"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.

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