Decoding Design

A logo for human rights

Posting in Design

A jury that includes Nobel Laureates and international leaders has just chosen ten finalists in a competition to create the first logo for human rights. What design lessons do the finalists offer?

A stellar jury that includes five Nobel Peace Prize winners, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, and United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navanethem Pillay has chosen ten finalists for a competition to create the first logo for human rights. They were announced on August 27.

Here's a video of jury member Aung San Suu Kyi, 1991 Nobel Laureate, briefly discussing why she believes this design competition is important:

The competition is run by a non-profit organization (Logo for Human Rights), with support from partner countries that include Bosnia and Herze­govina, Canada, Chile, the Czech Republic, Germany, Mauritius, Senegal, Singa­pore and Uruguay. The Logo for Human Rights initiative lists Google as a partner as well (among other organizations). You don't have to be a diplomat or business leader to vote for the winning symbol; a popular vote will determine the winner. You can vote online here.

The design that gets the most votes will be unveiled at the meeting of the United Nations General Assembly in New York on September 23. The final logo can be used by any person or group, free of charge. A human-rights NGO, for instance, could include it in its promotional materials.

What can be learned from the ten finalists, chosen by the jury of luminaries from a wide variety of nations? Although the logo designs aren't meant to be commercial, some of their characteristics could be used by symbol designers in various industries and non-profits, too. After all, the designers competing to create the logo for human rights sought to craft an image with powerful and instant legibility to people of all backgrounds, ages, and nationalities.

Here are some trends:

All of the ten finalist logos consist of extremely simple visual vocabularies, and nine out of ten use only a single color, suggesting that keeping color choices ultra-streamlined is an effective logo strategy.

Consider this one:

Five feature stripped down renditions of human figures, with dots as heads and lines as limbs, suggesting that a minimal style can have maximum impact. Consider this one:

Three feature an already widely-recognized symbol of peace--a dove--suggesting that referencing an already-known, popular icon (with no trademark issues, of course), can achieve instant readability across demographics and cultures.

Consider this one:

See all of the ten finalists (and vote) here.

All images: Logo for Human Rights

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Reena Jana

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Reena Jana has written for the New York Times, Wired, Harvard Business Review online, Fast Company, Architectural Record, Artforum, Time Out New York, Harper's Bazaar, and GQ. Previously, she was the innovation department editor at BusinessWeek. She holds degrees from Columbia University and Barnard College. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure