Thursday, April 16, 2015

My Logo Ego Is Bruised, But I’m Fine

Mount Mercy University has started a new thing called, for lack of a sexier name, “The Fall Faculty Series.” We did it in fall 2014 on the 100th anniversary of World War I, and are again planning a series for 2015.

I suggested the original series, and am coordinating the second. It just seems like a good thing, to me, for a small university to foster a big conversation that crosses disciplines and brings people together to ruminate on a set of important ideas. One cool thing about our first series is that it brought lots of new community members to campus—I joked to other faculty last fall that it was the first time in my life I had groupies, but the only disadvantage was my WWI groupies were mostly male and mostly over retirement age.

Early indications are that our second series, which focuses on the legacy of Vietnam, may turn out to be an even more popular event. With the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Marines entering Vietnam in large numbers in 1965, and the 40th anniversary of the war’s end in 1975, this topic seems to resonate—since the faculty chose the topic, I’ve seen several media items about Vietnam. And, of course, there are lots of living vets and others who directly recall Vietnam.

And it’s a big idea with lots of possibilities. For example, the war came at a critical time for race relations in America, and it can prompt us to have an interesting discussion on that topic. The way in which the government informs or misleads people will be worth considering. And how we treated veterans is a big part of Vietnam. The war even came, not coincidently, at the time of an awakening environmental movement, and Agent Orange stands as an enduring symbol of how war can not only destroy lives, but our natural world, too.

Although I consider or first series to be a huge success, I also think some aspects could have worked out better. While we had decent attendance at the WWI events, I would like to see more students, staff and faculty at the series events. I really want this fall Vietnam series to be even more engaging for the people at MMU.

So, I have a personal marketing and PR project on my hands. I’ve been advertising planning meetings this spring—and to promote those meetings, I created a visual symbol for the series after the faculty picked its name: “Stories We Tell: Legacies of the Vietnam War.”

This is what I created:

It’s not the actual series logo. MMU has a PR office with a talented designer, and whatever else I am, I am not a graphic designer. That office will create the actual symbol for the series.

That I’m not a designer is a point that several people have made to me in recent days. Some of these logo critics aren’t experts, and I can shrug their comments off. But at least one is. The message from the expert? “That logo is ugly.”

Ouch. I can’t really argue the point. The expert has spoken.

Still, here is my lame logo defense. First of all, I did try to create it with a deliberately “retro” feel. I used Ariel, the most Helvetica-like font available on my PC, because Helvetica was a popular logo font in the 1960s and 1970s. The common diamond-shaped bullet, the ubiquitous Wingdings v, was another retro element.

Most of the art is copyright free work from Wikimedia Commons, and is referential of the era—the dove of peace, the peace symbol, an M-16 rifle and a map of Vietnam. The one image that isn’t from the wiki is a detail of a photograph by famous AP Vietnam photographer Horst Faas. I found the image on a Denver Post web page that has lots of Faas photos of the Vietnam War.

That gallery is worth a look. Faas was quite a photographer. And at right, again from the Denver Post, is the original Associated Press image of a nameless solider with the timeless message on his helmet.

Anyway, I hope that the image I created was useful for its purpose—drawing attention to the series. Getting students, faculty and staff aware of and excited about the series now is a big part of what I’m trying to do now.

And the person who called my logo ugly? All is forgiven. For several reasons.

It probably is ugly—it is a crude design by a non-designer. The critic’s verdict was delivered in a humorous, teasing manner. And most of all, and more important, the knowledgeable logo critic is enthused about the series and is coming up with all kinds of cool ideas that can help make it an even better event.

So, even if my logo ego was mildly bruised, I consider my amateur foray into logo design an overall win.

Well done, ugly logo, well done.

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