Real Life Graphic Designer Looks at City Logos II: The Return of the Refreshed

mpls logo

[See also the first installment of A Real Life Graphic Designer Looks at City Logos, where an actual professional working-for-a-large-Twin-Cities-company graphic designer discussed the logos of Minneapolis, Saint Paul, Duluth, Apple Valley, and many other Minnesota cities.]


Bill Lindeke (BL): Hello how are you today? Do you have time to chat?

Real-Life Graphic Designer (RLGD): Great. I can chat now, if you like.

BL: So the big news is the Minneapolis logo. Have you seen this amazing article on the history of the logo? Here’s the interesting part:

This [new skyscraper] prompted some bigger thinking about redesigning the stationery and conveying the existing City of Lakes brand in a new, more versatile logo that could also be affixed to calling cards, Schulstad said. They considered using the outline of a lake, but realized that Minneapolis’ lakes don’t have very unique shapes.

“Then we thought, ‘Our lakes are restricted, it’s only for canoes and sailboats. You can’t use a powerboat on a Minneapolis lake,'” he recalled. “So we thought about a canoe. That just didn’t look very good. So then we thought, ‘Well how about a sailboat?”

So the two men, neither of whom had design background, went to work with a compass, some black paper and an X-Acto knife. Neither thought they were creating anything more than an icon for stationery and business cards.

“This was not something where we went out to an advertising agency and paid $50,000 to get the design,” Schulstad said. “This was two people in the communications department … It was just strictly an in-house thing.”

That’s from 1975.

RLGD: I read the whole article. It’s pretty fascinating.

BL: People didn’t used to think much about logos or design, I suppose.

I love the detail where they’re using X-acto knives.

RLGD: That is another era of design, for sure.  I did some stuff like that in high school and middle school.

BL: I cut out shapes of construction paper in kindergarden. So, what is your take on the great 2015 Minneapolis logo debate?

minneapolis logo new

RLGD: I kind of like the 1975 version.

minneapolis logo 1975

Haha. It needed a refresh, but it looks so much like many other logos out there right now, especially in the corporate world.

I think it was a missed opportunity.

BL: To do something different? something non-sailboat-y?

RLGD: But refreshes can be challenging, especially with an established “brand” like Minneapolis.

BL: Nobody likes change. I had a friend who worked for a while trying to write new jingles for Folgers, which has one of the most famous jingles in the world.

He said it was very frustrating, because you couldn’t change very much. It still has to be “the best part of waking up.”

RLGD: The audience hates it too. Look at Gap. Though that was crap.

gap logo failHeh, that rhymed.

BL: LOL. Probably the top all time logo disaster? Until the Hillary campaign?

RLGD: That one is funny. And the response from the design community is even better.

BL: So I tried to find a logo for Maplewood but all I could get was this:

maplewood logoRLGD: LOL.

BL: It’s surely one of the ‘classic’ corporate logos, no? Is it good because the 3 and the M are stuck together, and the company makes adhesive products?

RLGD: Yes, but that was a slow evolution.

BL: By slow evolution you mean, it changed slowly as the company makes tiny changes?



BL: O wow. Aha. Cities don’t really spend as much time thinking about their brand image as companies do, I bet.

RLGD: Hard to say for a city the size of Minneapolis. They would at this point.

But a suburb or small town? Probably not as much.

BL: Here’s my favorite one I’ve found so far.

lakeville logo

RLGD: Yes. It makes a good t-shirt. I grew up in Burnsville. That’s been around since the 80s at least.

BL: O wow. Yes.

So for some reason almost all Minnesota cities have river themes.

RLGD: It’s a watery place.

BL: Burnsville is weird to me. I’m not sure what I’m looking at.

burnsville logoRLGD: That looks like a really bad refresh or not the logo at all.

BL: Nope, it’s real. I just checked on the city website.

RLGD: Well this is the one I grew up with…


BL: That’s so 70s.

RLGD: But yes, their refresh looks like some drunk accountant bought Illustrator and did the logo one night.

BL: Actually, the Burnsville logo evolution reminds me a lot of the Minneapolis “update,” just make everything more swooshy.

RLGD: It looks like a mistake. 70s was fine time for design, IMPO.

BL: So much freedom.

Another river theme…

Coon Rapids logo-color

RLGD: Crapids.

BL: Hey now. They have a fine roller rink.

RLGD: Skateville is better. Another fine specimen from the 70s.

BL: I like the raccoon. Logos with cute animals seems like a win-win.

RLGD: It’s very cute and very different for a city logo, but how effective is it on a cop car?

BL: Racoons are inherently thieves?

It’s harder to make an elk cute, I guess…

elk river logo

RLGD: I bet there’s a cute elk in an anime somewhere.

BL: Actually, the forest god from Princess Mononoke is kinda cute and elk-y…

mononoke forest spirit

So this came up in the comment thread from your last column…



RLGD: That logo?

Reminds me of this…


BL: Yes, Dodge of Burnsville!

Well you got to give Woodbury points for having “balls.”

RLGD: Kind of looks like something else …

BL: I wish the ‘W’ wasn’t truncated on the bottom. It really bothers me.

RLGD: I like the typeface for Woodbury.

BL: The ‘o’s are perfectly round.

We received a logo submission via Twitter: Little Canada, which a reader said “I like the idea, but seems a tad cheesy.”

little canada logo

RLGD: Hmm, why the Fleur?

BL: Because Canada. I learned the other day that the fleur de lis is based on an iris.

RLGD: Is that a strong Canada symbol?

BL: Traditional French… It’s all over Quebec.

RLGD: Ahh. I’d take out the “LC.” It makes it too busy. And the leaf is poorly drawn.

BL: Yep. It’s almost like a vertigo spiral.

Speaking of fleur de lis…

faribault logo

RLGD: That’s a better Fleur at least.

But the colors lack value contrast. The typography is weird too, and the lines are not needed.

BL: The ‘City and the ‘Of’ not being lined up…

Risque or slapdash?

RLGD: It needs cleaning up.

BL: Want to see the weirdest one?

RLGD: Yes!

BL: Check out the gradient…


RLGD: I don’t even know what to say. I hate gradients in logos. A good logo should look good in black and white.

Also, this one is too busy with the lines.

But the “P” is interesting. I like that it has, on its own, a subtle water-drop motif

BL: What do you mean by that?

RLGD: Not the leaves and pubes. Or the udders. Just the “P” itself.


It’s actually pretty elegant, but it’s buried in the other stuff.

BL: Oh, I see the water drop now.

They have their own semi-privatized bus system though…


All this slanty text makes it seem like the bus is moving even when its stuck in traffic.

Well we’re almost done here.

I thought this was awesome but I can’t explain why. It’s also sort of a map, shaped like the city itself.

brooklyn park logo

RLGD: It’s clean but dull. So many cities do use blue and green as a crutch. It reminds me of the bad Blimpie logo redesign…


BL: The one on the right is the newer one?

RLGD: Yeah.

But they fixed it recently…


BL: Yeah why blue and green all the time? Earth and sky…

Here’s the official flag of Rochester, Minnesota.

rochester flag

What type face is that?

RLGD: Woah. I can’t say specifically.

BL: The colors almost have a Shepard Fairey quality to them to my eye. The font is like the old 80s digital stuff.

RLGD: It’s as OCR looking font.

I weirdly like it. Even if it doesn’t make much sense.

BL: I do too. Don’t tell anyone.

Do you have any last logo remarks?

RLGD: Yes, I hope Hillary didn’t pay too much money for her logo.

hillary logoBL: LOL. Logos make politics fun.

RLGD: It’s not the worst, but the lack of color contrast with the arrow is a basic design no-no.

BL: Wait a sec. What do you mean lack of color contrast? Is there lots of color contrast?

RLGD: I meant value contrast

BL: Ah. I will google that.

RLGD: If it was in b + w it would look one color. That’s not good for people who are colorblind or who have vision problems. A good logo, should look good in one color.

BL: I am learning!

RLGD: Now you know! 🙂

BL: Keep up the good work, making the world fit to be seen.

RLGD: Thanks! Let me know if you want to do another.



14 thoughts on “Real Life Graphic Designer Looks at City Logos II: The Return of the Refreshed

  1. Eric AnondsonEric Anondson

    These chats have been awesome. I’ve worked with graphic designers, and I’m married to one, so I’ve been around designery chats in real life for a long time. You start developing their tastes in things, like being around editors starts to spread their tastes on Oxford commas or grammar peeves.

    The pervasiveness of blue and green in city logos is like the over use of cyan and yellow in action movies.

    1. Eric AnondsonEric Anondson

      Are those dangly things on the Plymouth logo supposed to be gears (for industry) or an udder (for farming)? Or the insane genius of both!?

  2. Andrew B

    Burnsville’s refreshed logo looks like a forest fire. Also why do they always have “City Of”? Like Minneapolis is Minneapolis, pretty obviously a city.

  3. Nope

    Plymouth has historically used a gear because of the presence of heavy industry in the city, this is known to anyone who knows about Plymouth or frankly, the Twin Cities at all. Rochester uses the computery font because of the influence of IBM in the area. If you intend to write an article about local history, you should consult someone who knows the area.

    1. Eric AnondsonEric Anondson

      You’re taking this too seriously. Not everything on the internet calls for rage.

      If a logo needs intimate knowledge to know what’s going on, you’re doing it wrong.

  4. Alex SchieferdeckerAlex Schieferdecker

    The new Minneapolis logo is cringeworthy. They did it all in house to save money. That’s exactly the kind of thing we should be spending money on. Minneapolis has so many excellent design firms. Pay one of them to design a logo that will turn represent the city better than a sailboat.

    I’m from the east cost, I grew up on a town on the Long Island Sound. I associate that place with sailboats. Not Minneapolis.

    1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

      For the life of me, I do not get why anyone cares about the city’s logo, nor understand why anyone would (a) bother to try to change it or (b) object to changing it.

      Okay, maybe with one exception. I’d be for changing the Plymouth one.

      1. Julia

        Logos are representations/identities, like any choices about how we present ourselves. You don’t have to care, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t matter.

  5. Paul Strebe

    Hilarious piece! Gotta love the logos that were designed by committee. I’ve always hated Wisconsin’s switch from the big, bold cheese-like yellow to the make-every-interest happy (sailboat, smog, barn) mess that is is today. At least Minnesota has stuck with one theme.

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