The state of Colorado unveiled their new logo and slogan recently, both part of a year-long re-branding initiative that has left most Coloradoans (as well as folks across the country) scratching their heads. I’ve been looking at this issue from a somewhat unusual perspective, one of someone who happened to have designed a stock icon last year that looks strikingly similar to the new Colorado logo, and wondering where the line gets drawn between a useful icon and a reviled logo.
The two designs are similar enough to say that each could be swapped with the other and still do the job. Neither really present anything new in the whole “how to graphically depict a snow-capped mountain” conversation. They are both obvious solutions, and maybe that is the problem for Colorado. As a simple icon to stick on a website or in a brochure, the stock icon works. Try using it as a logo, one to represent an entire state no less, and suddenly the design becomes dull, predictable, and so absolutely simple that it quickly gets compared to numerous other logos, icons, signs, and various graphics.
So where is the line? When does the simple icon become a successful logo and when does it fail? And if it fails, why?
If the Colorado case is any indication of where we draw that line, it seems to be at the point where the audience stopped being a consideration. The most common criticism of the new logo is that it doesn’t represent the colorful culture of the state, and reduces the image to a very simple and common depiction of what Colorado appears to be, even on the state license plates; green, snow-capped mountains. But ask any Coloradoan and they will tell you there is far more to it than that. Even purely visually, the consensus seems to be that a more colorful logo would better represent the state.
As a logo for a small business or a little-known manufacturing company, the new logo might work. But “simple” is rarely going to cut it when you are talking about the image that will represent so many people and so much heritage. And I’m not saying that this needed to be a complex, intricate design, just that it should have more seriously taken into consideration exactly what it was meant to represent. Visually, a simple logo can work. Conceptually, a simple logo intended to brand an entire state lacks the requisite depth and meaning necessary to win over the people who are to be expected to proudly wear that logo.
I often receive emails asking about use of my stock images as logos. The response I often send is this: Can you use a stock image as a logo? Yes and no (license terms prohibit it, but I’m not going to give anyone a hard time if they do it anyway, as long as they don’t try to trademark the design). The real question is, does a stock image adequately represent your business? In some cases, the answer will be “yes”. In most, though, if you are really being honest with yourself, the answer will be a resounding “no”. Because a general-use image that only offers an obvious and expected view of your business and doesn’t speak to the core values of what that brand stands for.
For Colorado, I doubt there will be any changes made. There is too much time (supposedly) and money invested in the process, and the folks behind the new logo have been hard at work trying to explain and justify the results of that process ever since the new logo was unveiled. Unfortunately, negative reactions to bad design rarely result in any change, and the folks affected by this will have to just learn to live with it. Alumni of The College of New Jersey, my alma mater, have been living with a similarly unfortunate logo redesign that took place while I was a student there, one in which a comparatively obscene amount of money was spent on a terrible logo that few people liked. It has taken over a decade for that logo to finally be phased out of use, currently relegated to the footer of the website.
Coloradoans may see this logo phased out eventually as well, but probably not before they have to live with it for several years to justify the expense.
Sort of a version 2 of an old stock image set, featuring some vintage badge designs with some subtle texture. Available over at Ember Stock.
Working on something inspired by this week’s release of the movie adaptation of one of my favorite books, World War Z.