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A fresh look at Picture People’s logo

Updated: May 16, 2022

Did you know that Picture People’s logo is an optical illusion?

Two years ago, Picture People announced it was transforming its logo as part of a rebranding exercise so the charity could continue to provide ground-breaking and impactful services to communities in need.

“The world we work in is changing faster than ever and we realised that we needed to evolve with it. Our new logo reflected our renewed commitment to advocating for human rights around the globe”, commented Claudia Modonesi, Executive Director, Picture People.

Because a logo is one of the most important visuals for a company or charity as it represents its value and identity, Picture People worked with the award-winning, visionary designer Mark Thomson who runs his eponymous design agency in the UK.

Marta Garcia Mendez, Picture People’s Digital Comms intern, spoke to Mark this week to reflect on his work for the charity and learn what inspired him to design the distinctive, colourful logo and the process involved.

Mark, thank you for taking the time to speak to me today. I understand it was quite a journey to design Picture People’s logo and I wanted to know what inspired you to take on the project?

Nick Danziger who is the co-founder at Picture People, has been a friend of mine for many years. We not only went to art school together, but we’ve collaborated on nine or 10 books. Nick mentioned that the charity needed a rebrand and that is how we started.

As you were coming at it from a designer’s point of view, what was your vision for the charity’s logo and how much was the mission of Picture People part of that design vision?

First of all, I thought about designing a simple identity mark rather than a whole brand implementation, which would be for others to do.

There were two things that stood out for me. First, Picture People is about photography as a whole: moving image as well as stills. And second, the name ‘Picture People’ has this alliterative quality: two words beginning with the letter ‘P’, and also two words of two syllables. So the visual and aural rhythm of the name is already quite powerful, and this is something I wanted to work with.

I thought about intertwining the two letters ‘P’ and other ways of doubling the ‘P’ and then I remembered the posters for the Phoebus Palast cinema in Munich, Germany, designed in the 1920s by the German designer and typographer Jan Tschichold (a sample of one of these posters is below). Tschichold used the idea of projection as a repetitive visual element. I started relating this to other ideas, like the photographer’s ‘elbows’, used to frame images in the darkroom. Or the film director roughly framing a shot with thumbs and forefingers in a kind of interlocking L-shape.

It is interesting to learn that you referenced an older poster design as inspiration when in fact, you were trying to develop a modern mark for Picture People. In turn, how did you end up using square boxes and the unique colour palette of pastels?

Yes, I saw the two ‘P’s and a relation to a kind of filmic projection as an image for Picture People. Then I brought the two ‘P’ forms together as one form that works as an optical illusion: the ‘P’ can be read either one way or the other, up or down. It’s impossible to say which way the letters are actually facing, because they are facing both ways! So it is a double thing, and visually it reflects the repetitive rhythm of the sound of ‘Picture People’. Alongside that is the idea of it being a cinematic projection, the area within the upper part of the ‘P’ reading as the screen of a movie theatre, as in the Tschichold posters. In terms of colour, the idea was that whatever colour we used, the tonal values on the two parallel lines would be the same – when you view the logo in black and white you can see that the tones are identical in the vertical strokes, and again in the horizontal strokes. It is a hidden sense of balance: the horizontal lines of green and blue are the same tone, and the same goes for the orange and pink vertical lines. It is not something you notice explicitly when you look at the colourful logo, but for me it is about a sense of inner strength or integrity.

I also wanted to avoid saturated colours that could be considered nationalistic, such as colours used for flags. And I didn’t want colours that could be identified with the western-centric, so-called ‘developed’ world. I was relaxed about the selection of colours; I suggested various colours and the team at Picture People selected those they liked, and that’s how we did it. But I always kept in mind the tones of the colour pairs. There were plenty of ways the colours could work but the key was to use more democratic colours.

For the typography I looked for a type that is available across different platforms, as the design of materials will be implemented by others – in the end it was a relatively straightforward decision.

How did you go about developing the design?

To have an idea is quite straightforward but making it work every time visually is never as easy as it looks. And making it look simple is the whole point. I did several different sketches, checking gaps and angles from a visual perspective, to be sure the optical illusion worked in the best way; although it is an axonometric projection it still has some irregularities, and these help to activate the illusion.

One final question for you, was the process lengthy?

I thought about it for a few months. My way of working is more like an internal way, thinking about it but not doing anything. I don’t do a lot of versions and drafts. Once the idea comes, it is then quite quick. A white page is always in my head, I let ideas grow and develop, and wait for the right moment for something to happen. It can be difficult because of deadline pressures but I don’t sit around doodling thousands of different versions.

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