Unitarian Universalist Logo Rant

Two of my passions are logo design and UUism. I love reducing an image down to a few strokes or shapes, hopefully one with some clever meaning, and I love the little chunks of typography that go into setting a name in a hopefully unique and identifiable way. I love Unitarian Universalism’s “be excellent to each other” attitude and the passion for making the world a better, more welcoming place, as well as their reminders to raise each other up to higher standards.

However, in my years of growing up UU, I’ve been largely horrified by the results when these two passions overlap. True, the double-ringed flaming chalice can be a more difficult symbol to work with than the simpler symbols of most major religions, but it’s still a distinctive symbol with strong symbolism even when altered significantly. It seems like there could be better design options than the majority of those created. Many of those seem to be hand-drawn in something like MS Paint or scanned in from paper, or drawn with default shapes in PowerPowerpoint. Making it worse is the UU propensity for rainbows. Yes, we are all welcoming congregations, and yes, every non-designer loves a good excuse to throw a rainbow gradient in. But they will rarely, if ever, look good! And yes, flames can be hard to get a nice smooth, evenly balanced shape on – but if you’re going to make a logo for something, it’s worth the time and practice.

There are some more-or-less decent ones out there though:

  • uua-logoThe Unitarian Universalist Association:
    Could have better proportions (on the chalice in particular) but is recognizable and the starburst pattern works well to communicate the outreach and energy of the organization.
  • uusc-newUnitarian Universalist Service Committee:
    Excellent use of negative space and abstracted hands: this is clearly the organization among UUs that needs to be taken seriously and to drum up funding, and knows what steps to take to get that.
  • old uusc logoOld UUSC logo: Distinctive and very simple. Solid and well-proportioned – a logo you could build a metaphorical building on. Fits well in buttons too!
  • UU World logoUU World Header: Comes across as serious, international, informative, and UU. Distinctive enough but not very innovative, another solid logo. Not sure why they have a different logo on their website.
  • College of Social Justice logoUU College of Social Justice: I’m not sure if their icon matches their mission – it looks more like a seminary logo to me – but it is a well-proportioned and attractive mark that evokes a variety of symbolism and is identifiable.
  • Canadian Unitarian Council logoCanadian Unitarian Council: Simple, good use of negative space: Canadian + Unitarian. Another logo you could build your church on. Nice repetition of form between candle flame and tips of the maple leaf.
  • Illuminations App logoIlluminations app: More fun, as is appropriate for an iPhone app, with a nice idea of light rays and a joyful character inside the flaming chalice.

From there they get progressively worse. Some are recognizable but lacking in communicative or attractive powers, such as:

    • standing-on-the-side-of-loveStanding on the Side of Love: distinctive chalk heart, but what does it even mean? The heart is good, but why black and orange? Are we a warning sign or traffic cone? And that poor type, set in something generic that falls between the ubiquitousness of Myriad and the efficiency of Frutiger without lending any further message to the campaign’s logo. Considering that this is the campaign for the “welcoming congregation” aspect of UUism, it seems unsuccessful to me, as I feel like I’m going to be run over by a bus when I look at it.
    • yruuYRUU: interesting idea and distinctive/memorable, but looks like something hand drawn in the 60s. I realize this is an appealing association for teenage UUs, but it could be executed more cleanly – and is that really the association we want anyway, after the mess of a reputation LRY had? Maybe this is part of why YRUU has been retired by the UUA, or whatever its status is.
    • fusn-logoFUSN: Again, interesting and appealing form, but executed in pencil, with gradients (a no-no) – convert this to a nice vector mark and you’re done. Bam, put it on a t-shirt. Interesting treatment of the ring almost like a halo around the chalice evokes a more Christian attitude for me. Close!
    • clfuuCLFUU: If the Church of the Larger Fellowship was actually just a local church, this would be a fine mark (with some tune-up on proportions and that odd periwinkle color circle) – but since it aims to serve all UU members not engaged in a physical congregation, it seriously needs a logo of the weight and quality of the UUA, or better, the UUSC.
    • Then there are all the other results that turn up with a Google Image Search for “unitarian logo.” I won’t bother to review them.

And then there’s the gallery on the UUA’s own website, which is similarly depressing. Some of the logos were drawn nicely – but this is an international organization. They should have real logos for people to use, not what should really be counted as UU “fan art.” I’ve seen a number of the images on there used in various Unitarian publications, and having them listed on the UUA site is far too much of an endorsement of this for my taste. I applaud their desire to get UUs participating, but they should be providing higher-quality assets for congregations to use if they’re going to give out chalice art through their official website.

Also, have these groups even heard of a brand guidelines manual (ex: Red Cross’s short version)? :< The UUA has the beginnings of one which covers the logo and typeface, but that is a long way from a comprehensive manual. I don’t know how much branding is standard for churches, but it seems like a bit more of an effort could be made for the cohesiveness of national-level materials – and from there you could build some decent professional-looking websites for these groups.

</rant>

What UU logos stand out to you? What do you think of their execution?

10 Responses to “Unitarian Universalist Logo Rant”

  1. Angus Rockett
    | Reply

    Did I just hear someone volunteer to create a brand guideline manual for the UUA? In the symbols on their web site I like the 2nd row far right (the chalice inside the two offset circles with a bit of highlight on the flame. Simple, evocative, pleasant to look at. Reminds us of the church. Otherwise I am not crazy about most of them on that site.

    • ellen
      | Reply

      They do need some help, and I’d be interested in working with the UUA on their design. I think several of the chalices at least on their fanart page are quite good ideas … but need to be rendered cleanly into vector, rather than marker drawings.

  2. Orion Burcham
    | Reply

    Good points. Figured I’d give some (quick and dirty) thumbnails a try:

    https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/881566/UU-Thumbs.jpg

    (My markers, whiteboard, and ability to draw circles are all terrible.)

    One gripe I have with some UU iconography is that it can feel a bit.. unnecessarily tied to the past. I should explain. Several UU chalices I’ve seen look something like this:

    http://www.uua.org/images/chalices/asset_upload_file201_144710.jpg

    Very artisanal – intentionally ancient looking, as if the older a philosophy is, the more meaning it has. But UU is so young, this can seem artificial, and…the tiniest bit desperate? The symbols themselves are excellent, but tying them too tightly to one time period risks obscuring their meaning from new generations. As the objects feel more alien, they start to seem like the source of the message, rather than a reflection of it. My preference would be to use contemporary versions of the chalice, flame, and ring elements- a message that the principles are universal, and still apply in the modern world. However, many congregations don’t have this problem at all.

    As far as modern UU logos go, I thought this one was especially nice:

    • ellen
      | Reply

      Thanks for the input! I didn’t know you were UU. I think those thumbnails would be great if drawn cleanly in vector format and submitted to the UUA’s fanart page… I like the top one the best, although it looks most like something for a UU marriage equality push. The 3D rings treatment is an interesting direction too.

      I think that if more people knew about UUs and the flaming chalice, there would be more room for liberal interpretations like you start to go with your doodles, but I’m not sure how much icon equity there is to branch out from yet.

      There are a couple of points I’d like to bring up in response to your comment about UUism being a young religion. The first one is that I think things like that chalices like the one you linked are meant more to look handmade, rather than “ancient,” because that’s something a lot of UUs can connect with on an emotional and spiritual level. So much of our world is turned out on machines, and the chalice is an important symbol for any congregation … it’s much more meaningful if it looks distinctive, or at least handmade. It does get under my skin how many historical figures get co-opted into having been UU, because the current meaning of UU is very different than what existed even sixty years ago, and I think supposedly-UU historical figures get misrepresented in a typically American urge to build history and legacy where there is very little. However, if we take the history of UUism as it’s taught in the church, it’s supposedly quite an old religion, going back to early Christianity. So there’s that. *shrug*

      I think modern vs. artisanal, or however you want to phrase it, may be more of a taste/message issue – are you trying to communicate a connection to human touch, or represent a forward-looking looking liberal belief system? In some cases I think a modern direction is good (such as the UUSC), but in some I think it would be great to honor the rooted human aspect of the religion.

      The Winston-Salem logo is alright, but has some failings that I see frequently with UU logos … primarily that apparently it is impossible to draw a nice polished rendition of a flame.

    • Sarah N.
      | Reply

      Are you crafting a post about the new logo? I’d love to hear your thoughts!!

      • ellen
        | Reply

        Hi Sarah, thank you for the comment! I do plan to write a blog post, but it sounded like there would be further brand materials forthcoming as well. I’m very excited about the development, but I figure it would be prudent to hold off on publishing my thoughts until I’ve seen how the logo gets implemented in the collateral. :)

        • Sarah N.
          |

          There is much more coming! It’s already gotten quite the buzz on social media, and that’s JUST with the introduction! Interested to see how it is implemented. I hope that when you do a follow-up, you post the link in the comments here! Looking forward to it!!

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