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The Secret War on Serif Logo Text

Chris Dickman Thu, 01/10/2013 - 10:05

The early years of the 20th century saw the rise of architects such as Frank Lloyd Wright and Le Corbusier, who in the name of modernism embarked on a relentless purge of all forms of ornament from their buildings. This crusade was taken up by subsequent generations of architects, the result being more than 100 years of ugly buildings that continue to suck the life out of not only our cities but even the surrounding countryside.

A case can be made that much the same thing is currently taking place in the domain of corporate identities. A generation of designers who find in Apple's one-trick pony approach to product design — "simplicity" wrapped in rounded corners — the ideal formula for logo creation, are methodically eradicating serif typefaces from the corporate landscape. This has been evident in the recent "refreshing" of logos from such corporations and institutions as Wendy's, Arby's, Rexall, the University of California and most recently the tea supplier Tazo (although dropping the corny Exocet font was a relief).

The latest to go to the sans serif dark side is a venerable American publication covering politics and the arts, The New Republic, founded in 1914. Perhaps the direction of the redesign had nothing to do with it but just so you know, last year Chris Hughes, co-founder of Facebook, became the majority owner of the publication as well as its Editor-in-Chief. Yes, Facebook, that flag bearer of good design and fine typography. Which brings us to the new logo, created by recently-appointed Creative Director Dirk Barnett. It's not without significance when Barnett states that, "Usually, the process starts with a logo, then the print edition, then the website, then the iPad. But this process started with the digital first. And I was continually thinking about iPad design from the beginning, so there are a lot of details that, while they look phenomenal in print, really come to life in our new app." So he designed backward for print, beginning with an iPad aesthetic. And you wonder why print sales are declining? Meanwhile, app subscriptions to magazines are not exactly setting the world on fire, so good luck with that approach.

Without further ado, I present the new and old versions of the logo. Personally, I find the new one lame and obvious, with its sans serif face (Font Bureau's Antennae) once again turning the identity into typographic roadkill. And that silly little "THE" tucked away within the letter "N"? Simply pathetic. Chalk it up to one more more casualty in the war on serif logo text.