The Critical 'I'

Read. React. Repeat.

Monday, July 21, 2003

getting moldy!
This struck me last week when I was watching a couple of movies from the mid-80s. Some of the background shots had clear views of newsstand boxes for USA Today, which got its start back in 1982, and so was the new kid on the block back then.

Know something? The familiar blue-and-white logo, with the dynamic-looking globe, looks just about the same today as it did when it was originally introduced in '82. They use different background colors, in place of the blue, in the paper (and website) to distinguish different news sections, but the primary logo for the entire paper and news operation hasn't changed in the 21 years since the paper was launched.

Now, as far as newspapers go, this isn't very unusual. Established papers, especially those that are recognized as national papers (i.e., New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and, to a lesser extent, Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times), tend not to change their main logos--their mastheads--for decades. Even when they do, they don't seem to change them dramatically--maybe a slight point size up or down, adjustment of a serif, etc. Familiarity, continuity and reliability are hallmarks in the news biz, and so keeping that masthead fairly static is seen as crucial. Heck, even television news, and other media, seems to hold a premium on that; CNN, for instance, also has held onto the same logo for about as long as USA Today.

Still, for some reason, USA Today's logo seems pretty dated to me when I look at it now, moreso than other papers'. I think the distinction is that USA Today's is more graphic-oriented than the traditional masthead. The traditional masthead consists of type text, and type text alone. It's often highly stylized text, using an ornate font like Old English or such, but as far as impact, it still connects to the brain as the written word. Graphic images, like USA Today's globe, connote a more generalized piece of information. This is effective, but I think that over a period of time, it tends to lose its impact in a way that text doesn't (for more on these concepts, check out Scott McCloud's site). After a while, it becomes part of the background.

So, I'm thinking that USA Today needs to update that logo. It doesn't have to be, and shouldn't be, a drastic redesign--they'll want to retain some of the equity that logo's built up over two decades. But it needs some tweaking. A new, more stylish font for the "USA Today", a fresh look for that globe, maybe move that globe from the upper-left corner... Something, anyway.