The recognizable logos of our individual New York state agencies, symbolic of each agency mission and purpose, suddenly appear to be endangered, or extinct. They have lasted in many cases for 40 years or longer.
For instance, there was the familiar round NYS Department of Environmental Conservation logo, quite attractive really, with symbols indicative of its mission to protect our waters, our air, our land, and our mountains. As far as I know, the DEC logo dates to the agency’s very creation in law back in 1972. It must have an interesting origin story. And it was ubiquitous until late last year, appearing on DEC headquarters and many regional buildings. On searches in vain for it now on the DEC website. I had to eventually Google it.
Where has it gone?
Then there is the Adirondack Park Agency logo, which went through several iterations from the Agency’s origin in 1971, but also containing crude symbols recognizable as the Adirondack Park – mountain ranges, mountain peaks. As a design, it’s OK, I suppose. But I know it evoked pride in the Agency mission to protect the Park’s natural resources for many years. How many times did former APA Chair Richard Lefebvre, and how many times has current APA Chairwoman Leilani Ulrich “pinned” a guest or a staff member with the agency logo as a small token for meritorious service performed? Countless times. So, the APA logo is still found on many lapels, not only here but around the world. It’s not in favor any more, apparently. I searched the APA website. I found it, but it required a search of now apparently “historic” documents.
Why has it gone?
Same with the NYS Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. I liked its maple leaf logo. It made me proud because I was an outdoor educator and the maple leaf as a symbol of what I was doing and why I was doing it sure worked for me. It still makes me proud to see it. But it’s gone ! Go to www.oprhp.ny.gov, and I challenge you to find a copy there.
Name your favorite state agency. Where have their emblems gone ? Why are they endangered? I have a guess. Since each agency is now represented by one common logo, showing the outline of the state, with the phrase State of Opportunity, and only the name of the agency to suggest its mission and purpose, clearly Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office directed the change. How surprising is that?
OK, but why? Why does a Governor want to erase logos and brands emblematic of mandates and missions created in law as part of the state’s public service? The answer comes in part thanks to Times Union staff writer Casey Seiler, who reported the change back on December 11th. Seiler wrote:
“Telling New York’s story as a state of opportunity for those seeking to live, work and start a business is a top priority of this administration, as is making government more accessible to New Yorkers,” said Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi in an email. “This redesign is a reflection of both those efforts.”
But if that philosophy is the beating heart of the branding effort, its skin and bones consist of strict rules for how state agencies present themselves visually, in everything from brochures and banners to business cards and media-kit flash drive casings.
In addition to specifying typography, font size and rules for positioning state logos — they may not be tilted, ever — the guide establishes color palettes for eight general categories of state agencies and government entities, from those providing health and human services (purple) to divisions handling recreation and the environment (olive).
Only a few “legacy logos” will be preserved — including ILoveNY as well as existing tags for the New York Lottery, the MTA and the StartUp program. The use of the state’s oldest logo, the Great Seal, will be “available for use only by the Governor’s office or with permission of the Secretary of State.” The state coat of arms will be used in legal documents such as vehicle registrations.”
Design resistance is futile: “Because these elements and their relation to each other are so essential to the New York state brand,” the booklet states, “the guidelines around these primary brand elements are very specific and not open to much interpretation.”
Seiler went on to report that the state contracted for several hundred million dollars to re-brand itself, a la ILoveNY and NY Works, but to include every logo except the great seal of the state. I presume that is still trotted out on occasion.
I am sure marketing experts told reporter Seiler that something important is gained by re-branding. After all, the state spent a lot of public money on it. I may be told what that is, but what has been lost?
Symbols are important, just as words are, of the enterprise, the mission, the purpose. When a state homogenizes all its agencies under one logo with State of Opportunity, it is signaling to me, one citizen of the Empire State, the following: our state agency missions, legislated though they may be in the public’s interest, are less important than conformity to authority. As the article stated, “design resistance is futile.” As the Governor’s spokesperson implied, the former logos did not connote “opportunity” and were not “accessible to the public.” What double-speak. The Governor wanted to control and homogenize every agency’s image, and it happened.
I have a nagging suspicion that there are many state workers who received the “design booklet” who are, maybe at this very moment, not conforming – but offering resistance in their own ways. They may be proud of their agency logos. They may simply like them. I say bless them and keep it up. I hope the old logos make a come back someday.
I’ve experienced re-branding. When the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks was merged and the merged identity became Protect the Adirondacks in July, 2009, I remained the merged organization’s executive director for a little bit and I shared the motivation to re-brand in order to show the world we had changed and grown and that a new era had started. I was initially an enthusiastic participant. We hired an Adirondack firm to help re-brand us (the bill was quite a bit less than the state’s). Jettisoned was the Association’s logo (its corporate seal, actually) a drawing of a great white pine tree set against a field, with mountains and a rising sun in the background. It had dated to 1901-02, and it was beautiful and exuded authenticity. We even knew the name of the artist. Many people in the former organization loved and honored what that seal stood for. It was replaced with a computer rendering of the mountains, organizational name with exclamation point. I did not remain with the merged group. For me, much more was lost through the merger than a corporate seal.
So that is my overall point. In re-branding state agencies, how much more that is meaningful may be lost beyond a suite of symbols dating four decades which depicted, quite artistically in the “modern” sense legislative mandate, mission and purpose?