First it was WaMu Center. Then, after that bank's historic implosion and government takeover, it was rebranded this year as Chase Center. And since the 42-story office tower on Second Avenue between Union and University Streets has now been substantially emptied of old WaMu employees, it's been sold again. With next year's arrival of Russell Investments, founded in Tacoma but now owned by a Milwaukee insurer, we'll have to adjust to yet another makeover. Chase Center recently sold for $115 million, as the Times reported. Parent company JPMorgan Chase got the building as part of the federal takeover-and-sale when WaMu's thrift business collapsed with its subprime lending practices last year.
Since then, I'd wondered why Chase even bothered to slap its blue-and-white signage all over the tower. The branches--sure, those made sense to establish a retail identity. But downtown, Chase was never going to be more than a short-term resident. And I actually like the Chase logo better than the WaMu logo. (I once had a Chase account in New York.) But the Russell Investments logo? It's not an improvement at all. Let's take a look at the design evolution of the three....
WaMu's yellow and blue logo dates back to 1997, when it made a major--and ultimately disastrous--expansion into California lending. North Carolina branding consultant Addison Whitney came up with the new scheme, which merged W-elements from Great Western Financial, a large California thrift that WaMu acquired that year. WaMu was founded in 1889 as Washington National Building Loan and Investment Association. Its latest and last logo essentially doubled down on the letter W; the upturned form is friendly and bright, like supplicant hands or the head of a flower. It's vaguely organic--suggesting stalks of wheat or a river delta. It's open (like the thrift's lending practices), not closed, in contrast to Chase:
The Chase badging came from New York, created during the 1960s as Chase Manhattan Bank grew into a much larger entity. The handiwork of Chermayeff & Geismar Assoc., the interlocking C-shaped design connotes security and enclosure, like a vault. The blue octagon reads like the floor plan of a building, or snakes devouring their tails. There's no obvious point of entrance or egress. The icon conveys solidity and stand-alone purpose. It's not exactly friendly, but it evolved during an era when large corporations weren't trying to be smiley face with their customers. You want friendly? Friendly banks fail.
Russell Investments is all about striving. George Russell, grandson of founder Frank, guided many employees up Mt. Rainier during his years leading the firm. He even oriented the company's Tacoma headquarters--built in 1988 and soon to be vacant--to face his favorite volcano. The logo reflects that legacy: bold, jagged peaks, the kind of contours that might be frightening on a stock graph, but which calm, courageous financial managers could master. But today the logo feels old and out of date. Russell sold his family company, established in 1936, to Wisconsin life insurance giant Northwestern Mutual ten years ago. And what do they know about mountains in Milwaukee? Or graphic design, for that matter.
When Russell moves up from T-Town, will it get a makeover to befit its spiffy new building? Only three years old, designed by NBBJ, the building will be renamed Russell Investments Center. It shares the block with SAM (facing First Ave.), which is desperately trying to fill the commercial space above its galleries, previously occupied by WaMu, with new tenants. Only Russell won't likely need that overflow space, since it has only some 900 bodies to replace the 4,000 that departed with WaMu.
Russell's corporate parent has a logo that screams 19th century:
A Corinthian column and serif font? That won't cut it in Seattle. Russell needs something new, clean, and modern. Can you access the company's financial services by mobile device? I'm sure that's a goal. So why not create an iPhone icon for a new app, then splash it large on the new building? Something like this?
Or send us your suggestions. Maybe Russell could hold a design competition, and your new logo could end up on the side of a building.