With the launch of the 99nonprofits website comes a perfect opportunity to dig a little deeper into the world of nonprofit design. This article will explore 5 nonprofit logos as a means of sharpening the design eye, using the following basic criteria:

a. Is the logo self evident? Does it tell you what the organization is about?
b. Does it visually feel like a nonprofit logo?
c. Does the design have aesthetic and/or conceptual strength and integrity?

Note that these are questions that any designer can and should ask themselves about their own work!

1. WWF


a. WWF, or the World Wildlife Fund, began as a nonprofit focusing on saving species facing extinction. Since then the organization has grown vastly to address global topics including fresh water, climate, and food. The logo excels in capturing the idea of extinction through negative space. Therefore it could be said to be expertly self evident. It’s worth noting however that due to the organization’s growth, the logo has lost relevance to its scope of concern. With that said it does not necessarily make the logo less self evident, rather it is just an example of how great designs can weaken due to unforeseen organizational changes.

b. In regard to creating a nonprofit feel, there might not be a better way than to create an innocent looking panda bear. Innocence may in fact be a big part of the nonprofit feel. For that reason this logo is highly successful.

c. Not only does the negative space succeed in creating visually compelling shapes, it works on a conceptual level as well: It perfectly articulates a species in the process of disappearing. When a design works both aesthetically and conceptually it naturally brings with it a high level of integrity.

2. Transportation Alternatives

Transportation Alternatives

a. Transportation Alternatives is an organization that aims to improve street safety in New York City through improvements to things such as bike lanes, bus lanes, traffic enforcement, and plazas. Strictly speaking, the Transportation Alternatives logo depicts what could be seen as an alternate transportation route, and without prior information about this organization one might think that is what the organization specifically concerns itself with. For that reason the logo is not entirely self evident. With that said it is perhaps partially successful in that it works in abstraction; where the curving line figuratively represents the abstract concept of alternatives. Unfortunately, using a transportation related element figuratively as the face of an organization that addresses transportation literally, presents conceptual dissonance.

b. Both the symbol and typography have a simple, utilitarian look resulting from the simple geometry and bold color. This aspect naturally lends itself to a nonprofit feel. For that reason, under this criteria, the logo could be seen to be successful.

c. The biggest challenge in creating circular logos is often incorporating text. In this example the text is simply placed to the side. While this certainly works, a designer could ask if this solution has as much strength as, perhaps, a design which fully embraces circularity.

3. Boy Scouts of America

Boy Scouts

a. Boy Scouts of America is an organization focusing on youth development through building character and teaching responsibility. The idea of self evidence is interesting in this example simply doe to the fact that it is such a well known and long standing organization. With that said, anyone unfamiliar with the Boy Scouts would have no idea that the symbol is a badge or that it represents earning of a given skill. Otherwise, the eagle and color choice seems to speak to American values and the fact that “boy scouts” is in the name paints a fairly clear picture that the organization regards boys and American values.

b. It could be said that instinctually this logo has a nonprofit feel, however the reasoning is not entirely clear. Perhaps “of America” speaks to the nonprofit mentality. Or it may be that the reoccurring motif of innocence comes through in the way the eagle was crafted. Moreso than innocence however, it might simply be visually implying moral correctness; a quality that all nonprofits portray themselves to have.

c. The symbol can be said to have visual strength through its balance of curves and edges as well as it’s balance in color separation. Furthermore the typography seems to match well enough, though perhaps slightly dated. Otherwise, this logo can certainly be said to have aesthetic integrity.

4. The Mentoring Project

Mentoring Project

a. The Mentoring Project is a nonprofit that supports fatherless youth in america through a mentoring program. While the parent/sibling idea does come through in the elephant concept, the idea of “fatherless” or even of “human” does not. Additionally the fact that there are so many animal based nonprofits perhaps does not improve the self evidence of this symbol. How many people might likely see this as an elephant related organization upon first glance?

b. The illustration style of The Mentoring Project logo is both innocent and graphic. For those reasons it could be said that it feels like a nonprofit symbol. On the other hand the type face is heavy, sharp, and loud which perhaps contradicts the innocent nonprofit feel of the symbol.

c. The big design concept at play is negative space and the way that it is used here does creates some visually intriguing shapes from an abstract perspective. On another note, a designer can ask if the water ripples are necessary. Perhaps the scene that the ripples are trying to “paint” is too literal for the direct nature of a symbol.

5. charity : water

charity water

a. The nonprofit charity: water aims to bring clean drinking water to everyone in the world. While the yellow water container on its own might be recognized more often as a gas can, the self evidence in the organization’s name perhaps allows the symbol to stray into another realm of design which concerns visual association. In other words, the symbol is free to become anything that might associate with water without the entire logo losing self evidence.

b. The previously mentioned motifs of utilitarianism and iccocence are fully present in this logo; the former in the symbol and the latter in the all lowercase typography. For those reasons it could be said that the logo does look and feel like a nonprofit logo.

c. At a glance the logo has aesthetic strength, especially in the bold geometric nature and bright color of the symbol. With that said the typography can be brought into question: The serifs present contrast to the streamline nature of the symbol and that contrast does not serve any specific conceptual purpose. It might be interesting to explore a san serif solution that further reinforces the visual cohesion.

Closing thoughts

It is easy to see logos at the face of major organizations and to subconsciously file them as ideal designs, however an observational and critical approach can reveal that logos are often not perfect. This exercise is greatly helpful in not only informing one’s own creative process, but in empowering oneself to create designs as good if not better than those seen at the top.

What do you think about these logos? Share in the comments!

Featured image: Andrea N. (via Flikr)