How a supposedly uniting logo – to celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary – kicked off a firestorm of protestation, internet skirmishes and a whole lot of jostling for attention. And let’s not mention those $40K focus groups.
Anniversary logos are actually quite common. On special occasions, 10, 25, 50 years and the like, companies add little celebratory flourishes to their logos all the time. We’ve done quite a few over our years, including several for major companies like Exxon for refinery birthdays. Not a big deal.
Countries do it too, but unlike their corporate counterparts, there’s often no official logo to speak of. With nothing to add the flourish onto, the birthday designs get a ‘ground up’ treatment. In all instances, the design is supposed to mark the celebration of a significant milestone – in this case, Canada’s 150th year, starting July 1, 2017. Like most logos, the design is used to promote celebratory events, sell widgets, trinkets and generally create a good buzz that people can rally round. The country’s no stranger to the concept either, having been down this road before for Canada’s 100th back in 1966. That centennial logo (below,) a stylized maple leaf (the symbol from Canada’s flag) made up of 11 multi-coloured equilateral triangles representing the 10 provinces and the territories, was lauded as brilliant work. Still is. Designed in 1966 by Hamilton-born Stuart Ash while at the firm Cooper & Beatty Ltd, the design is a classic example of design simplicity, with enough of a back-story to make it representative.
This time shouldn’t have been any different. Canada boasts a ton of talented designers, firms and several graphic design organizations from which to glean expertise and consultation. You’d have thought coming up with a decent design wouldn’t have been an issue. However, things have changed since 1966. Everybody has a copy of Adobe Illustrator so everyone’s a designer. That makes everyone an art critic too. And Canada’s attempt to brand its upcoming sesquicentennial birthday got a little weird. And continues to get weirder.
People are totally not going to be able to tell the difference from TV network FXX and ExxonMobil’s logos. The proof? Someone said it on the internet.
Scraps between companies over similar (and sometimes not so similar) logos aren’t anything new. Happens all the time, but occasionally, there’s a dust-up that I find interesting. This one for example.
Seems ExxonMobil has filed suit against 20th Century Fox asserting that their newly-launched FXX network is using a logo that too closely resembles the Exxon interlocked ‘X’s. One of their claims is that the logo sows “marketplace confusion.” Sure thing. Cause every new Tee Vee network, especially a comedy-centric one like FXX, wants to be associated with a big oil and gas company. In fact, the biggest oil and gas company.
According to Variety, ExxonMobil is claiming that the new logo “makes it look as if FXX is affiliated with Exxon.” Their proof? As part of the suit, the oil company submitted screen captures and quotes from several websites where folks were kvetching about the new design. On page 8 of its complaint, ExxonMobil cites their internet postings:
A comment on NeoGAF.com by user GungHo copying the FXX logo from a previous post and asking, “Were they inspired by the Exxon logo?”
A comment on AVclub.com by user The Enchanted Goatee, stating “It looks like a misprinted Exxon logo. ”
A comment on TV.com from user JT_Kirk who says, ”That FXX logo has to go, that is awful on a plate,” adding “Exxon is going to be pissed.”
A comment on HeapersHangout.com from user lee4hmz, asking, “[W]ho thought it was a good idea to rip off Exxon?”
Cause you know, if you read it on the interwebs, it has to be true. As could be predicted, FXX sez that the complaint is total codswallop: “We are confident that viewers won’t tune into FXX looking for gas or motor oil and drivers won’t pull up to an Exxon pump station expecting to get It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia,” a rep for the company said in a statement emailed to the Deadline website.
If nothing else, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban’s recent foray into design crowdsourcing illustrates its inherent arrogance as well as the power imbalance between designers and those that hope to exploit them.
Back in the day, I wasn’t terribly opposed to fan-based design contests for posters, logos and what have you. Used to be a nice way for bands and sports teams to develop a sense of community among their fans and to give those fans a chance to support their favorite causes. Hell, my first paying gig – a princely sum of $100 – was designing a logo for my high school radio station as part of a school-wide contest. I get it.
Of course, that was before the rise of exploitative design contest websites, when companies like Crowdspring and 99designs began to cash in and commercialize a previously organic concept, offering design contests for every purpose imaginable – from logos to websites, T-shirt designs to posters. All for a percent of the winning designers’ wages and a contest listing fee. After that, all design contests became taboo – a sort of ‘zero tolerance’ – at least among a good chunk of the design community, and now every contest – regardless of its intent or participant – runs the risk of being scorned and protested via social media, blogs and websites. It was into that landscape that Dallas Maverick owner Mark Cuban wandered, announcing a contest to design the Mavs’ new uniforms on Twitter (above) and via his blog here (fair warning: there are hundreds and hundreds of comments so the page takes forever to load.) The criticism was swift, in the comments section of the blog announcement, on Twitter, design blogs, and even articles in the mainstream sports media.
Anyone remember the dust-up about do-it-yourself logo creation site Logogarden and their allegedly purloined logos? Concluded to everyone’s satisfaction? Maybe not.
Let’s go back a few years, to the summer of 2011, when the design community blew up the internet over do-it-yourself logo design site Logogarden and it’s database that seemed to be full of logo templates consisting of other designers’ work. Remember that nasty little kerfluffle? If not, you can catch up here, here and here – I’ll wait. The situation was so ludicrous, I was able to purchase the WWF panda logo for a paltry 69 bucks (and was refused a refund when I pointed out that the copyright – and trademark – of the design belonged to the World Wildlife Federation.) Suffice to say, this translated into a world of schadenfreude, the end result of which was a mea culpa by Logogarden officials stating that “some symbols in (Logogarden’s) vast symbol library were copies of existing work” and that Logogarden “would remove any offending symbols as they were spotted.”
They went to claim that they themselves had been duped by “a small handful of dishonest design brokers” who had been paid to provide “strictly original work.” And, it would seem, failed epically. Anyhoo, Logogarden promised to clean out their database of “all offending symbols” and the controversy died down as we moved into the Fall of 2011. Guess we all thought the situation, such as it was, resolved to everyone’s satisfaction. I mean, the symbols had been deleted from the logo maker’s database, right? Well. maybe not. Here’s a looksee at the e-mail I found in my spam laden in-box this morning.
Less than a year ago I told you about HP shutting down Logoworks. Seems plans have changed. Apparently, the Utah-based company is open for business again, this time under new management. According to the Small Biz Trends website, Logoworks has been bought up by New York based growth equity firm Oldslip. The purchase of Logoworks from HP included the technology, trademark, and domain name, though a spokesman wouldn’t divulge the purchase price. At present, the remnants of Logoworks are a “handful of employees and a dozen or so external designers,” but Oldslip plan to “grow it back to its former glory, bit by bit.”