Arne Ratermanis
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Choosing the Right Logo: A Landmark Decision

This is a case study of why a new logo design had to be replaced with a second choice soon after its unveiling.

The client is very successful at establishing gourmet meal delivery service companies in cities throughout the U.S. When I was asked to design the logo for Seattle Diet Delivery, a new business in Seattle, Washington, I was excited about the task. Though I hadn’t been there in years, Seattle was my birthplace so the project became a little more meaningful.

After a discussion over the company’s brand persona and its objectives, we agreed that the logo should represent the city with what makes it visually unique from other cities. It was decided that incorporating images of local landmarks, Mount Rainier and the Space Needle, along with images representing food or cooking would be ideal. Mount Rainier is an icon in the Washington landscape and the Space Needle is one of the most recognizable structures in the world. (Some of you know where this is going, right?)

The design phase went smoothly and after a couple rounds of refinement a logo was chosen – a 2-color, round mark made of a stylized image of Mount Rainier and, rising in the foreground, a silhouette of the Space Needle with a fork as its base. The mountain and needle to represent the city and the fork to imply gourmet food – sweet!

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The logo was applied to a few marketing elements and a soft launch of Seattle Diet Delivery was performed. This is when the problem arose.

Soon after the launch, the client received a cease and desist letter. The use of the Space Needle in the logo was infringing on a registered trademark. It turns out the needle is privately owned and permission is needed to use its image. This was a first for both the client and myself. I had worked on other projects using famous landmarks without incident. It never occurred to us to look into any copyright issues with the needle. After all, it has been emblazoned on a few professional sports team logos. And c’mon, promos for Grey’s Anatomy! (Okay, so they may have paid a license for usage.)

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Not wanting any legal repercussions, all marketing materials with the logo were immediately removed and we went back to the drawing board. After a re-examination of the other logo designs previously presented, and making some slight alterations, we went with our second choice – a stylized Mount Rainier (not trademarked) with the Seattle skyline in the foreground …and a giant fork in the place of where the Space Needle stands.

In the end, after seeing the new logo applied to all the marketing efforts, I believe the second choice was the best choice. Though, this newer design was less likely to be recognized as “Seattle” by outsiders, it would be obvious to the locals. They would get it. And they were our target audience.

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Luckily, the copyright matter came to our attention early on and we were able to fix it quickly. The client was out a stack of business cards, had to reprint a bus ad and have a few web graphics replaced, but it could’ve been worse. Lesson learned.

Since then, With a little online research, I found more famous landmarks that have or have had copyright restrictions for the commercial use of their images – the Hollywood Sign, the Sydney Opera House, the Eiffel Tower (at night?), the statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro – to name a few. If you’re thinking of including a well-known landmark in your design and are unsure of infringements, I suggest you consider consulting an attorney.