Quark’s Extreme Makeover: Online Designers React

As news of Quark’s new look spread, wired designers take varying note, and more similar logos are found.
Extreme Makeover:Quark Edition

It can perhaps be said, without too much fear of contradiction, that creatives are a group that has a deep passion for what it does. This translates into bold emotional statements–fierce loyalty to those individuals and organizations that ease and empower the process, and sometimes deep reproach toward those who are seen as indifferent or aloof to their needs.

It is writ large somewhere that it takes ten “attaboys” to erase one “ah, *&@#%”. This has presumably become crystal clear to software purveyor Quark, Inc. After banishing layout pioneer Pagemaker to near-irrelevancy in the early 1990s and capitalizing on those gains with its flagship XPress, the company became complacent; infrequent feature-poor updates, a distraction of web-authoring tools at the expense of XPress development, high-pricing, an aloof and sometimes hostile customer attitude and legendarily atrocious customer service became the order of the day, and with no competition, and especially nobody else offering the high-end features that XPress provided, there were no alternatives.

In answering the now-credible challenge to its dominance that Adobe’s InDesign and Creative Suite constellation present, Quark has found itself answering for those perceived past sins. Free and prompt email customer service; a native Mac OS X version; Native PSD import and image editing as free XTensions–these have gone some distance toward keeping XPress relevant in in the eye of the community. But with XPress 7 still at some undefined place on the horizon–and a perception that XPress 7 must be a credible challenger to Adobe, a primary goal of Quark is to keep eyes turned to the company and to prove that the recent changes are truly a new, customer-centered Quark in the genesis.

It stands to reason, however, that given Quark’s history, they have a lot of proving to do, and any major change between now and XPress 7’s release–such as a new logo and major rebranding–will be looked upon with a collective raised eyebrow by many, and suspicion from some. Quark needs to get this right.

I recognize your face, but I can’t place your name

Re-logoing can be a tricky proposition. Going with a simple, abstract shape filled with a yellow-green known as Pantone 386 (since dubbed “Quark Green” by Quark and Pantone) must have seemed a logical choice, and came off as modern and current compared to Quark’s former graphic look, which now seems rather ancient by comparison.

Quark Logo VS SAC logoSide-by-side: the New Look of Quark and the Current Look of the Scottish Arts Council

The problem with going with the simple and abstract is that similarities already abounded. The new-look logo wasn’t out of the box 48 hours before similarities were being found.

The first ones that seemed to get wide currency were for Akademiks jeanswear and the stock photo vendor PhotoObjects.com. Then, on Saturday 11 Sept, Jeff Fisher of Jeff Fisher LogoMotives alerted the Yahoo! Graphic Designer’s Resource List to the logo of the Scottish Arts Association.

The buzz was on.

That sound you just heard…

Jeff Fisher had a cogent comment to make on the Yahoo! list:

What I think is amazing in this situation is that the design firm for Quark apparently did not do a thorough image search to avoid similarities with Scottish Arts and other examples posted on different design forums – and that they didn’t come up with a more original design solution for Quark’s identity needs.

With this illumination on the subject raising questions on its own, discussion ran somewhat hotter in other fora. In a thread on the community blog site Metafilter, poster “verb” opined:

Oracle and Quark should be locked in a room together and forced to fight.

Awesome! A completely new logo to associate with aggressively customer-hostile business practices. Oracle and Quark should be locked in a room together and forced to fight.

Metafilter commenter “sonofsamiam” had this to say about it:

Seems like a pretty obvious logo design. Two concentric circles inscribed in a square that has only one corner visible.

Wheras “Floach” said, in part:

Locked in a room and forced to fight? No, Quark should be executed in a ditch, Chinese dissident-style. For the past five years, I’ve supported Quark – and nothing, in my entire experience, comes within light-years of the utter lack of quality control and customer support that Quark seems to delight in. These bastards and their wretched product can’t die soon enough to suit me.

The Metafilter discussion is unreserved in commenting-it’s clear people are speaking from their gut there. One can get a very good idea of the bad will generated by Quark in years past and the amount of work Quark still has to do to move up in a good number of professionals’ views. You can read the entire comment thread here. Be warned, though, the discussion is unreserved and frank in every way, and not for viewing for children or those who faint easily or who are offended by Star Trek-based humor.

I, for one, welcome our new Adobe overlords

Discussion also occurred in more restrained fora, such as Veer’s The Skinny, where poster Daniel Schutzsmith said:

Those two logos are strikingly similar! This is very weird because I would not expect something like this from a company that prides itself on being the designer’s best friend

Poster “Grant” pointed out another similarity:

Did you know that the lowercase ‘a’ in Peter Bruhn’s Girl typeface is nearly the same as the Quark logo as well? Isn’t that handy?

And poster “Zeek” delivered his surrender by saying, in part:

I, for one, welcome our new Adobe overlords

View the entire thread at The Skinny by surfing this link.

A commenter on the post “Q” and “A”: Which One Of These Things Is Not Like The Other at QuarkVSInDesign identifying himself as “Jeff” said, succinctly and bluntly:


I keep going to these shows hoping to be reassured

Further down the comment chain, commenter “Kep” had a long comment that contained what seems to be typical of the despair of the longsuffering true-believer. Attending PrintExpo in Chicago, he encountered Quark promoting the new look. He comments:

As a loyal Quark user since 1992, I keep going to these shows hoping to be reassured. This was the third show in a row when I was not only NOT reassured, but was convinced even more that there was no point in building new projects in Quark

The impression left by the Quark team seemed to be frantic and stood out as pale in comparison to the competition:

This logo silliness is just the latest cosmetic change to mask the same old problems. Quark’s booth had reps grabbing people from the aisles and handing out buttons, pens, and shirts, while Adobe’s booth simply had informed people doing demos. It was kind of pathetic – seems to me everyone knows who’s in control.

The entire thread can be read by surfing over to QuarkVSInDesign.com here.

The Media Take Notice

Congruent with the spread in opinion is the spread in coverage. Organzations of many sizes, from MacMerc.com to AdLand to the online British IT journal, The Register.

At the end of the day, the logo is a ‘q’

In this article, The Reg commented in its typical irreverent style, terming Quark’s description of its new branding “the typical press release guff” with a touch of the “whalebone and joss-stick” about it (song and dance, in other words). In the end, however, even the wags at The Reg couldn’t apparently thought they couldn’t come up with anything they thought could compete with the sheer verbiage of the press release itself–so they simply reprinted it in full.

While it can’t be said that the story has exactly taken the major media, appearing in The Register could very well be the start of more media attention.

Quark and the SAC have their say

At this point, Quark has been largely silent on the issue. The Register quotes an unidentified Quark spokesman as saying:

At the end of the day, the logo is a ‘q’ – and there’s a limited number of possible logo designs you can achieve with a single character.” He added that the company carried out “extensive checks to discover any similar existing logos [but] we evidently didn’t find them all”

An unidentified spokesman for the Scottish Arts Council seemed to take exception to this, noting (as quoted by Macworld) that “our logo was intensively researched, and then trademarked and launched in 2002.”

The End Is Not Necessarily In Sight

As time moves forward and Quark addresses this issue there could be a number of ways this event ends out. Commentary and buzz will continue to happen in any case. Whether the similarities cause Quark’s new rebranding to backfire remains to be seen and might not hurt Quark much at all; one must remember the embarrassment caused when the NBC television network adopted a new brand in the late 1970s only to find that Nebraska Public Broadcasting had an all but identical logo.

But then, NBC didn’t create the software that powered the publishing industry through the 1990s. Meantime, more too-similar logos have surfaced: The Designers Network and Artworkers.

The creative community’s buzz is sure to continue.

(Note: The use of the title “Extreme Makeover: Quark Edition” is meant as satire, and should in no way be construed to be an endorsement of, by or for the ABC Television Network’s “Extreme Makeover” series. Samuel John Klein is not only a member of Team:Designorati but is also contributing editor at QuarkVsInDesign.com).