To Abstract Or Not Abstract?
It has been, for us and many other people, a lesson about the power of abstract marks—but that doesn’t mean that an abstract mark is always appropriate. More than 50 years later, we had the opportunity to design visual identities for two conservation organizations. In one case, we encountered very similar issues as we did for Chase, and our solution is abstract. The other organization demanded a very different kind of design. In 2009, Conservation International made a bold and revolutionary decision to change its mission and focus from protecting nature for nature’s sake to protecting nature for the well-being of humanity. The new strategy would greatly expand the organization’s involvement into populated areas, such as cities and farmlands. This strategic shift made their previous logo—an illustrative rendition of greenery with a primate hanging from a tree branch—irrelevant. The group’s director of branding, Laura Bowling, came to us to create a new mark that would be appropriate for the new mission and that would set Conservation International apart from the many peer organizations dealing with environmental concerns. We explored dozens of design concepts, including many that featured or were representations of a human figure. However, in the nonprofit arena the human figure has become clichéd. Throughout the sketching and exploration process, one simple concept rose to become our favorite: a blue circle underlined in green. Although the design was made of two simple, basic shapes, their combination and proportions did not look familiar. And it was appropriate: Bowling titled the form “our blue planet on a green path to sustainability.” As the name Conservation International is very clear and descriptive, we felt that an abstract mark was appropriate. And since the audience for the organization is so specific, the mark could quickly gain recognition. Once the mark cleared the worldwide trademark search, we were convinced we had a winner. However, our greatest challenge was still ahead: Having lived with and loved the previous logo, the decision makers found it extremely difficult to accept a simple, abstract form in its place. In the ensuing months, we found ourselves honing our sales skills. We had to make the case that an effective mark can never express everything about an organization. Rather, a trademark is only a small part of an organization’s communications, and its most important task is to be an effective identifier. Finally, we developed a short animated piece for Conservation International, paying homage to the old mark while transforming it into the new design. The sequence started with a monkey sitting in a tree, followed by an expansion of the camera view—suggesting the expansion of the scope of the organization’s work—to other areas of conservation, including humans, and ended with the new trademark. With this animation, we were able to infuse the simple icon with passion, history, and rich meaning. It was, finally, this animation that helped Conservation International begin to transfer their own positive feelings from the old mark to the new.