New UUA Brand

You may recall that I wrote a list of reactions to a wide variety of Unitarian Universalist logos from a design perspective. Not long after, the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations released its new logo, in partnership with the Boston branding agency Proverb, and people started asking me what I thought of the new UUA logo. I feel this is dangerous territory for designers to get into – a number of perfectly fine logos have been rolled back because of social media outcry from people with no idea about the requirements of the project, while other logos have been kept until designers accepted them and eventually sang their praises.

First and most importantly, I want to say that in writing the initial article, one of my concerns was “what if a commenter asks what I’d design for a new UUA logo?” A truism of the design industry is that it’s always hardest to design your own brand, and while I’ve always had Frogtopus and my green color and never found it too hard to design around that, Unitarians are probably too close to my heart for me to do a good job with something as important as a major UU logo. So I hope you’ll realize that I’m saying the following critique from that place. I have a lot of respect for the bravery it takes a group coming in to redesign something like a religious movement.

I also want to say that I understand they were under a crunch in getting it designed – I don’t know in what respect other than that its release needed to coincide with the move of the UUA Boston headquarters at the start of the summer so that they could get all the rebranding materials done at once, complete with new business cards. So there is that to take into consideration as well.

Another important factor in my critique is that, while I love how social-justice active UUs are, and think it’s a key part of the religion, I do think that it should be a belief system/religion first and a movement second. My understanding is that the logo was designed to some extent with the idea that, to entice millenials, the church wants to look less like a religion – I think this is a mistake. I’m bothered very much by how little spirituality a UU church service shows, and I think it often undermines the message the minister is trying to convey when they lose the sense of wonder at the world that I think is key in a religion. That’s a topic for another blog post, but personally if I had to choose, I would rather have a more spiritually-engaged church than a socially-engaged church – and since this discussion seems to have been a factor in the logo design, I just wanted to mention my stance coloring my critique.

And one last thing … I have very little data about the rebrand to draw from at this point. All I’ve seen is a new logo, and it’s difficult for me to pass judgement without seeing the supporting collateral materials. But I’m going to do it anyway, because what kind of Unitarian would I be if I didn’t provide my opinion on things at the drop of a hat!

That being said…

New UUA Logo 2014

I like the aesthetic. It is weighty but graceful, with nice modern type. The mark is solid enough to be reproduced anywhere – an important factor in a logo which I think UU logos often fail at – from billboards to embroidered shirts to tiny tie-tacks. The type is open and slender and gracefully modern – very much in the realm of geometric monoweight fonts like Futura, but just a hint more human in proportions. That evokes on a subconscious level the rational-but-slightly-spiritual personality of UUs everywhere. The gradient is tough – typically designers have been taught to avoid them as they are difficult to reproduce gracefully in printed materials. But this is becoming less of an issue in the digital age.

The gradient and the upward proportions of the typeface (look how the crossbars/curves of A and E and R and S are at least halfway up the letter if not higher), along with the slightly flared lines of the mark, definitely echo the sense of the rising flame of Unitarian Universalism. Somehow the combination evokes a sense of open-armed grace – the way a candle draws wax up and into the flame of action – but maybe that’s reading too much into it. ;) I think it does a good job of hitting a balance between the “fire of commitment” and the “welcoming congregation.” The magenta and orange are a powerful palette that evokes fire and energy and action without being overly aggressive about it.

That being said, it looks a little like a hotel logo somehow. I can almost picture it being printed on little bars of soap. I think the attempt at fitting to “U”s into the shape of the chalice is trying to fit a few too many ideas into one device – and I see a torch, not so much a chalice. I don’t think UUism as a religion should be about bringing a torch … leave that to the UUSC or one of the other subgroups. I prefer lighting a chalice.

Here is a document, the “UUA Brand Story,” in PDF form.

I think you can see what I mean about the presentation of the UUA as more of a movement than a religion: only one of the photos looks like it’s of an actual church service. Seriously, Unitarians, isn’t there more to us than rainbow flags and Standing on the Side of Love? That stuff is great, but it sure doesn’t inspire me to become an actual member of a congregation.

I dunno that I have too much more to say about it other than further ranting about where the denomination wants to head… and yes I know there are lots of scarred ex-Catholics and anti-religion atheists in the seats. But I’ve seen plenty of good UU sermons that are not religious at all, but have a spiritual quality nonetheless. Just my 2¢.

2 Responses to “New UUA Brand”

  1. Sarah N.
    | Reply

    Thanks for your comments!! I appreciate the things you pointed out about the typeface, which I hadn’t noticed before. I was raised UU, and I think that the chalice itself will always be the image and symbol I associate with my faith, regardless of which version it is (although I really liked the last one, actually). The more I’ve seen it, the more it’s grown on me, but I must admit I really don’t like the branding on the rest of the UUA website (the bright BRIGHT colors, the bars of color…). I vastly prefer a minimalist aesthetic, and this misses the mark for me.

  2. ellen
    | Reply

    Yeah, for me there are two things going on. One, from a design standpoint, divorced from the religion, I think it is a fine logo. It meets most of the first year design student checklist items for logos.

    The second is that from a more subjective point of view, it loses a lot of brand equity by going for two U’s and a torch, and it misses the mark of being representative of the UU denomination as a religion.

    Presumably on purpose.

    To some extent that change in the symbol seems to me to be a kind of obvious approach, since I think negative space in letters is one of the first things designers look for when sketching logo ideas. It would have been better, in my opinion, to stick with something more clearly based on the traditional symbol.

    As far as the website goes, I presume (and really, really hope) that the weird changes to the website since the logo was released, are the branding agency’s temporary measures and that the UUA will be overhauling the whole website to match the aesthetic of the logo. Preferably with better user experience design and information architecture…

    It’s just that a website the size of the UUA’s can take something like a year to get published, so they probably decided they needed to do something temporary to tie the logo in a bit.

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