Speak UpA Former Division of UnderConsideration
The Archives, August 2002 – April 2009
advertise @ underconsideration
---Click here for full archive list or browse below
Ye Olde Graphic Designer

As I mentioned previously, I’ve been taking a design class. Our most recent assignment calls for us to create a heraldic crest. Now, heraldry is something I’ve always avoided, partly because I associate it with genealogists—the amatuer kind, who are, imho, geeks—and partly because I associated it with mediaeval recreationists who are also … geeks. And while I may be a geek of one sort, I’m not that sort.

Many of us, in the course of our illustrious careers have had the occasion to deal with an institution that has a crest (often in aid of getting rid of the crest, and “updating” their identity). And you know, all crests look pretty much the same, don’t they?

Well, the interesting thing I discovered, as I plunged into the geeky world of heraldry, is that here is one of the things I’ve been looking for for a while: a distinct graphic language. All crests look the same to us just as all Chinese characters look the same to those of us who are not Chinese. They’re not all the same, we just can’t read them.

Basically, heraldry is a lost vocabulary. Every symbol, shape, colour and arrangement of colour means something. You can’t just say “I’d like to have a castle/rose/lion/boat on my sheild …” each of those symbols has meaning, and you’re not allowed to just slap them on at whim. Not only is each item symbolic, but there is a wealth of terminology used to describe graphic material in a way that could actually be quite useful. This language of heraldry is called Blazon.

(I promise: no dwarves, no wizards, no unicorns, no escarbuncles.)

Also, there are rules about how colours are used—rules which were designed to allow maximum visibility: Very practical, as these crests were often seen on battlefields and you really needed to be able to see and read the graphics at a distance.

For instance, colours are called “tinctures” and come in three categories: metals (gold [yellow] and silver [white]), furs (a spotted look, usually reminiscent of ermine), and colours (red, blue, black, green and purple). On a shield, a metal icon may not be placed on a metal background, but only on a colour; and similarly a colour icon may only be placed on a metal or fur background. So you can’t have a green gryphon (I did not promise “no gryphons”) on a blue background, it must be on white or yellow. And you can’t have a yellow lion on a white background, it must be on one of the colours. Visibility. (Rules which, if followed would not have resulted in The Yellow Ruth.)

The background of the shield is called the “ground”, and it can be divided up in a number of different “divisions”. Divisions don’t have to follow the metal-colour rule as they are considered to be beside each other. Plus, there are “ordinaires”, which are basic shapes and they do follow the rule. Here’s a few divisions and ordinaires:

A horizontal bar is an ordinaire called a “Fess”. A horizontal division across the middle is called “per Fess” (the way of the Fess), and things that run across the middle in a horizontal row are called “Fess wise”. A vertical bar is a “Pale” (ordinaire), a vertical division in half is called “per Pale”, and things that run in a column down that line are called “Pale wise”. Got it? A “V” bar is a “Chevron”, and if you turn it upside down it is a “Chevron inverted”. A diagonal bar is a “Bend” (leading to “Per Bend” and “Bend wise”), and if it goes from top left to bottom right it’s “dextre”, and if it goes the other way it’s “senestre”. There are more.

There are also names for the shapes and edges of the ordinaires:

There are many other divisions, ordinaires and edges. I will spare you.

OK, you got the ground, you got the division and/or the ordinaires, and on top of that you have a whole shitload of little symbols, called “charges”. These range from simple shapes like “lozenges” (diamonds), “roundels” (circles), stars, crosses, etc. to animals. All of which have various symbolic meanings, or sometimes include a graphic pun on the name of the bearer (which are called “Canting Arms”). Furthermore, the animals take various positions, all of which are named, and even have names for the positions of their body parts (especially heads).

“Rampant” is an animal on its hind legs, “passant” is in a walking position, “passant reguardant” is walking but looking back, “passant repassant” is when two animals are walking past each other in opposite directions, “rampant sejant” is sitting with the forelegs raised. Honestly, it goes on and on.

As tedious as this may sound, it is of course no more tedious than learning any language, and once learned it is invariably useful. Many of the symbols are named for antiquated weaponry, garb (yes, I just said “garb”), and terms no longer in use or in French, or both. But in a world where such things matter, it’s much easier to say “reboundant” than “a lion’s tail when it forms the letter �S’ with the point outwards,” when you need to.

“Chequy” describes a field covered with small squares of alternate tinctures. Similarly “lozengy” refers to a field covered in lozenges (cute, huh?). When animal parts are coloured differently from the animal, they are called “hoofed” or “maned” or “legged,” etc. “Despectant” is used of animals looking downwards. “Embrued” refers to drops of blood falling upon or from something. And here’s a handy one: “decked” is when the feathers of a bird are trimmed at the edges with a small line of a different colour from the rest of the body.

That, too, goes on and on.

But imagine being able to say “Give it a division senestre per bend, red over black and arrange the stars fess-wise on the black field. Add an embrued Cow Couchant Guardant above it and you’re done!”

So all shields are not the same; in fact, they’re very different. They are readable, and describable, and most importantly, they mean something. Not only do they tell us something when they are first constructed, but shields and Coats of Arms change and evolve over time as the family or institution changes, specifically to reflect those changes. When people get married, or if they go on a long voyage, or move, their shields might change to reflect those things. Each significant change is registered on the shield so that it is always relevant.

Now, if you can’t see where I’m going with this, you don’t know me very well.

Here we are in the 21st Century, and we have very little graphic vocabulary that we can count on and read in a precise way. Corporate logos are most often completely meaningless, or they try to portray something quite complex without having a language to express it. They are quite often designed based on the whim of a CEO or a marketing department. They are vulnerable to fads, egos and stupidity. Colours are applied largely according to taste. Old logos are thrown out and new ones ushered in with little or no regard to history or story. It’s mayhem.

But what if … what if we had a graphic vocabulary that actually meant something? What if it were a hard fact that, say, an open swoosh = transition, and a closed swoosh (halo) = transition completed. What if, say, rows of dots indicated franchisement, underscores indicated automation, bevelled edges indicated … god-knows-what … ?

What if various types of lines indicated mergers, takeovers and other states of corporate structure?

What if even the gradient had meaning? Or the drop shadow?

What if there were a fixed range of symbols for industries?

Designing logos would be an act of science: careful symbology applied in, yes, a creative and pleasing manner, that tells the tale of mergers, takeovers and change of business. At least then it would all mean something. Anyone could look at a logo and read its history. Logo changes would indicate what had changed. And it wouldn’t matter if the CEO did or didn’t like green; wanted or didn’t want a dog; loved or hated the shape. Then at last, we could look at a new logo and understand, “Ah, a young telecommunications company with sales over $100 million/yr which has merged with a digital company and is transistioning into the entertainment industry. I see.

Maintained through our ADV @ UnderConsideration Program
ARCHIVE ID 2570 FILED UNDER Miscellaneous
PUBLISHED ON Apr.05.2006 BY marian bantjes
Jonathan Baldwin’s comment is:

Best article ever - I am so going to steal borrow this.

Suddenly designing logos becomes easy. What a great idea.

Heraldry has always interested me - it seems to have a logic and a simplicity that belies the amazing range of designs it can produce, something I think we need to remember when we try to abandon 'restrictive' rules.

On Apr.05.2006 at 04:00 AM
Plamen’s comment is:

Loved it!

On Apr.05.2006 at 04:43 AM
dan’s comment is:

This is amazing. If only identities could be 'read' as well as your example... So many great points re: visual language and heraldry - wow - what a brilliant example to show the lack of thought and planning in some modern identity design. I've looked at so many logos and thought what does it mean....? This could now be the answer!

On Apr.05.2006 at 06:22 AM
Hunox’s comment is:

The information about the arms is amazing. I never thought there would be so much depth to it.

But I disagree about the logos. Logos are meant to be memorable, not always descriptive. Logos usually work on a subconscious level, you are not supposed to "read" them.

On Apr.05.2006 at 06:41 AM
Hunox’s comment is:

Just as I posted, a great example came to mind that I learned about a few month ago. Look at the FedEx logo. Do you see an arrow? I'll come back to this comment a few hours later :)

On Apr.05.2006 at 06:42 AM
Pesky Illustrator’s comment is:

Marian, you're so sensible! But the post-post modern world is so cut off from the vocabulary of symbols and meanings that such a brilliant idea is as fanciful as unicorns. As well as European heraldry, one has only to look at Japanese family crests called Kamon to see that unity of symbols was all part of a larger societal cohesion. (http://www.japan-society.org/crest_jssdt.html)

Thanks, this is fun.

On Apr.05.2006 at 07:01 AM
adelie’s comment is:

This was very informative and facinating. I also did not know about Blazon.

Pesky's right about the post-post modern world. However, I don't think the post-post modern world has really taken over middle America yet.

This could work well for small businesses.

On Apr.05.2006 at 07:35 AM
bryony’s comment is:

It could mean that spending all of $40 dollars on a logo might actually mean something, as customers/employees could figure out what XYZ company does for business.

On the other hand, it would rob (at least) me from bumping my head on the wall, tearing my hear out on occasion, screaming at anyone who crosses my path on any given day, and from jumping for joy when I discover that perfect mark embedded in an obscure area of my brain. I can’t say I can let go of that so easily.

On Apr.05.2006 at 07:52 AM
Andrew Twigg’s comment is:

You said "escarbuncles."

Marian, awesome post.

It makes me think of all those hollywood movies that used crests... I wonder if "Robin Hood" (the Costner one) got these right or if they had some random prop person making this stuff up. Not that I'm going to go find out...

On Apr.05.2006 at 09:00 AM
Jordan’s comment is:

I've long been a fan of your work Marian, and this post, aside from being interesting, gives a wonderful insight into your personality. Thanks so much!

To me,this write up is what graphic design is all about. Not just solving problems, but developing new systems to solve problems, solving new problems in new ways, and pushing beyond the norm.

Thanks for such an enlighting and inspiring post.

On Apr.05.2006 at 09:24 AM
Hendrik-Jan Francke’s comment is:

Wonderful post. I really liked your point about having to learn the language of crests and then inventing a language for logo design. Just wonderful! Thank you!!!

On Apr.05.2006 at 09:40 AM
Patrick Mullen’s comment is:

Great post. Beatles producer George Martin commissioned a heraldic crest in 2004 that sparked much talk among Fab Four fans (why only three beetles?):

On Apr.05.2006 at 09:46 AM
Rob Weychert’s comment is:

This was a fascinating introduction to Blazon (with which I was previously completely unfamiliar), but I found its apparently elementary application to corporate identity predictably disappointing. Why is Speak Up so preoccupied with the single most soulless and facet of graphic design?

On Apr.05.2006 at 11:42 AM
Su’s comment is:

Okay, Rob. What else would this be applicable to?

On Apr.05.2006 at 11:52 AM
felixxx’s comment is:

brilliant report, Marian.

wonder what category all those spencerian

designs/ logos fall into?

i hear the 80's are making a comeback.

(the 1880's).

On Apr.05.2006 at 12:00 PM
Rob Weychert’s comment is:

Su, I'll agree that in modern graphic design, the purpose of the heraldic crest most closely parallels that of the corporate logo. And I'll agree with Marian's contention that the latter's aesthetics typically lack meaning. However, I'll also agree with Hunox's remark that logos benefit more from being memorable than descriptive (which is not to say one precludes the other). And finally, I'll argue that many trends in logo design can come to constitute a graphic language of their own.

As for my flying off the handle about Speak Up's preoccupation with corporate identity, well, I guess I just feel like it's a well-mined subject, and there's plenty of other things to talk about.

On Apr.05.2006 at 12:14 PM
Mr. Frankie L’s comment is:

“Ah, a young telecommunications company with sales over $100 million/yr which has merged with a digital company and is transistioning into the entertainment industry. I see.”

But let's say you have 5 different young

telecommunications companies with the same or

similar histories and goals? Wouldn't this translate

to their logos looking identical?

In order to communicate/describe the unique

properties of a company, the logo would have

to be super complex..

The increasing complexity of such a logo

would not lend itself towards being mnemonic.

Creating a visual language as described in

the article, entails assigning meaning to

images or combinations of images, otherwise

obtuse to the viewer.

In identity design, if you're going to use

representational imagery, it's not supposed to

require any prerequisite learning.

On Apr.05.2006 at 12:20 PM
Su’s comment is:

Rob: Mmm. I don't think you quite answered my question. Yes, it's a well-mined area, but your original comment seemed to suggest there was somewhere else (presumably less "elementary") the exploration of crests could have gone. Where is that?

I'm seriously curious. As far as I've ever been able to tell, crests are logos (of a sort), and your follow up seems to find the progression was natural, yet still complains about a fixation on logos[1]. Should Marian have applied the idea to...book covers, just for the sake of being avant-garde rather than staying true to the topic?

Hunox's comment is largely irrelevant here. This isn't a question of how logos should do what they do.

On preview, Frankie L has raised a much more valid point in his first paragraph. How far out would the vocabulary have to be expanded to allow for similar companies? If it's a language, there's no reason there couldn't be (visual) synonymns, right?

[1] On that point, I'll reiterate my comment at Design Observer: "It's my site, I'll write about what I want."

On Apr.05.2006 at 12:37 PM
marian bantjes’s comment is:

I sent my instructor, Sam Carter, a link to this (yes, I'm a keener), and he emailed me this am, including the following comment: "One practical application of all this heraldry has to do with the design and production of Sports/ Events Trading Pins. This is a popular culture concerned with graphic expression that i think has its origins in Heraldry."

Well, I did a little hunting around on the web, and I can't say I found much to support this. However, it did remind me that while I was researching charges, and then drawing my own bears for the assignment—how much the fierce, aggressive, stylized animals reminded me of sports mascots.

Sports has a much more obvious connection to battle, and of course teams want to be represented with much the same terminology as is frequently applied in Blazon: "Valour, honour, ferocity, defense, protection, loyalty" ... etc.

On Apr.05.2006 at 12:41 PM
Bill Kerr’s comment is:

Hunox... what designer DOESN'T know about the intern-created arrow?

On Apr.05.2006 at 12:52 PM
Becky C.’s comment is:

Marian: after researching a topic such as heraldry, do the symbols and methodology of that subject find their way into your everyday work? Even if the topic of study was not originally intended as project-specific research?

Anyone else?

As a detail-oriented designer-type person, I frequently see my hobbies spilling over into the application of my paid work. Anytime I've put energy into learning about some new fascinating subject, I see that come out in my work, even without trying.

On Apr.05.2006 at 12:54 PM
marian bantjes’s comment is:

And Bryony, I'm certain that the existence of a graphic language for corporate identity would not rob you of those much beloved head-banging moments. There is still a wide latitude for interpretation and implementation. The difference is that in the end it would say something. Think of it like poetry: you use language to come up with something brief, evocative and meaningful — this as opposed to senseless babble.

As another aside ... on looking at the crest posted above by Patrick, I find am unable to stop myself from delighting in my instant recognition of a nebuly fess, and looking at it very closely. Is that a nail through the bird? That's interesting. And I wonder what the term is for a passant animal with one foreleg holding a hook-staff-thing (which i know has a name, but i don't know it).

Oh dear. I am turning into such a geek.

On Apr.05.2006 at 12:56 PM
marian bantjes’s comment is:

Becky, I have no doubt I will be influenced by this ... but then it is all rather up my alley. I always did love those crazy lions. And to answer your question more fully, yes pretty much everything I do that interests me affects my work in that it affects my thinking.


Interestingly, perhaps my favourite logo of all time is Agip.

On Apr.05.2006 at 01:05 PM
Rob Weychert’s comment is:

Su: My original comment didn't mean to suggest that corporate identity is a less apt candidate for this idea than something else. I simply didn't think a candidate was necessary. The article does a good job of introducing us to the world of Brazon and as far as I'm concerned, it doesn't really need to do anything beyond that, especially given the frightening eyesore of a result, and Frankie's valid argument against it.

Regarding "It's my site; I'll write about what I want," I certainly concur. However, as Speak Up is one of the most visible online discourses on graphic design, I think it's worth pointing out, as a reader, that its view tends to be somewhat narrow.

On Apr.05.2006 at 01:10 PM
JonSel’s comment is:

it doesn't really need to do anything beyond that, especially given the frightening eyesore of a result

Rob, it's called sarcasm. Nod nod. Wink wink.

On Apr.05.2006 at 01:17 PM
Mandy’s comment is:

There would seem to be ample evidence that corporate identity design is something a majority of the authors and readers of this site are very interested in.

On Apr.05.2006 at 01:41 PM
Mr. Frankie L’s comment is:

might be digressing & could be dead wrong but:

I think one reason why heraldry has become

obsolete, is because it was never really meant to

be a tool for the masses — it was a vanity trip

for the local aristocraticies. The peasants

follwed their rulers, but I'm not convinced they

had a deep understanding of all these complex

symbols, save for familiarity with their own.

On Apr.05.2006 at 02:09 PM
Doug B’s comment is:

Actually, heraldry is still visually alive in the traditional marks of many of the international football (soccer) clubs worldwide. Here's some samples.

On Apr.05.2006 at 05:33 PM
felixxx’s comment is:

"...Speak Up's preoccupation with corporate identity... there's plenty of other things to talk about."

Speak Up is the unofficial place to find late breaking news on identity design. Always will be- always has been. So Rob, what were you saying about that exciting new trend in brochure or Annual Report design? (crickets)

Logos are the soul of graphic design.

On Apr.05.2006 at 09:14 PM
Pesky Illustrator’s comment is:

Logos are the soul of graphic design.

Louder cricket sounds...

Graphic design has a soul in corporate logos like Popeye's has fried chicken hearts...I don't think so...

On Apr.05.2006 at 09:32 PM
Pesky Illustrator’s comment is:

Oh wait, you mean YOUR soul. Well,OK,sure, Felixxx

On Apr.05.2006 at 09:41 PM
Chris Dixon’s comment is:

Excellent article.

Heraldry is also touched on in Per Mollerp’s fantastic Marks of Excellence book.

The reason for these crests was to differentiate clans or families from eachother, whereas many corporations today don’t want to appear different, as evidenced by frequency of the client request to “make it look like...”

On Apr.06.2006 at 12:31 AM
Ricardo Cordoba’s comment is:

Dame Marian, thou art truly the best!

On Apr.06.2006 at 12:44 AM
Ricardo Cordoba’s comment is:

The article does a good job of introducing us to the world of Brazon and as far as I'm concerned, it doesn't really need to do anything beyond that...

Rob, JonSel already said it another way, but... Ye gods, man, where is your sense of humor?

On Apr.06.2006 at 12:55 AM
Chris Pennello’s comment is:

What a fun post! Wonderfully creative application of old ideas in a new context.

On Apr.06.2006 at 01:28 AM
heather’s comment is:

Yeah, well done. Then companies wouldn't need to use any marketing or advertising as everyone would flock to the ones that were brand new in the retail industries, and centuries old in the banking sector. The only advertising undertaken would be to refute what the logo says to position yourself to a different audience. And startup graphics businesses would get no business at all.

On Apr.06.2006 at 06:40 AM
Natalie’s comment is:

Marian, you’re insight is truly fab.

As mentioned in the previous posts (paraphrasing) that the success of your logo (let’s call it system) would be most successful if everyone was familiar with the individual signs that make up the heraldic crests.

I don’t think the education that is needed, on a global scale, is impossible, it would just take a while to consider visual communication in between the shift. (We could even call this shift the “Almost”).

But having everyone walk through Almost (almost losing their sanity, almost losing their clients, almost giving up coffee, and so on) without the foggiest of how the logo marks will eventually be received is a huge risk not all of us would be willing to take. Mainly because the logo’s success not only relies on education, but also repetition — and lots of it, so that no generation is spared from its meaning.

So instead of a logo system, maybe another way to consider the heraldic crests, is more like a language system. (We can drop the system now). The language would actually describe the company or organizations, but it wouldn’t define them.

In actuality, you would be creating a directory of some kind, where companies would fall into categories, but wouldn’t be limited to them.

After all, a company/organization/person is meant to define themselves in terms of their uniqueness, not their sameness.

In this way, I think the heraldic crests are fun, because there’s inherently already a sense of clan-ship in the sign. Plus, I don’t think reproducing symbols in Renaissance paintings, for example, with already pre-determined meanings, would bode well in this kind of situation.

In fact, I’m not sure inventing the definition of all the marks in the crest is entirely necessary.

There are plenty of signs out there that exist that people are already familiar with. Huge brands like McDonald’s, Coca-Cola and Nike for example all have logos common to our existing vocabulary. Then there are the not so obvious ones, like trees, cats, dogs, the sun and the moon. Why not interpret the Nike swoosh, and turn the “M” in McDonald’s upside down, and let the whole thing float on a wave (of Coke) and create the “innovative, friendly-but-not-without-fault, dominating” sign where many companies can fall under. Use a leaf and a cat to show “environmentally friendly cat food” (that was a stretch, but you know what I mean) that certain pet supply stores, for example, would be represented by. In this way, the crests not only become a language, but they can truly be worn like a badge of honour, of identification, as they are meant to be.

The education part of this may not be so daunting on everyone when using marks that already exist. It Almost could defend itself! Probably from all you fantastic designers out there who keep inspiring the little folks like me. (Hats off to everyone!)

If you get a chance, check out Abbott Miller’s solution to Matthew Barney: The Cremaster Cycle book. The illustrations on the front cover Almost look herald-like. Defining the cycles in this way IMHO (in my humble opinion) is terribly smart.


Wish I had a copy…

PS - Sorry guys about the link; still trying to figure out how to post comments even though the instructions are terribly clear. Please be patient with me, N

On Apr.06.2006 at 08:25 AM
Natalie’s comment is:

Marian, (and everyone at SpeakUp) that's your not you're.

How embarassing!

(I almost should be tar and feathered.)

But you are truly fab!

On Apr.06.2006 at 08:28 AM
Stacy Rausch’s comment is:

Great post!

I love the way you presented the information on a topic I knew nothing about, and kept me interested the whole time.

On Apr.06.2006 at 10:19 AM
Rob Weychert’s comment is:

"Speak Up is the unofficial place to find late breaking news on identity design. Always will be- always has been."

Well, Felixxx, as Speak Up's About page paints the site as a much broader discussion, I hope you'll forgive me for thinking Speak Up can, should, and sometimes does encompass much more than just identity design (or brochure design, or annual report design), because graphic design certainly does.

On Apr.06.2006 at 12:11 PM
Ty Wilkins’s comment is:

I'm currently in the process of branding a 150 year old coffee company from El Salvador named Topéca. While digging through their family history book, I came across this wonderful crest. You just can't replace this kind of authenticity.

On Apr.06.2006 at 12:21 PM
Armin’s comment is:

Just for the record: Yes, Speak Up has a heavy bent on identity and branding. Why? It happens that a large majority of the authors (and I would say readers as well) are heavily inolved in this part of the broader field that is design. It is not an intentional decision, it just happened. Seeing this "obsession" translated into crest-talk (sorry, Blazon) is fascinating.

On Apr.06.2006 at 12:48 PM
Ole’s comment is:

Great post, but... there really is no overall meaning to heraldic symbols. A lion in area X may show sympathy for the lord with a lion in his shield, while a lion in area Y may show opposition to the lord with an eagle in his shield. In otherwords, it is all politics. Another thing: a crest is that thing on the head of a rooster. From there, the meaning has spread to things on the heads of knights, but shields are not crests.

On Apr.06.2006 at 03:06 PM
Dave’s comment is:

If only creating a corporate, (or team) logo was this easy. I'd have no work, hooray!!!. I always get these managers with grand ideas of their logo encompassing "everything" there group or team is doing, or has ever done. If only you could have a form where you select what you want your logo to say and presto!. Your logo is created for you and has a set meaning that everyone can understand...if you know that "heraldic language". (Example.) I had to created a logo for a customer, which they wanted a logo that showed what their system did. It was on a ship, and it linked to a network to share information with other ships and entities. Beautiful logo. Then they wanted to get literal. They wanted to show another ship, a humvee, a person, a satellite, a building, a plane, a submarine, etc... etc... Is it just me or shouldn't a logo give you a small idea without telling the whole picture...it's supposed to look good without overwhelming you and be reproducable at a smaller size?

On Apr.06.2006 at 03:55 PM
Jordan’s comment is:

Su & Frankie,


I can answer those questions. The vocabulary would have to be expanded to an infinite power, and for this reason you can't have visual synonyms to be used in logos. This idea totally frustrates me.

Don't get me wrong the post is fun to read, it's thoughtful, and Marian's idea likely has some limited application (personally approaching branding/logo design with this in mind). But, to have broad sweeping symbols, like the ones suggested, demean what we do as designers, and I’ll remind everyone that designers define and solve communication problems.

To use such "visual synonyms," one would have to assume that all "Young telecommunications company with sales over $100 million/yr which has merged with a digital company and is transitioning into the entertainment industry." are exactly at like.

The reality is that these "visual synonyms" already exist in some form or another, but it is up to us as designers to discover them and apply them in new ways.

On Apr.06.2006 at 06:56 PM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:

Forty-six posts and nobody has made a joke about the bar sinister? A bar dexter indicates a (legitimate) son. The bar sinister indicates a bastard. Nobody wants to slur their clients? I’m disappointed.

On Apr.06.2006 at 10:43 PM
marian bantjes’s comment is:

Gunnar, my class assignment was to make a coat of arms (or a "crest" despite Ole's remark above) for the Vancouver Winter Olympics. As my take on said Olympics is deeply cynical, I did purposely use a Bend Senestre. I didn't know it meant "bastard," I did know it meant "left," but I chose the english interpretation of "sinister." But "bastard" is even better.

On Apr.06.2006 at 11:26 PM
Mr.Frankie L’s comment is:


My points have been in agreement with yours.

On Apr.07.2006 at 12:00 AM
Daniel Green’s comment is:

Thanks, Marian, for a very interesting article on the little known language of Blazon.

After reading some of this thread, however, I feel the need to point out a difference in types of languages.

Blazon is evidently a very literal language. The depiction of something has a fixed meaning for those who know the language. This means this, and that means that, and there is no further need of discussion on the matter.

On the other end of the spectrum of language is music, which (with some exceptions) is abstract and evocative. A composer has intentions when creating it, but it is still open to a richness of interpretations.

Great identity design rarely falls on the highly literal end of the language spectrum, for a variety of reasons. Most organizations are too complex and fluid to attempt a literal depiction of who they are, what they do, or what they sell.

A visual language that is literal is very useful to an electrician, and engineer, or a scientist, but give me something evocative for identity design any day.

On Apr.07.2006 at 09:31 AM
Amy Proni’s comment is:

Brava! What a brilliant explanation of a complex topic; I greatly enjoyed it. Thank you for writing this, and for sharing it. ~Amy

On Apr.11.2006 at 09:33 AM
Travis’s comment is:

Michel Pastoreau has a small book on the use of the striped motif, which you might be interested in.

On Apr.11.2006 at 04:26 PM
Rob’s comment is:

there really is no overall meaning to heraldic symbols.

I'm not quite sure what you're trying to say Ole. Are you implying that the symbols by themselves were not utilized to carry meaning? Only in a combined environment of the shield that they had meaning?

I found this article and subsequent discussion to both enlightening and amazing inspiring—no surprise really since it came from Marian's insight—and isn't that what Speak Up is really about. Kudos to Marian.

I would be curious to know how extensive the use of this language was in terms of the larger society as a whole. How did certain crests send messages say to the Lord down the street, and could one send a subtle but strong message of 'Don't mess with me or it's war' just through their crest? And how often might a family change it's crest just for such a cause?

In any case, Marian, thanks so much for another great post.

On Apr.12.2006 at 11:25 AM
marian bantjes’s comment is:


Well, I'm no expert (and I'm just waiting for the historical recreationists to find this post and come wading in with their chain mail and truncheons), but I don't think this stuff was ever used for um, instant messaging. When a family wants to change a crest (or when a new Lord is getting a crest) it has to go through some kind of Board approval process. For instance, I believe Prince William wanted to add something to his crest (or coat of arms or whatever ... I'm too lazy to hunt this down on the internet again) from his mother, Diana's, side of the family, and he had to have that approved.

On Apr.12.2006 at 08:26 PM
Daniel’s comment is:

that's quite a brilliant and insightful piece of writing. Thanks. I posted it around a few places.

As a kid I was interested in this stuff for a while (yeah, I was a weird kid). I seem to remember that a lot of the decoration stuff was added as time went on, so that a coat of arms with lots of extra decorations and stuff would basically mean "these guys have been around and are probably connected and powerful" - but also that it did tend to start from a given symbol for a certain family. The symbols were sometimes visual puns, sometimes symbols of the family trade ... but if none of that fitted, they might be a bit aarbitrary as well.

The idea of translating into modern day logos is fascinating. Wow.

On Apr.13.2006 at 05:22 AM
Kevin Mills’s comment is:

Personal branding:

I've longed to create a robust visual language with which youth could graphically signify their emerging core beliefs. A Nike swoosh can only say so much. Let them name their allegiances specifically... and be recognized for them on the street.

I love the suggestion that sports are a distant relative. The mass consumption of sports branding seems a testimony to the human need to be marked and affiliated. Personally, I find I struggle to suggest myself with handmade bumper stickers. I'm starved for a graphic standard and with all the diversity, it's time. After all, we've already got one good graphic baseline going strong; the red states and the blue states...

s t u d i o - m i l l s project working title: Orange 16.


On Apr.14.2006 at 07:47 PM
Johan’s comment is:

>Here we are in the 21st Century, and we have very little graphic vocabulary that we can count on and read in a precise way.

Wrote a article to link early 20th century graphic design to design (use of the minimalistic, typography, geometric shapes) today:

Going back into time: Influences of early 20th century graphic design

On Apr.30.2006 at 09:43 AM
John Corleon’s comment is:

I found this entry on a Google search for "couchant guardant", and wanted to clarify what Ole had said.

There really is no accepted, canonical meaning for almost any heraldic symbol. Virtually everything on the "meanings" page you've linked is made up*. A given heraldic device, when used in one's arms, means anything the person who designed the arms wants it to mean; there is no law nor custom that any two artists shall use the same symbol in the same way, and in fact they scarecely ever did. A lion might be chosen to represent courage in one escutcheon; in another, as noted, in might mean nothing more than fealty to a lord with a lion in his arms. In yet another, it could have no meaning at all, chosen solely for aesthetics (and any purported meaning assigned after-the-fact). And in one I've made for myself, "Or, on a heart gules a lion rampant reguardant Or", it indicates nothing more than "there's a lion in my name". (This last is surprisingly common, and known as cant.)

A notable exception is the use of Marks of Cadency; this is the only example I am familiar with for which symbols truly had a widely accepted meaning. (In fact, the label is never, to my knowledge, used to denote anything save 'firstborn son'.)

Also, contrary to Gunnar Swanson's comment, there is no such thing as a "bar sinister", since a "bar" is a horizontal line across the width of the entire shield (about half the width of a fess) and thus cannot be placed to the left or right. A baton (a short vertical line of a similar width), placed to sinister, was occasionally used to denote an illegitimate son in French arms, but this practice was not at all universal.

Incidentally, I am surprised at your comment in the third paragraph of your post. I am not Chinese, but can perfectly well distinguish any two Chinese characters, and in at least some cases provide the meaning as well. You need not be Chinese to know Chinese, and to be honest, you needn't even know Chinese to distinguish many of the characters.

(* Possibly by someone who was actually designing their own crest; which is to say, these may be valid example meanings that were actually historically used, but they are made up nonetheless.)

On Jun.14.2006 at 09:08 PM
Visere’s comment is:

"Designing logos would be an act of science: careful symbology applied in, yes, a creative and pleasing manner"

Isn't it that anyway?

On Feb.01.2007 at 03:21 PM
Karl’s comment is:

Very well done, Marian. Beautifully written and very clear. And you generated some real interest in an old subject.

One reason that such a logo scheme might not take off in American business is our expectation of total independence and autonomy. We want to do things our own way, go in our own directions, make our own rules, etc.

I feel that way about my own family arms, actually. I'm currently designing my family coat of arms (for rings) by taking the "real" one and making major modifications, as I see fit. Of course, people like my father (who is spokesperson for a major American geneological society and an enthusiatic traditionalist concerning English arms) say my arms will have absolutely no validity. But I say, English arms have absolutely no validity in America anyway, since they aren't recognized in any way by anyone officially. So, I make my own rules, design by my own liking, and the validity is measured by me and family. I'm having great fun with it. I design using what is important to me and my family, and they can opt to change it anytime, of course.

Maybe business feels the same. As a business I'm more interested in creating a logo that is memorable and that somehow portrays an inner quality that I hope to attach to my biz name.

Of course, I could be wrong about the whole thing! :c )~

Thanks for the posting.

On May.14.2007 at 01:08 PM
Randall’s comment is:

John Corleon made good points. There is no standard meaning for the symbols and colors, word to the contrary from businesses wanting to sell you some bogus heraldic artwork.

I also see much conflation of the terms "crest" and "arms." "Arms," "armorial bearings," and "coat of arms" are more or less synonymous. "Crest" is not.

A crest was the decorative device that went atop the knight's helmet. Heraldically, it sits atop the helmet which sits atop the shield on a full armorial achievement, which is the shield, the supporters (if any), the helmet (if one), the mantling (if present), etc.

A coat of arms is not a crest. A crest is not a coat of arms.

On Jun.24.2008 at 07:11 PM