The UCL DH logo: A brief history

DH UCL logo, rich red

Congratulations to Claire Warwick and Melissa Terras for getting the UCL Digitial Humanities Centre off to a good start: yesterday’s launch party was a blast.

The Centre’s logo has attracted some favourable comment. If you pardon the indulgence, here’s a short reconstruction of how it came about.

Melissa contacted me on 9 November last year and asked if I would like to design the logo – I agreed to do it and worked with Claire and Melissa during the coming weeks, almost right up to the Christmas break, when the design was eventually done and approved by the executive committee and the communications people – in time for a little season’s greetings card to be based on the design.

We never met face to face during that period and exchanged more than a hundred e-mails over the matter instead.

In one of the earliest exploratory design suggestions I pulled a pixel grid logo from my archives that I had previously used for a cartoon mutt named Dottweiler:

DH UCL logo proposal, pixel grid

Claire and Melissa were taken by the pixel grid but I was reluctant simply to recycle prior work (earlier uses: one, two, three).

An alternative design was inspired by the conductive traces on printed circuit boards:

DH UCL logo proposal, circuit board

The conductive traces design pleased me greatly, but it was deemed too similar to a logo that King’s College had been using for a while, so it was voted down, much to my chagrin.

By now I was sure I wanted to have the typography on three lines, and suggested a purely text-based design:

DH UCL logo proposal, circuit board

Trying to evoke binary code and mono-spaced mechanical typewriters at the same time, this one was clearly too clever by half.

Claire was getting impatient at this stage and wanted to submit the two previous designs, minus the conductive traces, to the executive committee for approval, especially the one with the pixel grid. But I held out and declared I was going to do something that I liked as much as the conductive traces design.

While tinkering with the Kaliberuckus typeface (of K10k fame) and trying to fit the three lines of type with the letters DH set in the 6x6 pixel typeface, I discovered that the typographer Matt Desmond has done some experimentation based on a 3x3 pixel grid: Amber. Bingo! This was what I needed: the grid was a perfect fit for my three lines!

Having meanwhile discovered UCL’s regulations on corporate identity (cf. 2005 critique), I decided to set the three lines in the prescribed typeface, the not-so-well-beloved Arial. The final version of the logo, as displayed at the top of this posting, is to be coloured using UCL’s official palette (PDF), from which I chose “rich red” in this instance.

However, Claire and Melissa’s enthusiasm for the pixel grid had clearly come from the idea of having the pixels coloured in a great variety of different hues, each representing a different institution or methodological approach that was to be gathered under the umbrella term of “digital humanities”. While sympathetic to the intention, I was also aware that the idea didn’t go well with the economy, if not austerity, that is conventionally expected of logo design.

I sidestepped this issue by allowing for offbeat variations on the regular logo; trippy remixes can be used in settings that aren’t constrained by the usual rigours of logo design. The trippy remix that especially resonated with Melissa is based on the Macbeth Color Checker, a device she uses extensively in her work digitising images. Here, then, is the Macbeth Trippy Remix:

DH UCL logo, Macbeth remix

Also, there are mugs and tee-shirts available for purchase, just in case anyone wanted to express their support in the medium of branded hardware.

Colophon: the designs presented above were created in Inkscape on a machine running a Linux operating system.