Tuesday, January 4, 2011

One More for the Logo Pile

Minnesota's Department of Natural Resources recently held a press conference to show off the new logo for the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment. This logo will mark every site and event that receives funding from the taxpayers through the Legacy Amendment.

Legacy Amendment logo
The new logo was created by Bernadette Stephenson, a graphic designer from St. Cloud. Stephenson wasn't hired by the DNR to create the logo, however -- her work is the result of a contest. About 70 logos were submitted, and Stephenson's was one of three finalists.

I would love to see the other two finalists. Heck, I'd like to see all the entries. The challenge was pretty silly: Create a mark for a program that has a six-word name, while also representing four divergent areas of funding (clean water, the outdoors, parks and trails, and arts and culture). Right from the start, it's a stupid assignment from which no good can come.

Given the unrealistic requirements, I'd say Stephenson did about as much as could be expected. A couple of problems I have with specifics of her logo are:

  • It's too busy to be a great logo. But that's clearly not her fault, given the rules for submission. She did her best to unify the four disparate areas. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that the logo is a good concept for a poster... it's just not a logo.
  • The stacked vertical shape will be a problem for every designer who has to use it. Possibly, Stephenson has been asked to make an alternate version, something like this. At least, I hope so:
    Legacy Amendment logo rearranged so the type is to the right of the artwork
  • When I first saw it, I couldn't figure out what the illustration in the blue area was supposed to represent... then realized it was a fish, and now can't believe I didn't see it. Is that just me?
  • What happened to the damned comma? Now we're saddled with Clean Water Land forever. Actually, I know what happened to it -- it was left out on purpose because it wouldn't allow the R in WATER to align on the right side with the letters above and below it.
  • The spacing between the letters, particularly in WATER, is not very good. Bad kerning like this is always easiest to spot if you look at the typography upside down. Notice how much more space there is on either side of the A than there is on either side of the E:
    WATER from the logo upside down
  • The logo doesn't work very well in black and white, as I saw it in the Star Tribune this morning. This may seem picky in an era of all-color-all-the-time websites and cheap color printing, but it's still important to make sure a logo will have visual impact in black and white. It also won't work very well when it's small. And small and black and white will be quite bad.
Despite all of these problems, the Legacy Amendment has instantly improved the average quality of Minnesota state government logos. Here's the hit parade, from best to worst:

MPCA logo
MPCA wins the prize for the best state agency or department logo. Somebody there knows what they're doing, as evidenced by the beautiful displays they've put on for years at the Living Green Expo and the State Fair. Although I have a feeling the little white Minnesota shape inside the green area was added after a committee insisted on it.

Ag Department logo Labor Department logo
Both the Ag and Labor department logos are inoffensively professional, although a bit generic with their swooshes and cogs.

VA logo Health Department logo Children, Families & Learning logo
Nothing much to like or dislike among these three logos. The VA logo echoes the federal VA logo and is executed in an understated way. The Health and Children, Families & Learning logos stick to type treatments, which are usually a safer bet. (Although the CF&L logo goes a bit off the rails in terms of readability when it's used small, as it is here.)

Dept of Education logo Dept of Corrections logo
Education's logo tries too hard with the scripts and the line between the words, and uses the apple cliché, too. The DOC gets points for restraint (no pun intended), but I am so creeped out by that menacing symbol -- yes, the state plans to lock up every last resident. And soon!

Dept of Transportation logo Dept of Natural Resources logo
I've never understood the DOT logo. Somehow, a pine tree and a star don't say much about Transportation. In fact, when I first moved to Minnesota, I thought this was the DNR logo.

And the DNR logo looks about as unnatural as a logo can get. So here's my suggestion: The two departments should switch logos, and the DOT can substitute a more appropriate symbol to obstruct the center of the state's outline:

Altered DNR logo with orange traffic cones in the middle of the state
One other thing that bugs me about the DOT logo, while I'm at it. Whose idea was it to put the word Minnesota at the top of the circle, right side up, and the rest of the name wrapping around the bottom, reading in the opposite direction? After reading Minnesota, it's way too easy to start reading the next word as NOI and then run into that upside-down T.
DOT logo VA logo
The VA logo's approach is a lot easier to read.

Human Services logo Public Safety logo Commerce logo
Finally, the bottom of an almost-bottomless barrel. Human Services got out the clip art to represent every type of person, and then made it worse by putting all the type in a single line so that it's tiny. This logo is unreadable at any size a logo would usually be seen at.

Public Safety's logo is generally boring and generic (another outline of the state of Minnesota -- thanks!) but the triangle with the star in the center overlaying the state appears to be random graphic junk, unless it's some kind of Masonic symbol I'm not clued in on.

The Commerce logo is just ugly. Yet another outline of the state, overlaid with a badly drawn script letter C. Honestly, I cringe each time I see this.

Good or bad, though, one overriding thing that stands out when looking at all of these logos is that they make the state appear completely incoherent. Now that's a message I'll bet they didn't mean to send. But it's not hard to understand how it happened, once you consider the bad logo that started it all, our Minnesota State Seal:

Minnesota State Seal
Compared to the Seal, the Legacy Amendment logo looks pretty good.


Blissed-Out Grandma said...

Hmm, I was wondering about that blue panel; so glad you pointed out the fish! I agree with your assessments of these logos. I guess this isn't the year to suggest the state budget for a design review and a comprehensive visual identity program.

David Steinlicht said...

Great punchline to an excellent post! Minnesota's state seal is indeed an eyeful. You dug up a particularly striking computer-colored version of it!

Let's not forget to mention the state seal is the basis for our (sigh) just-as-ugly state flag -- which places even more junk around the basic seal.

Carmella said...

I am sad there is no papyrus font.