The UN Logo (United Nations Logo) Design Case Study



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7 min


13 March, 2013

The United Nations (The UN) is one of the most famous organisations in the world.

Today on the Canny Creative design design blog The UN Logo design and branding comes under scrutiny.

Here’s what The UN is all about:

The stated aims of the United Nations include promoting and facilitating cooperation in international law, international security, economic development, social progress, human rights, civil rights, civil liberties, political freedoms, democracy, and the achievement of lasting world peace.

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The most famous incarnation of The UN logo design is seen on the above feature image.

It comprises a white logo set against the famous UN blue background. However, this representation is actually the UN Flag.

The official UN logo is gold in colour as seen below:

The UN (United Nations) Logo on a blue background in white

The original logo was designed in 1946 and was approved on 7 December 1946 with the UN Flag following in October 1947. Taken directly from the United Nations website, this is how they describe the logo:

The design is a map of the world representing an azimuthal equidistant projection centred on the North Pole, inscribed in a wreath consisting of crossed conventionalized branches of the olive tree, in gold on a field of smoke-blue with all water areas in white. The projection of the map extends to 60 degrees south latitude, and includes five concentric circles.

Put simply, the logo is a map of the world on an angle, surrounded by a wreath of olive tree branches, which symbolise peace.

The logo is gold in colour and the areas of water take the colour of the background the logo is sat on. The logo also includes five circles, one inside of the other, which are laid over the top of the world map.

The UN Logo Lowdown

Looking at the UN logo design and how it’s used, I have to wonder whether it’s fit for purpose?

Let’s take a closer look.

1. Is The UN Logo Design too Highly Detailed?

There’s a lot going on within the UN Logo.

In fact, there’s a lot going on within the logo itself.

Yes, they’re the United Nations, they represent the world, they represent peace and a whole lot more, but does the logo really need to go there?

I heard somebody say once “a logo should gently suggest what you’re about, not describe what you do” and I think that’s something that could be taken on board here.

This leads me onto my next point perfectly…

2. Is the World Represented the Best it Could be?

Like the old adage goes “keep it simple stupid”.

I’ve already explained that the logo is perhaps a little too fussy – and the element of the logo that is the most fussy is the world itself.

The angle it’s positioned at makes it virtually unrecognisable unless you look closely.

At this point, it becomes apparent that it’s a world map, but you’ve really had to look for it.

And, when put into context, you know what it’s about. My criticism is that it could work, but with a lot less fuss and detail.

There are numerous different ways the world could be represented and I’m not sure whether the physical representation of planet Earth is the best way.

3. How Does it Scale Down?

Leading on from my points above, the complexity of the logo makes it difficult to scale down.

For instance, how would it work as a Twitter icon, or as a website favicon?

Could it be stitched or made into a metal pin badge? The answer – probably not.

If the logo was less ornate and less fussy in design, scalability wouldn’t be an issue.

As it stands though, I wouldn’t like to recreate it in any way, shape or form, or be responsible for overseeing the whole United Nations brand strategy or brand identity.

With mobile technology on the rise and growing easy access to world affairs and events, maybe it’s time for the UN to adapt?

4. Those Concentric Circles

On their website, the United Nations say that the logo symbolises world peace.

Yes, the olive branches, arguably, yes to the world too.

However, those concentric circles? Really?

Is it just me, or do they remind you of a target or a crosshair? – which goes without saying, isn’t a peaceful icon.

It could also be a radar perhaps, something else I don’t associate with peace…

Maybe I’m just particularly fussy, but I don’t think those circles communicate in the way the UN want them too.

Or, maybe I’ve played too many Playstation games?

5. Is The UN Logo Design Effective?

There’s an argument to be made that The UN logo design is actually ineffective.

Effective logo design should be memorable, simple, versatile, appropriate, and timeless.

Let’s look at this in more detail…

  • Memorable: I’d say it’s “kind of” memorable. I can recall it if I think about it, but I always forget the way in which they’ve skewed the world. Half a point.
  • Simple: Absolutely not. With the world, the concentric circles, the rosette/surrounding leaves, the logo is far from simple. Zero points.
  • Versatile: Again, it’s a “kind of.” As they have no word mark sitting with their logo most of the time, that automatically adds some versatility. However, look at it on their current website, and tell me that it works? Half a point.
  • Appropriate: Absolutely. It sums up what The UN is all about, a focus on the world, and making the world better. The blue colour works as it feels safe and secure. Gold, because of the prestige of the association. A full point.
  • Timeless: Is it timeless in the way of Coca Cola or McDonalds? No, probably not. But I doubt they’ll ever change it, and realistically, it will stand up for a long period of time, because it doesn’t follow logo design trends. Another full point.

All in all, that’s 3 points out of a possible 5 for the UN logo design.

All around, it has a “kind of, maybe it’s good enough” type vibe.

But, I think it could be a lot stronger, especially for the size and scale of the organisation it represents.

The UN Logo (United Nations Logo) Design Case Study

I’m not saying that the UN should change their logo and branding. Instead, I’m simply highlighting a few things that I would consider tweaking.

The logo itself is by no means bad, but it does present a few issues which I’ve explored above.

That opens up a bigger debate, is a logo ever perfect? Will you ever be able to please everyone? Should a logo be there to please? The answer – definitely not.

As a footnote, I would suggest the UN look at how they use their logo on their website. It’s so small, that its blurry and distorted which doesn’t project a professional image.

Go and check it out for yourself and see what you think.

What do you think of the United Nations logo? Is it effective? Does it communicate what they’re all about?

And we get it. Creating a high quality logo that ticks all of the boxes can be tough. Perhaps you’re a Marketing Manager and you’ve been tasked with designing a new logo for your company.

Instead of trying to muster through the process alone (and potentially making the same mistakes as the UN) you should leave it up to a team of experts.

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Hey I'm Tony, Founder and Director of Canny Creative. I eat, sleep and bleed Canny to be honest. I'm an absolute workaholic (and yes, I know that's not a good thing!).

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