NS Timeline Series: Logo Origins
Symbolism: John Nottingham and John Spirk discuss the origins of the company logo
John and John met as students at Cleveland Institute of Art and knew long before graduation that they wanted to work together. We asked them to explain the design of the NS logo, the essential elements of which have not changed since its inception in the early 1970’s.
Q: When did you come up with the NS logo?
JN: We were travelling in Europe on scholarships that we won from our design college, talking to designers in Italy, Germany.
JS: We visited a number of design offices, like Mario Bellini and Ettore Sottsass. These were icons of their day and they gave us a lot of their time. We just dropped in out of nowhere, and they sat and talked with us. It was a pretty interesting time. John and I stopped to get lunch at a sidewalk restaurant in Milan, and we talked about how to memorialize this partnership we were forming in our heads. You need an emblem, and we started thinking about what that could look like, and we started doodling the N and the S on a napkin. They’re very difficult letters to relate, if you think about it. One is very angular, and one is very serpentine. Much like our personalities! John is much more structured that I am, and I am kind of this wavy guy.
JN: We were looking for elements in the characters that were similar, and we started sketching the similarities. We looked at the same three blocks, two triangles and a cross-element, and we came up with this design where, if you flip them, one becomes an S and one becomes an N.
JS: There’s a lot of symbolism, analyzing it years later. There’s very little difference between John and me, in terms of our mission and our ethics and all of that. The letters are very different, but if you look at those two symbols, it’s very small tweaks between them that make up the logo.
JN: I think it’s also essential to our philosophy that we didn’t want anything trendy, we didn’t want it to become dated. We wanted an essential, geometrical element that had some universal truth to it. And by doing it the way we did it, I think it’s timeless. And there’s some flexibility too. We’ve played around with it a little over the years, we’ve outlined it, we’ve played around with colors, much like Google plays around with their logo. But it really has been a foundation of our design philosophy and the way we look at innovation.
Q: Did all of the key elements come together in that conversation in Milan?
JS: Yeah, pretty much. It was fate.
JN: We discovered that when you emboss the logo on paper, and turn the paper over and turn it to the side, the N becomes an S and the S becomes an N. It’s good to have a symbol that represents your group and you can rally around. It gives you a focal point.
Q: What do you think about the Apple News app logo?
JN: Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. We kind of laugh when we see it.
JS: It’s fine. We’re happy.
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