Cultural considerations in designing the

Young Native Writer's Essay Contest logo

I recently was asked to design a logo for the Young Native Writers' Essay Contest sponsored by the Holland + Knight Charitable Foundation. The foundation, funded through contributions from the Holland + Knight law firm, its attorneys and staff - as well as external sources - underwrites a variety of education-related programs. One of those programs is the Young Native Writers' Essay Contest, which is designed to inspire honest portrayals of the richness of Native American life and history. In 2006 the writing contest was dedicated to Native American high school students within the Red Lake community in the state of Minnesota. Expansion into additional Native American communities is slated for the 2006-2007 school year.

With the upcoming expansion into other Native American communities came the desire to create an identity for the program that would convey a graphic message not limited to one Native American nation. Symbols and graphic elements specific to any one tribe would not work. My immediate thought was to incorporate an eagle feather into the design as a writing pen. Still, I wanted to know if such a graphic would be appropriate.

My friend Myra Donnelley, a Portland playwright and one of my Thursday morning "koffee klatch" buddies, works with the local Native American Youth & Family Center and the Young Native Playwrights Project. I thought she'd be able to provide some great resources.

One email to Myra put me into contact with the incredible Jeanne Givens. She's a member of the Native American Stewardship Council at the Autry National Center, Chairperson for the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) in New Mexico, and a member of the Coeur d'Alene Tribe. We had a great visit and she did confirm that my idea of the eagle feather would be appropriate and non-offensive to all tribes. She did mention that the feather should be shown horizontally - which I had already planned. It was recommended that I not incorporate any other Native symbolism into the design to make it as all-inclusive as possible.

The eagle feather conveys many symbolic messages. Being half black and half white, it projects graphic imagery of daylight and darkness, peace and war, and summer and winter. Such feathers symbolize trust, honor, strength, wisdom, power, freedom and a closeness to the heavens. The symbol also conveys good luck to both the giver and receiver. The powerful image of the eagle feather is used in many ceremonial rites, and for healing purposes, by many tribes. For those reasons and more, the eagle feather seemed like the perfect graphic to represent a writing program for Native youth writing about their heritage.

A simplified eagle feather image (exhibited as a writing pen) was combined with the font Ashwood Condensed, from The Walden Font Co., and the existing foundation identity to create the logo. The earthy color was adopted from the H+K corporate color palette and I selected the purple to project the additional qualities of creativity, richness, fun, mysticism and mystery.

I sent the final design off to Angela Ruth, Executive Director of the H+K Charitable Foundation, and received a quick response that she, the Marketing Materials Manager, and others within the organization "loved it!" With the approval of the group's Native lawyer the logo was a "go." The image will be used on T-shirts for essay contest participants and on marketing/promotion materials for future years.

© 2006 Jeff Fisher LogoMotives

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