"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.

Pariah Burke

Author, consultant, trainer, guru: Digital Publishing, ePub, InDesign, Illustrator, Photoshop, Quark. Empowering, Informing, Connecting Creative Professionals™

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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.