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Guest Editorial by James Bowie
When a city or town adopts a new logo, it’s inevitable that at least a few local taxpayers will exclaim, “You paid how much? For that?” Such complaints are typically unwarranted, but in the recent case of Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, the critics may have a point.
The city’s unique name refers to a riverside site where Native Americans would break cane stalks to make shafts for arrows. As a logo, the city had simply used the symbol from the Oklahoma state flag with a broken arrow added above.
In an effort to re-brand, Broken Arrow retained Kansas City’s Kuhn and Wittenborn Advertising, who produced a new logo featuring a wordmark in the now-gauche Papyrus typeface and an unbroken arrow that looks as though it could have been launched by the twin archers of the agency’s own mark.
The arrow has a long history as a logo design cliché. In 1978, Wally Olins railed against symbols “… ending with an arrow, preferably pointing upwards and slightly to the right, indicative of Progress, Dynamism and a controlled but powerful thrust towards what is clearly a Better and Brighter Future.” Broken Arrow’s logo is clearly trying to evoke similar sentiments, as the tagline “Where Opportunity Lives” indicates (it turns out that opportunity also lives in Prescott Valley, Arizona, which used the line first).
Perhaps this logo can be excused for cliché abuse, since it shows an actual, rather than symbolic, arrow. But the disjuncture between the symbol and the city name results in a visual oxymoron, a bit of surrealism worthy of René Magritte. And even putting this aside, it still seems a shame that a city with such an interesting name should sport such a mundane symbol.
James Bowie is a sociologist and researcher at Northern Arizona University. His Ph.D. dissertation examined patterns and trends in trademark design.