2008 AIGA CORPORATE LEADERSHIP AWARD
Recognized for its strength as an iconic brand, embracing its heritage while continually evolving what it means to be an American classic.
Today, the Harley-Davidson motorcycle is so ubiquitous, so embedded in the public's hearts and minds, one can hardly imagine that it wasn't simply born that way. An enduring symbol of strength and freedom, of rugged individualism paired with a deep sense of community, a Harley is regarded as more than just a bike: it's a way of life, established by its founders in 1903 and perpetuated by the generations who built the machines and rode them since. Like many American manufacturers, Harley-Davidson has had its bumps in the road—brought on by wars, recessions, trends and buyouts. But if the 105-year journey can be compared to a challenging hill-climb, then Harley-Davidson has not merely held its ground but emerged at the top as the country's largest maker of motorcycles, a globally recognized Fortune 500 company and, of course, an icon.
Ever since William Harley drew up plans for a gas-fueled bicycle and joined forces with the Davidson brothers—first Arthur, then also Walter and William—to make independent motor travel accessible to the car-less masses, the Milwaukee-based company has approached its business as a labor of love, delivering a first-class product to a devoted customer base. And just as the company retains its family ties—William G. Davidson, better known as Willie G., is currently the chief styling officer—so do its loyalists, the million-plus members of the Harley Owners Group (H.O.G.) worldwide who are linked by their passion and enthusiasm for the brand. Even those who don't own a Harley are drawn to it, sporting official Harley-Davidson merchandise marked by the distinctive orange-and-black bar-and-shield logo.
Design resonates throughout all aspects of the company. From the growl of its V-twin engines to the curves of its teardrop gas tanks, a Harley always stands out from the pack. Not only does it have the best designers behind its Softails and Sportsters, but Harley-Davidson has enlisted some of the top communication designers and advertising agencies to establish the look and feel of all its retail outlets, websites, print communications, advertisements and annual reports. Minneapolis's Carmichael Lynch is responsible for numerous campaigns, such as “Live By It” (one print ad deadpans, “May wind be the only product in your hair”), while Chicago's VSA Partners has captured Harley's heritage and the thrill of the ride in its award-winning annual reports, posters and catalogues.
To ensure that the legend lives on, the Harley-Davidson Museum opened its doors in July 2008. The three-building complex, set on the banks of Milwaukee's Menomonee River, was designed by Pentagram Architects to house the company's archives, temporary and permanent exhibits, and a restaurant and retail space. Most of all, it serves as a meeting place, since Harleys—by design—bring people together.