“Q” and “A”: Which One Of These Things is Not Like The Other?

“Q” and “A”: Which One Of These Things is Not Like The Other?

2005
Sep
11

Quark rebranding turns heads, but not just because of new approach; community notes close similarity with other logo treatments, and a nearly identical existing logo belonging to the Scottish Arts Council

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Quark rebranding turns heads, but not just because of new approach; community notes close similarity with other logo treatments, and a nearly identical existing logo belonging to the Scottish Arts Council.

Quark and SAC Logos compared
Top: Quark’s new signature “Q”; Bottom: the stylized lower case “A” of the Scottish Arts Council (courtesy Quark and SAC, respectively)

Some have said that there are only a limited number of concepts, for instance, only six or seven truly different story ideas, and all other ideas are merely variations on the theme. This may or may not be true. What does seem to be true is that for every logo or brand design idea, eventually something will seem to suddenly surface that is similar if not identical to that idea.

For Quark, Inc, the elapsed time was less than two days.

On Friday, 9 September 2005, Quark unveiled a completely new graphic approach, complete with a new logo, a stylized “Q” in Pantone 386–a.k.a “Quark Green”. Astute logo scouters quickly noted near hits with such logo treatments as the logo of PhotoObjects.com and Akademiks brand apparel.

Then, in the late afternoon of the 10th, Jeff Fisher, logo maven and engineer of creative identity of Jeff Fisher LogoMotives, sighted the direct hit: The logo of the Scottish Arts Council, whose graphic element save for a somewhat smaller counter and a different color fill (Pantone 2925) is a dead ringer for Quark’s stylized “Q”.

Soon discussion amongst online designers and layout artists was raising some obvious questions. Throwing light on the issue was Jeff Fisher, who tipped off the Yahoo! Graphic Designer’s Resource List. He further opined:

What I think is amazing in this situation is that the design firm for Quark apparently did not do a thorough image search to avoid similarities with Scottish Arts and other examples posted on different design forums – and that they didn’t come up with a more original design solution for Quark’s identity needs.

Those same issues were being hashed out at Metafilter in a tenor that suggests that Quark still has some work ahead of it to win back former users and fans. Indeed, while it is certainly presently premature to ascribe any cause to this effect, such reactions are important in as much as they demonstrate why how Quark moves on its public image is important with respect to the stature of the company in the high-end graphic design market.

Difference in intent, Similarity in execution

The ideas behind both logos are significantly different. The Quark logo is an obvious reference to the initial Q, a consonant of relatively infrequent use whose uniquely interesting appearance lends itself to equally uniquely interesting graphic treatments, whereas the shape in the Scottish Arts Council logo is meant to abstract a minuscule “a”. The SAC, on thier website, puts it this way:

The simple sculptural shape of our distinctive logo is both classic and modern, and offers a simple message: ‘a’ is for art. Wherever you see our logo, you will know that the people of Scotland, through the Scottish Arts Council, are supporting arts of quality and nurturing Scotland’s creativity.

Despite the difference in actual intent and abstracted reference, however, the similarity can be weakening. As Jeff Fisher puts it:

I do think it is the responsibility of the in-house identity project manager, and the graphic design team given the assignment, to create an end result that is powerful, unique and memorable as a symbol. Part of determining that unique quality is to do all possible to make sure the logo does not resemble or infringe on the identity of other established firms or organization. A reputable business should avoid conveying any message – implied or intentional – of that business “borrowing” the brand reputation or strength of another.

Above all, as far as the very near term, the question that is doubtless on many a Quark-watchers’ mind is: How will Quark address this quandary? At this point, we all can only wait and see.

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