Real Life Graphic Designer Looks at City Logos

Earlier this week, I received  the following Facebook message from a Streets.mn contributor:

A few writers were in a conversation that turned to city logos and how awful so many are. We thought it would be fun to post the logos, or water tower pics if they have the logos, and have some commentary.

As it happens, I am personally acquainted with a real life professional graphic designer who thinks about logos (and other things) for a large company right here in Minnesota. This is our conversation…

Streets: Hello. You’re a graphic designer who thinks about logos a lot?

Real Life Graphic Designer (RLGD): Yes.

Streets: Tell me about city logos, you know, those things on the water towers or the websites or the truck that fills potholes.

RLGD: Lexington, KY has an awesome city logo, designed by Pentagram (a nationally recognized agency) with a really cool campaign that went with it – it really shows the potential a city logo has, but Lexington probably has a high tax base and can afford to hire a top-tier agency to do their logo.

lexington logo

Streets: Nice! Blue horse.

OK. What’dya think of this one?

 images

To me, it makes me think of Grimace from McDonald’s.

RLGD: I like the typeface for Richfield, but they should get rid of everything else. And yes, that is Grimace Purple.

An even more horrible one is Eagan’s logo:

eagan logo

Streets: God, what font is that? It’s like the word “Eagan” is draining into a sewer.

RLGD: That city might as well be. Plus the tree always looked like the back of a woman’s head to me.

Streets: Kinda like that “optical illusion” thing with the old woman and the young woman!

womans head illusion

 

RLGD: I have always liked the logo of Apple Valley, though I dislike much about the city itself. It’s a nice, clean logo that looks good large or small, whether it’s in color or B+W, easy-to-read typeface, and it incorporates the apple tree without looking cheesy. I don’t know much about how it got designed though.

apple-valley-logo

Streets: Apple Valley’s is exciting. It picks a concept and carries it through.

OK, Duluth.

duluth logo

RLGD: That Duluth logo would be passable if they got rid of the city and just had the type/wave thing.

Streets: Too busy?

RLGD: I think the fallacy of most city logos is that they try to cover too much ground in one image

Streets: Indeed. They feel like they have to represent everything.

RLGD: A good logo is a simple mark, a symbol. A simplified crest, or mongram-ish image

Streets: OK, here’s an old chestnut for you. This would seem to qualify as simple.

mpls logo

RLGD: Minneapolis isn’t the worst. But it lacks personality, especially in the typeface.

And I hate that blue, that is default-web-link blue.

Streets: How about Saint Paul? Saint Paul would seem to fall into the “too busy” category, but maybe makes up for it with the simplified black and white color scheme?

st paul logo

RLGD: Saint Paul has kept it classy.

Streets: Score!

RLGD: It would look busy if it was more than one color

Streets: Luckily there’s not much color in Saint Paul.

How about this? Stillwater ugh? Or does it work? It reminds me too much of a rocking chair somehow… Or maybe it’s just that I don’t like Stillwater.

stillwater logo

RLGD: Too many swashes. I also hate how the tagline doesn’t line up with “Stillwater”

Streets: It’s offset to the left! I didn’t even notice that.

RLGD: And I hate beige. That’s so 1985

Streets: Stillwater is so 1985. OK, how about Anoka with its symmetrical A’s?

352

 

RLGD: Not the worst, but I swear that their water tower logo was really nice.

Streets: Is this the one of which you speak? That bridge kinda looks like a butt.

anoka watertower

RLGD: No, that wasn’t it, I might’ve been thinking of a different city.

Streets: OK, apart from the fact that there aren’t any white pine forests in Blaine…

blaine_logo

RLGD: No, just Aveda Headquarters. That logo would make a nice iron-on.

Streets: Yes! reminds me of a thrift store sweatshirt

Spring Lake Park…

slp_city_enblem345_t7x3_3hh1_03rh

RLGD: The image looks like a guy’s head with face paint

Streets: Could it be cheesier? It makes me think of a parade float in a small town. I am fond of that “Minnesota” font there, though. Is it the same one from the license plate?

RLGD: It’s not the same script font.

Streets: OK, I think this is the last one…

logo

RLGD: Not the worst. But it wouldn’t look good small or viewed from a distance. And city logos usually are.

Otherwise it reminds me of the Caldecott Medal… sorta…

 

Streets: Here. A Streets.mn reader modified it slightly…

Ham Lake

RLGD: Done! The type on it is very thin for being reversed.

Streets: Oh, one more thing. Any thoughts on the Mankato one? Or any concluding remarks?

mankato-logo

RLGD: One should never look to the Olympics as inspiration for a good logo.

Streets: Isn’t their 5 rings thing iconic?


olympic-rings

RLGD: I’m talking the ones for each city/year.


london olympic logo

Streets: Oh god, those things. They’re almost epically bad.

And why? Why? Design by committee?

RLGD: Yes, too many cooks in the kitchen I suspect

Streets: Do you think the Mankato logo is too swooshy?

RLGD It’s just a tired look. And what does “Now Playing” really mean for them?

Streets: It wouldn’t be a city logo without the bad pun.

RLGD: Most cities should avoid taglines.

Streets: Well, thank you for your professional time and experience. This has been most valuable!

RLGD: You’re welcome. This was fun!


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15 Responses to Real Life Graphic Designer Looks at City Logos

  1. Dave January 23, 2014 at 1:19 pm #

    Very entertaining and fun to see. St. Paul gets my vote for best overall. This feature reminds me of something that would have been posted on MNSpeak back in the old days. One of my favorites was create-your-own suburban taglines. Some highlights.

    Woodbury: “Houses from beige to tope.”
    Maple Grove: “Our cul-de-sacs are the cul-de-saciest.”
    Blaine: “Blaine!”

    A fun follow-up would be a city tagline analysis with a real marketing/advertising professional.

  2. Garrett January 23, 2014 at 2:10 pm #

    I’m interested in somebody redesigning the Minneapolis flag: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flag_of_Minneapolis

    It’s a dud.

    I’ve always loved the way that Chicago uses the city flag everywhere. It’s great for civic pride, and it could help our efforts to “brand” Minneapolis.

  3. JLedesma January 23, 2014 at 4:27 pm #

    And don’t forget Woodbury’s logo, the naughtiest in the world: http://bit.ly/1irEuPO

    • Bill Lindeke
      Bill Lindeke January 24, 2014 at 10:41 am #

      That can’t be for real!

      Woodbury, continually surpassing my expectations…

    • Dana S January 25, 2014 at 1:25 pm #

      Oh, thank you for bringing this one up… My husband and I snicker every time we drive by their water tower… Also, this isn’t a city, but there’s this car dealer in Burnsville who also has a similar idea for their logo… And apparently plays off of it for their advertising…. http://www.adtothebone.com/?p=195

  4. Eric S January 23, 2014 at 7:35 pm #

    This reminds me of when I just moved from Chicago. I saw the Chicago flag everywhere and wondered what the St. Paul flag was.
    I found this:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Flag_of_St._Paul,_Minnesota.svg

    and I found it nowhere else. I showed it to life-long St. Paul residents, who said they’d never seen it before. I like the city logo, but the flying car wheel should be stricken from this unused flag if it is ever revived (or brought to life to begin with?).

    • Bill Lindeke
      Bill January 23, 2014 at 10:54 pm #

      I have a soft spot for the St. Paul flag. A real soft spot!

  5. Wolfie Browender
    Wolfie January 23, 2014 at 9:16 pm #

    Bill, great piece about a great topic. This is something that you could make into a regular feature. Nicely done.

  6. Brian January 24, 2014 at 8:45 am #

    I have to strongly disagree with the graphic designer who stated that everything but the typeface used in the Richfield logo was bad. The logo in its entirety is bad. The colors feel dated and the typeface, well, there is no logical reason that I can think of for Brush Script existing and using it as the image for a city is disturbing and makes me sad that someone got paid to create something so ill conceived and visually unappealing.

  7. Monte Castleman
    Monte Castleman January 25, 2014 at 9:40 am #

    I think the Minnesota flag is a dud too. How many other states have an overcomplicated state seal in the middle of a blue or white field? I like the proposed “North Star Flag”
    http://mnflag.tripod.com/mnflag-alt1.jpg

    • Bill Lindeke
      Bill Lindeke January 25, 2014 at 11:10 am #

      hey, that’s not bad!

  8. Rachel Quednau January 28, 2014 at 7:30 am #

    This was great for a morning chuckle. Thanks! I’ve thought about city branding and logos before and half of me wonders how much it’s worth shelling out money for them. I would ideally like to live somewhere with a nice logo, especially if it effects tourist revenue, but if it’s mostly just to have something to put on our “Welcome to _____” sign and maybe slap onto the local government website, is it worth spending as much as, say, Target, would spend on their branding?