Sunstone: Designer recalls history of LDS Church's 'visual identity'
These days the LDS Church's logo is seemingly ubiquitous and instantly recognizable to Mormons worldwide. It is used on every church building, book and DVD.
That hasn't always been true, however.
The push to create a singular look for the church's name didn't happen until the 1970s, said Salt Lake City graphic designer Randall Smith Thursday during a presentation at the annual Sunstone Symposium, an annual gathering of Mormon intellectuals.
Smith had just received his design degree from the University of Utah in 1972 when he was hired to work in the church's graphic design department. Not long after, an LDS general authority asked if the team could create "a welcome sign" to stand in front of Mormon chapels, much as they do in front of many Protestant and Catholic churches.
At the time, the church's logo was "a neutral sans serif typeface, lacking in spirit and uniqueness, not to mention terrible letter and word spacing," Smith said in his speech. "And every church department had its own logo, color and typography."
The department suggested that it design a logo that would bring a consistent look to everything the church produced. The designers explored the possibility of using images such as an Angel Moroni (the statue that graces the tops of LDS temples), the Christus statue (the giant Jesus with outstretched arms that is seen in the LDS Visitor Center on Temple Square in Salt Lake City), and the Salt Lake Temple. Ultimately, though, they rejected each possibility, deciding to use the church's name as the only graphic element.
The final design was laid out in a high-level meeting with the LDS First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in the temple, recalled Smith, who was enlisted to help with the multi-media presentation.
"The proposal passed unanimously, with one exception," the designer said at Sunstone, "the [top authorities'] own stationery."
Three years later, the design team produced a "Visual Identity Handbook" for use throughout the church.
It helped create a consistent look across the Mormon world, Smith said, including materials in 16 different languages at the time.
Smith left church employ in 1980 to open his own studio, but has occasionally been asked to consult with LDS designers on church projects including a new logo in the '90s.
At that time, Mormonism was routinely critiqued as not being "Christian" by various Protestant and Catholic groups, so LDS leaders felt they needed to emphasize the words "Jesus Christ" in the church's name.
These leaders rejected Smith's suggestion that they stay with the 1974 design and went, instead, with a new look created by Brigham Young University's then creative director McRay Magleby and his design team.
Church leaders wanted the logo to be more legible, "less corporate-looking" and to have a "warm, friendly, inviting feel," Magleby told The Salt Lake Tribune in 1995, when the logo was unveiled to the public.
"Graceful curves make it more approachable than a fancier type," Magleby said. "We wanted it to look nondesigned as it might appear on a building at the time of Christ rather than modern."
The designers worked on the logo a couple of years, coming up with three-, four-, and five-line versions. Several months of market testing showed that volunteers preferred the three-line design, he said.
The team's main objective, however, was to make the logo more "Christ-based," he said. They did that by putting "Jesus Christ" on a line by itself, then framing it with smaller lines of type.
" 'Jesus Christ' is the first thing people see," Magleby said.
Since then, the 1995 logo has become synonymous with Mormonism, used on hundreds of products. It has coincided with the church's push into social media, including multiple websites, Facebook pages, YouTube videos and a national advertising campaign.
More than 30 years after his department created that consistent visual image, Smith said, the church continues to be smart about its "branding."
Faith branding treats "faith as a product and attempts to apply the principles of marketing in order to 'sell' the product," he said. "The LDS Church does that very, very well."
Sunstone continues 8 a.m.-6:30 p.m. Saturday at the Olpin Union Building at the University of Utah. A one-day registration fee is $40. For more information, http://www.sunstonemagazine.com/symposium/#.
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