03 May 2010

[logo] Portland Public Schools - The Logo of Light, And What If I Rebooted It?

2403.A couple of days ago, I got the following tweet from Twitterer @AltF4LJDrama, a fellow who is known by some as … Ben:
@SJKPDX Ever think of taking a stab at analyzing the PPS logo? I was surprised how dated it seems. (yet somewhat timeless)
I didn't realize I was hungry for some whaleson-and-joss-stick logo talk until he tweeted that. Okay, Ben … your wish is my command here.

The first thing I can tell you is that the PPS – Portland Public Schools – has no "press kit/press materials" link on their website, http://www.pps.k12.or.us/. No particularly unique sin here – lots of companies and online presences who stand to be written about in the press have no sort of online graphic resource available.

What do I mean by this? At a minimum, if you're going to have a brand or logo presence, you ought to make available to researchers and authors the following:
  1. JPG, PNG, and TIFF versions of your logo in various sizes for use in print and on line. For JPGs particularly, have at least three different resolutions, say 72ppi, 150ppi, and 300ppi, because when someone scales up your JPG, it looks like hell. JPGs are good for web, PNGs are good for web, and TIFF goes pretty much everywhere.
  2. Full-color and grayscale/B&W versions of your logo and versions on dark and light backgrounds.
  3. Some sort of usage guidelines – how to use them, how not to use them. When I've huffed and puffed about logos in the past, this is one of the first things I look for. I respect the work of the designers who've created them, regardless of how I feel about the design, and I always respect usage guidelines.
So, PPS, everyone who cares about how your logo gets presented … do this. Please. Make good copies of your logo available for Fair Use and tell us how to present it. Unless we're doing some intepretive collage work, we'll respect it.

And on with the show. The PPS logo is, as Ben mentioned, dated, but timeless. Let's explore what that might mean. Here's two versions of it, from various PDF publications found on the PPS website:

The timelessness and the staleness comes from the same general place. It really is a simple logo, but the letterforms look kind of dowdy (and stacked to boot) and the torch-in-hand looks like it was drawn sometime during the 1950s. This is not to say they're ugly – far from it, in fact. And the imagery – meant to impart the idea that knowledge provides one with a torch to drive back the darkness of ignorance – is as timeworn as is it timeless.

There is, also, an imperfection about the letterforms – as though they weren't typeset, but drawn. The unnevenness in the S gives that away to me. It's as though it was done by one of those designers who did those flawless letterforms on movie posters and such but did them all by hand – before even Letraset existed.

To me, it seems evident that the PPS logo, even though it's hardly fatally flawed, is stale and could use a reboot. I don't have a design in mind specifically, but there are some things we could do:
  1. Elminiate the type altogether, or at least unstack it.
  2. Simplify the torch. The detail makes it look a little like Your Father's Torch™.
  3. The verticality of it makes it all sedate, centered, and locked-down. It's balanced and in-line, which reduces the dynamic tension almost to zero – even though it's really an asymmetrical design.
Like I said, I don't have a specific reboot in mind … or do I?

I've been looking at the PPS front page, and a stylization of the torch is repeated, not only in the welcome message:

But also in the contents-tabs:

You know how I was saying that the torch could be simplfied? I think they have it, right there. Let's see where I can take this.

Take the simplified torch shape:

Then rotate it about 30-45 degrees CW and place it on the circle, thusly:

I certainly think I have a beginning of something here, and with some polishing, we could make this the new logo of the Portland Public Schools, which could live with – or without – type. If we do use type, then choose something modernly-stylish that has the potential to exist a while without looking dated. I would suggest Myriad Pro or Gill Sans, something like that, that has modern sleekness and a sens of timelessness to it:

The simplifying of the torch and the tilting solve two problems. First, the new clean and minimal line of the symbol remove the hint of a specific period's design. Second, the tilting imparts the same sense of dynamic energy and tension which makes italicized or obliqued type impart emphasis and energy to the eye. The use of Myriad Pro in the type should bring, in and of itself, and obvious improvement.

If I were presenting this as a serious proposal, I'd try some other colors, some other arrangments of type. But this basic approach really brings the PPS look forward and, in my opinion, forcefully, without being too avant-garde or experimental

Thanks for the suggestion, Ben. That was fun!

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