In advertising and public relations there’s a saying: “no publicity is bad publicity.” That saying is the single greatest Truth of public relations, and has been proven time and again. There are always, of course, exceptions to every rule.

Great logo designers think alike…?
(Based on a collage of logos by Gene Gable, from Sometimes a Logo Is Just a Logo.)

When you’re the subject of publicity unanimously characterizing you as arrogant, disdainful of customers and fans, and either lazy or plagiarizing, unless you’re a rock star it becomes difficult to salvage any positive result. For the majority of 2005, Denver-based Quark, Inc. has been choking on the single greatest Truth of public relations.

During the spring and early summer of 2005 the entire industry was abuzz discussing Quark’s now infamous postcards from the edge. The story broke on Quark VS and was quickly picked up by nearly every unbiased media agency in the industry—as well as dozens of blogs—just as Quark’s PR machine began to wind up its pitch for next version of QuarkXPress. At the time, Quark’s marketing and promotion activities, which dwarfed everything the company had done during the entire preceding five years, were just picking up steam. X-Ray Magazine was revived for a third run, a new print and direct mail advertising campaign took flight, Quark re-opened the loudly closed Quark Forums, a new e-newsletter materialized, Quark appeared at trade shows and conventions, new promotional pricing and third-party software bundles were announced every few weeks, and Quark even contributed to and held contests. All of that was eclipsed by the story of the Quark postcards from the edge.

You might think that if observant designers around the world can post several similar logos within hours of Quark’s public debut of the new logo, it should have been just as easy for Quark to have identified the same conflicts. Not necessarily so.

Earlier this month, just as the public excoriation over the postcards began to taper off, Quark revealed its latest bid to counter the negative publicity—a hip new logo and corporate identity. Like the similarly tasked postcards, the new logo backfired.

Within hours of the live unveiling on, accusations of plagiarism were leveled against Quark.

The new Quark logo, a stylized and stylish green circle reminiscent of a capital Q with a point at its bottom right corner, is simple and stunning in Quark’s logo—and in the logos for Sterling Brands, Alcone, Artworkers, Midas Productions, the Designers Network, and, oddly enough, the first to be noted, the Scottish Arts Council—all of which preceded Quark’s use of the shape by months or even years. Even faster than the Quark postcards from the edge five months earlier, news of the superposable logos raced across media and the blogosphere. Once again Quark was the exception to the rule about bad publicity.

So widespread and unilaterally condemning was the news and editorial regarding Quark’s logo that hardly anyone noticed the latest sneak peek at QuarkXPress 7, including hereto unseen screenshots. Both times this year, just as Quark waited in the wings, brushing off its old tuxedo and anxiously waited to step into the warm glow of the spotlight, it has stumbled. Instead of striding gracefully across the stage to exuberant applause, Quark has tripped on its way through the curtain, fumbling and landing flat on its face to raucous guffaws and caustic booing. Twice now, in as many sips, the taste of victory has turned acidulent.

Now, as the shouting, laughing, and hissing reaches a riotous crescendo, a single, calm whisper slices through the din.

In “Sometimes a Logo Is Just a Logo,” published today on, Gene Gable takes an objective look at the nature and process of trademark creation, conflict search, and where he believes Quark and its branding agency went wrong.

While I agree that Quark… made mistakes, they’re not the mistakes most people are talking about. There is no evidence that Quark deliberately stole someone else’s logo, or that the company was incomplete in its efforts to find possible conflicts.

“Quark’s real trouble with its new logo is…a public relations snafu that must be handled appropriately. Quark should voluntarily change the mark and cite respect for the creativity of other organizations as the reason. (Quark says it has variations on the logo; perhaps one of those differs enough to pour oil on troubled waters.) If the company has already printed a lot of material with the controversial logo, the monetary cost of a change will be high. But what is the cost of the design community’s ire?

Gene’s equanimity regarding the issue is refreshing, although he does acknowledge the fact that Quark is in trouble—the logo debacle is only the latest of Quark’s well-publicized, self-destructive blunders.

The true value of “Sometimes a Logo Is Just a Logo” is not Gene’s position on Quark’s logo; the bulk of the article is far more valuable and informative. It’s about the facts and process of trademarks, including their legal nature, creation, registration, and potential for conflict. Quark’s logo is used merely as the impetus topic—the hook—to bracket information sorely lacking in the half-informed debates about Quark’s or any logo.

You might think that if observant designers around the world can post several similar logos within hours of Quark’s public debut of the new logo, it should have been just as easy for Quark to have identified the same conflicts. Not necessarily so.

Anyone who deals with intellectual property—which is to say, anyone who designs anything, not just logos—must understand the basic principles of intellectual property law, including how trademarks work. Gene’s article on is an overview, an introduction, where any designer should begin.

Quark is in trouble—with its logo and in other respects—but by understanding just a little bit about trademarks, designers can help keep themselves from following Quark in that humiliating stumble across center stage while the audience roars in laughter.

The new Quark logo was created by Chris Wood, creative director at SicolaMartin, a division of Young & Rubicam.