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What’s The Point Of A City Logo, Anyway?

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In the summer of 2021, the Los Angeles Tourism and Convention Board released a new logo for the city. Created by Shepard Fairey's Studio Number One, it was reportedly inspired by “the city’s vibrant history and diverse cultural landscape,” according to designers at the studio:

The new Los Angeles Logo.
Last week, the Board of Tourism unveiled L.A.'s new logo.
(Courtesy of Los Angeles Tourism )

If, like me, you were around in the ‘90s, that image may have taken you straight back to Saved by the Bell, in which a variety of graphic shapes in muted neons “danced” behind the opening credits:

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A little random for a logo launched in 2021, but okay. According to Studio One designers, it was inspired by L.A.'s natural landscape and cultural markers. The font took inspiration from “classic art deco, hand-painted signage, and Mexican restaurant scripts,” Fairey said, and the colors were meant to suggest the gradients in L.A.’s sunsets.

Black capital letters against a white background read "We [heart emoji] NYC"
The new New York City logo.
(Partnership for New York City)

The response from Angelenos was mixed, but for those who did not care for the synthwave-reminiscent imagery, I invite you to consider what last week befell our sisters and brothers in New York City, with the unveiling of this redesigned logo:

There but for the grace of God, my friends. In a roundup of reactions, The New York Times quoted residents as saying the image looks “wild lopsided,” “feedbacked into the ground,” “embarass[ing],” and my personal favorite:

“This sucks on every conceivable level and also on some levels that exist beyond human perception.”

Look. We all know what’s happening here. Every city across the world suffered massive financial losses during the pandemic, and now, municipal officials are doing everything they can to draw tourists back, including commissioning logos they hope will say everything that can possibly be said about the city, appeal to generations from Z to Boomer, offend no one, and not get absolutely dragged on social media.

Unfortunately, this does not seem to have been accomplished by either design. But maybe — just maybe — we’re asking too much from the humble logo.

After all, what makes cities like L.A. and New York great is the diversity: of people, of ideas, of philosophies and preferences and aesthetics and so on. All those variations come together to create the dynamism and high vibrations that define major metropolises; the inspiration we glean from one another, even (or maybe especially) when we disagree.

So it’s unlikely that anyone, Shepherd Fairey or otherwise, could come up with a design that appeals to the millions of people who call themselves Angelenos or New Yorkers. Instead, maybe the best we can hope for is something that spurs debate, causing us to consider what the city means to us and our place in it.

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After all, the “I ❤️ NY” logo, which was designed by Milton Glaser in the late 1970s and provided the inspiration for the new NYC logo, did become inextricably linked with city life, appearing on everything from hats and shirts and mugs to plastic bags and posters.

Maybe, like so many other parts of city living, the very act of fighting for what you want and believe in is the point. Maybe a logo is nothing more than a mirror of our own journey.

What questions do you have about Southern California?

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