This “hand drawn” logo was designed by an algorithm

But is it even possible to design something impartially? That is the exact question, with what Talia cotton wrestles with the new brand identity she built for Guilty by union (GBA) – an arts organization formed to empower underrepresented artists and “empower the creative invisible”. Your new logo isn’t just a logo, it’s a code that generates an unlimited number of permutations and reflects the unlimited diversity of GBA-supported artists.

[Image: courtesy GBA]

It started with a series of sketches that Cotton then turned into software. “It’s a hand-drawn logo, but it’s infinite,” says Cotton. “It represents all the hand drawings of all time.”

Cotton, who teaches interaction design at Parsons School of Design in New York City and leads data-driven and algorithmic brand identities at Pentagram, completed the work as part of her own practice. And you can create your own version of the logo by playing with GBA’s public tool. One moment it’s a pencil-thin “GBA” as if drawn by one New Yorker Cartoonist. The next one is dripping almost like graffiti sprayed on the side of the train. Next, it lights up with the strokes of a highlighter. The next time it’s overlaid and redrawn with an ink pen 30 times – and for some reason my mind drifts to Basquiat.

[Image: courtesy GBA]

What Cotton created is different from other algorithmic designs used in branding. Algorithmic design, one of the hottest trends of the 2010s, uses code to automate much of the work designers do, allowing them to create many variations on a theme. Brands have used algorithmic design to generate abstract identities with myriad permutations. But Cotton’s GBA logo is a more traditional take on the idea: it’s still a recognizable wordmark no matter how many times you update it.

[Image: courtesy GBA]

“[We] You know that from the wave of generative logos a few years ago: the most successful brands are not generative. They have one stamp they can use for anything, and it’s really easy,” says Cotton, pointing out that the most important part of any successful brand is sheer repetition. “Personally, what amazes me is that while the diversity of this logo is so vast and varied, it still fits within that realm of recognisability.”

To create the logo, Cotton drew the letters GBA 10 times. “Every time I drew them,” she says, “I tried to make them [the letters] as different as possible. . . to achieve the most dramatic changes, but still make the logo legible.” She then began to deconstruct her own work, identifying the digital Bezier curves and anchor points that lurked within her analog logic. “I had to understand the rules by which these letterforms are written by a human almost manually so that I could define them in the algorithm and have the computer follow that algorithm,” says Cotton.

[Image: courtesy GBA]

Despite this algorithmic diversity, many components of the logo remain philosophically intact. For example, the hooks of the GBA logo “spur” the G always resembles an arrow. Thick, thin, messily drawn or clean, you can always read this arrow. Likewise the bar of capital A (the horizontal line) always emerges from the triangle of the letterform. No matter how many times you adjust the design, it never fits. Why? That’s because Cotton drew her original letters that way.

While this is good for making the logo recognizable, it also misses its original goal. Though she tries to create an unbiased design, her own point of view is still thoroughly burned into every letter. “That’s the mistake,” says Cotton. “At the end of the day, I was the one who drew that. I tried to stretch it as much as possible, but ultimately settled on the original stencil that all these are from [permutations] are written.”

[Image: courtesy GBA]

The asterisk associated with the project shows just how biased design really is. Even when so many factors are controlled, a designer’s point of view is inherently at the heart of his work. Otherwise there is no work.

[Image: courtesy GBA]

However, Cotton is not yet giving up on her lofty goal. In collaboration with GBA, she’s creating what she calls “version 2.0” of the logo generator. Essentially, she has someone else draw the initials, then applies her deeper algorithmic logic to letter spacing, positioning, and stylization to offer variations on another person’s theme. Technically there is no limit to how many people could design a new GBA logo in this way and it will allow the organization to further develop its inclusive brand identity.

Inviting more hands to draw the logo is almost a solution, but of course, Cotton’s point of view will still be lurking in the code. The difference is that their decisions about the positioning and treatment of letters are applied to other people’s handwriting, not their own. You could call these decisions “bias,” or you could call them the studied determinations of a professional designer. Both labels can go together with the right amount of lively debate, which is why GBA’s brand development will be remarkable to study – even for Cotton himself. This “hand drawn” logo was designed by an algorithm


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