much further down the flames sit on top of the oval base shape, making them just as easily identifiable whether being viewed on a billboard or a smartwatch.

Iconifying logos has become a popular practice for brands, typically due to the sheer number of functions and applications they now need to adapt to both online and offline. This updated version, whilst not a million miles away from its predecessor, is striking in its simplified shape, and lot of care seems to have been taken to ensure it can be viewed easily in all sizes, distances and contexts.

old vs new santander logo

A new typeface

Perhaps the most thoroughly considered element of Santander’s rebranding is its new set of typefaces. Historically, the bank has used a traditional and unremarkable serif font, perhaps to emphasise authority and dependability. However, when it comes to design trends in recent years, so many brands are now adopting sans serif fonts that those who still use serif appear rather outdated. This is not to mention the fact these font families are much more difficult to read on a mobile screen or something even smaller.

Therefore, Erquicia proposed the brand move to sans serif, which would be more in keeping with the redesigned, streamlined logo.

This was perhaps the most noticeable change in their brand identity, as the replacement is so different to others before it.

The typeface has some wonderfully subtle design features that takes it to another level. Angular features of the updated logo were taken and added to the curvatures on rounded letters, such as ‘a’,‘n’ and ‘r’, as well as on the ascenders of ‘t’ and ‘d’. This attention to detail really improves the correlation between the text and logo when viewed together; making the result look like a single long-form logo, instead of an icon with a brand name stuck next to it.

Three fonts were created for Santander’s marketing material – Santander Logo, Santander Headline (with an easy-to-read single storey ‘a’) and Santander Text (for body copy). Each of these combine elements of the font in the main logo with their own unique design features dependent on the context in which they are supposed to appear.

As a result, the application of these typefaces across its global branches and subsidiaries brings greater consistency throughout its branding.

santander subsidiaries

Imagery that prospers

Changes were also made to the type of photography included in its brochures, OOH billboards and website. Subjects are now depicted on the move, collaborating with each other, or looking up in confidence to further represent the fast-paced change in modern life and optimism for the future.

Similarly, a simple concept of including ‘steps’ within the bank’s visual layouts (see the image in the screenshot below), online and on tactile marketing material, reinforces the idea of improvement and forward momentum. This has been applied quite subtly in places, but it helps to break up and add a point of interest to an otherwise deliberately functional design.

santander homepage

It’s pleasing to see a more equal balance between Santander’s two main brand colours, red and white. Before, the brand was arguably guilty of using too much red, particularly within its offline content, which gave its marketing material a heavy and overwhelming feel. Despite making the red a little brighter, more white is incorporated, freeing up much needed negative space in its content and producing a positive, light and airy ambience.

All of the above changes were implemented to align the brand more closely with its core aspiration – to help its customers ‘prosper’. Combined, these updates to Santander’s imagery provide a greater sense of positivity and transparency.

Illustrations and icons

Whilst illustrated content features sparsely on its website, it is interesting to note Santander’s renewed style. In a similar vein to the bank’s other visual developments, illustrations and icons draw from the angular features of its font and logo, giving them an energetic and dynamic quality aligned with the rest of its updated content and core values.

santander icons

It is beneficial for brands to utilise a unique set of icons throughout their digital platforms, as this reinforces a distinctive visual identity that sits uniformly within any wider branding. Although Santander’s fully-coloured icons add a point of interest within its largely two-colour palette, the red and white counterparts look a lot smarter, simpler and more informative. Perhaps this explains why they appear much most frequently around the bank’s website.

santander red icons

Overall, Santander struck a great balance between keeping its refreshed branding recognisable whilst implementing enough changes for customers to really notice the difference, particularly when it comes to interacting with the brand on digital devices.

Despite its many subsidiaries, the banking group is now considerably more consistent across its global branding through the simple use of coherent typefaces and layout both online and offline. This can only strengthen its identity long term and allows itself to become more easily identifiable for global business clients and for travelling customers who may need to access one of its branches abroad.

Most importantly, however, the simplification of its logo, typeface, images and use of colour makes the brand appear more modern, friendly and transparent – summing up its tagline ‘Simple, personal, fair’ pretty perfectly.

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