Booga. Booga. Conservative bloggers flip out over the ‘new’ MDA logo. Trouble is, it ain’t a logo, ain’t new and it ain’t an Islamic crescent.

If you’re the curator of a niche blog (in this case, one centered on logo design) it’s generally ill-advised to get involved in politics, especially in these extremely divisive right-wing vs. left-wing times. No real mileage in doing so, as we always risks alienating 50% of our audience, and as this isn’t a political blog, I tend to avoid the subject altogether, unless the issue involves logos. And is particularly noteworthy. Or involves a certain level of schadenfreude that’s worth discussing for a few laughs. I think when several high-profile conservative bloggers ‘find’ an Islamic Crescent hidden in “Obama’s” “new” missile defense “logo” and stage a mid-level freakout about it certainly qualifies. If it’s true. And especially so, as in this instance, if it’s not. So, without further ado, let’s take a look at what all the fuss is about. And as the logo isn’t new, probably isn’t a logo and doesn’t feature a crescent if it were, why it’s a load of malarkey. This is what we’re talking about:missle-commande-agency-logoNot exactly sure where it started. Probably on the conservative political forum Free Republic who began a discussion thread on the weekend exclaiming “MISSILE DEFENSE AGENCY CHANGES LOGO TO LOOK MORE LIKE OBAMA LOGO” (caps lock theirs) The first comment on the thread asked “Tell me, is it a coincidence it also looks like an Islamic The Drudge Report compares Obama's logo to Islamic CrescentCrescent?” and we were off, with the comments quickly degenerating into tin-foil hat territory about the “new logo”, Obama’s policies and his positions on the Middle East. Another conservative blog, some outfit called Weasel Zippers picked up the baton, posting an incredulous screed titled (in part) Unreal: Missile Defense Agency’s New Logo Modeled After Obama’s. Added Bonus: They Added The Islamic Crescent!. “Fair and Balanced” Fox News then came up to bat, issuing a post on their website that told us about the “internet stir” caused by the Missile Defense Agency logo, explaining that some saw similarities to Obama’s campaign logo. They also told us how others “have noted that it has a crescent and star design, evoking a common symbol for Islam“. Crikey. That item was picked up by The Drudge Report, a right-leaning news aggregator who ran a home page bit comparing the logo with Obama’s and “The Islamic Flag“. Drudge had to turn the crescent graphic around to make his point (something we’ll get into in a bit). Conservative blogger and pundit Michelle Malkin was up next, taking a slightly less provocative stance, outlining how this “logomania” was simply part of the re-branding of the government. While she avoided the Islamic crescent connection, her readers didn’t:

“Call me paranoid, but isn’t that a kind of star and crescent?”

and ultimately making this connection

“That butthole Obama is just FLAUNTING that he is a Muslim in our faces, but the kool-aid drinking Liberals in the media will deny it even when they see Obama on his knees facing East praying on a flying carpet 5 times a day before strapping on a dynamite vest.”

Jeebus on a crutch. All of this over one logo? Alas, we’re not done yet.

Heavy hitters weigh in.

andrew-breitbart-tweet
Conservative journalist Andrew Breitbart was next up, twattering to his 15,000+ followers via his Twitter account this ominous question “Can this be true? New Obama Missile Defense logo includes a crescent“. If you don’t know who Breitbart is, he’s the darling of the right-wing, an anti-mainstream media maverick who runs several websites including Big Government, Big Hollywood and is the dude behind the media barrage about the video ‘sting’ of ACORN last fall (you may remember that episode in which student journalists James O’Keefe and Hannah Giles went ‘undercover’ as a pimp and prostitute, soliciting advice on running a brothel from unsuspecting ACORN staffers). Anyhoo, if you clicked on Breitbart’s Twitter link, you’d be taken to his Big Government site, where another conservative pundit, Frank Gaffney would also askCan this be true?” suggesting that the “new logo” was evidence that something “nefarious is afoot” and that the new Missile Defense Agency shield “appears ominously to reflect a morphing of the Islamic crescent and star“. Gaffney and Breitbart aren’t the end of it either. There’s much, much more. Even this morning, Pamela Geller wrote about the fracas on her tight-tilting blog Atlas Shrugs, calling the logo an example of “cultural jihad“. The comments over there weren’t any, ahm, kinder:

“I suspect this design was created by a muslim artist, and probably given preference in the name of diversity.”

And this one

“Barry is flipping America off right in the open. How can anyone look at his actions and say that he is not muslim?”

Those are the ‘quotable’ ones. Just a few problems with all of this:

It ain’t new. There’s no crescent. May not even be a logo.

Bottom line, a lot of heavy hitters from the conservative side of the aisle had found an Islamic crescent in the “new” Obama MDA logo, and that wasn’t very cool at all. And I guess if it were true, it might not be. Just a few itty, bitty hitches in all this wondrous tin-foil hattery. The “new logo” may not even be a logo. It isn’t new. The old logo hasn’t been replaced. And the design that can be found on the agency’s website doesn’t even feature a crescent.missle-commande-agency-actual-logo

Let’s take a look at the Missile Defense Agency website. You pulled it up? Good. Now, scroll w-a-a-a-a-y down to the bottom.

Well, I’ll be.
missile-defense-agency-logo
The “old” Missile Defense Agency logo (technically, as there’s no “new logo”, it ain’t an “old logo” but it’s simpler this way.) You can view the “old logo” in the screen cap above (and right). See, the item at the top, the one that everyone’s freaking about, may not even be a logo. It’s more than likely what’s known in the design biz as a “design element” or a “graphic accent“. That translates loosely into:

“Meaningless eye-candy that we place on a website to make it look prettier.”

There’s not one shred of evidence that the logo’s been changed at all. Ah-hah, some bloggers will exclaim, “the new logo was unveiled last October. The ad agency twittered about it“. Okay folks, just a couple of things. If the design agency in charge twattered about the new logo last October, it ain’t exactly new, is it? But let’s take a look. You’re right, TMP Government, the ad agency responsible for the new website design, did in fact post about the new design last October. Here’s the Tweet.new-website-tweet

Like any proud web design firm, they announced the launch of the MDA’s website and new “branding” (and a logo isn’t a brand, remember?) Not a single word about a new logo to be found. A look at the Wiki page about the agency features the “old logo” too and while Wikipeadia often misses the boat on small details, they’re usually pretty fast at updating pages about stuff like this. Nada. And what about the claims that this “new logo” contains an Islamic crescent? Nope. Should point out that like most religious symbols, the so-called Islamic Crescent and star has islamic crescentvery specific methodology in its portrayal. If there was a crescent in the MDA’s not-logo, it’s not only backwards and tilted the wrong way (the logo Drudge used was actually The Nation of Islam flag) but the star is inside the crescent. That alone makes it not an Islamic crescent. If some radical graphic designer was trying to secretly “sneak” an Islamic logo into government funded paraphernalia, they did an extraordinarily bad job of doing so. Not only that, but technically, this crescent symbol (right) isn’t universally accepted as a Muslim symbol and while it’s sorta accepted by people in the west (an important distinction) the symbol isn’t Muslim in origin at all, and its use is often controversial among, well, Muslims themselves. While the symbol IS featured prominently on the flags of many countries in the Islamic world, notably Turkey and Pakistan, the symbol was actually the insignia of the Ottoman Empire, not of Islam as a whole (Hat tip: Religion Facts). We also touched on all these religious symbols a few years ago when the Red Cross got a new logo. So what’s the deal? Sigh.

Our old nemesis. Bevel filters

Here’s the thing. The “not new logo” looks like it may feature a crescent because of one, very simple thing. The overenthusiastic use of drop shadow and bevel filters. If we dissect the design using fairly obvious logo symbolism as our guide, we can see several elements at work. The star obviously represents a missile in flight – but can also face-palmrepresent the “star” bit of the Stars and Stripes (see our logo symbolism feature from yesterday for more of his kinda thing). Maybe even a rocket blowing up real good, after getting smacked by aforementioned missile, the purpose of this entire exercise. The red swooshes obviously are meant to represent a missle plume, broken into three components to represent the American flag. You know, the “stripes” part of the Stars and Stripes. The round thing that the swooshes are, well, swooshing around, is the Earth. You know, as it would be seen from space, the space bit of the Space Defense Initiative. Rather than some “nefarious” symbology, the “logo” is standard patriotic fare that one would expect to find on a US Defense Department website. Still not convinced? Okay, let’s take away the colors and lose those infernal bevel and drop shadows.

missle-defense-logo-working
Seems that when the design firm wanted to turn the website dashboard and navigation bar into a sci-fi themed design worthy of Star Trek, they placed the graphic into a circle and applied a liberal dosing of Photoshop filters for that added “something” that people who use bevel filters are always looking for. Trouble is, bevel filters work in two ways. They can add an outer bevel, which gives the object 3D mass, or they can be used as an ’emboss’ effect, which adds a concave effect, making the object appear to be carved out. Guess which way our hapless web designer rolled?

Left-wing design conspiracy? Hardly

As some point in all the tin-foil fun, it was opined that the not-insertion of the not-Islamic Crescent into the not-logo was evidence of a liberal conspiracy. Some sort of clandestine socialist takeover of a vital national defense organization. If it wasn’t Barack Obama himself, perhaps some crazed liberal design agency, furthering the cause of America’s enemies from within. A Manchurian Candidate graphic designer perhaps? Tin foil’s on a little tight folks. If we take a look at TMP Government’s portfolio, we’ll see that they boast a wide range of clients including Blackwater the private security firm, and hardly a cause célèbre amongst the liberal set. Seeing as how Blackwater xe-blackwater-logore-branded themselves as Xe at the beginning of the Obama administration, it would appear that this agency was involved with designing government stuff during the George Bush administration too. See, TMP design government and lobby group websites from all over the political landscape, describing themselves as an agency that “develop(s) and implement(s) interactive and traditional outreach communications programs for government, contractors and associations“. Hardly a bastion of liberal elitism.

Lessons to be learned?

Politically speaking, it would be wise before freaking the feck out, to do a little bit of fact-checking. Perhaps some common sense reflection before pressing the Full Metal Jihad button (pun intended). In this heated political climate, it’s always tempting to smash ideological opponents with unbridled joy but if not careful (and I don’t care what side of the aisle you’re from) someone might just end up creating what amounts to a very high profile tempest in a teacup. Or looking like a tool Or a drawer full of tools. Before I forget, blog commenters may want to tone down some of their bigoted blather, as some of the comments on the blogs upstairs are, for lack of a better word, nasty. And that’s about as much political advice as I’m ever going to give, on this blog anyway.

In terms of what all this means for designers, heh, that’s easier. First, this illustrates the very real power of a logo, and why tossing something, anything, on a website isn’t something that should be approached lightly. Second, it’s always advisable to keep the logo above the fold on a website, regardless of how tempting it is to turn the top half into a navigation system worthy of the starship Enterprise bridge. Finally, and this is advice that’s always good, whenever you’re tempted to go Full Metal jihad (pun intended) with bevels, drop shadows and other Photoshop effects, don’t. And if you insist on using them, for the love of all things holy, make sure they’re pointing in the right direction.

Update:

Looks like we were right on this one after all. The Missile Defense Agency’s Richard Lehner has stepped forward and dismisses the controversy thusly:

“It’s ridiculous. It isn’t a new logo to replace the official logo. It’s a logo developed for recruiting materials and for our public website. Also, it was used prior to the 2008 election and it has no link to any political campaign.”

Heh.