Logo of the month #8

Presbyterian Church logo

The Presbyterian Church / PC (USA) logo was created by Rhode Island firm, Malcolm Grear Designers.

Update: 02 July 2008
I’ve changed my mind on this one. The flames below the cross provoke detrimental associations.

From the Malcolm Grear website:

“In 1983, after 122 years of separation caused by the Civil War, all sections of the Presbyterian Church were finally reunited, which brought about the need for a new symbol. After the nine member task force reviewed 46 American designers, Malcolm Grear Designers was awarded the project.”

The logo is composed of eight different elements merged together into one creative mark, detailed here:

Presbyterian Church logo

I was pointed towards the PC (USA) logo by J on my other website, Logo Design Love. J also mentioned this related article on AIGA, Redesigning a Symbol of Faith, by Steven Heller, quoted from below:

“Being one of the most recognizable and emotionally charged symbols in the world, it is inconceivable that design improvements could be made upon the cross. However, since it represents many contrasting theologies and ideologies, it has various meanings for different peoples.”

Malcolm Grear went on to create church signage, the PC (USA) website, and stained glass windows (pictured below).

Presbyterian Church logo

Presbyterian Church logo

Presbyterian Church logo

What do you think? Do churches need logos? An interesting debate in the comments on Logo Design Love. Worth a read.

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44 Comments

  1. I think the logo is well thought out and clever (with all the different elements and symbols), but other than that there’s nothing about the logo that appeals to me. It just doesn’t evoke any emotion and seems sort of formal and rigid.

  2. Wow, I thought that logo was beautiful before I noticed all the symbolism. That’s definitely not an easy task to encompass so many thoughts and ideas. Nice choice for logo of the month, David. Thanks for sharing.

  3. I like the depth of thought and effort which have gone into this logo but I don’t think it’s a beautiful piece of work. It doesn’t look quite right to me and I’m trying to think of why … the best reasons I can think of right now are that the fish offsets the symmetry of the other elements, and as a whole the logo has many bold lines set very close together, creating a busy effect. In fact I started to like it better when I saw the two-color versions (explaining the various symbols worked into the design). Would I have guessed that it was a church logo? I think probably yes, so on that level I think it works.

  4. I think its a great example of a well thought through logo in terms of the ideas within it and its construction. But it doesn’t really do it for me in terms of its aesthetic, but it is growing on me, unfortunately though I’m not sure i would have noticed all the elements had they not been pointed out to me and thats a shame. Logo design that needs a manual to explain itself isn’t a good idea. But I can’t help liking it for its ideas, I’m sitting on the fence really! Cheers Gareth

  5. Truly Amazing. This logo is a beautiful mystery like God himself.

  6. It’s a clever image, but not great as a logo. Logos should work without an additional guide telling you how it works and why it’s so clever.

  7. My question is…what group doesn’t need a logo? Every group should have a logo for specific reasons related to your latest blog about the book written by Maggie Macnab. According to her book, a logo…or design can make or break a company, a group, etc. A logo is a symbol that easily describes (without a thousand words) what that group, company stands for. I think the logo of the month you chose is a perfect example of description without words.

  8. Kris, Tracey, interesting to read the differences in opinion.

    Ganpati, Alec, you’re both welcome, and I’m heading over to read the post now.

    Tracey, Gareth, it’s the fact that once you see all the elements, you don’t forget them. The hidden meanings ultimately make for a more memorable design.

    Daniel, regardless of our different opinions, cheers for stopping by. I think the logo works without the explanation, then gets better once you see the elements.

    Lacey, have you read Maggie’s book? I’ve only just started but I think it’ll be a great read.

  9. Steve O

    The different elements in this logo have been combined exceptionally well (apart from the straight edges on the dove – I feel they would be better with a similar curve to the flames) in a fairly simple mark. It also looks great in it’s use on the windows and amice – very effective.

    However, I do feel it looks quite ‘intimidating’ and stern. I get the impression from this logo that the church is very strict, pro American (nothing wrong with that per se) and conservative. It could also be interpreted as a burning figure which is open to a few interpretations!

    Overall I love the concept but am not too sure of the final execution.

  10. I also see Jesus in there. That’s what I thought at first that the symbol looked like Jesus spreading His arms to welcome people to the church.

    I admire how they were able to work within considerable restraints to design this logo. It’s hard enough to incorporate one or two concepts let alone nine!

    It still doesn’t feel quite right to me for some reason. It feels… unfinished, like a great concept waiting to be completed. Maybe the line work needs more attention. Some tapers perhaps? The lines are too thick and it makes it childish stern (I agree with Steve’s analysis). I agree with Tracey that the fish throws the symmetry and could’ve been more even on both sides.

    I think a color other than navy blue would suit it better, too. Too many logos are blue and red, and I think this could’ve done well to be a rich green color (symbolizing life) or a lighter blue (spirit). The gold (heavenly) in the stained glass window is even better than the navy.

  11. In the first instance I liked the logo. Very serious, but also elegant and “light”. I really was astonished and impressed to see the thinking behind. Some of it is visible – some never ever.

    After a second glance – and in fact after reading some comments – I was not that sure anymore.

    Its nice, yes, and indeed its fitting very well to Christian thinking.
    So no problem to put in a church.

    But – outside of a church – who would take notice of it ??

    There it definetly could need some more “power”, better visibility, stronger fonts.

  12. @ Daniel, you stated ‘Logos should work without an additional guide telling you how it works and why it’s so clever’. I see what you mean here, but I disagree. I first saw this logo in the book “Designing Brand Identity’ by Alina Wheeler (Page 157 if anyone wants to read an in depth study on it).

    I saw. even from the first glance SOME of the icons contained within this logo, but I agree with partially – the Trinity triangle is, at best, subliminal and ‘not really there’. I bet you could make traingular shapes from many logos that mean nothing in the end.

    Overall though, this is a great logo full of vigor and meaning, albeit on the subliminal side of the fence….but is that a bad thing? I don’t believe so…

  13. Lauren, I saw a man too… the dove bit being wavy, makes it more round like a head, than the solidness of the rest of the cross. I think I actually thought priest (perhaps because of the photo of the robes), rather than Jesus though… that’s bad right?

  14. Agree that with the symbols it is indeed a nice and cleaver logo. Too many times logo designs have symbols, objects and shapes just for the sake of having them.

  15. Adrienne

    David, just discovered your blog and so happy I did! It’s filled with wonderful content!

    As for this month’s logo… A lot of thought was definitely put into it, but I have to admit “Wicker Man” popped into my head the instant I saw it… Anyone else see what I mean?

  16. Wicker Man, yes I can see that straight away, I knew there was something familiar about it!

  17. Steve O

    Adrienne – that’s one of the connotations I was hinting at too, the burning figure can be interpreted in different ways, unfortunately most are negative!

  18. Seems this one is every bit as contentious as my logo of the month #7. In a way, I’d prefer it like that, because your input in disagreement makes for great discussion.

    Steve O,

    I can see how this logo might appear intimidating, and as Adrienne pitched in, the ‘wicker man’ idea is hard to ignore once spotted.

    Lauren,

    I’m with you on the colour. My guess is that the client pushed for blue and red, to ‘add nationality’, or something along those lines.

    Andy,

    Seems as if your thoughts are also being influenced by the comments. They make me think again too, which is great. It’s what I hoped for with this blog – differing opinions and thoughts.

    Andrew,

    …full of vigor and meaning, albeit on the subliminal side of the fence….but is that a bad thing? I don’t believe so.

    I don’t believe so either. The Designing Brand Identity book looks interesting, thanks. Would you recommend it?

    Adrienne,

    Great to welcome you to the website, and thanks for commenting!

  19. I think the overall design is very good, that was until I panned down and saw the version with the red flames underneath the effigy figure. That made me think the person was being burned at the stake. Doubt that is what the artist or the church had in mind.

  20. jspin77

    I can’t believe that everyone is saying that logos should never need explanations. Do you know how many logos have one?! I am no logo expert, but if you research, many of them do. For example most all universities, many formal organizations, many of our countries’ symbols have multiple meanings (whichever country you are from).

    Here is the point, if this logo was presented to you, you would immediately recognize its basic religious premise. You do not need an explanation for that. You can immediately see the cross, fire and possibly the dove.

    I think the fact that there is much more to its meaning, makes it that much more appealing. I think that is what makes it a great logo. The hidden meaning to its members.

  21. Steve O

    jspin77 – I think it was only Daniel who said that, no need to include everyone ;)

    A huge number of logos need some sort of explanation to get any real meaning from them. That’s why people love to hear and see the process behind one – so this can be understood. Books containing thousands of logos are great for stirring up some ideas, but you can’t beat a book with fewer logos that include the ideas behind them.

    Self plug: Just found out one of my efforts for the Made In Bunch project has been selected for the book they are bringing out at the end of the year! My first ‘proper’ design recognition – joy.

  22. @David Airey: Yeah, I would recommend the book. Like many books, it lacks colour on most pages (it would be good to see some logos in their original colours), but has plenty of substance to it, and reviews many of the worlds greatest logos.

  23. I think incorporating that many elements is genius but there is something that does bother me. It seems like everything religious is behind the trends and comes up short of being memorable and eye catching. However, there are exceptions to the rule. I love my churches logo for example (www.jamesriver.org). It seems that religious organizations need young, fresh, forward thinking minds to create with more staying power. I think this is a smart logo, but probably not beautiful to anyone who doesn’t get a senior citizens discount.

  24. jspin77 – I realize there are many logos with explanations, but I think his one needs a bit too much – it’s more of a puzzle than a logo! If those eight elements were used as sub-brands (although I can’t imagine they are) and made more obvious, then it’d make a lot more sense.

    I think this has grabbed our attention as it has an interesting thought-process behind it, but design-savvy brand geeks like us (sorry if anyone takes offense at being tarred with that brush!) aren”t the target audience.

    (Also – has anyone spotted the unintentional ninth element? There’s definitely a devilish-looking fork in there…)

  25. I watch too much sports. The first thing I saw was a goalie jersey. I couldn’t figure out why there were flames and a pitchfork head. Then I wondered if it was a logo for their sports team so I read on. After reading all the comments I like the logo better. It is clever with all it’s sub-elements and since I like sports the jersey look doesn’t offend.

  26. That is brilliant, so much thought put into the design – thanks for breaking down the individual elements for us so we could see it so clearly.

    That design will stand the test of time.

    If you look through their portfolio you can see that it’s a particular strength and style of theirs to blend several different concepts together to make another new concept.

    http://www.mgrear.com/mgd02.cfm – for instance if you look at their United States Department of Health and Human Services it’s simply brilliant.

    They’ve taken a similar approach with many of their designs. I love the Whaling Museum also.

    I wish I lived in London, which is where most of my clients are, because it would be so wonderful to have photos of the designs in action in the way that Malcolm Grear do (stained glass, entry gates etc etc).

    My clients use their designs for all manner of interesting things, but it’s like pulling teeth trying to get decent photos out of them.

  27. IMHO the icon is magnificent, one of the best I’ve ever seen. First off, I just liked it visually, as it’s complex but clean. Secondly, if you just saw the icon you’d have a good chance of guessing that it was the logo for a religous organisation. Then there is the depth of meaning ,behind a relatively simple image,which is perfect for a religous organisation. I absoutely love logos that have intellectual depth.

    Cheers Don

  28. Thanks for the thoughts, everyone. Just back from a weekend away, with a ton of emails to answer. Apologies for not responding individually.

  29. The complexity of elements, while offering an array of icons to choose and reflecting a “something for everyone” committee solution, also allows for ambiguous and unexpected options like the [Burning] Wicker Man mentioned – a throwback to cult harvest festivals with giant burning effigies, at times including children to ensure good crop and weather outcomes.

    Sometimes more is too much….

    Another positive is the suggestion of Hebrew calligraphy. I like the etched window treatment, also.

  30. I’ve got to admit those flames are stating to get to me now…..

  31. Having read all of this feedback, it seems kind of appropriate that an identity for an organised religion should fall foul to so many interpretations – many of which are far from what was originally intended when it was created, and some of which appear to have been pilfered from pagan symbolism… oh the irony…

  32. Looks like the boogey-man. There’s a lot of unintentional humour in it — it could just as easily be a logo for (as other readers have pointed out as well) a contingent of pagans or beelzebubbers. The colour version is even more problematic — why is the pitchfork-head person being burned in the fire? Is this a warning to any would-be witches in the congregation?? Probably not meant to be, but you see what I mean.

    Yes, a lot of thought has gone into it and it’s very clever for combining all those elements, but ultimately (as shown in the varied responses above) it fails to express a singular emotion or idea. It’s plainly overworked and needs to be simplified. It’s a logo, not a mystic mason’s symbol.

  33. You know, the more discussion that follows, the less convinced I am. I can understand the negative connotations from the flaming cross — something I’d not considered.

  34. Orlando

    I love this logo…it represent so many things once you break it down…I’m a Presbyterian and a graphic designer and I’ve worked with this logo in all the work I’ve done for my church and i never get bored of it…in fact i designed one that takes some of the principles of this logo for my church…

  35. The very first thing that came into my mind when i saw this was that you were being ironic of something as you named it the logo of the month.

    Why in the world should a bold, extremely american and messy ku klux klan logo be the best logo of the month?
    So i clicked it and saw the manual for it, got a little impressed by all the meanings crammed in to it but still wondered about the flames, the cross and the pitchfork – as well as the misleading corporate blue, the static impression of all the elements smacked together (without internal hierarchy, making it confusing and again misleading)

    The overall feeling of this is a pictogram that wants to tell me how to behave or else i will be burned on a stake. Be afraid. Feel our power. We’re Proud White Christian Americans…

    Short said, it feels like a private clan or sect who wants to roar out their message to the world, miserably failing when screaming it all out at the same pitch in a hundred different languages. And it is way too corporate in my humble opinion… Very very American.

  36. I so agree with Kent. I too thought that ‘logo of the month’ was irony. The first message that came to mind was ‘Thou shalt burn in hell!’ Then I read the explanation and recognised that it was indeed a very clever jigsaw puzzle of religious symbols. While I admire the brilliant thinking behind the design, unfortunately in my mind the many symbolisms coagulate into something uninviting.

    Then again, the Presbyterian Church is not Hillsong…

  37. Kent, Sonja, thanks for your take. I’ve been rethinking the inclusion.

  38. This logo Fit’s the purpose, it’s thoughtful and keeps the mind moving as well as focused on what it represents. Overall this logo is interesting. Simple yet complex.

  39. Hi, I have recently designed a logo for my church and there is another branch of this church coming up and I stepped in to help design the church bulletin. I have read all of your blog posts and found 2 articles relevant to design brief but am wondering if you know another design brief tailored for church?

  40. I don’t, Mei. Sorry I can’t be of more help, and good luck with your project.

  41. The PCA (I think 2nd biggest American Presbyterian denomination) is currently looking for a design for their Logo. They have been for a while. I wonder what it’ll come out as. How should it try and differentiate it’s image from other Presbyterian logos?

  42. Julie Burton

    Compared to the old Presbyterian seal, this one is quite artful and powerful. Besides the elements mentioned here, there are other images people have seen. For example, the Dove reminds some of John Calvin’s “T.U.L.I.P” theology. The three arms in the center remind some of the outstretched arms of the pastor giving the blessing/benediction. The flames represent Moses and the Burning Bush and also the fire of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The Cup in the center doubles for the baptismal font. This image “brands” the Presbyterian Church (USA) from other Presbyterian churches so that we know each other. In my town there are two Presbyterian Churches; having this image on my church is very important, especially for visitors looking for the PCUSA church and not the independent one. A logo is supposed to provide identity, and I think this one does it very well.

  43. I think is the loveliest logo of a church I have ever seen. I’m surprised that some folks see it as stern and conservative! Especially since the PCUSA (generally) is such a open, liberal, loving and thoughtful organization. When I see the dove descending upon the open Bible; the blue of the water in the baptismal font becoming one with Moses’ bush with the flames around it, it just gives me goosebumps!

  44. Sara Beckham

    Your last question in the article is, “Should churches have Logos?”

    Yes, all businesses benefit from logos. I must say the symbolism of this logo is fantastic. I didn’t see the fish or the pulpit but did get the rest.

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