Does Every Movement Need a Logo?

This past Sunday’s New York Times Sunday Review featured a timely Op-Ed piece by Seymour Chwast pegged to the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations titled “Every Movement Needs a Logo.” Designers, including Chermeyeff + Geismar, Project Projects and Ji Lee, among others, contributed a mark to the cause.

It may be true that every idea – especially good ones – can benefit from a mnemonic. A unifying element, sign, symbol or code adds allure and provides a rallying point. What’s more, we all love wearing labels of some kind to show our allegiance to some thing. When faced with a branding problem, a designer’s first impulse is to create a logo. Yet just maybe that is the wrong strategy.

Just maybe Occupy Wall Street, the ongoing peaceful protest (labeled “UnAmerican” by presidential candidate Herman Cain), which is growing larger in numbers each week, should not be seen as a typical movement in need of a compelling brand-story. Just maybe, owing to its divergent supporters, it should be totally unbranded – indeed unsullied by design manipulation.

Logos take forethought. This demonstration is without leaders or strategies. It would be lovely to have an anthem, flag – or even a style. But it would be wrong. Occupy Wall Street is the first non-partisan expression of frustration of how the American economy was allowed to implode. The movement, if that’s what it is, is not yet ready for the media-experts to inject “design thinking” into the stew.

In fact, let it stew – let it grow as a potpourri of expression, emotion and energy. Let it find its own shape. Don’t impose colors, patterns or custom typefaces.  Perhaps the best design strategy is to let its find its own voice(s). Let designers and non-designers contribute messages but not branding. And that might be real innovative social innovation.

(Photos: above,; below CNN.)

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21 thoughts on “Does Every Movement Need a Logo?

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  5. Mindy A

    I am sure that many of those who are unemployed (who are healthy enough to work) are currently on Social Security Income or Unemployment Benefits. I agree that there doesn’t really need to be a logo. However, I think that with the right message, we should tell the government that they have to stop spending money and focus on making sure Americans WILL have opportunites to get a job rather than go to the government for financial support by applying for unemployment benefits and social security income. Those things are what makes our government go deep in debt if more people become unemployed. It just has to stop. 

  6. Ozymandias

    Rather than a logo, I’d suggest a shave, shower and a nicely printed resume. Some of the posters here have underscored the calls for free expression for the same individuals, in some cases, who defame tea party protestors as Nazis, rascists and worse. As the saying goes, “free expression for me but not for thee.” The protestors here have no brand as their message is convoluted and based in part on a clear misunderstanding, perhaps willful ignorance of a free enterprise system. You can’t brand what ain’t defined, as my old pappy used to say. If they truly wanted an effective protest, they’d gather around the Whitehouse and inquire as to why this administration has forgiven billions in corporate taxes for their crony friends? Although Obama has a swell logo by all accounts.

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  8. Lyn Boyer

    Steven. Thank you!! As designers and illustrators we wield a hammer that can build or shatter and this is the first time I’ve heard someone step up to the plate to suggest that are times to leave our tools in our tool bag long enough to just observe and let something grow without our bootprint on it. Just because we ‘can’ doesn’t mean we ‘should’. Images can inspire or manipulate.  I clearly remember with horror the day I saw a highly designed, animated, 3D logo for the first ‘War in the Gulf” fly across my TV screen replete with dramatic music.  War had been reduced to a combination of an ad campaign and a video game. When in war were logos appropriate?  When they were painted on the noses of the planes in WWII by the men who flew them or by one of thier buddies.  Those logos were grounded in reality.  They weren’t part of a marketing campaign.  They grew from the hopes, dreams, fears and humor of the men who manned them. So if this new movement wants a logo let them paint it themselves on their signs and let there be thousands of them.  This isn’t a comment on the politics of the movement but a hurrah for the diversity of the movement. They don’t need our help. Let’s leave them to find their many and unique ways of expressing themselves. Branding can easily become a box. May we know when to keep our brushed in the quiver.

  9. steven heller

    Mr. Cain called the protesters and protest “UnAmerican.” I realize he meant that capitalism is the bedrock of American economics, but the term “UnAmerican” has other more unsavory connotations.
    These “protesters” are whiners is not particularly fair. I know a few who’ve spent time down in the street who have lost considerably in recent years by putting their faith and labor in “The American dream” – pension wiped out, etc. You cannot be so sanguine about today’s power elite as to think the national investment banks have the best interests of the American people at heart. But whatever you feel. . . We all have beliefs based on personal, philosophical and ideological hard-wiring. And what’s right and wrong is not black and white.
    “Pathetic loosers” is another fairly gross generalization. Wall Street is a game most of us play in some way. It is one of the few ways the middle class has of having some semblance of security. When that security is imperiled, we are all loosers.

  10. Jim

    John, I agree wholeheartedly with everything you say. I, too, am a “right-winger,” meaning that generally I am in the minority in this comment section and usually at political odds with Mr. Heller. From what I’ve seen, these “protestors” are whiners who think they are somehow entitled to having everything handed to them for free. I’ve been self-employed most of my adult life as a designer. I’ve had to fight and scrape for nearly every design job I’ve ever done. I’ve never moaned and groaned “poor me,” when I lost out. These pathetic losers make me sick. And Steven, Herman Cain didn’t say it wasn’t their right to protest, only that he disagreed with them and, in his opinion, what they were doing was un-American in the sense it goes against every principle of self-reliance this country was founded upon. Interesting that when the Tea Party ”peaceably assembled” to air their “grievances” the left called them racists,Nazis and, my favorite, Astroturfers.  

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  12. cb

    Thank you for this. Yes it may seem disorganized, but many are fed up and simply don’t know what else to do to get the message across. I am employed (and thankful for that), and I appreciate those who out there protesting – for me.
    The point of protest is to raise awareness. And they have.
    It will take time – and not a logo – to congeal with a message that will be addressed. The press is covering this event as they usually do – just about the protesters and the space they are occupying. At some point the issues will be forced, and we will see the attention directed to the source of their protests.
    So, if there is a logo that would be attached to this protest, I’d turn to the photos you posted with the blog. It is a patchwork – of experiences and emotions that raises the level of consciousness in us all, to ensure the unfathomable decision-making by government and Wall Street does not continue.
    Just one last note: I’m disappointed in Mr. Cain’s response because the First Amendment provides “the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

  13. emily

    i’m a member of the OWS graphic design committee and i think this article gets the point. first off, this is a developing movement and, second, are we convinced a logo is neccessary? also, if OWS ever decides it wants a logo, the way to get one adopted is not to publish it in a newspaper, but to get involved and collaborate with the graphic design team of OWS, then present it to the general assembly for a vote. we struggle to make everything that goes on in OWS horizontal and collaborative. i’m getting a little sick of all the advice being published, suggested lists of demands, suggested logos, suggested fashion advice. if anyone wants to influence the actions of OWS, they need to actually participate in the process rather than publish their suggestions.

  14. Bryan

    I agree with the points in the column and think “In fact, let it stew – let it grow as a potpourri of expression, emotion and energy. Let it find its own shape. Don’t impose colors, patterns or custom typefaces.” sums it up nicely. Before you can brand it, you have to understand it. I’m not convinced analysts and observers alike understand the protests yet.
    On a non-design note, John, your assessment reminds me of comments I read/heard when the Tea Party movement was rumbling (and being dismissed) on a regional level. It confuses me when the dialogue includes folks who justify the value of their outrage, in part by devaluing someone else’s. This isn’t to say either is right, or wrong, misguided, or on-target. Republican, Democrat, Conservative, Progressive, Populist, Capitalist…everyone is ticked and eager to be heard, so why not try to listen/understand?

  15. Dave B

    John you are so right, perhaps it would have been better for the colonists to clean their wigs, keep quiet and just get on being productive earning for the crown. Cheerio old chap.
    On to the main topic, it could be that this group of protestors is outside the scope of traditional “branded” movements. But it seems that a centralizing graphic can in some ways help to persuade the opposition and potentially give legitimacy to the cause. However, this needs to develop out organically. Remember “Act up” and other such movements with homespun design based on circumstance? Awhile back I saw James Victore speak about this topic, and to paraphrase; It’s just much more f’in impressive to see hundreds wearing the same t-shirt or carrying the same sign.

  16. John

    As a “right winger,” I’m stunned this is even a point of discussion. 
    This movement is easily dismissed with or without a logo. Crybaby spoiled brat layabouts who spout unbelievably asinine “demands” don’t deserve two seconds of serious consideration. They should all be rounded up, power washed with a fire hose and thrown in jail for 30 days for disturbance of the peace, loitering, vandalism and general public stupidity.

  17. Bruce Colthart

    I agree. The lack of a unifying symbol adds to the genuine and decentralized nature of the spontaneous and viral protests. Perhaps too by staying logo-less, the movement will maintain its primitive, grassroots allure versus being seen as a product, which can be so easily dismissed. The movement may also be less of a target to the right wing without a unifying mark. it should remain a movement of people and ideas; we should resist “packaging” it and putting it on a shelf to be consumed.