How simple graphic design missteps and a phenomenon called pareidolia, turned three innocuous logos into the poster children for worst logos ever.

There are logo lists all the time. Top this and that. Best logos. Rebrands of the year. The most valuable logos. Every permutation you can imagine. The most popular tend to be “Worst Logo” lists. There are tens of thousands of blog posts. “Worst logo fails” is a common lead-in to Tweets on Twitter. Everyone loves to harp on logos they perceive as “bad,” “worst” or “fail” and if you check those blogs, or click on the Tweets, you’ll invariably be taken to a gallery of impossibly stupid logos. There are three that are featured on almost every single one. They get added to new lists all the time and you’ve probably seen them repeatedly. We wrote about them back in 2008. Two have been kicking around the internet at least as early as 2005. They are, in every sense of the word, ubiquitous when it comes to “how not to design a logo” features. Let’s dissect them.

#3: A house. A sun. What could possibly go wrong?

Let’s say you were a Brazilian university. Let’s say you have department for “Oriental Studies.” Let’s say you needed a logo. Let’s start with two very common images, symbolic to Asia. First, a house.
japanese house graphics
That’s fair enough. Probably a little research went into what a traditional Japanese house looked like. Break it down to its simplest shapes and Bob, as they say, is your Uncle. How’s about a rising sun? It’s even on the Japanese flag. Nice big red one. Nothing more representative than that.
red sun graphic
Pretty slick. Big and red. Now, let’s put them together to make one totally kick-ass logo.
most infamous logo jury selection
I’m guessing ass was the wrong word to use there. This was a real logo, about ten years ago, for the Instituto de Estudos Orientais at the Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina (UFSC). It wasn’t till it was published on the interwebs did anybody notice it’s similarity to ahm, nether parts. It was subsequently yanked after the internet flare-up – keep in mind this was BEFORE Twitter – but still lives on in infamy.
oriental studies logo search

#2: The angle of the dangle

When it comes to branding government stuff, simple and adaptive is often the ticket. Wouldn’t want constituents struggling with the often verbose version of this or that particular department – overly complicated names generated by committee – so acronyms are often in vogue. Thus in the UK, the Office of Government Commerce gets pared down to OGC. All nice and easy to remember. When it came to creating a new logo back in 2008, the design process probably went thusly – take an off-the-shelf typeface for “O,” “C,” and “G.” Want it to look custom so let’s stretch it horizontally a bit. Voila:
ocg logo fonts
Let’s make our logo with said letterforms and smoosh them together, all artsy-like.
ocg logo horizontal
Heyoh! That’s a nice one. Simple. To the point. Would work on anything – letterheads, websites, business cards, embroidery. The works. Why, even on pens, where its skinny aspect ratio would allow it to fit perfectly. Except the logo turns sideways when the pen is in use:
ocg logo vertical
Oh dear. It actually wasn’t until these pens, mouse pads and assorted trinkets were delivered did anyone notice that the logo bore an uncanny resemblance to, well, you know what it bears an uncanny resemblance to. People flipped out, the story hit the media, and before long, the entire planet was laughing their asses off. All except the people behind the debacle I guess. Now, if you search for “OGC logo” on the Google, it starts offering all sorts of suggestions related to the logo right after you hit the “L” key. There’s even a page about it on Wikipedia:
OCG logo search

#1: I know how this looks but dammit Jim, I’m a doctor

This one is on every single “logo fail” list I’ve ever seen. I’ve grown to feel bad for the people involved – they’ve taken so much shit for this logo over the years – I never refer to them by name. At times, I’ve even blurred it out when I use the design as an example. The logo was changed many moons ago, no doubt after untold grief and internet abuse, but you still have to muster up some sympathy for these well-intentioned folks. See, they didn’t mean to create a logo that would be the poster-child for logo fail. They just did. Anyhoo, here’s how this one probably played out. Doctors and health professionals like to portray themselves as folksy, “hands on” (oooh, I’m gonna regret saying that) and personable. That means people. Don’t want too realistic looking people so we generally turn them into amorphous blobs with round heads and flobby arms. Baby blue color from the hop.
Blobby figure 1
A bit slouchy but okay. All nice and round – sharp edges might equate to pain. Next up, a kid. Same blobby style. Even fewer details cause it’s a kid. Nice big bulbous head.
blobby figure 2
Fair enough, so far, and nothing terribly peculiar just yet. But let’s put ’em together as one amalgamated graphic. With the name of the outfit the logo is supposed to represent.
pediatric center logo
Oh my, that IS a bit awkward. It’s supposed to be a caring, empathetic doctor comforting a child – patting them on the head perhaps – and while that’s what the designer and client saw, nobody else did when the interwebs kicked up a massive stink. Twitter wasn’t really around at the time, so it wasn’t a Twitterstorm, but a Blogstorm. Maybe a Forumstorm too. Sad thing was, this design got so far down the production alley, and was printed on so much stuff, most images you’ll see are of the office’s awning (in fact, I think that photograph may be ground zero to the entire fracas.) It will be a rare “worst logo” or “logo fail” blog post or listicle that doesn’t include this, probably the most infamous internet logo of them all.

Google sure thinks so.
pediatric logo search

Bad design vs. Pareidolia

While the pediatric center logo is sloppy design – creating poorly rendered components of a logo and not foreseeing how they work in total – the university and government logos aren’t particularly bad design per se (save the fact they totally don’t work as logos,) at least from a technical point of view. Rather, they are classic examples of pareidolia [pronounced pari-doh-lee-a,] a phenomenon when your mind sees patterns in something and assembles the images in your head as something it recognizes. This is the basis of Rorschach tests, that old “faces or a vase” optical illusion and many, many logos. It’s used primarily with negative space (bits of a logo where things are missing and it’s left to the eye/mind to fill them in.) Quite effective if used right. Think the Fed-Ex arrow and the Toblerone bear. Sometimes, as we’ve just seen, it’s not. Our mind often interprets these patterns as sexy bits and those are the logos that make for great internet fodder. The Airbnb logo was one recent example:
airbnb giant wanger
Lots of people saw a giant wanger. I didn’t see it till that image was pointed out to me, and now I can’t “unsee” it. I was going to delve into this deeper here but I’m thinking the subject of pareidolia and logo design requires a post of its own. Probably happen in the next day or two but here’s a teaser. This is NOT a logo of breasts:
not breasts

Even though your head is telling you it is. Especially after I told you what it isn’t.