'Simple' TN logo was 9 months in making, firm says

(The Tennessean) Simple is, unsurprisingly, simple.

Creating simple is, surprisingly, not simple.

The new graphic the state of Tennessee plans to use for its departments is simple: a red box emblazoned with a white "TN" sitting atop a blue bar.

But it took Nashville-based firm GS&F nine months — and $46,000 — to develop and create the "visual identity system," as it's called by firm managing director Gregg Boling.

Previous: New $46K logo to unify TN gov's identity proves divisive

Those nine months included "all stages of information gathering, stakeholder meetings, collaborative sessions and creative development for the actual visual identity system," Boling said. The firm entered into an agreement with the state to do the work on March 25, 2014, according to a purchasing order obtained by The Tennessean.

"For it to be successful based on all of the stated needs and objectives, it has to be simple. It's designed to be flexible at any size, any resolution and for any application," Boling said in an emailed statement to The Tennessean.

"This will allow it to communicate clearly across the full spectrum of Tennessee State Government agencies and to external audiences."

Democrats and Republicans torched the graphic after the image surfaced in reports from www.Watchdog.org, a conservative online news outlet, and WSMV. David Smith, a spokesman for Gov. Bill Haslam, said the image won't replace the Tennessee tristar or in any way change the state flag or seal, but the graphic's simple nature and what some consider to be not-so-simple price tag had many people scratching their heads.

"Good design is always a subjective matter," Boling said.

"We believe that great design successfully solves all communications challenges that are set forth. We're confident this system does that."

Boling said the creation was a "collaborative process" with the governor's office and the state's 23 departments.

"Once we started into concept creation, there were hundreds of ideas considered. We think it's a great solution when evaluated against all the challenges and goals associated with the project," Boling said.

The state wasn't one of those "challenges" — Boling said they were a "great client" and there weren't any collaboration issues.

But if the governor's office, a design firm with 78 employees (according to its website) and the staff of 23 state departments all considered hundreds of ideas and landed on the current design, there must have been some compromising or disagreement at some point.

Or the other ideas considered were, perhaps, not so simple.

It's also unlikely the state envisioned the "visual identity system" creating any communications challenges, but the state is certainly facing them now. In fact $10,500 of the $46,000 contract GS&F received was specifically intended for a "roll out plan and initial brand expressions and messaging" initiative, according to the purchasing order.

Although the contract amount raised eyebrows, state documents show it was the lowest of three bids submitted for the project. Records show Knoxville-based firm Designsensory offered to do the job, complete with a "beatuful (sic) new identity for the State of Tennessee" and a "brand isotype system" for $47,500.

Sullivan Branding, a firm with locations in Memphis and Nashville, estimated the project would cost $46,000 to $50,000, including $8,000 to $12,000 for the creating and analysis of an online survey.

But as Chris Butler at www.Watchdog.orgnoted in his continued reporting Wednesday, the state has eight graphic artists or designers on staff, who annually earn nearly $300,000 combined.

That doesn't mean these employees are ready and able to work on a new vision for a Tennessee graphic logo identity system — or something like that — but it does raise questions about the thought process behind this particular graphic and why the state needed a private company to create it.

"This Tennessee company provided an outside perspective, rather than one department or division," Smith said.

Smith said recently the official rollout of the new graphic will happen soon, in conjunction with a new state website design.

The firm certainly nailed the simple objective. Prospects of the logo/graphic/"visual identity system" being successful look a bit more complicated.

Reach Dave Boucher at 615-259-8892 and on Twitter @Dave_Boucher1.


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