Logo for Astronomical Institute (Help!)

Catharsis's picture

Dear Typophiles,

although I've been enthousiastic about design and type for ages, I have no education whatsoever in those fields... nevertheless, my interest often ends up making me the "expert" on such things. Seeing that my workplace (Astronomical Institute "Anton Pannekoek") only had an inofficial logo that someone had hand-drawn in Paint, I set out to design a better one. It ended up garnering a lot of approval by my colleagues, and has recently been pronounced the "official" logo of the institute.

However, personally, I'm not quite happy with the logo as it stands now. I'm having this nagging feeling that there are some glaring typographic crimes in there that could be fixed easily (and probably without most people noticing), and I'd like to do so before the current logo entrenches itself too much. Hiring a pro is not an option — the institute is not going to pay money for something they think they already got for free... ;o) So:

Please help me "fix" this logo!

I'm showing two version of it here: A text-heavy one and a graphics-heavy one.

Here's the rationale behind my design:

At first sight, the graphic is supposed to depict the dome of an astronomical telescope facility. On second sight, it is resolvable into the letters "API", which are the acronym commonly used for our institute. The positioning of the dome on top of the text block's "roof" mirrors the location of our actual telescope domes on the roof of the university building.

The colors black, red, white are from Amsterdam's coat of arms.

I picked the font (EB Garamond) to match the one in the official logo of the University of Amsterdam, though I suspect they're using a different (and expensive) form of Garamond.

Here are my grievances with the current design (and I'm sure you can come up with more):

The text is fragile and becomes unreadable on, say, a PowerPoint slide, unless one were to make the logo rather big. That may not always be an option.

The graphic feels somewhat unbalanced. The dome is not a perfect half-circle; rather, it is made out of two perfect quarter-circles with an offset in between... as a result, I'm not happy with the not-quite-square overall proportions of the graphic. I haven't figured out how to do it better, though.

Taken by itself, the graphic feels ungrounded, like one of those Pac Man ghosts. It needs the straight line below to give it some foundation. However, I haven't found a good way to include such a line while preserving that unified, closed-in-itself "badge" feeling that good logos have.

Any ideas?

Kind regards,


hrant's picture

I think the idea is great.
But it's clear that the execution needs a pro.

The institute might have already gotten a great
basis for free, but what they didn't get for free, by
your own admission, is a robust end-result. I'd tell
them this and raise the funds to do it right.



JamesM's picture

Working with a professional designer would be your best solution.

However if you want to do it yourself, here are a few suggestions. I think your basic API design is clever, but I'd suggest making it using a heavier line weight. The "unbalance" you refer to doesn't bother me in the symbol itself, but I don't like the way it relates to the centered words below. I also don't like having the words in all caps, centered; it's rather dull.

I'd suggest trying the logo on the left, and on the right have the type in 2 lines (perhaps even in 4 lines), upper and lower case, aligned left (rather than centered). And perhaps in a more condensed font.

These are just offhand suggestions; you'd have to experiment to see if they make things better or worse. :)

And maybe there's nothing you can do about this, but it bugs me a bit that the word order doesn't match the symbol. The symbol says API, but the first letters of the words below it are AIAP. Would it be possible to change the word order to "Anton Pannekoek Astronomical Institute"?

brianskywalker's picture

The concept is great. You could try making the mark seriffed, because the accompanying text is serif.

If it is considered to use a professional designer, you could consider myself for the job. When/if it comes to that, just contact me and I can send a portfolio. :)

Catharsis's picture

Thanks for your feedback!

I know hiring a pro is the way to go if the result should look professional. But frankly, the level of typographic interest in the institute is very low, and it survived just fine without a logo at all for decades upon decades. When someone needed a logo for a poster a few years back, she painted one by hand in PowerPoint... and other people were happy to use that one as well; apparently no-one felt the need to improve on it. The effort and money spent on a great logo would just go to waste. So if you can help me come up with a decent logo, I believe that will be more than sufficient. (And I'll admit that I have a certain ambition to reach that level by my own hand...)

So, first of all, I redesigned the overall shape of the mark. I think it looks a lot tidier now:

I find the regular spacing of the stems on the left side pleasing, and the compression of the lines on that side lend the mark some much-needed "beef". I gave the stems flat bottoms so they would suggest a flat foundation, which helps to solve my earlier "Pac Man ghost" problem. I think the mark works fine now even without a line below to carry it.

Brian suggested adding serifs to the mark; that concept threw me for a loop at first. But it turned out pretty easy to implement. First I added some Modern-style contrast, and then some actual serifs... and finally an i-dot, though frankly I'm not sure whether that's an improvement.

Overall, I probably like the Modern-style but sans-serif mark (second from above). The serifs are interesting, but they come with a certain expensive-watchmaker feel. Well, maybe that's not the worst association for astronomy.

I also tried the suggestion of grouping the text flush-left with a condensed font. I suppose it works, though I prefer the previous designs.

Oh, and I'm afraid there's nothing I can do about the name... My initial designs also read Anton Pannekoek Astronomical Institute, but they corrected me... the official name is Astronomical Institute "Anton Pannekoek". The acronym API is for Anton Pannekoek Institute. I know, I know...

Catharsis's picture

You know what? I'm really starting to like those serifs. :)

brianskywalker's picture

I think the contrast in the serif version really also helps emphasize the opening in the side of the mark. It's definitely an improvement, I think. Maybe you should try making the strokes on the outsides edges thinner than on the inside.

Catharsis's picture

Thanks! Wouldn't that destroy the neat regularity of the three stems on the left, though? And thinning the strokes would also make the design even more fragile; I'm already worried it might suffer on PowerPoint slides.

Luma Vine's picture

Your latest version is a huge improvement! Great progress. Have you tried making everything in the mark a bit thicker? Obviously without loosing the thickness of the negative space as well. I feel likt this could be the normal version, and I want to see the bold. Look at it really small and try to refine it to look great at that size. I think you could do a bit more with the text as well. It might be getting a bit too uniform and monolithic. For example, my first thought is, what about a horizontal rule that appears to extend the crossbar from the mark? Or have you tried some generous tracking? I usually like to try that with an all caps setting.

brianskywalker's picture

Catharsis—try looking at your Garamond for inspiration. Note that the diagonals of the 'A' are different thicknesses. Thickening the thin parts would help the design too.

hrant's picture

One thing that's gotten worse though is
the "A", which is too prone to clotting.


brianskywalker's picture

Thus thinning the outside stem would help. Actually, trying to unify the stems better optically would help. There are large gaps of white in some places, so making some strokes thicker and some thinner to account for the whites better would help.

Catharsis's picture

Alright, here are some new developments.

First, I tried out varying increasing the weight of the mark:

In both rows, the left version is the original, the right has thickened stems, and the middle one has thickened stems plus some rearrangement to keep the spaces free (rotating the dome to face the viewer more, basically). The upper row is "extrabold" and the lower one "bold".

Overall, I do prefer the original version for its sheer elegance, but I can certainly see the use of the adjusted bold version (lower middle) for small sizes.

As for thinning the outline:

Here I changed the thickness of the outer arcs (middle version) and of the stems, too (right version). I don't like the outcome. It emphasizes the cleft down the middle of the dome, which is actually the most inaccurate part of the image. Actual telescope housings have a vertical slice-shaped window in the round dome but not in the straight tower part, since the dome and its window rotate with respect to the tower. Apart from that, I also simply prefer the visual impression of constant line strengths throughout the parallel parts of the image.

Finally, I took Luma's suggestions of wide tracking and bringing back the horizontal rule for a ride:

I do like the ordering effect of the rule, especially when it's on top, but I also like the succinctness of the simple form without rule. In any case, I wanted to get the logo to a point where it can comfortably exist without a rule to support it, and I think that's been achieved.

I also tried it on the side, but that doesn't quite work out:

So I guess these are my new favorite arrangements... note the use of the "bold" symbol in the third arrangement. I think it meshes fairly well with the other ones.

hrant's picture

Again: the "A" is way too narrow.


eliason's picture

Yes, give the A more space.
You might want to try making that horizontal line arc upwards, to give the tower some perspectival height.

Catharsis's picture

I do realize the A is uncomfortably narrow... but I'm mainly aiming at creating a pleasing telescope dome than a pleasing lettering (let's face it, those letters are pretty ugly taken by themselves). If the compressed nature of the A renders the acronym harder to read, that actually plays in my favor. I want people to see the dome first, and then have the coin drop on the letters.

But I did try out the suggested remedies:

First, rotating the dome to face the viewer more directly didn't produce a very appealing result in my opinion. The overall morphology regressed to the state I started out with: Haphazard spacing between all stems, less volume, more line-art feeling. I also had to abandon the serifs, since the stems no longer formed regular groups that could be bundled together.

However, curving the dividing line between the dome and the tower upwards to suggest perspective is very effective. Again, I have to go sans-serif, but the three-dimensionality of the mark now speaks for itself quite well.

I like it a lot, but I'm still not quite 100% sure this is preferable over the dense serifed version. That older version had an "expensive Swiss watchmaker" feel to it, whereas the 3D version feels more like "Woo! Check out this video of me snowboarding!"

Here are some shots of the 3D mark combined with the type. Again, I made a "bold" version of the logo for the smallest size.

EDIT: It just occurred to me that the 3D version might have some undesirable phallic interpretations... is that a problem...? /:P

hrant's picture

I think the righthand one is well-proportioned and bowing the horizontal* does help. But I'm not sure why the serifs had to go (although exactly where they should go never seemed fully resolved).

* You might try the other direction too.

Also, make the "I" a bit thicker (inward) and shear the tip of the "A" slightly (very sharp points create rendering problems, and are generally uncomfortable).

Phallic problem? Oxymoron. :-)


JamesM's picture

This is probably a terrible idea, but I'll mention it in the spirit of brainstorming. If you invert the colors you'll have a black sky, more like an observatory would be at night. I've made it a rectangle but you'd want to contain it within a better shape (rounded rectangle? circle? oval?) Maybe add some stars?

Like I said, probably a terrible idea; it's just something that popped into my head late at night.

brianskywalker's picture

I think that idea might work in an oval.

Catharsis's picture

Funny... that's just what the previous logo artist did:


(We actually have two telescope domes with staggered heights on our roof.)

I suppose it could be viable to use the logo in such an environment. I've actually used the crude version of my logo in white on a darkish photographic background before, for a presentation. However, I would prefer if it could stand on its own without a painted background. A black-on-white mark would certainly work better on letterheads and the like. I'd want that to be the primary version of the logo, with perhaps a starry night "badge" version for specialized applications.

Catharsis's picture

The institute director looked a bit distressed when I showed him the new designs, since he already presented the initial version to the dean as the "official logo". I personally don't think it's a problem; it is the same concept after all, just better executed. Most people probably won't notice the change... ;o) And it's not like it has been printed onto something expensive yet.

The director's main concern was the removal of the red color, so I reintroduced that. I'm not quite decided yet where to put it, though. I could either color some text or the rule:

I also implemented hrant's latest tweaks. I picked the 3D + serif version because it is the most pictorial, and as I've mentioned one of my main goals is to make people see the dome at first glance. I also gave the finer print a bit of stroke since I don't have access to a heavier weight; I think it works fine.

I don't intend to make the color a mandatory part of the logo, though. I like it this way:

@hrant: I don't think a downward curve would work, since that would imply that the dome is viewed from above, which then clashes with the straight-cut foundation. As it is now, the flat foundation and the curve paint a consistent 3D picture as seen from someone standing on the ground, eyes level with the foundation.

hrant's picture

Are the serifs in the logo the same structure as the ones in the font? They should be.

I would make the horizontal (bowed) line not vary in thickness. In fact if anything it should be (slightly) thicker towards the center.

The way color is usually handled in logos is either having two versions (which means people have to be careful to use the right one) or having one color version that degrades gracefully to monochrome.

The top of the "A" needs what's called modulation (thickness variance) to avoid looking too heavy. You might even trap it:

BTW, make sure to give Typophile credit when talking to your colleagues!


riccard0's picture

What about making the horizontal rule start from the logo's left serif?

JamesM's picture

I like your "nighttime" variation. The background gradation is a nice, subtle touch.

And you'll probably need a reversed-colors version (white letters) anyway, for those situations where the logo needs to be printed on a dark background, or reversed out of a dark portion of a photo.

However if you use the white logo over a dark photo, you probably wouldn't want that background gradation. But if the logo is printed on a plain black (or dark color) background, the gradation is a nice touch.

Catharsis's picture

Carved some weight off the A's apex (which helped), returned the arched crossbar to uniform strength (which also helped), and remodeled the serifs after the ones from the Garamond (which I'm not sure I like). The problem being that Garamond has cupped stem ends, which look a bit weird when applied one-sided The resulting serifs look rather clumpy and draw more attention than they should have...

Top is old, bottom is new.

However, Riccardo's suggestion works fabulously well:

I do believe this is my new favorite design. I'll have to make the text red now if I want color, but that's a small sacrifice. :)

This will restrict the number of arrangements of text and mark I can make, but perhaps that's for the better anyway. I can easily merge the mark with the rule in the centered, graphics-dominated arrangement, and I guess I can use the serifs when the mark stands alone by itself.

loltim's picture

Hey I really like the modern font you have used in:

could you tell me what it is called I would be interested in using it.

The serif version looks a lot better though for this logo.

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