“Q” and “A”: Which One Of These Things is Not Like The Other?

Quark rebranding turns heads, but not just because of new approach; community notes close similarity with other logo treatments, and a nearly identical existing logo belonging to the Scottish Arts Council.

Quark and SAC Logos compared
Top: Quark’s new signature “Q”; Bottom: the stylized lower case “A” of the Scottish Arts Council (courtesy Quark and SAC, respectively)

Some have said that there are only a limited number of concepts, for instance, only six or seven truly different story ideas, and all other ideas are merely variations on the theme. This may or may not be true. What does seem to be true is that for every logo or brand design idea, eventually something will seem to suddenly surface that is similar if not identical to that idea.

For Quark, Inc, the elapsed time was less than two days.

On Friday, 9 September 2005, Quark unveiled a completely new graphic approach, complete with a new logo, a stylized “Q” in Pantone 386–a.k.a “Quark Green”. Astute logo scouters quickly noted near hits with such logo treatments as the logo of PhotoObjects.com and Akademiks brand apparel.

Then, in the late afternoon of the 10th, Jeff Fisher, logo maven and engineer of creative identity of Jeff Fisher LogoMotives, sighted the direct hit: The logo of the Scottish Arts Council, whose graphic element save for a somewhat smaller counter and a different color fill (Pantone 2925) is a dead ringer for Quark’s stylized “Q”.

Soon discussion amongst online designers and layout artists was raising some obvious questions. Throwing light on the issue was Jeff Fisher, who tipped off the Yahoo! Graphic Designer’s Resource List. He further opined:

What I think is amazing in this situation is that the design firm for Quark apparently did not do a thorough image search to avoid similarities with Scottish Arts and other examples posted on different design forums – and that they didn’t come up with a more original design solution for Quark’s identity needs.

Those same issues were being hashed out at Metafilter in a tenor that suggests that Quark still has some work ahead of it to win back former users and fans. Indeed, while it is certainly presently premature to ascribe any cause to this effect, such reactions are important in as much as they demonstrate why how Quark moves on its public image is important with respect to the stature of the company in the high-end graphic design market.

Difference in intent, Similarity in execution

The ideas behind both logos are significantly different. The Quark logo is an obvious reference to the initial Q, a consonant of relatively infrequent use whose uniquely interesting appearance lends itself to equally uniquely interesting graphic treatments, whereas the shape in the Scottish Arts Council logo is meant to abstract a minuscule “a”. The SAC, on thier website, puts it this way:

The simple sculptural shape of our distinctive logo is both classic and modern, and offers a simple message: “˜a”™ is for art. Wherever you see our logo, you will know that the people of Scotland, through the Scottish Arts Council, are supporting arts of quality and nurturing Scotland”™s creativity.

Despite the difference in actual intent and abstracted reference, however, the similarity can be weakening. As Jeff Fisher puts it:

I do think it is the responsibility of the in-house identity project manager, and the graphic design team given the assignment, to create an end result that is powerful, unique and memorable as a symbol. Part of determining that unique quality is to do all possible to make sure the logo does not resemble or infringe on the identity of other established firms or organization. A reputable business should avoid conveying any message – implied or intentional – of that business “borrowing” the brand reputation or strength of another.

Above all, as far as the very near term, the question that is doubtless on many a Quark-watchers’ mind is: How will Quark address this quandary? At this point, we all can only wait and see.

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10 Responses

  1. Ouch indeed. It must smart to come up with this big, image-remaking image makeover just to find that not only did someone else come up with something that looks so close, but also that designers are buzzing about it.

    And some of the comments over on Metafilter are close to downright mean. Quark still has a big job on thier hands.

  2. Skyline says:

    The other part of the story is that early on Friday, when most folks opened their e-mails announcing the new logo, the new logo WOULD NOT DISPLAY! The link to the website, similarly, would not reveal more than a tiny “X” where the logo should have been.

    Later in the day, Quark fixed this, and it has been speculated that the culprit was “simply” a missing link! Simply!!!??? Gee, I wonder if Quark 7 will undergo such thorough testing before it is foisted on the public?

  3. gordo phleb says:

    I think this about sums it up, from Quark’s own webpage:
    “Macworld’s editors’ choice for most-improved page layout program”

  4. Jennifer says:

    Oh, my. How embarrassing.
    As a new designer, I have fears of something like this happening to me. Makes me wish I knew of a list of logos somewhere, so I could safeguard myself from this kind of folly. But I sure do feel bad for Quark – not bad enough to say that the change of dress is going to make me want to use the product any more – although the green is quite nice.

  5. I think they looked too much for a simple logo, thus making it impossible to do something without resemblance to anything out there.

  6. Kep says:

    I was at PrintExpo last week here in Chicago, and as near as I can tell, they rolled the new look out specifically for this show. I was unaware what the logo looked like, as Quark had sent out an announcement e-mail that morning that referred to a remote logo image that couldn’t be retrieved. Then at the show, when I did find their booth, my immediate thought was, “what’s with the big A?”. (I had some speculative answers that are neither productive nor appropriate to repeat here.)

    As a loyal Quark user since 1992, I keep going to these shows hoping to be reassured. This was the third show in a row when I was not only NOT reassured, but was convinced even more that there was no point in building new projects in Quark. Their releases of 6 and 6.5 are (I’m sure) well griped-about here, and the two-hour seminar I attended about the new flashy things in the upcoming (read: within the next 6 to 18 months) Quark 7 informed me that Quark 7 will do most (but still not all) of the things that InDesign does now. They couldn’t show all of them, of course, as all they had to demo with was an alpha version of 7.

    The presenter was great and did her best to cut through the chirpy marketing pap of the Quark rep next to her, but she was stuck demoing a very unstable product in front of a room full of skeptics who, like me, were there hoping to be told great new things about why we should stick with Quark. So my heart and my admiration goes out to her, but the fact that we paid $110 (thankfully to the show, not directly to Quark) to watch Quark bog down or crash for two hours is infuriating. Heck, I can watch Quark bog down here and I get PAID for it.

    This logo silliness is just the latest cosmetic change to mask the same old problems. Quark’s booth had reps grabbing people from the aisles and handing out buttons, pens, and shirts, while Adobe’s booth simply had informed people doing demos. It was kind of pathetic – seems to me everyone knows who’s in control.

    It’s really too bad – I used to love Quark. Now all I have is this lousy t-shirt … and the button … and the pen … (maybe they’ll be collector’s items with Quark’s soon-to-be ceased-and-desisted-logo-folly on them, though – if I can get $110 for it all, I’ll feel better).

  7. Jeff says:

    Anyone who believes Quark 7 will do everything InDesign CS2 (version 4) can do is kidding themselves. Quark wiill be lucky if it can roll out enough completely new features AND get feature parity with InDesign 2. Typical Quark marketing…

    As for the branding, I thought this was a step in the right direction for them until I saw the nearly identical logos popping up. It was imperative that Quark do this right. They are under a lot of scrutiny right now and should have anticipated that people were going to pick this apart. It seems obvious, at least to me, that people who are more critical of the company would be looking for similar logos. Proper research would have prevented a logo SO similar to another.

  8. Skyline says:

    Kep, your report from PrintExpo is the first thing I’ve read here (including my own words) that deals with factual events and not just opinion. It is everything and more that I feared about the “new” Quark. The evidence keeps mounting that Quark is doomed, and I am so grateful that I have invested in neither their software (since 1999) or stock (ever).

    There will always be a few hangers-on and Quark apologists but they are equally doomed to be left behind in the creative and printing fields. There are still print vendors that cling to the folly that it’s still a Quark World and refuse to support InDesign, or the cutting edge PDFs exported from InDesign. Dinosaurs in the making.

  9. Well put, Skyline.

    Well done comment, Kep.