The city of Frederick has a new logo, but not everyone is embracing the design, including residents upset about what they called the lack of transparency and public input into the project.
The new logo, a stylized lowercase “f,” incorporates blue, red, green and yellow to pay homage to different aspects of the city’s character.
Symbolism aside, many residents questioned the need for a logo.
“My main question regarding the logo is, why?” said city resident Ellen Byrne, a freelance illustrator who happened across the logo on the city’s Facebook page late last week. “I just don’t understand why it was needed; nothing about it says ‘Frederick’ other than the text beneath the logo. The whole look and feel is just Southwestern, in my head.”
Despite the negative reviews, the city stands behind the $45,000 design by North Star, a Jacksonville, Florida-based design firm, said city spokeswoman Patti Mullins said. While Mullins agreed that public input is important, she argued that the idea of choosing a single design by popular vote was “never a workable option” for city officials.
“We knew all along that, in an art design for a city of 79,000 people, not everybody is going to like it, and, unfortunately, those individuals who are not happy are going to be the most vocal,” Mullins said. “Everybody agreed from the get-go that this was going to be an administrative process.”
Mayor Michael O’Connor explained further that the process that the city followed was itself a recommendation from North Star.
“I appreciate that we could have done it some other ways, but the consultants presented to us an approach as to how to go about this process and we really believed that that approach was sound. ... They are the experts in doing this,” O’Connor said. “There were probably 50 or 100 ways to go about this process. There are always many different ways to handle engagement, but you can’t necessarily take a process like this and open it up to the public. ... You can’t have the community design a graphic.”
Instead of direct public input, the design incorporates different perspectives, including insight from more than 100 business owners, nonprofits, city institutions and residents. Those interviews were conducted by North Star’s team of designers when they visited the city from Oct. 23 through Oct. 25. While the logo was presented as a finished product to the city in early May, the end product was North Star’s best effort at capturing the city’s many defining characteristics based on their interviews and observations, Mullins said.
“They took all those feelings and ideas and they consolidated it into this [logo],” Mullins said. “It’s welcoming, it’s diverse, it’s historic, it has deep roots to history and pays homage to our outgoing and engaged community.”
As of Tuesday afternoon, 66 percent of a total of 299 votes cast in an unofficial poll about the logo that was posted to NextDoor, a social network for community and neighborhood discussions, expressed dissatisfaction with the new logo, while only about 5 percent said they approved of the design.
Susan Ledford, who rated the logo negatively in the poll, pointed to comments from others as justification that not enough public input was solicited. The remaining 28 percent of voters in the poll expressed confusion regarding the question.
“When I go to do research to find out, ‘OK, how did this happen?’ I’m not finding anything except for word-of-mouth, and everybody else seems to also be saying, ‘Yeah, how did this happen?’ Nobody seems to know,” Ledford said. “Who was involved in the process of choosing this? Was this just the mayor? Was there a board? Because there obviously was no citizen input.”
Cathy Anderson, who posted the poll on NextDoor, agreed with Ledford. A former volunteer for the mayor’s Strategic Opportunities Advisory Committee, Anderson also sat in on a focus group about the logo. Referring to her experience, Anderson drew an distinction between designers talking to community members and actually including the community in the design process.
“It is misleading to say that we as a focus group had a say ... because we didn’t at all,” Anderson said when reached for comment. “We might have had some insight into the logo but we did not have any input into the logo.”
O’Connor said he appreciated Anderson’s work on the advisory committee, which he said helped to make clear the need for a unified visual message for the city.
“Based on that report, one of the things that was made clear to us was that the city didn’t have that clear and cohesive visual messaging, everything from the consistency of signatures on emails or color schemes on fliers,” O’Connor said.
Prior to the new logo, which was unveiled by the city’s Parks and Recreation Department on June 13, the city used an old-fashioned font borrowed from the city and county’s tourism council as well as the city’s official seal — an outline of the many church steeples that give the city its “clustered spires” nickname — as a stand-in for an official logo, Mullins said.
“This represents Frederick, founded in 1745,” Mullins said, referring to the original seal and text combination. “But, for telling the world about Frederick, Frederick is more than just 1745. ... We’re proud of our heritage, but we’re also very excited about the future.”
Mullins said the push for an updated logo came from the city’s Department of Economic Development’s need for a design to sell the city to businesses, investors and new residents. While the city seal will remain in use on official city documents, the newer logo will help the city capitalize on its modern assets without abandoning the city’s historic roots, Mullins said.
Still, many residents expressed frustration with the very idea of a logo, especially considering the price tag that came with North Star’s winning bid during the city’s request for proposals process.
“I just feel like, who are the rest of us, are we chopped liver? Because we pay a lot of taxes here in Frederick,” Byrne said. “If [the city administration] wanted it, then let them pay for it. Why have the taxpayers foot the bill?”