This past Monday, Memorial Day, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America released a new logo design. From the press release:
Today, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), the nation’s first and largest nonpartisan, nonprofit organization representing veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, unveiled a new brand identity for the groundbreaking organization. The new brand, distinctly different from the previous, captures the energy, youth and diversity of the more than 2.2 million veterans who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan since 9/11.
Like Livestrong did for cancer, we hope to do for vets.
The agency that designed it, Landor Associates, part of Young & Rubicam Brands, subsidiary of WPP (the world’s largest marketing agency), rolled out an extensive brand introduction, including variations on the logo and a snazzy video, complete with awkwardly-looping stock music!
This rebranding got relatively high praise around the web: tweets about the logo were uniformly (ha!) positive, and the logo design blog Brand New saw mostly positive reactions.
At least from where I’m standing, this logo is pretty far off the mark.
Let’s first talk about the technical execution.
This is a clever logo. The treatment of the letters allows it to be read as thin white letters with thick green shadows, or as heavily angled stencil-style green letters. Visually switching between the two hearkens to those classic optical illusions, like the vase and two faces. But it’s not clear how this effect evokes anything to do with IAVA, or veterans. The shapes themselves are supposed to be “reminiscent of the military ribbon bars awarded to service members” — rather strange, considering that ribbons bars are, at least in the U.S., exclusively vertical. The highly unscientific poll of several friends who are veterans didn’t see the reminiscence either. They saw tire treads and stencils.
The full title below the main logo treatment looks hastily tacked on at the end, a so-plain-as-to-be-generic all caps sans serif, flush right. This addendum text achieves only the most basic task of legibility (almost a cheat sheet for those who can’t figure out the letters above), and actually detracts from the more interesting aspects of the rest of the logo. The two lines of text merely serve to emphasize the most ho-hum lines in the shapes above it, the horizontal ones.
One of the ways that an otherwise barely-legible logo can still really work is if the shape of the logo itself is striking and distinctive. Zildjian is a good example of this. In many real-world situations it will be hard to tell if this is even a logo at all, and not simply a large jumble of shapes, so once again it will have to fall to the weakest part of the logo to inform people that this is a logo at all.
Now let’s talk creative direction.
It’s clear from the start that this is an aggressive logo — much more aggressive than its predecessor. But what it gains in sharp, pointy edges it loses in professionalism and dignity. Overall this feels a lot closer to a metal band logo than something I get a tax deduction for donating to. And I can certainly see the benefit of distancing oneself from the latter, but is it too much to ask to do so in a credible, compelling manner?
Look at some of the words that their members used to describe their organization, which were allegedly used when designing this logo. Pride. Community. Determined. Patriotic. Courage. Honor. Understanding. Selfless. Intelligent. Be honest with me, dear reader: is that list of words anywhere close to a list of words you’d come up with after looking at the new IAVA logo?
And as if that weren’t enough, Landor’s branding samples show more a desire for Landor to show off that it “understands the youth of today” more than it, you know, understands the client:
What exactly does graffiti-style spraypaint tagging and “street team” cred have to do with supporting veterans, even young ones? And pause the video at 1:10 - take a look at all the logo permutations, and notice how similar they all are, including some significantly more legible variants of the final logo. (Critics' claims of similarity with the Veterans Administration logo are well founded — take a look at the top middle. While the VA is of course very relevant to IAVA, it’s worth noting that even the VA wants to bury their 70s-era logo.)
The old IAVA logo was certainly growing long in the tooth, but it was a good logo for a new organization: it combined a bit of hipness (the rounded square, the three stars below the acronym) with the credibility it needed to show to funders and politicians (the classy text laid in Minion with crisp line dividers). IAVA had recently begun to graduate from the boundaries of that branding, particularly with its “We’ve got your back” slogan and swag. I would have been very interested to see what a new IAVA logo would look like that took cues from the League Gothic on their materials and website. Instead we’re stuck with a logo that vacillates between “sharp, cold, and impersonal” in its base construction and “aggressively grungy for its own sake” in its implementation.
For Landor, a division of a truly massive multinational corporation, I'd gently suggest they stick with designing boxes for VapoRub.
Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America does a lot of amazing work supporting our troops when they get home from two of our most recent inexcusably tragic and immoral wars, especially those wounded physically and psychologically. I've been lucky enough to do a bit of design work for them at a previous job. IAVA deserves a logo that both embodies and reinforces their mission to “improve the lives of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and their families,” though it looks like they’re going to have to wait a bit longer to get one.
(In any discussion of veterans’ issues on this blog, I would be remiss not to mention the great work — and solid branding — of Iraq Veterans Against the War.)