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Logos, colors, fonts, and more

Topics/tags: Rants, Grinnell

The College is in the midst of yet another remaking of our marketing image [1]. We’ve hired yet another high-priced [2] marketing firm [3]. I don’t think I can [4] address all of the aspects of the updates in a single musing; I have comments on font choices [5], the design of the new logo + text, the two-word taglines that are sprouting throughout campus, the nth redesign of the Web site [6], and other related issues.

For this first musing, I’m going to focus on something that should be simple and straightforward: colors.

In the fall of 2002, the College switched from the split one-petal logo [7] back to something like its previous four-petal laurel leaf. However, while the previous laurel leaf was outlined, this one was filled in with a shade of scarlet [8]. We also got a bunch of new designs for stationary, business cards, envelopes, and more [9].

One of the first things I wanted to do after these things rolled out was to get a new business card. Since we had facilities in the Science Division Office for printing our own, I asked our Communications office for a copy of the logo. When they found out that I was planning to print my own business cards, they said, You can’t do that; you might not get the shade of red [11] right. I had just been promoted from assistant professor to associate professor, so my reply was something polite like I don’t care. I have tenure. With a bit of finagling, I managed to at least find out the color and obtain a bitmap. But I prefer vector graphics, so I spent about a day hand-writing encapsulated Postscript to make the logo [12,14].

What color did I use? Postscript uses a 0-1 scale rather than a 0-255 scale [15]. So my code sets the color with 0.995 0 0.05 setrgbcolor. I think that’s close to (254,0,13) as a standard RGB triplet. No, I don’t recall how I ended up with the percents and it appears that my mail from that time no longer exists [16].

A few years later, our SysAdmin was rebuilding the department Web site and asked for the official color. At that point, they were told that the color was #F51E30. Let’s see, in triple form, that’s (245,31,48). But our new identity page says that it’s #DA291C, which is (218,41,28). Its name is Grinnell Red [17] and the Pantone-enabled among you will recognize it as PMS 485.

But when I looked at the new logo, it didn’t look like that color. So I tried building a Web page that had the new Grinnell red as the background and the new logo as the foreground. If they were the same, I shouldn’t have been able to see the logo. But I could. A colleague estimated the color as #FC3437, which is (252,52,55).

Why does an office that was so protective of colors fifteen years ago get the color wrong now? I don’t know all of the answers, but I suspect that the answer is simple: Like so much on this campus, the rollout was a rush job and, in the rush, the person tasked with building a logo for the Web from the master form [18] chose the wrong export settings.

I do see one real positive in all of this: I feel a bit less compelled to get everything right when I develop solutions that match my environment. I can use a color that’s close enough. I can use a font that’s close enough [19]. I’ll muse [21] more about our choice of fonts in a subsequent piece.

Postscript: The Visual Identity Guidelines don’t specify when we are supposed to use our color palette, which seems to consist only of Grinnell Red and Black. But there are other colors in use. I see, for example, that the red-like color on our Web pages is #9E4024 and that we also make significant use of #FAE6C1, which does not get mentioned at all.

Oh. Never mind. I think that’s because they haven’t finished upgrading our design. The new admissions site seems to be using things much closer to Black and Grinnell Red. It also uses SVG for the primary logo plus text, which is much nicer than the png file on the main site.

Wait. Looks can be deceiving. The red is actually #EA1700 and the black is #093043. I really do need guidance to understand what palette colors to use in which situations.

[1] As long-term readers know, I dislike the term brand because of its historical connotations. I will use it only once in this musing.

[2] At least I assume that they are high-priced.

[3] Or perhaps it’s more than one firm; I can never tell.

[4] Or want to.

[5] The primary serif font is Freight Text Pro. That’s a commercial font not available on most machines. At some point, I’ll tell the story of asking for a copy so that I could use it in my writing. The alternate serif font for those who don’t have Freight Text Pro is Georgia, which is both (a) a Microsoft font and therefore not available for things like LaTeX and (b) a font designed primarily for Web pages, rather than printed documents. More on both issues later.

[6] I think they’ve redesigned the Web site three or four times since they made the decision to treat the primary Web site as a marketing site. You think that they could have spent some of that time and effort on figuring out what to do with all the materials and users that they tossed off the primary Web site (other than saying It belongs behind a password wall on GrinCo, which they promised us wouldn’t be all that they would do).

[7] The split-petal logo was in use when I arrived at Grinnell. I was told that folks referred to that logo as mating slugs. But if you do a Web search for Grinnell and Mating Slugs, you tend to find only my musings. Go figure.

[8] Or perhaps a shade of red. I can never tell.

[9] I’m looking forward to the new designs we’ll get this year. I anticipate another day or so of work getting all my various tools in line to use the new designs [10].

[10] Microsoft Word is not my go-to writing application. When I’m writing memos and letters, I use a custom workflow that involves Markdown, HTML, and the html2ps script. It produces nicer-looking documents than 95% of what I see on campus. When I’m collaborating with department colleagues and writing many of my technical papers, I use LaTeX. Word exists for when I’m dealing with less technical collaborators or when I need to get something out quickly and care less about appearance.

[11] Or perhaps they said shade of scarlet. It’s been more than fifteen years and it’s hard to remember.

[12] It was possible to use tools to translate the bitmap to vector graphics. But the automatically translated file was 9.5 megabytes and my hand-crafted Bezier curves were only 4 kilobytes. I think my hand-crafted curves look better, too.

[14] I’ve used the eps file literally thousands (and perhaps tens of thousands) of times.

[15] At least the Postscript that I understood at that point.

[16] A little part of my brain worries that I used CMYK numbers instead. But those aren’t our CMYK numbers, either.

[17] Aren’t our colors Scarlet and Black? Shouldn’t it be Grinnell Scarlet?

[18] Adobe Illustrator, I believe.

[19] Since I work in a Linux environment with Postscript as my primary output format, I generally rely on open-source type 1 fonts. Of course, if Communications wants to provide me with the appropriate files for using our standard fonts with those tools [20], I’m willing to try using them.

[20] The tools I use for my administrative letter writing need pfa files when I’m using non-standard fonts. I do seem to have something that will convert pfb files to pfa format.

[21] Rant.

Version 1.0 released 2018-04-26.

Version 1.1 of 2018-05-09