As a designer with experience both from graphic design and motion graphics for the stage and communication of complex, and often abstract ideas related to my work in peace and conflict I do on occasion get to create logos for organisations, groups and events. Combining my knowledge of design with my knowledge of peace-work the broad question of how these logos should look usually boils down to a few questions related to efficiently communicate an idea – what something is – while at the same time making sure the logo can be easily used and re-used by a number of people across various platforms and mediums. My solution is often a what I will call a Typographic logo, a logo consisting of elements of typography.
In graphic design we often think in terms of files – we most commonly use vector files – digital graphical objects created through mathematical formulas – ensuring that we can use and re-use the object, scale it from gigantic poster-size to something that fits on your business-card. Sometimes it’s handy to use raster files – files consisting of pixels like a digital photograph – especially when clients are going for unique looks or have special needs that are difficult to achieve using only digital files. A designer will often decide what kind of file is appropriate depending on where the logo will be used, or what ‘look’ it tries to convey. The great thing about purely typographic logos is also that they make it possible to look beyond the question of vector-based or raster-based files.
One example of a purely graphical logo in raster-format is the logo designer Jean Jullien created as a response to the terrorist attacks on the 13th of November 2015.
The logo was created using ink and a paintbrush on paper. It was a spontaneous creation rather than something tediously laboured over in front of a computer screen using software like adobe illustrator. One of the reason the logo works so well is the immediacy in it – the fact that it’s visible in its form that it was drawn quickly – as an intense and immediate response to the attack.
Another reason the logo works so well is that it’s combining elements we already recognise in new ways. Namely the peace symbol and the Eiffel Tower. The symbol of peace and the symbol for Paris communicates naturally in our mind when combined as Peace for Paris. Both of these symbols are so well recognised by so many that their combination stands by themselves, strong in communication, without needing further explanation. In many cases finding such elements is difficult, if not impossible and we have to look in other directions to create something self-explanatory – yet unique and sexy – oftentimes an almost impossible task.
This sometimes lead to fairly abstract logos seemingly without any inherent meaning in themselves. Logos I find to be a bit lame as they’re not particularly good at communicating any sort of idea. The peace logo in itself could be misunderstood to be one such example although it is inspired by naval flag communication of the letters N and D – standing for Nuclear Disarmament – the movement the symbol originally grew out from. Indeed most designers prefer to try to tie the graphical elements of their logos to what the logo represents – oftentimes through fairly obscure means, like naval flag communication.
Another, possibly the most common way to go in creating self explanatory logos is by combining elements of text with graphic elements. One example is the logo I designed for the Amazigh Women’s Movement in Libya:
This logo was – like the Peace for Paris logo drawn and painted on paper using ink and aquarelle colours combining two well-know symbols. The gender symbol for women, taken from astrology symbolising Venus and alchemy symbolising copper, and and the Tifinagh letter ‘yaẓ’ referring to ‘the free people’ which in itself is the meaning of the name of the Amazigh people, a commonly used symbol among the Amazigh people of North Africa. These elements are self explanatory, combining ideas of women, freedom and the Amazigh people, and can be easily reproduced by anyone with a pencil, spray-can or other medium of graphic expression – an expressed goal when designing it. In addition the logo has text in Tifinagh naming it the Amazigh Women’s Movement – that, and the fact that the ‘yaẓ’ in itself is a letter bridges this logo it into the realm of text-based logos – even though the graphical elements can be freestanding and used by activists in the movement without the text.
Another example combining graphical elements and text is the logo I designed for the RisørUNG, a chamber music festival for youth taking place in southern Norway every summer. This logo does however rely much more heavily on the textual elements and would be difficult to reproduce purely graphically while keeping its meaning intact.
The logo combines the name RisørUNG with an illustration of a sound-wave to underline the musical element of the festival. My goal was to create something instantly recognisable, something youthful and sexy, and something revealing through its graphical elements what RisørUNG is, while keeping a bit of a mystery tied to the wave that seems atypical for chamber music – encouraging curiosity to find out more about the festival and its contents.
The RisørUNG logo does two things – it communicates visually – and at the same time in text, combining graphical and typographic elements. The logo would however loose meaning if you chose to use only the graphical elements – unlike the logo of the Amazigh Women’s Movement – where the graphical elements still could stand by itself. This is, as I will explain as I progress towards purely typographic logos, not in itself something bad – or something that weakens the logo, it’s purely an expression of the intent behind it. This logo is not meant to be graffitied onto walls and still maintain its symbolic meaning – it’s intended for print and web formats.
One of the things this logo does is to emphasise the UNG-element (meaning youth in Norwegian) of the typography. It was important for us to emphasise this as the target audience of the festival is identified here. Another reason for doing so is that it keeps the text intact across fonts and other forms of typography. By this I mean that we in some ways still keep elements of the logo intact when we always emphasise UNG when writing the name of the festival – creating a link between what’s emphasised in text and what’s emphasised in the logo. Consequently the word RisørUNG in itself becomes a visual element – a typographic logo of sorts in itself, still referring back to the graphical logo but remaining intact simply in the way we wrote the name of the festival. By doing this we also distinguish the logo from the word Risør Ung – as the festival would intuitively be named, and create something unique and memorable – hopefully also communicating some of the sexy youthfulness of a punchy chamber music festival in southern Norway just through how we write the word.
I’ve always been fascinated by logos and seals and I really wanted one for myself and my work. Finding my logo was to be a really challenging project.
When it came to designing a logo for myself and my work I had to battle a lot of hard questions – who am I and what do I do? – The answer is in some ways the ever evolving journey we call life – how were I to pin this down in one graphical element – easily recognisable – useful for communication across a number of platforms and formats, defining me – and how I communicate myself to the world for the foreseeable future? Rough questions to answer.
The process started by me asking myself what I do. Well, I sort of work through various means of expression to fight against violence and oppression. I started working on a purely typographic logo consisting
purely of brackets and punctuation marks, the logo looked like this […] – symbolising censorship of text – where something had been edited out by governments etc. I even used it for this site for a bit. At this time I was mostly preoccupied with freedom of expression – an issue I still burn for – but as I’ve expanded my horizons it hardly captures the essence of me both as a designer, activist and individual.
The logo is however very strong – it’s self-explanatory – simple and easily remembered. It reads well in all written mediums as well as in low res pictures, for instance as a favicon on a tab in chrome where you typically maximum have 64×64 pixels to play with (8 times the resolution of a chess board). It’s also perfectly illustrates what I mean by a typographic logo as it is purely typographic – symbolising something using only elements found in any regular typeset, not even words. Anyone with a keyboard could easily write it anywhere – on-line, on business cards, in text documents and so forth. It carries its meaning in its inherent symbolism rather than relying on a linguistic word and the understandings or misunderstandings a word easily could carry with it across geographic, linguistic and cultural borders.
I felt I was more than just an activist for freedom of expression tho. I’m more than just someone using advocating for, or using freedom of expression for various causes – I felt my horizon, and the essence of me was wider than purely the scope of my work – or even that my work – combining my life as an activist, as a filmmaker, writer and designer – was wider than what was captured in the symbol – a very strong, but also limited symbol. I’d rather just use it for some elements of my work – my work either promoting – or using my freedom of expression. So the question remained, how do I create an ‘umbrella logo’ capturing the essence both of me and my work?
Some things were clear; I wanted to keep it typographic. I wanted the meaning to communicate across cultures. I wanted it to represent all of me, not just an element of my work, i wanted it to be simple enough to remember, and say something about me as a person. One way to go would be by using an individual letter. A letter that would be natural is Ø – the middle letter of my name. Ø is a very Norwegian letter, it communicates my origins, it does however communicate very little beyond that as it’s just an addition to the latin alphabet (in Norwegian we have æ, ø and å coming after z), it’s also pretty boring, just an O with a dash across. I also like to see myself more as a citizen of the world – having done most of my work and studies – and lived most of my ‘adult’ life in other countries than Norway. The Ø instantly ties me down and pegs me as a Norwegian – which isn’t something I see as the defining factor of me-ness (I’ll write more on nationalism, origins and stuff like that some other time). Th Ø is also difficult for people in many parts of the world to use as it’s not commonly accessible on keyboards.
One of the reasons why I’m so interested in typographic logos is that they convey meaning both through letters, typographic symbols such as punctuation and words. Words are in themselves extremely efficient in communicating ideas – the question is how to make them stand out – to make them unique. What does a word symbolise, and what does the way in which we write the word convey? This is interesting enough in itself if we limit ourselves to the latin alphabet but becomes even more interesting as we go beyond that – as we already did with the text elements in Tifinagh. Beyond alphabetic languages using letters there’s however also symbolic alphabets that still fit into what we can broadly call typography. One such alphabet is the Japanese kanji.
I wanted to look beyond my own geographical ties but still find something useable on my keyboard. My name is Bjørn, I quite like my name – it is in itself pretty tied to my Norwegian, or at least Scandinavian origins – but it also refers to the animal bear – an animal I feel fairly related to – probably because I was raised being named after it – but also because it has characteristics I like. They are individuals, they are strong, they can walk long distances, they like nature, they live in large parts of the world, including Scandinavia, they hibernate etc… In fact – as my name is Bjørn Magnus which refers to the constellation ursa major (big dipper) – if I wanted to revert to purely graphical symbolism I could draw up the stars in the constellation – however I wanted to be able to type my logo using a normal keyboard – for ease of use, and readability across the web, print and other mediums.
I do love the values that often are embedded in Scandinavian design, simplicity, creative use of materials, the use of light materials. Some of these elements cross the world and are also embedded in Japanese design. A culture known for its stunning printing-block designs, use of wood and paper in architectural designs, beautiful animation and graphic design across a number of mediums. I started wondering if I’d get closer to something if I combined elements from both of these cultures, expressing both some of my influences, but also the geographical scope of my work – I work all over the world. From Japan to England. At the moment I mostly work in Turkey, a country that ties eastern and wester traditions together – by doing the same thing, tying together eastern and western cultures in my logo I could express some of the international influences and scope of work. The typographic or calligraphic logo is also something that’s commonly used across the middle east and north african regions using traditional arabic penmanship creating beautiful symbols in a phonetic language.
A couple of years ago I had however learned that Bear in Japanese is pronounced and written kuma in rōmaji – latin letters – kuma, meant sand in Turkish, ‘same to you’ in Hausa, godmother in Serbo-Croatian and vulva in Swahili – in Japanese there was however the option of writing it in other alphabets than rōmaji – avoiding confusion with sandy vulvas and godmothers – one way of going about it would be using hiragana く- ku ま -ma, or katakana, ク-kuマ-ma. Both hiragana and katakana are phonetic languages. The main difference between them is that hiragana usually is used for Japanese words while katakana is used for foreign words. Both of these alphabets do however demand a word consisting of several letters to spell bear. Any phonetic language would also tie the symbol to a culture of spoken words – creating more of a language barrier than a purely symbolic language. Japanese does however also have a symbolic alphabet, namely kanji, which surpasses that. In Japanese you can say ‘bear’ as ‘kuma’ – that is however not related to the kanji which carries the same meaning regardless of how you in your phonetic language say the word.
My curiosity for links between symbols and language had attracted me to kanji a long time ago. In kanji the symbol for bear would be 熊 a quite attractive symbol – complex, yet clean. It’s something that’d be remembered and recognised – both by those who speak Japanese and those who don’t. It captured some of my aesthetics and background, some of my influences. It’s recognisable regardless of font or typeset. It could be easily written on any keyboard given that you have a Japanese typeset – which most computers, including my weird Norwegian macbook (with the æ,ø and å on the keyboard) do. I decided 熊 was to become my typographic logo – capturing many of the things I wanted to capture.
Another way of expressing what the logo of a designer, storyteller, filmmaker and activist such as myself is is by comparing it to a signature, or a seal. In Japanese culture there is a long and strong tradition for seals, inkan or hanko referring back to one of the oldest aesthetic traditions of both seals/logos, print and graphic design. By looking to traditional seals I could pay homage to a tradition that in many ways has shaped my work and still influences graphic designers all over the world. This resulted in me designing myself a Gagō-in (雅号印) – A symbol used by graphic artists as a signature or seal.
To begin with the Japanese seals were reserved for the emperor and nobility, then the samurai class got to use their own seals, exclusively with red ink, creating the aesthetics of Japanese red inked seals that are fairly well recognised throughout the world and broadly used today. The Samurai were warriors, dealing with peace and conflict in their own way – I kind of wanted to capture my work in that field too in my logo. As a peace activist I deal with war and conflict from the opposite perspective of that of warriors. By inverting the colours I could in some ways symbolise that I was inverting the role of the warrior taking a path of peace rather than a path of war, a kind of lovely thought to my mind.
At the end of the day, after researching and looking at Japanese seals, carefully considering who I was, what I wanted to express through my seal and where it was to be used I came up with this; a seal that works across sizes, media and culture, from the favicon on the top of this page to cinema-screens and billboards, to stamps and seals, business-cards and envelopes. I had found my logo: