The Unitarian Universalist Association unveiled its new logo the other day, and it has generated a tremendous amount of heat and light.
For your consideration, here’s the most recent logo:
I remember when this one came out. Some hated the “vagina dentata” toothiness of the radiant orb surrounding the chalice. Others liked how much the image hearkened to folk art images of La Virgen de Guadalupe.
We had many opinions and modes of expressing them. The earnest and heart-felt collided with the snarky. The self-appointed crowd control agents informed everyone that they should just calm down, it’s just a slogan. Those who bristle at being silenced bristled at being silenced.
Here is the new logo:
I like it. I like the warmth and lines of the design, I like the use of negative space that creates two Us (which was pointed out to me by a lay leader of my congregation who is a graphic designer), I like that it evokes for me the Ottoman tulip design of which I am extremely fond.
But logos and symbols evoke visceral and very personal reactions, so it does not offend or upset me that so many of my co-religionists hate the new logo and see in it a phallus, or a vagina, or a bomb.
Let me tip my hand here and admit that I am much more interested in the phenomenon of community reaction than I am in the actual logo. FWIW, my own congregation has its own favorite chalice logo that we use in all our materials in order to create a consistent visual message (yes, a “brand”) throughout our organization and community. We may or may not use the new logo ourselves, but I certainly assume we’ll interact or cross-pollinate with it somehow.
We have always had tensions between our independent association of congregations and our covenanted “denominational” identity. One proof of this is how many Unitarian Universalists think that our 7 Principles are their own congregation’s covenant. They are not: The Principles are the covenant between member congregations of the UUA. Each autonomous congregation may have its own congregational covenant (and, I believe, should — just as much to experience the process of crafting it together than to be bonded in a meaningful way by the resulting statement). None of our congregations has to have anything to do with this logo if they don’t want to.
Putting on my congregational consultant hat, I would have recommended that the UUA leaders be aware that times have changed a LOT since the last time they rolled out a new logo, and that they could expect a huge reaction to explode on Facebook, where thousands of their ministers and lay people would have instant access to the image and where reactions to it would go viral among our little community, with major seepage into the broader community of liberals, who are highly networked on Facebook. If you believe that there’s no such thing as bad publicity, the last 24 hours of UUA-wide conversation, hand-wringing, shade throwing and thoughtful reflection has been a fabulous PR campaign. Whether we have shown ourselves in the best light during this moment or not is a matter of opinion.
In addition to instantaneous Facebook reaction, UUs have taken to other social media outlets to express their opinions. This blog post, which might seem to be “of the moment” in terms of the logo roll-out, is actually quite belated in social media concepts of time. By the time I have gotten around to writing this, many of my colleagues have already posted lengthy reflections on the new logo on their own blogs; some have written multiple posts.
If I was consulting with the UUA leadership (and I’m not) I would recommend that they make a list of UU Influencers and enlist their support and involvement before such a big roll-out, not afterwards. There is nothing unethical about being savvy about how social media works and reaching out to influencers in your field. I read the recent UU World articles about board issues and read the president’s report, appreciate that the Rev. Dr. Terasa Cooley, the UUA’s Programs and Strategy Officer, went onto the UU on-line talk show the VUU to discuss the new logo and to give some of the denominational (technically “associational,” but let’s not open that can of worms) perspective on the new logo.
I watched the VUU episode, but it’s a lot to expect the average UU to sit through an hour of talking heads to get to the part where Dr. Cooley fills them in on this latest branding effort. I love the VUU because the panelists are close friends of mine, and I have lots of patience for the, let’s say, homegrown production values of the show. It’s a Google Hangout with five or six people chatting from various locations around the country, and although it’s a very pleasant hour, it has a small viewership and can’t be expected to do much heavy lifting by way of associational communication. One of the most provocative remarks Rev. Dr. Cooley made on the show was that she felt that the UUA had been presenting an “inconsistent message” in the past that confused people. I have no idea what she means by that but it’s a really interesting thing to say. I would love to hear more about that.
I personally think that the furor about the logo has revealed the identity crisis within our Association, and the serious rift between ministers/lay people (people in the local congregation, and especially the little ones) and our UUA leadership. I know that I am very confused by the roll-out of campaigns and initiatives from what used to be referred to as “25 Beacon Street” (we’re moving — but I am guessing that the nickname might stick). We’re drowning in lingo, but the bottom line is that people in the Association have opposing ideas about what our focus is and should be.