At a time when the term “post-truth” resonates so widely that Oxford Dictionaries chose it as its 2016 Word of the Year, independent polling organizations that conduct non-partisan research, like the Pew Research Center, have taken on a new significance.
The Pew Research Center launched in Washington, D.C., in 2004 to bring the research initiatives of Pew Research Trusts under one roof, including social science research projects like the Pew Internet & American Life Project, which studied the impact of the internet on the U.S., and the Project for Excellence in Journalism, which studied the American media (both still operate under the Pew umbrella). The center describes itself as a “fact tank,” and today, the data it publishes helps journalists and advocacy organizations fact-check fake news and provide context for unprecedented current events. In an absurd twist of fate, Pew even became the subject of fake news itself recently, when Press Secretary Sean Spicer wrongly cited Pew research on voter fraud.
This is the climate in which the Pew Research Center decided to rebrand itself, hoping to bring coherence to its many focus areas. It approached the famed graphic design firm Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv to take on the project.
The new identity, which can be seen on the website now and will continue to roll out throughout 2017, is grounded by a black-and-white, sun-like symbol that isn’t flashy or groundbreaking—or even particularly fresh. But it does convey consistency, truth, and authority at a moment when those things are in short supply.
According to CGH, the symbol used for the logo is meant to represent “illumination,” a nod toward the organization’s use of data to shed light on issues facing the U.S. and the world. Meanwhile, the logo’s bold lines and lack of color suggest nonpartisanship and neutrality (though adding a background color can also signify distinct research activities that exist under the Pew umbrella).
The simple icon also harkens back to the golden age of modernist graphic design in the 1960s and ’70s, when Chermayeff & Geismar—as it was known before Sagi Haviv came on as a partner in 2007—was emerging as the influential graphic design studio we know it as today.
The firm is famous for designing logos for companies like Pan Am, NBC, Chase, and Mobil, but like many reputable design firms at that time, it also designed for the federal government–Chermayeff & Geismar designers were behind the identity for the Environmental Protection Agency in 1977 and the logo for the national bicentennial in 1976. Those were times when design was much more valued in the federal government, and the major identity design firms of the day played a role in shaping government design that was simple, clear, and assured.
In that way, the firm’s very ’70s-influenced identity for the Pew Research Center makes sense. Even though Pew is not a government organization, borrowing a graphic style that conveys clarity, sensibility, and authority works well for a center trying to uphold factuality and objectivity at a time when facts are under attack.