Opinions on corporate and brand identity work.

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This is a very old entry — images are small, formatting is off.


Whose Sucker is it?

Reviewed Jul. 28, 2009 by Christian Palino

Industry / Environment Tags /

Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Before and After

The mission of The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is “to interpret and conserve the earth’s biological diversity through research, education, and citizen science focused on birds.” Supporting that mission with publications and conservation initiatives, the lab has grown into an internationally respected organization of over 250 employees worldwide. To support this growth, the lab has commissioned a new identity which has been adapted by Michael Bierut and Katie Barcelona of Pentagram from the work of Charley Harper.

Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Alternate Configurations

Alternate logo configurations.

The previous identity was certainly feeling a bit dated and perhaps even a bit stuffy with its all-caps serif wordmark. The new wordmark brings a more modern feeling with its use of a slightly modified Avenir. The use of camelCase in TheCornellLab seems a peculiar choice and creates an odd rhythm that is accentuated in the longest edition of the wordmark. Though the most interesting part of the rebranding is the lab’s new icon. Over on Pentagram’s blog they explain that Bierut took “stylistic inspiration” from the work of Charley Harper — whose work Bierut has previously expressed admiration for — “adapting” one of Harper’s Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers,�a bird local to the Lab’s original home in Ithaca, New York.

Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Charley Harper Drawing

Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Icon Detail

Charley Harper’s original drawing (top) and detail of icon.

It’s clear that the lab has had a long relationship with Mr. Harper during his life,�having much of his work featured in their building, including a painting made specifically for the lab. One could assume that the family or individuals that now steward the legacy and work of Charley Harper were involved during this redesign initiative — likely a back-story that Pentagram or the lab could provide for further clarity. However, all that being said, one would still ask: can a designer just pick up an illustration from another artist and turn it into a logo?

The credits listed on Pentagram’s blog read “Project Team: Michael Bierut, partner-in-charge; Katie Barcelona,�designer”. For my part, if nothing else, I’d like to see the inclusion of something like “Creative Direction: Charley Harper.”



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