Brand Equality: Can Human Rights (and Other Ideals) Be a Brand?

Branding is entering some new territory these days. Maybe not entirely uncharted, but sketchy and undermapped. We’re at the point in history where we are designing logos for concepts instead of organizations, and I’m intrigued to see where it goes.

On Fast Company’s design site, science and technology writer John Pavlus explores the international collaborative effort to design a logo for human rights. He writes that the concept isn’t well enough articulated to elicit a strong logo, and he may be right. But there are some pretty well articulated organizations getting involved, including judging by the UN itself, and the contest on is using an increasingly popular crowdsourcing strategy to gather designs that might be able to pinpoint the issue. (See examples of logo entries below and in more detail on Mashable.)

Logo submissions for contest from

It could happen. The Human Rights Campaign for LGBT equality gained traction with their yellow equal sign on a dark blue background, and I still see the stickers on cars everywhere. As Pavlus mentions, the recycling symbol is another good example of a concept logo, and is devoid of intellectual property or copyright issues. He riffs that recycling is a concrete concept as opposed to the rather diffuse idea of human rights, and there may be a point there. The HRC defined a group of people as the target. Another equality campaign, the Equal Rights Amendment (“ERA Yes” green and white logo), is pushing for a particular piece of legislation, both concepts a little easier to wrap one’s head around than a nebulous idea of human rights.

Is there an agreed-upon definition of what constitutes human rights as far as the folks are concerned? Maybe not, but there are probably a few basic tenets we can all support. And since the UN is part of the package, there are no doubt many high minds working on a definition.

Regardless, the whole idea behind the logo, as well as its rather impressive list of participants, may be enough to draw attention to an issue, which is sometimes an important end-goal in itself.

On a less lofty but still important issue, the new USDA food plate sans pyramid demonstrates mass recognition of the idea that easier to digest (pun intended) concepts with quick visual cues are just better for developed countries’ lifestyles at this juncture. These representations raise the point that our society is becoming more visual and more attention-deficient due to constant information saturation, and reminds us that easy visual cues like logos still have weight in branding.

Something an individual can virtually hold in his or her hand allows for easier brand digestion, and color and design often do have more impact than words. So much the better if the concept they represent contributes to humanity in some fashion. Design might just save the world after all.

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  1. #1 by Kathy on August 4, 2011 - 2:12 am

    Wow, yeah, pink triangle, Jesus fish and Darwin four-footed all fit too. Neat.

  2. #2 by Karen Berthine on June 15, 2012 - 1:05 am

    Well written. An enjoyable and thought-provoking piece.

    • #3 by Elizabeth Rack on June 15, 2012 - 1:34 pm

      Thanks, Karen! Much appreciated. I loved that whole contest idea, trying to capture the essence of an ideal in design.

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