The Power of a Really Good Mark
Never Underestimate the Power of a Really Good Mark to Your Brand
To anyone who attended ArtCenter College of Design, you already sense that this article relates to you, based on nothing more than the cover graphic.
Imagine presenting your preferred logo recommendation to a high-paying client and with much fanfare, you reveal an orange dot. Nothing else. A big orange dot. My knees are shaking just thinking about it! And yet for more than 50 years, the Orange Dot has represented my alma mater, ArtCenter College of Design. So simple and yet so powerful. To alumni and partners alike, the Orange Dot instantly communicates ArtCenter. One of the most iconic marks in design history.
Not convinced? Obviously, you are not an ACCD alum!
A Personal Anecdote
I remember one day when I was a student, my car wouldn’t start and I needed to make it to class. My roommate had already left and anyone else I might call on for help was more than an hour away, so I was on my own. What to do?
Realizing my apartment was on one of the two main arteries leading to the ArtCenter campus in the hills of Pasadena, I quickly cut a 6” square of white matte board and comped an orange circle using an ad marker. Then I walked to the end of my driveway and held the small placard high in the air for the oncoming traffic to see. Within moments, a fellow student, whom I had never met, pulled over and asked, “Need a ride to the campus?” Yes, thank you!
The Dot's Origin
So, back to the notion of pitching the Orange Dot, I wondered how the dot came into existence. Then I remembered that one of my Mojo teammates, Rick Franklin, is related to Tink Adams, the founder of ArtCenter. So with a couple of respectful texts, I found myself on a phone call with his cousin, Lisa Stotska, Tink Adams’ granddaughter. I shared with her that I had the pleasure of meeting Tink when I was a student in the ’70s. This triggered a chain reaction which led us to realize we had attended ArtCenter at the same time! In fact, we shared many mutual friends and instructors but had never met as students. Small world.
When I asked Lisa if she knew how the Orange Dot came to be, she said she did not know anything for sure, but she always felt it must have been related to Tink’s visit to Japan with a contingent to ArtCenter faculty, post World War II. Of course! The rising sun on the Japanese flag. Lisa suggested I reach out to ArtCenter’s Archivist, Bob Dirig, for more details.
When I caught up to Bob and shared Lisa’s story, he said “Maybe yes and maybe no”. ArtCenter was founded in 1930. The trade mission to Japan that Lisa mentioned was in 1956. ArtCenter had been using some form of the dot since the thirties, although the color seemed to be anything but orange, despite the fact that ArtCenter Orange was an early branding color. In fact, the doorposts of the original campus on 7th street in Los Angeles were painted ArtCenter Orange (RGB: 252, 70, 0 | HEX: #FC4600).
An excerpt from an article written about the ArtCenter Dot
The illustrious orange dot that appears in most of Art Center’s promotional material, is referenced in some of our publication titles (Dot, Full Circle, etc.), and appears on the College’s letterhead, has a bit of a murky past. Alumni Robert Brown (ADVT 1932) says that it was his idea. And dots do appear on Art Center material as far back as 1931, on our earliest surviving brochure. Don Kubly, the school’s president from 1969 to 1985, noted that the school’s founder, Edward “Tink” Adams, chose the dot because it was an easy way to add a big splash of color to the school’s publications at little extra cost. Also, when the school was founded in 1930, primary shapes were being explored by designers everywhere, so it is no surprise that a simple filled-in circle was chosen to augment Art Center’s printed materials. What does seem to be clear, is that the dot did not become The Orange Dot as a representation of the school until much later.
The Dot As We Know It Today
According to Dirig, and it's his job to know, the ArtCenter Orange Dot as we now know it, was officially adopted in 1965, concurrently with an official name change from the Art Center School, to ArtCenter College of Design. Here’s a link to the current ArtCenter identity guidelines — a nice piece of work in itself.
As I thought more about the “Orange Dot”, several branding revelations came to mind. First of all, when ArtCenter appropriated the dot, nobody related an orange circle with the college. It didn’t say anything about the college or design explicitly. Over time, however, with consistent and deliberate usage, it has come to communicate just that! Remember this and feel free to use this example the next time a client says, “What does that have to do with our business?”
The important attributes of a good mark are simple, bold, and memorable. Regarding the ArtCenter’s Orange Dot, check, check, and check!