The impossibility of being legendary with sans serif fonts.

I didn't blog about the revamped North Dakota license plates that came out a few years ago, doggy though they were, because it seemed too easy. Many other bloggers did write about them, so there was no shortage of things said. I did devote a short essay to the monstrosities in my first book, however.

I'm gonna write about this one, though.

So someone shared a link with me today announcing that the 15-year North Dakota brand of "Legendary" has been changed to "Be Legendary."

What, did a room full of drunk bros come up with that?

"Dude, you're a legend!"

A legend is a truly special, unique, and standout thing. As a state, the brand of Legendary was a great fit, particularly for those who remember the commercials from years ago, before the millennial generation and their adventure sports and Instagramming of it thereof took over the world and made it seem like if you weren't ripping it out on the trails or in the water, you didn't exist.

Those commercials had beautiful music and camera work, images of the landscape of the state with historical figures superimposed across them, fading, showing the legendary aspects of the the Native Americans, Teddy Roosevelt, Custer, Bonanza farming, settlers -- the whole lot.

I maintain that you cannot have a large populace actually be legendary because there is no legend when 700,000 people are doing the thing. That's veering into the realm of everyone getting a first-place ribbon.

You cannot sell the state of being legendary. It does not come from large groups of people doing and seeing the same stuff.

But it makes sense, in this age.

We don't go places to learn from them. We go places to experience them, to sort of consume them and use them up. So, North Dakota is selling not a place of history, not a place that can change you because of its legendary nature, but a place where you can go do some stuff and become legendary yourself. In a generation that collects experiences and is so me-centered, apparently you aren't interested in legendary places but being legend yourself.

Anyone read the novel I Am Legend (or watch the movie, which is not at all like the story)? You wanna be a legend? Try that on for size.

What do the tourism officials have to say?

"Be Legendary conveys a renewed spirit and the unlimited promise and potential of our state. It allows us to expand our message to reach new audiences, from the people who live here to those who visit."

One of the greatest gifts I learned in art school was the gift of BS. Art students who didn't get their art done, or had a bad piece emerge from the canvas, had to be able to put it up in front of the rest of the class on critique day and fudge the language to trick them into thinking the turd hanging on the wall has merit. So I recognize the language.

A renewed spirit. Unlimited promise and potential. Expand our message. The fonts chosen to represent that ideology do anything but visually agree with that.

I am going to try to avoid a rant on the "updated fonts and fresh colors" of the logo which reminds me of the hilarity of when Yahoo hyped up their brand new refreshed logo and it looked like a standard font of no great importance, sort of like going to see the bajillion dollar "Avatar" film and that sinking sensation in the pit of your stomach when the opening title credit was basically done in a Papyrus font.

I changed my mind; I'm not going to avoid the rant.

Here's the old one:

Here's the new one:

Are you kidding me.

What is this new, refreshed logo but Futura font, or something similar? Does it at all look like it has any kind of spirit, much less a renewed one? Does it suggest unlimited promise and potential, or any visual sense of expandability?

Not only do I maintain that you can't be legendary, particularly in your own lifetime, but I don't think you'll get there with common out-of-the-box sans serif fonts.

The old one, while not following the incredibly boring design sensibilities of the mindful minimal Steve-Jobs-enslaved age of sans-serif flatness, is energetic, exciting, and rough. Like the state. The new one looks like a pleasant local insurance company asked their administrative assistant to make some letterheads in Microsoft Publisher. The old one has angles and curves, a personality that pushes and pulls, not hemming in your eye on the left or the right, mimicking the open North Dakota landscape. The new one probably needs a bed pan, it's so sanitary. It is visually dead, with no movement left or right, no sense of an expanding horizon. The old one looks like you might possibly attain legendary status, while the new one looks like you might fill out forms in triplicate.

Let's just put this on our license plate and call it a day.


UPDATE: Here are a few other blog posts about the subject.
This morning (October 6) I woke up to my phone buzzing from notifications from this post, and was told that the Commerce department didn't really care for the new log, nor likely had much to do with it. From the Six.22 blog post linked above, there is the suggestion it was done within the governor's office by an intern ("It appears that this was done within the Governor’s Office with Burgum breathing down a poor interns neck who doesn’t even have a design background. Did you see the press release video? He has this smirk on his face, like this was all his idea…Everyone, let’s give him the praise and bow down to his intelligence."). Another person said it was done without an rfp/bid and was done by a guy in Minnesota. 

I don't know which is true, if either, but I think the state needs to pull this attempt at a rebrand, and if they feel the old logo must be changed, open it up to North Dakota designers. There are many who could do so much better (and no, I'm not one of them). Whatever the story behind the new logo, the reality is clear: woof.

A Facebook post discussing the logo had some interesting conversation, of which this was my favorite comment:

UPDATE: There is a petition that you can sign if you'd like to see this logo go the way of the dodo. You can sign it here. Please sign it, or in five years this precedent will lead to our state logo being made of Comic Sans and a further bastardization of the quality of being legendary. I'm not saying what you see below is what will happen, but I'm not saying it won't, either.
Hyperbole aside, go sign the petition.

UPDATE NOVEMBER 2, 2018: Hey cronyism. Check out how the designer was selected, based on a recent article in the Bismarck Tribune.

Fail. On all levels.


  1. The logo is extremely horroble. And there's more to it. The governor is going to make cabinet agencies use this as their agency logo. There will be a vertical line next to the logo on the right with the agency name in the same San serif font next to that. AND all of the cabinet agencies will also have Be Legendary. in their logo. Totally makes sense for the highway patrol, corrections, department of transportation, etc. (sarcasm). Someone who has no clue what they're doing did this. Also, when Dakota is in red, it is slightly reminiscent of the Kodak logo.


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