Our New Logo - Important Letter

A Letter from David G. Marwell

Director, Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust

Dear Friends,

The new JewishGen logo has faced an onslaught of criticism, and although I believe it may be an example of not seeing the forest through the tree (one very specific purple tree), I want to make sure that I address this issue with all seriousness.

I think it is fair to say that I am surprised at the level of rancor and discontent that has been generated by the new JewishGen logo. I believe in discourse and discussion, and I know that people react to artistic representations in very subjective and personal ways – some are fans of Picasso, some are not – but for this discourse to reach such a level of vitriol may be a symptom of something else going on within the community – something that must be repaired.

I can well understand that the disdain for the logo is in some measure a general expression of frustration that JewishGen users are feeling. But I feel I must correct some of the absolutely false interpretations of the logo, its meaning, and the process that led to its creation.

The first issue I want to address is the conspiratorial suggestion that the logo was somehow created with the Ancestry agreement in mind. There are those that suggest that we intentionally aligned the new design to complement the Ancestry logo, with the implication that its introduction heralded a complete takeover of JewishGen by Ancestry in the future. Nothing could be further from the truth. The professional designer who worked on the new logo had no knowledge of the Ancestry agreement. There was absolutely no intention to echo, allude to, or reference Ancestry in any way.

The second issue I want to address is the idea that the logo was created in a vacuum and forced upon the JewishGen community. Again, absolutely false. One reason that JewishGen became affiliated with the Museum in 2003 was to take advantage of the professional resources of the Museum, including branding, research, and design. The staff and leadership of JewishGen made the decision to embark on market research to determine how JewishGen is perceived, define its strengths and weaknesses, and identify how JewishGen wants to be perceived in the future. The goal of the exercise was to create a planning document that would be the basis not just for the logo, but for strategic thinking for the future. Because this research was based on comprehensive individual interviews, we had to limit the number of stakeholders. After consultation with Warren, we settled on a group of 12 individuals, composed of SIG VPs, staff, and leadership. Detailed interviews were then conducted.

The final results of this process are a long way off, but the interviews revealed some prevailing themes: At its foundation, JewishGen represents community, connections, family history, depth, breadth and a global network of resources. Across the board, the strengths of JewishGen are its data, its volunteers and contributors, and its worldwide network of researchers and resources. Volunteers research the data, post the data, and share the data to create a worldwide community. While the site is for everyone, JewishGen’s Jewish roots are clearly important. Respondents wanted JewishGen to convey a modern and contemporary feel, bringing the identity into the 21st century, reflecting its relationship with the Museum. Our challenge was how to convey these positive attributes clearly, succinctly, and attractively.

Based on the market research we collected, we asked the designer to create four logos with variations. We presented these designs to the 12 interviewees and additional staff. The logo that was chosen was far and away the most successful version. It portrays six leaves, representative of individuals as well as groups when arrayed as they are here. The six leaves are indicative of the six points of a Star of David without being an overt depiction. The veins of the leaves make the leaves richer and create a visual connection with family trees and family history, again in an abstract representation. The typeface, Gotham, is a sans serif font that is open, accessible, friendly and modern. The identity colors of blue and green create a feeling of global connection (connecting JewishGen users beyond countries and oceans).

We showed the “winning” logo to the group of twelve; ten liked it, and the remaining two did not. Based on these results, we felt confident that we had designed a logo that both represented JewishGen and would have resonance with the public.

Although the poll on the Blog might suggest that we were wrong, I want to caution that it was most unscientific, and we regret the manner in which it was introduced. First, the poll itself implied that one could vote for the logo, not merely register an opinion about it. Second, the choices offered were limited and suggestive. Third, the interpretation of the logo as presented on the Blog was a personal one and did not represent the intention of the design (for instance, there was no specific intent to refer to the six million victims of the Holocaust in the design).

Logo criticism has probably been around since the first hieroglyphics appeared on cave walls. IBM, the London 2012 Olympics, and UPS have all incurred the public’s wrath when venturing to create a new look or brand. JewishGen is an organization of passionate users, and that passion is not limited to Jewish genealogy.

I have read your postings about this logo and, in the future, where it is possible, we will approach communication issues differently. In the meantime, I hope to work with you to mend the feelings of distrust and betrayal that have surfaced in this discussion.


  1. This letter of explanation does nothing for me. It is just a rehash and re-explanation of what has gone before.

    While the poll may have been unscientific, the results indicated that almost 90% of the respondents felt that the logo was "OK" at best. With a poll sample of 500, these results cannot be ignored.

    And it is not just the logo, but, until this letter, the apparent disregard of the board for the members of Jewishgen in making significant decisions like the Ancestry coalition, as well as less significant ones such as the logo design. One must keep in mind that the blog we have been using to discuss the logo design is "moderated" -- which is a polite word for "censored". I have had made several posts that could have been construed as contraversial, and none of them ever appeared on the website. I wonder how many others had their opinions stifled in this way. But even with the restricted postings, the intent of the Jewishgen populace was crystal clear -- The new logo does not represent us. What is equally clear is that the board will continue on their own path. I hope they can do it alone.

  2. I'm startled that the stakeholder group was miniscule to begin with, and didn't include users/members. It seems to have been largely "inhouse" people who were trying to determine the JewishGen "brand" and its future. That alone would seem to be a guarantee that "customers" or users would feel excluded. The logo is bland and doesn't evoke genealogy in general, and Jewish genealogy in particular, at all. It apparently is another bland corporate marketing product; with the way it was developed, how could it be otherwise? And in typical corporate behavior, it appears that JewishGen is planning to "stay the course" no matter how it's customer base feels about it.

  3. I do not know why you asked for comments and then answer what you did. It seems you are not caring what people wrote. YOu act like its a conspiracy against your logo.
    The logo is Silly and Ugly if it is supposed to have any connection to anything Jewish. It does not look like anything Jewish. I am sure the 10 people who voted for it werent Jewish unless they were under 9 years old. I suggest if you think its so wonderful then maybe you can sell it to someone.
    I have never had anything to say about logos I do not care about them look at them or think about them.
    You asked a question and got honest answers.
    Actually its a nice design for the hem and cuffs of a dress its just not representing anything Jewish

    Evelyn Filippi

  4. THe logo is a common design any kid can made and do in school. It would be pretty on the cuffs and hems of a dress.
    It does not have anything to do with the Jewish People and I doubt that the 10 people that voted for it was Jewish.
    YOu have been answered honestly before
    Evelyn Filippi

  5. Maury:

    Please send us a phone number so that we can discuss your comment and concerns. You can use the "Contact Us" link on the upper right of the page. Thanks.

  6. I'd like to know which SIG VPs were involved in the new logo design. I am on the boards of two SIGs (one JG and one hosted) and very involved with a third SIG (hosted). I am not aware of any member of these three SIGs being
    involved in the development of the new logo and would like to know which SIGs were invited to participate.
    Eden Joachim

  7. Maury has voiced concerns that clearly a number of us have. Why do you wish to move your response to those concerns offline, to be discussed privately between you and Maury? To the contrary, we will all benefit from this being an open, free conversation.

    I agree that some of the posts have been strong. I would not, however, use the word "vitriolic" to describe the majority of them. What I see/feel is a deep concern by JewishGenners about a direction that was chosen without either consultation with or approval of the membership ... who are, after all, the sum and substance of what JewishGen has been and is.

    It is this concern that we are trying to get you to recognize and address. We are not being recalcitrant; we are being honest and up front. We expect that the administration will act the same and will respond appropriately. Are our expectations faulty? If so, then please signal an end to this conversation so JewishGen community members may may make their subsequent decisions with regard to JewishGen as they see fit.

  8. I think as part of the strategic planning some thought should be given to the blog. What's its purpose? To inform? Is it really meant to be a two-way street? I'm particularly confused by the voice on the blog. Who is that anonymous voice talking to us about all the "exciting" new initiatives? The tone often sounds like faceless, anonymous boiler-plate public relations. I don't think the entries - especially the ones that use "I" (which included the most recent one about the logo and a number of entries during the convention))- are ever signed by an actual person.
    Toby Bird

  9. david,

    i truly believe that you and the other people who are making decisions about JewishGen have the best interests of JewishGen at heart.

    my impression from being at the Chicago conference, witnessing the two presentations (ancestry's on the first night and JewishGen's on the second night) and from having discussions amongst ourselves in Chicago was this: The reason why people are upset is because they care. they are invested in this resource, this community. and they are concerned about its future, its viability, and how decisions are made. all of this is great. i am really proud to be part of a community of people who care so much.

    that said, i think the biggest problem in this mishegas (sp?) is that neither issue -- the logo nor the new partnership with ancestry -- was dealt with in the most upfront and informative manner possible. and by essentially mishandling the issues, that unfortunately hampers much of the positives of both initiatives.

    it is understandable in a community such as JewishGen that people would want to have a say in something as close to its identity and heart as the logo. i'm not as chuffed about the logo as i am concerned about the ancestry alliance -- but then i have not been on JewishGen for as long as a lot of the people in this community, do not have the history of many end-users of JewishGen.

    i'd like to underscore that this is very much a community, so changing the community's identity, well it just seems like it would've been a great idea to use the tools and advantages of instantaneous and free feedback that the internet provides in soliciting input on something so fundamental to JewishGen's identity / logo.

    as far as the partnership with ancestry.com goes, i've thought some more about how this was dealt with at the conference and here on this blog. i was dismayed to realize that the people who were the most responsive to questions and concerns were the folks at ancestry. on some level, it's not the ancestry people's job to answer the questions of due diligence about their company and any official, unofficial, or perceived connection to the Mormon community. it was and is really up to JewishGen to give us better information and to present the questions that you must have known would be asked in some sort of organized and thought out Q&A type of presentation or fact sheet.

    companies go into business with other companies for many reasons, all the time, every day. there are very clear methodologies that are helpful in making partnerships even less advantageous or controversial than this one work. so when you said at the JewishGen meeting about the logo, basically this is it and we have to just accept it, that shows you in a defensive, unprofessional light, and it gives those of us in the community who feel invested a reason to be upset or dismayed.

    i’m not speaking for anyone but myself here, and i’m a relatively johnny-come-lately to this community as well as genealogy. but i have come, in a very short time, to feel invested, to really truly care about the direction and future of JewishGen.


  10. i realized after writing the prior post that there was indeed a Q&A type of fact sheet presented at the JewishGen presentation in Chicago.

    i did not think that it was adequate.

    when questions were raised at the meeting, it seemed like JewishGen had a reaction of shock and dismay, that the perception was, well, we saved JewishGen and we are prepared for praise for our work, but were not prepared for hard-hitting questions, concerns, or criticism.

    i am thankful that the future of jewishgen is better now. i am grateful for everyone's hard work and dedication.

    i guess i wish for what i said before.... less marketing, more transparency and more walking around and talking with people and hearing their concerns. and having better answers to questions that JewishGen had to know people would have -- questions that make up more of a discussion versus an absolute (take it or leave it) position would be really helpful.

    so what is next? what are the plans to make the logo and the ancestry alliance better understood and as productive and positive as possible?

  11. There are now three separate places on this Blog that have comments on the LOGO and related matters - as I said a few day ago we are now all expected to be truffle hounds.

    Also I have not yet had any answer to the signature identity issue I brought up and which appears under: CLICK HERE to learn more about the new JewishGen logo [top of the page on the right - where you will read many comments, in case readers did not realise this.

    There you will see that another person is anxious about the "identity" problem too.
    We must have an answer to this asap.

  12. I have been a Jeewish member-researcher for about a decade, contributing a Shtetl page, supporting projects as a volunteer, and contributing. Since the "partnership" with MJH has been in place, there has been a noticeable retreat from the former dynamic of a community of equals, guided and supported by the efforts of a few who were sufficiently talented and engaged to be Firsts Among Equals.

    With this logo fiasco, it is apparent the Museum views JewishGen and its participants as a corporate division. And rather than a collaborative partnership, it proceeds on a tops-down executive management manner.

    Sadly, I think it may well be time for a rethink, actively and together, of exactly what the two partners believe the symbiosis to be in service of: what goals do the genealogical activitists seek to accomplish, what goals the Museum wants. I hate to think it, but they may be inimical to mutual activity.

    Certainly the way this has been handled by the Museum has been disrespectful, thoughtless and ugly - in effect and affect.

    And the new logo? Ir's uninspiring, depressing in hue and color, and looks like two overlying wing nuts.

    I hope for better all the way round; we owe it to the stated missions of both organizations.

  13. Erika:

    Thank you for your comment. Please send us a phone number so that we can discuss your comment and concerns. You can use the "Contact Us" link on the upper right of the page. Thanks.

  14. Dr Marwell,
    The whole point of a blog is back & forth comments for ALL to see.

    Once again, having a private conversation with Erika over her concerns (which are the exact concerns of ALL of us) is counter-productive and reeks of not being "...in the most upfront and informative manner possible..." (erika's post)

  15. The new logo is dull and cannot compete with the old logo, which was beautiful and easily recognizable.

    Please drop it and use the old one!

    Another thing: When a logo has been around for as long as JewishGen's it is known worldwide and recognized. Changing the logo means that you'll have to start all over getting the logo known and trusted.

    Best regards
    Elsebeth Paikin President
    Jewish Genealogical Society in Denmark
    SIG Coordinator for Scandinavia SIG

  16. I love this logo.

    As a designer, I am in full support of this logo. Upon comparison, you must be joking when the notion of re-using the old logo is brought up.

    This new logo is refreshing, modern and shows a forward thinking group, that still has deep roots. The typeface is clean, easy to read and welcoming.

    The old" one was overwrought, and extremely dated and unreadable, bordering on amateurish.

    I think that this new logo takes the Jewish Gen to the future, while invoking a feeling of unity, strength, and family. I especially am impressed with the use of leaves, which do signify growth, but also represent a heritage. I definitely like it, and the nay-sayers who want the old one back are truly afraid of change, and have nothing but barbs and spears to throw at anyone with forward thinking.

    And to insult the designer to say a child could so this, shame on you and I defy you and challenge you to design the logo. I guarantee you would sing a different tune when you present your offering to the masses and are ridiculed. Which I guarantee you would. You may finally realize how difficult good logo design is, but somehow I feel the lesson learned would fall on deaf and stagnant ears.

    So, I say to the Jewish Gen, bravo for taking the Gen in to the future, and not retreating backwards like so many who are set in their ways and afraid of change.



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