A Letter from David G. Marwell
Director, Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust
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.