25 June 2006

[logo_design] Portland General Electric

Much has been written about PGE of late, but this isn't one of those missives.

No matter who's owned it, PGE is in the warp and the woof of Portland's history. It's been around, in one form or another, since 1888. Its first form was Willamette Falls Electric, which set up a turbine at Willamette Falls, extending the power line into Portland–coincidentally, likely the first long-distance power transmission line in the United States.

By 1932, the company reorganized into the Portland Electric Power Company–known as PEPCo. In 1948, the company assumed its current name–Portland General Electric, simply known by everyone it its northwestern Oregon service area as PGE.

Organizations that exist this long tend to redo their corporate look more than once, and PGE is no exception. The first logo, (Illustrated, right) probably dated from about 1948. It was dynamic with the obliqued bold typography, all-American with its red-white-and-blue palette, effective and recognizable. The circular footprint allows for a wide variety of applications. When PGE built Trojan, the emblem became the nucleus in an '50's-style atom with electron traces zipping around.

While I can find no extant versions of the logo to display, there is an example of the old logo on the side of a PGE shop building across the street from the main PGE shops on SE 17th Avenue, just north of the TriMet bus barns. It's visible from the street; I was able to make a quick sketch, so my rendering isn't completely exact, but it's very close.

In about 1970 (give or take) the company, presumably feeling the old logo seemed dated, updated thier look. I was unable to find any example of this logo (if someone could scan and send me one, I'd do it up and post it here), but I was never impressed with it. It was merely stylized majuscules of PGE, with a lane cut through above the centerline, and in stripes of orange and blue. Blah. Hardly as interesting as the earlier emblem.

But in 1997 (I think it was) PGE redesigned again, and this time, they got it right. I truly truly dig this logo. It looks good, has modern color and (dare I say it?) energy.

The company trigram has been rendered in what looks very much like Myriad. This is a very contemporary face, something that looks good in titles and headlines; it has the apt ability to exhibit a bit of human personality and warmth but not so much so that the businesslike attitude is muted. It's matter-of-fact, but approachable; maybe that's why I see it in so much communication these days.

The type doesn't perform so much as it supports. The true genius of the logo is in the colors racing around the outside. Energy seems to come from so many places these days–the sun, the wind, biomass (well, not so much yet but we hope we're moving in that direction). The colors themselves have connotations, which can be personal–I don't know about anyone else but the black could suggest company tradition; the red, the energetic nature of electricty; the blue, wind and solar power; and the green, the hopeful move toward more...well, green...sources of power.

Lets step back and consider the florid language I've used just now and consider why I used it. I've written before that logos are many times used to suggest the best qualities of the company it represents. Your mileage may vary on this, but what I'm trying to point out is that a logo can be used to, hopefully, inspire a positive perception of what it does represent.

Now, down to the nut; the real cleverness in this design–note how the outer margin of the symbol has rounded corners. Looking at it in terms of negative spaces, it looks very much like a square of a certain dimension has been placed in the void of the round-cornered square and rotated just a few degrees to the left. The result is a symbol that contains dynamic tension on a level one may not even realize at first: the tapering of the colored dashes suggests energetic motion, the rounded outer corners keep the eye engaged, running round in a widdershins direction; the very nature of the whole thing balanced on a corner adds even more dynamic tension. The idea seems to be to suggest a picture of a lot of energy in motion, with PGE at the center, tying it all down and anchoring it into a form that the customer can just dependably use–the outer margin not only keeps the eye engaged on the periphery, but the rounded corners also suggest the eye go into the middle, to the PGE, brilliantly connecting and unifying the whole design across the very open white space in the middle. It even seems to evoke that beloved logo of old.

This, to me, is simple brilliance.

PGE has an effective logo, well designed, feels modern and respects many solid elememts of logo design.

(Postscript to PGE: I have a bone to pick with you people as well–I wanted to find a contact who might or might not have some idea where I could acquire proper logo graphics for use by journalists. I even sent an email to someone in corporate (I forget who now) which was never replied to or obviously not even forwarded to someone who could answer. How I wish that companies such as yourselves would make such materials available to those of us who wish to write about it–you'd be doing yourself an enormous favor. Think about it, will you?)

(PPS to All: Last example of the PGE logo and type is as seen on the website. Interesting expansion. Apologies to PGE.)

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