2015: AM General’s Visual Identity Coheres

How do we distinguish ourselves from our competitors in the world of Military Training? This was a question I set out to answer. Settling on thematics for what we do was a distinctively larger challenge than I had originally imagined. But once the style was fleshed out and the compositions came into focus what was a departmental centric project was adopted company-wide.

Our new style would dynamically communicate the core values of  AM General’s mission: being an innovative global leader in mobility solutions.

AM General Product Specification Sheet Before / After (front)

AM General Product Specification Sheet Before / After (back)

Pictured above is the AM General specification sheet for the M1151A1 HMMWV. The M1100 Series HMMWV is our most up to date HMMWV product model line, but our original collateral had a number of issues that diminished the efficacy of our communication strategy. To start, the HMMWV in the older specification sheet is not a M1151A1, but is instead a M1151A1B1 model. Your clue is how heavily armored the vehicle is. That’s a full, B1 armor package.

It is also equipped with specialized GFE on the turret which is nonstandard vehicles coming off our assembly line. How did this get approved in the first place? Well, It’s really, really hard to tell HMMWV’s apart and what is and isn’t standard on a truck is a bit of a minefield after the nebulous list of modifications made to the truck during our adventures in Iraq and Afganistan.

My first objective was to tighten up our attention to detail within our media collateral. Most people in the company (unless they had been working on vehicle assembly or parts procurement for the last 20 or 30 years) had a difficult time telling one HMMWV apart from another. The exception to this was that you could tell production generations apart from whether or not it was an A0 series, A1, A2, an expanded capacity vehicle (ECV), or REV-1 model due to unique characteristics between those iterations.

When I arrived in 2011, the quickest way was to utilize the serial number to ballpark its internals. I was told that it was impossible to ID an HMMWV at a glance alone. Independently I developed an algorithmic method of identifying a truck based on its fleet role, it’s tire, seats, front end design, AC air intakes, and whether or not it possed a winch.

This worked exceptionally well for 47 of the 48 HMMWV models, save one who’s only defining characteristic was that it was in every way an A0 series M998, our first production line model, except for its transmission gear set which was the current 4 speed 4L80-E transmission. The original M998 used a 3 speed 3L80.

My secondary concern was resolving the role of these specification hand-outs at trade shows. I reorganized a long, meandering chunk of no-real-specific-order specifications and grouped them into categories that were easier to digest. Even went the extra mile and compared the M1151 base model to it’s M1151A1 and M1151A1B1 variants.

Finally, I aligned the thematic visual design to the marketing collateral I had developed for Military Training.

Var1-SpecSheet_Page_1
Var1-SpecSheet_Page_2

Full-size view of the redesigned specification sheets.

Thematic Development

Refining the 2014 Brochure Materials

Pre-Planning and Strategy

The 2014 Simulator Promotional Brochure taught me some valuable lessons when it came to designing for a military contractor. Namely, that the sky’s the limit. Most defense contractors have a rather spartan ideology when it comes to their visual communication. Companies like Raytheon, Oshkosh, and General Dynamics and up until recently, Northrop Grumman, had a rather subdued visual design when it came to their online presence.

Their emphasis would normally contain some really professional photography of some of their products doing cool military stuff, but not much else.

Of course, that’s this isn’t always true. Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman have incredibly well-done polished design teams between them.

Lockheed and Grumman

AM General therefore needed a new philosophical premise behind its appearance. We needed a highly thematic breakthrough that wasn’t so overly complex that it would be overwhelming to modify.

And who can forget Oshkosh’s radical reinvention of itself after years of creating children’s clothing?

oshkosh joke-1oshkosh-4real

I have jokes!

Photography

Expanding my photo library and doing some sensible modifications to the photos I had already taken was step one. Step two, was between the 2014 simulator promo and when I produced this material, parts of the original marketing photo library had become available for my usage, and I sprinkled a few of those images into my booklet’s backgrounds in places. I also used them to build a fun company introduction highlighting the evolution of the HMMWV from it’s original incarnation as a jeep in the second world war, to what it is now.

Vector Elements / Structure

There was some experimentation here. I knew from the beginning I wanted a mesh grate/carbon fibery material for headers and footers. I needed something to ultimately ground the work and draw the eye down the page utilizing some contrast. The Hexagonal grid fell into place early, and it began to relationally pair well with the use of tech circle vector elements. Hexs and circles aren’t far apart from each other geometrically, and while they’re distinctively separate from one another, they kind of aren’t. Together they harmonize with one another as if complementary chords played on a piano. Some other various techy stuff got added in, metallic textures for specific text in the hierarchy punched the visual impact of what I was trying to get across with a greater intensity.

The problem was that the design itself is a prickly pear to balance correctly. And while I only struggled with that during its initial development. Other’s haven’t been quite so quick to understand it’s chemical composition completely. For example, our friends over at Northrop Grumman seem to have possibly been inspired by something they might have seen at a defense industry tradeshow… (see below)

I made unmanly noises when I saw this, Northrop. I’m honored to have inspired you guys, even if subconsciously. 

Step 2: Typographic Considerations

I wanted to strike the right balance between approachable and technological with my typographic choices. General Dynamics and Lockheed both use type to convey a sense of technological advancement in a way I find a bit hamfisted. GD’s logo could be for any generic military tech company from a 1990’s era action flick. Lockheed’s insistance on using a form of the typeface ‘Agency’ (or some derivative thereof) is clumsy and difficult to read.

I chose Serpentine to thematically tie us to automotive  industry convention since it’s an extremely common typeface used on your informational panel on most vehicles (your odometer/tachometer). and Eurostile to convey structure, rationality, and technology that fits within our real day to day world as opposed to a higher-minded and perhaps more esoteric futurism that these bigger firms tend to wrap themselves in. Also, they pair very well together since they share a lot of the same geometric features and structure.

Serpentine has a very rare quality in type which is that it’s everywhere and nowhere. You’re surrounded by this oddball font and you probably never notice it since it’s embedded in so many things you commonly use. This quality conveys a sense of ‘rightness’ about its placement. It’s self-validating.

Eurostile is used to convey structure, rationality, and technology that fits within our real day to day world as opposed to a higher-minded and perhaps more esoteric futurism that these bigger firms tend to wrap themselves in. Also, they pair very well together since they share a lot of the same geometric features and structure.

Layout & Design