Civil Defense is now Emergency Management, but . . .

[the 67 year-old on the left, the replacement on the right]

Are they kidding?

Did they have to dumb-down one of the neatest and most recognizable logos* ever created? Is it too much of a stretch to argue that the corporate think and the poverty of imagination displayed by the new graphic reflects the incompetence of our public guardians?

In an emergency, brand recognition can save lives. We used to understand that.

There's more on this story in today's NYTimes. An excerpt, describing the origins and strengths of the original icon:

The CD insignia, which the association called “a relic from the cold war,” was eulogized by Richard Grefé, the executive director of the American Institute of Graphic Arts.

“The old mark fits in the same category of simplicity and impact occupied by the London Underground map,” Mr. Grefé said.

Tom Geismar, a principal in Chermayeff & Geismar Studio, a design firm, said the insignia was “authoritative and appropriate for the serious work” of civil defense.

The insignia was born in 1939, said Michael Bierut, a partner in the Pentagram design firm. Its father was Charles T. Coiner, the art director of the N. W. Ayer advertising agency, who also designed the National Recovery Administration’s blue eagle.

The CD insignia was called anachronistic in 1972 by the Defense Civil Preparedness Agency, successor to the Office of Civil Defense. “The image was World War II vintage,” the agency said.

. . . .

[Mr. Geismar however thought the stars and swooshes of the new logo seemed] “more appropriate to an upstart airline.”

The CD insignia is survived by countless metal drums, still languishing in school basements, with biscuits that have grown even staler.

“I will now go cry for Charles Coiner,” Mr. Bierut said.

[color version]

[top images from NYTimes; thumbnail image from Wikipedia]

in a nutshell: bells and whistles and no substance.

According to the New York Times article the new logo was commissioned by the National Emergency Management Association and it appears to represent the state emergency managers who are members of that association rather than the work they are supposed to do. Those members apparently want to be seen as on the move (swooshes), forward looking (italics) and patriotic (stars). The old Civil Defense logo was intended to label the actual protection offered by the bureaucracy. It showed the central "CD" (with which the viewer could identify) tightly surrounded by the simplest stable structure, a triangle, and further protected by thick outer walls of a uniformly load-bearing circular cocoon. I can't blame the association members for wanting to put themselves in a good light but the new logo does nothing to assure me that their work will provide any protection.

The original Civil Defense emblem has transcended it's usefulness merely as a Real World icon of war or disaster aversion. Through the many films, t.v. shows, and online mediums we have come to associate that simple structure that houses an old Art Deco font with survival, protection, safety. Be it a tidal wave, nuclear war, riots, or even zombies, the heroes of our mass media will run from the danger and find safety with an icon that means "I'm here to protect you from danger, whatever it might be."

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Published on December 1, 2006 2:00 PM.

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