By Erin Glanville
When Considering Spending 25K On A New City Logo Design, Process MattersUploaded: Jan 12, 2014
When The Almanac reported this past week that Menlo Park spent $1800 on a new "Nutty The Squirrel" mascot costume, public comments rolled in expressing a variety of opinions ranging from praise for the Community Services Department trying new things, to concerns about the money spent. What has been surprising to me has been the relative quiet surrounding an issue that was reported by this paper right before the holidays; the fact that the City spent approximately 25K to develop five potential City logos designs to replace the current tree before getting Council direction to proceed with an updated logo.
On December 10th 2013, the City Council held a brief study session to evaluate the new logo designs. Each would replace our current oak tree logo with a more updated tree design. While an approved City budget set aside 30K for the process to create the new designs, if a new logo was selected, the actual implementation cost would be much greater. Replacing signage, letterhead, business cards, logos on buses and other city vehicles, and uniforms can be costly even if phased in. Furthermore, in my experience with corporate rebranding, there is a "cost" involved with losing a well-recognized logo. What an organization stands to gain from a redesign needs to have a very strong business case.
During the meeting, City Staff described the branding process they went through. An internal team, which did include "customers" who presumably are community members, went through a thoughtful internal branding process that culminated in staff contracting with a designer to develop five new logo options. After the internal team then winnowed down the list to the top three, those choices were then sent out to 10K community services email subscribers for feedback. Ballots for the public to vote on a new logo design were made available in community buildings. The issue then went to the City Council on December 10th with the key question being: "Should we proceed with a new logo?"
I think the cart was put before the horse. Procedurally, staff should have come to Council for an answer to that key question BEFORE contracting with a designer and before putting designs out the pubic to vote on (thereby setting the expectation there would be a change). Doing so would have provided an official public forum for the community to have an opportunity to weigh in on the question as well. Clearly, based on the public comments from Dec. 10th, there is some strong opposition to moving away from the current wood block logo. Council itself, based on comments, seemed not entirely aware that a new logo was under design. The question of whether or not to change logos had clearly not been asked before already venturing down the road. In the end, there was strong support from the public and Council to retain our historic logo. But the 25K had been spent. City Staff is now, after the fact, recommending that the City retrain it's current logo with some modifications to the font to digitize it.
However, lets assume the case had been made to change our logo and that the City Council had given direction to do so. Could we have redesigned a new logo for a lot less than 25K? I think so.
Menlo Park is community that is rich in talented, generous people who volunteer their time, talents and treasures for the public good. I absolutely believe that if we had put a call out to the community to ask for a design/ marketing professional to help us develop a new logo pro bono, someone would have stepped up. Most likely, many people. Alternatively, as was mentioned by a resident during public comment, we could have put together a contest (perhaps with a $300 Kepler's gift card as the prize to entice young students) for a winning new logo design.
Regardless, a vigorous discussion about whether or not we needed a new City logo should have led the process. The Almanac's review of internal emails surrounding the new mascot reveal that even a loss of just $246 (each department's contribution to the Squirrel costume) was difficult for some of these departments to absorb. Those departments, like the Menlo Children's Center, which interface daily with community members, probably would have found some good uses for a bit of that 25K.
I sincerely appreciate that our City's Community Services Department is trying new things and thinking outside the box about how to, quite frankly, bring more joy to Menlo Park. I am sure that City employees who put a great deal of time into, and got excited about, new logo designs were frustrated and probably disappointed. I'm sure I would have been. Going forward, I hope we can be very cautious about making sure our process gives us a green light before dollars are invested. And where we need to invest dollars, I'd love to see us apply the same out-of-the-box thinking to how we can tap into our community's volunteerism and local professional talents.