City of Vancouver’s disastrous new logo

New City of Vancouver logo, in un-kerned Gotham typeface

I still can’t entirely believe it, but this bland, amateur wordmark is the City of Vancouver’s new logo—or to be more accurate, since it barely qualifies as a wordmark let alone a logo: here is our new sad bit of typing. A sad bit of typing in Gotham typeface no less, which someone then neglected to kern. As a designer friend said, “They didn’t even modify the typeface, kerning, X heights…” How did this happen?

[UPDATE Feb 28: see bottom of post for news that the City of Vancouver has agreed to halt this wordmark, thought only for now, and only in “permanent assets”.]

Before anyone argues that this issue is trivial, or that “everyone hates new logos,” or some other such argument intended to shut down the public opposition, the fact is that a mistake of this magnitude is generally a sign of deeper rot, incompetence, broken chain of command, hollowing out of expertise and judgment in City Hall, and in this case a habit of consultation avoidance.

Behind this drab design fiasco is Vision Vancouver, the ruling faux-progressive civic party whose name seems ever more ironic given the city’s severe housing crisis and takeover by local real estate developers marketing to global capital. (Developers donated huge sums to this party, whose election spending set North American records for civic politics.) At least the logo matches the government, its incompetence, lack of personality and its opacity. And due to the weird kerning, the word Vancouver looks as if it’s drifting away from itself, another apt metaphor.

Really? Gotham?
Thanks to @424ds for this pertinent question

Vision is defending this logo choice by by saying that it went with the lowest local bidder and only spent $8K on it, in the name of thrift. But let’s face it, any transition from an old civic logo to a new one always costs far, far more than that, given the necessary changes to stationery, paint job on every vehicle in the fleet, online design, signs all over the city, garbage cans, awards, etc. etc. and all the labour involved. (Vision and staff say things will only be replaced as necessary—but that would take a decade perhaps, so during that time would we have two logos simultaneously?) In light of the significant expense, which staff and Council admit would run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, City Hall might as well have made a proper investment and figured out where it thinks this city is going and what it wants to transmit to the world. And find an identity that can last more than a few years.

Vancouver’s former, decade-old logo, in a style I like to call “feminine hygiene packaging”

I have long mocked Vancouver’s former logo as a bit of feminine product branding. Its drug company aesthetic aside, the flower graphic doesn’t even represent any local flora (BC’s flower is the dogwood, and this isn’t even that). A badly drawn cherry blossom in blue and green? A sort of generic garden city message? It is more likely that the shape is a lotus, which probably jokingly references Vancouver’s  “lotusland” nickname, but it’s a pretty cut-rate lotus and anyway the “lotusland” cliché is hardly appropriate for any city’s identity. Interestingly I just mistyped that word as “lostusland” which is probably more apt given the mass exodus of Vancouverites as they flee the city’s astronomical housing costs and job scarcity.

On social media, one architecture critic wrote “Have to agree about the “Stay Soft Maxi Pad” former logo, but those new wilting letters look prime for a marijuana dispensary, which, being fair, is the one major economic initiative city hall has initiated (other than a real estate bubble, natch) in a decade.” Upon which someone else suggested replacing the flower with a bubble, and also sniped “Wings that cover density overnight.”

So yes, a change of logo was actually welcome, but did we have to end up with something worse? It’s sort of an insult to a town fairly well known for its visual artists, and where the ruling party is constantly boasting about how it supports “creatives.” Whatever happened to “engagement” and participation and consultation, which in the last election Mayor Gregor promised he’d do better at? One person wrote “Yes, time and time again, they just do what they want, regardless of public input. And aesthetics is not their strong point, however “art-cool/hip” they might try to imagine themselves. This has boring, dry, pragmatic government graphics written all over it.”

As for democratic process, please note that “the wordmark was already used in distributed print materials prior to the Council vote as noted by CTV reporter Penny Daflos.” Via here

And this:

Vision Vancouver’s claim was that it needed to “simplify” the logo for greater ease of use online (which doesn’t address our questions). But it launched it without an online style guide, and its specifications were in inches not metric, which hardly suggests the internet. More worryingly, the new logo’s colours have crept ever closer to that ruling civic party’s own logo. So is this just a case of Vision doing a bit of underhanded campaign PR in advance of the 2018 civic election, at the taxpayer’s expense?

Above is their old logo, with a kind of tired wave cliché; below is their new-ish logo which almost suggests they’re going into the business of contact lenses or corneal transplants (real vision, since civic Vision failed!), or are perhaps planning an escape from the housing crisis scandal by parachute. (It’s odd how small the lower-case “vancouver” has become compared to the party name. Conveniently, the city’s new logo-less wordmark does not compete with Vision’s logomark, which has a more noticeable and eye-catching shape.)

Vancouver designer Melody Ma sent out an excellent series of tweets to Mayor Gregor Robertson and the Vision-dominated city council before the decision was finalized in an attempt to dissuade them, but to no avail. Her plea is definitely worth a read. Update: now Melody and design colleagues have signed this open letter on Medium: City of Vancouver, can we talk about this logo? If you’re a Vancouver designer, you can add your name to the already long list of designers who are logo dissenters.

Melbourne’s visual identity, riffing on the M

If you want to see a beautiful visual identity for a city, look at Melbourne. Sure, Melbourne spent over $150 K on theirs, but even if Vancouver had spent significantly less than that, it could have come up with a better identity than the current one. I mean I could have done better in a cafe in an afternoon, and I’m not a trained graphic designer. And look at the fairly beloved and long-lasting logo for the city of Montréal, which incorporates the Vs and Ms that stand for Ville de Montréal, repeated four times to make a flower or geometric shape.

Logo for Montreal – the shape combines the Vs and Ms of ‘Ville de Montreal’

Generally speaking, why does design go bad? If it’s not down to lack of talent or hard work, it’s usually the result of unfocused vision (no pun intended). Bad design results from conflicting goals and/or outright dissembling (and incompetence). Good design flows from clear purpose. Is this new wordmark/logo weak because Vancouver is no longer really a city, it’s just a real estate elite’s business enterprise pretending to be a city? You can always sense a lie by the way energy drains out of everything in its vicinity. This wordmark has the look of a depressed corporate identity placeholder, not a visual encapsulation of a vibrant place. The design somehow feels like an admission that that old vibrant city is gone and on some level even Vision Vancouver knows it. They can’t summon the energy for hope. In this sense I don’t entirely blame the designers, a decent company that was possibly subjected to confusing requests and design by demoralized committee. It’s also not impossible that the company sent City Hall a quick draft or sketch-level logo and the City just went with it, without letting the design company properly complete it. It happens! And it happens a lot. But still, going with the lowest bid was a pretty bad idea. (And I’m someone who believes that too much money often results in a worse result! I mean look at interior design.) But spend nothing and you may end up with nothing.

Anyway, yesterday there was a backlash on social media among designers and many others in the city. A friend of mine took one look at the new logo and posted this alternative suggestion/interpretation in Comic Sans, which is strangely apt for the clusterfuck-in-lipstick that Vancouver currently is.


Meanwhile,  I suggested that since the City is now so unhelmed, unplanned, unregulated and in short governed by money, we should just admit we’ve fully reverted to full Wild West and go with a sort of Klondike Gold Rush look. After all, civic decisions are being made in the modern day equivalent of a hand-on-holster chat in back room of a saloon. (You could add crossed pistols to this.)

After that it was just a free-for-all of derision, and someone presented this new logo which contains actual truth: the city as consisting of mountains, rain and corrupt money.

You can reply that money runs the place in most cities, but in BC and Vancouver’s unregulated climate, money has more thoroughly corrupted the town than usual. (See the recent New York Times article “British Columbia: the ‘Wild West’ of Canadian Political Cash” and note that in Canada, the provinces holds much jurisdiction over cities.) Big money interests in Vancouver have been allowed to demolish its affordable housing and older architecture in favour of douchey, speculative luxury towers, and displaced an entire generation as well as more than one social class. This is turbo-charged, global market-level development and gentrification. We don’t have the distinction of being the third most unaffordable city in the world for nothing.

If Vision Vancouver is changing our logo in order to signal a fresh start, this one isn’t going to cut it. If they want a true fresh start, they should either step down or acquire some principles and guts. Quit allowing the demolition of affordable housing, and start reining in the developers who have laid waste to the city’s heritage and affordability while they just looked on.

Living in Vancouver: it’s like being struck by lightning, not just once but multiple times—cheesy lightning. We increasingly find ourselves in a zombie city of empty condos in an era of zombie capitalism, with just the roar of Lamborghini Aventadors racing past homeless camps (and that’s not hyperbole, either).

Try the Stranger Things title generator, “Make it Stranger”

In my opinion, City Hall should shelve this new design until a proper process can be conducted, possibly after next year’s civic election. The cost to transition this logo will be far higher than they are admitting, and should only be undertaken when there is a significant design. We are in the middle of a serious housing crisis and a fentanyl overdose epidemic, and City Hall hasn’t got a lot of cash. Mayor Gregor going on about how we need a fresher cleaner logo, and that he likes this one because it somehow references the 2010 Olympics (Does it? Is that fresh?) doesn’t fly.

Halt the process.

UPDATE: City Hall halted the rollout. See below. Well done to the designers who wrote the letter and demanded the City do better (but not to the guys at GDC of BC, who obstructed and mocked those designers, yet now think they get to lead the next part of the process.)


More logos came in after I published this post:

From @424ds:

And this one in a tweet by local journalist David Ball, referencing the new Trump Tower and Vancouver’s mutation into an executive resort town: “I think I’ve found a compromise logo—an homage to ubiquitous Zapfino, & reflective of Vancouver’s modern character & skyline”

With thanks to everyone who made creative satirical logos, observations and jokes today, too many people to credit here and I know at least half of them would like to remain mostly anonymous. If you wanted to be credited let me know—but since none of the social media posts were set to “public,” I thought I better anonymize everything.

Update Feb 28

In an online statement the City of Vancouver has retracted the logo, the new logo that Mayor Gregor thought was fresh and bold and reminiscent of the 2010 Olympics (!). However, if you read the statement carefully, he has only retracted it for “permanent assets” (I assume that means signs and the vehicle fleet). However we are left with the problem of impermanent assets I guess, ie. online use which is what they always said this wordmark was for. And that leaves us with several issues, one of them being the fact that this wordmark is not only sub-par, it’s totally inappropriate for online purposes especially Twitter, Instagram and other online apps and platforms.

Another issue is that the fact remains Vision already printed this wordmark before the vote, which leaves us wonder what Council meetings and votes are actually for?

Finally, I don’t see why Gregor will be conferring with GDCBC, Graphic Designers of Canada BC Chapter, about how to move forward. GDCBC does not represent most of the designers in town, but more importantly it has an executive member who aggressively attacked the designers who opposed the logo, both publicly and privately, with defamatory language online (“juvenile” for starters). Does that executive have close ties to Vision Vancouver? If Vision wants to confer with graphic designers, it needs to know that GDCBC does not represent the design community and has lost many friends over this, myself included. It needs to look into its own professionalism before it criticizes designers for theirs, or speaks for the community, or contributes to an effort to see greater professionalism at City Hall. Perhaps it should not be leading this process.

Update March 1

FURTHER UPDATE: Mayor Gregor Robertson is very tired of journalists asking him about this. For the first time in memory, the mayor lost his cool at a journalist who asked him about it, suggesting that it was a minor issue compared to homelessness and the fentanyl epidemic. The only problem with his outrage is that it’s his party that has given the green light for luxury towers all over the city and thus contributed to homelessness and unaffordability, so he is on pretty thin ice here. Meanwhile…


If you want to watch the video of the City Council meeting, which is pretty crazy, it’s here. Click on Feb 22 (click “22”) and then scroll down to Item 3, wordmark.

City of Vancouver: Can we talk about this logo? Open letter on Medium signed by designers
Dear City of Vancouver, about that new logo, Melody Ma’s Twitter essay to mayor and council

‘Kind of feels like an alternate Canucks logo’: Vancouver design community rallies against city’s rebranding – City’s $8,000 dollar rebrand has been widely mocked on social media

And now it turns out the new logo is ripped off the logo of one of Vancouver’s suburbs:

‘Infuriating’: Designer shocked at similarity between his Chilliwack logo and new Vancouver mark – City of Chilliwack commissioned Daniel Mansell in 2011

Statement from Mayor Gregor Robertson on City of Vancouver Wordmark

CKNW  on wordmark and Gregor’s anger at journalists

 And Metafilter linked to this blog post. There are some pretty funny comments there, including one that calls this post “pearl-clutching” and histrionic (semi fair) and accuses it of getting sidetracked into city politics, not realizing this post is all about city politics.

And it seems that Italy has discovered this blog, and this story

Welcome to Vancouver: A city of crises –Isn’t it time we called Vancouver what it really is?

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10 Responses to “City of Vancouver’s disastrous new logo”

  1. Michael Says:

    My friend Derek, an artist and graphic designer, sent me the link to your essay, and I really appreciate your sense of humor and righteous anger at this abominable “design” which is about as lame as lame can get. I think this city’s design community should band together and have a competition, a serious one, for a new city logo. Anything but this.

  2. Leon Hayden Nagatomo Says:

    The Design by Committee excuse just doesn’t cut it. Looks like a freebie logo template downloaded from Deezy that’s had minimal text and colour manipulation.

  3. LB Says:

    I would agree, Leon. I was trying to be harder on the politicians than the designer, but the incompetence of this design is just unacceptable. Still, how did this get past staff, council, various gatekeepers? But then the bureaucracy at City Hall has been gutted and politicized and there are a lot of yes men there now, and not a lot of experience – the experience both to know this is an unacceptable design, and to know that Vancouverites would be pissed off. This council is inside its own culty bubble.

  4. Matt P Says:

    Do you like my version?

  5. Kari Hall Says:

    This is just clipart- not a design.

  6. Court Smith Says:

    As as a retired graphic designer…after a 45 year career…I can say without a doubt the new City of Vancouver logo is a joke. A san serif bold font…wow…the imagination…the skill of excecution… and some idiot got paid for this?

    It reminds me of when Stelco, the company my father worked for got a new logo. Their own thirties “dog bone” style needed replacing and another unimaginative “artist” simply stole the letter style of “CN” He got $25,000 for that one (1% of the cost of changeover)

    Gregor has outdone himself in stupidity…..yet again.

  7. stuart Says:

    Perfect response. It looks like someone ‘designed’ it using ms word.

  8. Al West Says:

    Clearly, two sheets of Letraset could have saved the city $7950.00 on design alone Gregor the goof strikes again wasting your money.

  9. Francis Says:

    I’m scared by the use of public shaming to thwart a decision made after a public RFP. Sorry.

  10. LB Says:

    I don’t agree with that take. This was a flawed, insufficient and also consultation-flouting process on the part of City Hall, and an irresponsibly careless approach to a decision that will not cost $8,000 in the end but something in the neighbourhood of $200,000. Furthermore, what is the point of a vote at City Council when the final decisions were made months before? This isn’t a mob thwarting democracy; I feel it’s a group of concerned citizens questioning an iffy undemocratic process and asking for a re-do. I think your description of events is inaccurate.

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