How the new MEC logo should have been done

Mountain Equipment Co-op is taking a lot of heat from members over its new logo. They could have avoided this rather easily.

First, some background. MEC is a Vancouver-born co-op that sells outdoor clothing and gear. They’ve been around since 1971. Canada-wide membership is about 3.5 million. In Vancouver, where fleece and Gore-Tex come in pretty handy, you don’t run into many people who aren’t members.

MEC logo old and new
Mountain Equipment Co-op, the old (left) and the new.

Last week, MEC used its Facebook page to introduce its first logo change in 39 years, switching from the one on the left to the one on the right.

The Facebook post announcing the change was peppered with critical comments, as was a follow-up post responding to the outcry. MEC’s lead designer then explained the changes in a blog post that didn’t fare much better. (Sympathy to MEC’s community managers, who gamely tried to engage and keep up with the onslaught.)

Members didn’t like that the iconic mountain was gone. They thought three letters in a square looked a lot like a GAP logo. (Coincidentally, I happened to attend an event by Scandinavian outfit Hyper Island on the same day MEC’s new logo was released, and their logo, below left, looks even more similar.)

Hyper Island logo
Hyper Island’s logo.

So I can’t argue with the criticism that MEC’s designers (Concrete of Toronto) didn’t exactly break new ground.

But for MEC members, it was also personal. They felt they hadn’t had any say, and that a co-op is no place for decisions as fundamental as this one to come from the top down.

With the kind of outreach the internet now allows, there’s really no excuse for leaving constituents feeling unconsulted like this.

A simple logo-design competition, open to and adjudicated by MEC members, could have kept everyone happy.

I suspect hundreds of talented creatives in the Vancouver area alone have MEC memberships. They might have been interested in a first prize of, say, $5,000 in MEC merchandise. Waterproof bike panniers for the MacBook, that sort of thing.

Shortlisted entries could have been hosted on a password-protected website for members to provide their input. Members could grade them all on a scale of 1 to 10, rank their top five, or whatever.

At the end of it, MEC could choose the winner, grant the prize, blog about it on their website and thank members for helping with the decision. They’d have a great logo designed by an MEC member. They’d have saved tens of thousands of dollars. The membership would feel like it had a say. Everybody wins.

Instead, they have generic logo and a membership that feels alienated.

Update (June 25): I got some feedback on this post that I’d like to include. The first comes in this tweet from Lisa Corcoran:

I agree with Lisa’s point, and perhaps should have gone into a little more detail about how I see this competition running. To me, branding by committee is when a lot of different people contribute to the same logo, it gets tweaked dozens if not hundreds of times, and you end up with a logo that nobody likes but everybody can live with. As Lisa says, that’s not likely to be innovative, and it’s not what I had in mind. I imagined every entry in this competition representing the work and vision of a single artist. There would be a lot of them to choose from, but each would be its own strong statement and none of them would be watered down by committee.

As for the voting, I’m not suggesting it be “most votes wins.” Crowds have been known to make uninspiring choices when given the final say. I’m just saying the people in charge at MEC should be guided by members’ feedback in their deliberations. It’s a safeguard against choosing something that everybody will dislike. The emblems that prove most popular should get serious consideration.

Now, on to the fun stuff. MEC member Sean Perrin got in touch to show me a few logos he created. They retain the beloved mountain, but otherwise aren’t far from what MEC’s designers came up with:

I think those would look pretty good on backpacks. I bet the members would like them, too.



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