Since May, we’ve been following the story of the new Tennessee state logo that ignited the ire of Chris Butler, a reporter with watchdog.org, who was appalled at the $46,000 price tag and the result, which he argued could be designed better by a child. All this time all we’ve been able to see is a blurry image of the logo and had no comment or official release of the logo from either the state’s office or the design firm involved, Nashville-based GS&F. Someone has lifted the embargo on talking about this and GS&F posted a brief case study on Medium that sheds some light on the new identity for the Tennessee State Government.
What the Governor’s Office asked us to do was to help create efficiency across all agencies by creating the first consistent identity system for the state. This system had to include comprehensive brand guidelines and sub-logos for all departments and take into account how to design for new agencies or departments that could be created in the future. This system also had to take into account the myriad of applications, including everything from signage and brochures to computers and mobile devices.
Along with the need for us to create something that was simple and clear, we were also tasked with creating something that was completely ownable — something that wouldn’t be confused with other state iconography. This was a key reason for avoiding the state’s beloved Tri-Star — which has been used in thousands of applications from sports and healthcare to waste management and more. Ultimately, we developed a mark that takes visual cues from the state flag and works in harmony with the state seal and the Tri-Star.
The biggest thing to consider here is the cacophony of individual logos created over the years for official state agencies that all looked different and as official as the car service shop down the road. Most of them used, in one way or another, the state flag’s “Tri-Star” graphic, which if you go to Tennessee can be seen everywhere. It’s so widely used that it’s lost any kind of official attribution. This is not a terrible thing or a mistake by the government, it’s great that they have such a beloved icon, but it can no longer be exclusive to government business. Not using the Tri-Star was a smart move and going with a master brand to rule everything was as well. The problem is that the selected alternative is not that exciting.
I like the concept of the square graphic to be a rotated version of the state flag. It’s a subtle nod to an existing element. The “TN” typography is not… bad, but it’s also not… great. In principle, I want to like it and defend it more from media people like Chris Butler but there is not much there to passionately argue in its favor. It’s competent and it looks official but it’s quite lackluster, even for a government logo. And I like DIN as much as any other German-standards-loving person but here it’s not the right choice — at least Interstate, which is based on this country’s highway font would have been more convincing.
In application, things look kind of like what you would expect state materials to look like: Conservative. The only real problem I see is in the stationery where they start stretching the red field in the logo — that can devolve into some ugly and confusing applications very quickly. Overall, yes, this is all worth at least $46,000, regardless of the resulting logo — simply taking on the exercise of unifying dozens of agencies and working with a government body should cost that — unfortunately, the logo won’t win many fans or supporters solely on its own charisma, or lack thereof.