Accusations of plagiarism fly as the Canadian city of Kelowna announces their new logo.

Little bit of a dustup going up Kelowna way in British Columbia, thanks to the city’s newly unveiled logo. The design, part of an $80,000 rebranding project, was warmly received by city council members until it was suggested that the supposedly pine-cone inspired logo looked awfully similar to a logo designed a few years back for a US real estate company called Sunhaven, by another US company called Lend Design. Kelowna & Sunhaven comparisonAccording to CTV news, the new city logo was created by a Phred Martin, a local designer (for ten grand), working through Splash Design, a local design firm (paid eighty grand). Lend Design are currently “investigating” whether or not copyright infringement has actually taken place. The designer, supposedly “out of town” was unavailable for official comment when the news broke, told city officials by phone that he’d never seen the earlier rendition.

City plans to release all preliminary designs.

According to the Kelowna city website, the city council plans to release all the working files on the project (once they’ve figured out whether or not they have the right to do so). “I don’t think that releasing them is sort of an issue for us, but what we don’t want to do is overstep our ability until we’re sure that we can.” city manager Ron Mattiussi is quoted as saying. ““There are other logos, they were there as part of the process. We just want to make sure that we can release them. There are instances where people do work that it’s still their property, so we just want to make sure we don’t run afoul” he added. Kelowna media relations manager Carla Stephens was quick to defend Martin, telling media that “He wouldn’t risk his credibility nor damage the city’s reputation… for whatever it is he received.”

Is it a rip?

Oddly enough, I don’t think so. Just another one of those strangely bizarre instances where two designers come up with similar concepts with the second oblivious to the other. Logo Design Love has written an excellent article on when logos look similar which illustrates numerous times that this has happened in the past. As far as the similarities go, the designs are quite different – it’s the color that makes them look really, really alike. And there’s probably a good reason for that. The palette is obviously based on a complementary color wheel and both are actually examples of color theory 101. The Kelowna logo DOES look like the bottom of a pine cone (as the designer as claimed) while the Sunhaven version DOES look like a sun, influenced no doubt by the name of the company. Trouble is, the logos are similar enough, and the kerfluffle is just high profile enough that I’d assume the accepted Kelowna logo will be “un-accepted” fairly shortly, with another mark in its place. If that does happen, how it will effect the business end of the deal is anyone’s guess. What happens to the rep of the designer, or the company that hired him, will only become apparent once the issue plays out, people have got their stories straight and talked to the press. Probably all end up to be another great example of design by committee.

Labeling images.

If I were to make one observation, it would be in the labeling of the images on the various websites linked above. They refer to the Kelowna logo as simply that, while adding the word “original” to the caption for the Sunhaven example. Seems someone in the Kelowna website department has already made up their minds.


So what do you think – knock-off or not? I know, let’s take a poll… [UPDATE: When we moved this blog post over, the poll plug-in broke, so here’s a screengrab of the results. Majority were leaning towards a knock-off.]
Kelowna logo poll

[Footnote: This article was originally posted on our (now) Legacy Blog and moved to its current location for consistency and database functionality. While it was accurate at the time of publication, it is currently posted as part of our historical record and details may have changed.]