Logo Turned Upside Down


Sometimes the simplest logo design concepts are the most extraordinary.

San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum is an amazing place to spend a day, if you ever have the opportunity. The museum recently launched a new and visual identity package that is based on, simply, the letter A turned upside down. We have seen logos with inverted elements and lettering before, but this one is truly a first in that it uses just an upside down letter.

When I try to describe the concept, it sounds plain and boring. This is a case in which a design is more than the sum of its parts. The A is rendered somewhat three dimensionally in print due to the use of a gradient. The museum’s sign takes advantage of this element with a fully 3-D letter with the same lighting.

The old museum was not bad… in fact, it was quite good. It featured a red square—red is an auspicious color throughout much of Asia and even a common color for Chinese bridal gowns. We associate this color with the East more than any other. A square is a strong and powerful shape that grabs attention, especially when combined with a bright color. The custom font was simple yet brilliant. In fact, the only bad thing I could say about the old is that it is not as good as the new one.

There are many three dimensional logos out there, but many of them simply do not work. They often seem overly ‘blingy’, without any depth. They always look great on a computer screen, but not so much on paper. This logo is multifaceted without being limited. It will look great on brochures and on t-shirts, but it still has the power of three dimensions.

In addition, an upside down A is used in mathematics as a symbol meaning “for all.” The designer designed the logo knowing this, giving the math nerds among us a little thrill. Because the museum is intended not just for Asians, but for people of all ethnic backgrounds, this is appropriate and even brilliant. To avoid stating the obvious, I’ll leave out the stereotypical jokes about Asians being good at math.

In addition, the logo gives a sense of approaching an everyday object with a new perspective. If that is not art, what is? This bold logo offers a wide range of interesting ideas and interpretations, all in one easy to render and easy to remember package.

Will this spawn a rush of copycats and upside down logos on crowdsourcing sites? I predict that it will. After all, if a site is willing to repackage and sell the WWF panda image, upside down lettering is certainly up to plagiarism. However, the Asian Art Museum logo is simple and unique enough that we (and consumers) will know the copycats as soon as they appear. I am always writing that museums and design-related businesses need to make sure their own design is top-notch. This one certainly meets that criterion.