TPL’s new logo: is it really controversial?

TPL’s new logo: is it really controversial?

The Toronto Public Library (TPL) has a new logo and some folks are a bit peeved.

Let’s start with the fun stuff – TPL’s logo.

Image of Toronto Public Library's new logo - lower case TPL seperated by a colon and the words toronto public library

Activate Something Great – TPL’s new logo and slogan

If you pay attention to Toronto’s Twitterati, the new logo is a bit controversial. Or so goes the claim. The bulk of the controversy  seemed to stem from a single BlogTo article1. There really isn’t anything controversial about the logo. To some it’s a bit bland or they preferred the more artistic eye appeal of the previous one. That’s fair criticism but hardly controversial.

Ok, the slogan is trite, like something that came from caffeine deprived people trapped in an endless meeting, desperate to escape. But I understand the point. The TPL (Toronto Public Library) is trying to move the library into a 21st century feel, beyond the idea it’s just books. The TPL is a community hub and here are a  few fast facts2:

• 972,213 million library members and 17.5 million visits
• 100 branches across the GTA
One of the world’s busiest libraries
• Over 7 million digital loans to date and climbing rapidly
• When I looked up the stats yesterday, there were over 6,300 active digital loans and 2 million active holds
• Extensive computer training/usage available
• digital hubs allowing for 3d printing
• recording studios
• new comer services
• archives both digital and inhouse
You can find out more here

So, yes, it was time to update the slogan and logo to meet a more millennial feel.  Here’s the old one:

Logo for the Toronto Public Library

TPL – Toronto Public Library 1998 design

There’s nothing wrong it, but the new logo has a modern clean, simple font, easy to read, no frills appeal. It also looks good in all sizes because of the uncluttered design. I’m a big fan of uncluttered. The new tpl design looks good on a small smart phone screen and blown up for building signage.

Here’s the logo from 1978 for comparison. It’s interesting to see how the art of logo design changes over the years. This would make a good case study of how logo preferences morph.  Tastes change over time, including typography and logo styling. And colour. Thankfully. That brown was a dreadful choice. Just saying.

Toronto Library Logo from the 70s in shades of brown and stylized TPL

Logo from the 70s

TPL is 209 years old. Beginning in 1810 as a private subscription library, becoming a free public library in 1883, it’s had several makeovers.1

According to the design team, Trajectory, they wanted a “new identity” that “recognizes our roots while looking to the future”. No issues with that logic. However, the rest of what they wrote is a finely tuned bit of bafflegab:

It’s grounded in the written word
It’s a promise, a connector, an advocate
It connects the breadth of TPL’s offerings with ever-changing needs of our city’s people and communities
It’s flexible and adaptable to showcase the incredible range of programs, services, ideas and information we have today… and what’s to come.3

It’s a nice logo. Let’s leave it at that.

I do agree with their assessment of the new font:

The typography is accessible and welcoming, and our colours have been refreshed with a welcoming and cheerful new spin on “Toronto blue,” along with a complementary palette of supporting colours that reflect the energy and vibrancy of our city, our people, and our library.3

Now the bad. Or maybe just plain bizarre – a little abuse

Trajectory, the company behind the redesign, issued a video and press release detailing the logic behind the new design. Here’s a bit from it:

 Our multi-pronged, immersive, and experiential design process was structured to be future-focused and anticipate emerging customer service opportunities.3

Fucking hell, it’s like an episode of Dilbert. Why didn’t they simply say “we field tested the design extensively and are excited about the response”. Or better still “we think we have a kick ass design Library users are going to love”.

The logo is a good fit. Not in the least controversial. Tastes will vary but that’s one of the great problems with any design – you can’t please everyone.  The slogan is a bit of a miss, and a tad trite, but I can ignore it.   So, what do you think of the redesign?

Want more information?

1 – Read the BlogTO article here Toronto Public Library’s new logo proves controversial
2 – Some facts about the TPL
3 – A little TPL history
4 –  Trajectory Co

Looks like nipple to me

Looks like nipple to me

I sat for at least 5 min, chin on hand, pondering an ad that popped up on my Facebook page. I cocked my head a few times and thought “dear, oh dear, oh dear, where was their proof reader?”

  Screen capture of Ripple "milk" font that makes the world look like Nipple

I’m having a mini debate with myself whether the choice of font was deliberate or just unfortunate and someone didn’t spot the obvious. I had to read the product writeup to find out the name is Ripple not Nipple.  My brain simply couldn’t process the first letter as “r”.  And, to be brutally honest the font makes the product a little off putting. Not quite sure I want a bottle of nipples sitting in my fridge.

Chipmunk Lear – the unutterable cuteness of it all

Chipmunk Lear – the unutterable cuteness of it all

Toronto based theatre company, Canadian Stage is in the middle of their summer season. Poster for Canadian Stage Company's Shakespeare in the park showing a chipmunk wearing a crown

I stopped so hard to look at the season poster at my local coffee shop, I nearly fell over. Above is their earlier volunteer poster, I couldn’t find a straight up season poster anywhere to download. I tried to snag a photo of the original, but it was too high and the photo looks like crap. So,  we’ll look at their similar offering. It has the same font and images,   and conveys the same message.  I adore it for many reasons! The rich colour balance, clear fonts that promote readability and the undeniably adorable chipmunk in a crown pretty much scoops any audience in. Unless you are a chipmunk hater, there’s no way you can pass this poster by and not feel the itch to check out what it’s selling.

The photoshop job on the crown is excellent. The shadows, placement and integration is well done. Kudos to the graphic artist.  Getting back to the font, (another huzzah for the graphic artist), it was a good choice. There is a lot of written content on the poster, but the choice of the clean sans serif and spacing promotes incredible readability. It’s an example of how you can include lots of vital information without feeling cramped. The poster that caught my eye, was about 5″5″ up (way above my eye level) and over a counter. Despite that, it was easy to read.

As far as a selling point, well, it wins on many levels. First and foremost, it makes Shakespeare feel approachable, which is no easy job. It also conveys two ideas – theatre and nature. For those not familar with High Park, it is a 400 acre swath of green in the heart of Toronto and a perfect place for theatre in the park. Anyone in Toronto will instantly catch the reference. Nicely done. Finally, the obvious – cute sells, no doubt about that.

An all around fun, attractive poster.

You can read more on Canadian Stage here

Check out  High Park here

I guess it’s too much to hope for chipmunks in the staring roles.


Behold, the terrifying creature Castor canadensis: A very brief look at the Canadian beaver in design.

Behold, the terrifying creature Castor canadensis: A very brief look at the Canadian beaver in design.

While flipping through a catalogue for a show at the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library  (UofT) and I spotted what has to be the single most amusing depiction of a beaver ever created: Lahontan, Louis Armand de Lom d'Arce, baron de. New voyages to North-America: containing an account of the several nations [...]. Vol. 1. London: H. Bomwicke et al., 1703. FC71 L313 1703. P. 106. Copper engraving

Fearsome, isn’t it?  Baron Louis Armand e Lom d’Arce Lahontan’s beaver looks like it crawled out of a myth – head of a man, body of a dog, legs of a rodent and a pinecone tail. Mean looking too. His works were printed in the early 1700s under the title New voyages to North-America. The second engraving from the Lahontan book doesn’t fair much better. The poor beaver/monster hybrid simply looks exhausted in this engraving:

Lahontan, Louis Armand de Lom d'Arce, baron de. Nouveaux voyages de Monsieur le baron de Lahontan dans l'Amérique septentrionale [...]. Vol. 1. La Haye: Isaac Delorme, 1707. FC71 L3 1707. P. 190.
Impressive snarl on that beast, not to mention the awe-inspiring eyebrows. I can’t decide whether the beaver/monster is wearing earrings or if the artist couldn’t decide what type of ears such a creature would have. The lack of webbing on the hind feet convinces me a friend was correct, the artist never saw a real beaver. Or, he was playing to a naïve European audience who would lap up the dangers of hunting the exotic and dangerous animals of North America.

However, those engravings have nothing on an 1685 illustration that reminds me of a game we used to play where you had to draw what someone was describing: 1865 engraving of a beaver from Castorologia or the History and Traditions of the Canadian Beaver by Horace T. Martin (1892)

The eyes are a bit haunting and suggests something out of a bestiary of magical creatures.

One of my favourite designs comes courtesy of Sir Sanford Fleming. Canada’s Post Master General asked Sir Sanford to design Canada’s first stamp, and instead of the default Queen Victoria portrait, he created what is arguably one of Canada’s iconic stamps:

Scan of Canadian 3 pence beaver stamp designed by Sir Sanford Fleming

Compared to the mighty beaver in the Lahontan engravings, Fleming’s 1851 depiction is down right benign, but it does look like a beaver. The optics of the little water fall at the beaver’s feet make the creature look the size of a bear when you look at the tiny stamp. Regardless, this is my favourite stamp. I own 7 copies of the later issues and look at them often.  It’s easily the most identifiable stamp in the Canadian catalogue. (read more about the stamp design  –

And speaking of mythology, a wonderfully quirky book, called Castorologia or the History and Traditions of the Canadian Beaver by Horace T. Martin (1892) offers a glimpse into many early engravings and the use of beavers in Canadian imagery, including this flight of fantasy:

Plate from Castorologia or the History and Traditions of the Canadian Beaver by Horace T. Martin (1892) pg 11
Believe it or not, that beast, bottom right, is a beaver – Canada, home of unicorns and snarling, vicious, pinecone tailed beaver.

Living in Canada, it’s all but impossible to avoid seeing images of beavers. It’s deeply ingrained in our historical psyche and found scattered everywhere in Canadian art, architecture, tea cups, stamps, plates, signage and pretty much anything you can imagine:
Photo from Nathan Phillips Square showing beaver silhouettes
For the record, I have no idea why there were beaver silhouettes posted down at Nathan Phillips Square (downtown Toronto).  But this dashing fellow, found on the Centre Block Parliament Hill makes far more sense. Think of him as a Canadian gargoyle.

Beaver sculpture Centre Block Parliament Hill

Hands down, the single best use of a beaver is in this early proposal for a Dominion of Canada seal sometime in the 1880s:

Proposed shield from Castorologia or the History and Traditions of the Canadian Beaver by Horace T. Martin (1892) pg 201

I adore this engraving. So much so, I’m thinking of putting it on a t-shirt. You can find it in the Castorologia book, pg 201. The “rampant” beavers look like they are picking a fight with their “you looking at me” scowl. How awe inspiring is that image! Beavers with attitude.

And speaking of rampant beavers, here’s another example of beavers in Canadian iconography – the Coat of Arms for the city of Toronto: Toronto city Coat of Arms

This little offering is relatively new,  created in 1998 when Toronto amalgamated. When I first saw it, I thought it was an early incarnation of Toronto’s CofA.  I’ve never seen it anywhere, except on a few random web pages. I remember the old Coat of Arms rather well, but didn’t realise it had been changed until recently. The beaver is larger and far more intimidating than the poor bear on the right. I think in a cage fight, the beaver would win. The over all image is a bit lacklustre and static, lacking the flair and attitude of the beavers in the previous shield.

Not sure if I can take a “rampant beaver” seriously ever again after seeing this make the rounds on social media:
Amusing Canadian emblem with a screaming beaver riding a Canada goose
The artist, Jessica Bortuski captured modern Canada’s wry humour about it’s international image perfectly. Far less serious and earnest than the fierce beavers of earlier days. (Find more of her work here

I’ll close out with one last (and less tongue in cheek) look at beavers as Canadian icons:

Image of reverse side of Canadian nickel
George Kruger Gray (25 December 1880 – 2 May 1943) 1937 engraving of a beaver on a rock.  Nudge a  Canadian and chances are you’ll find a few jingling around in their pockets.


You can download a pdf of Castorologia or the History and Traditions of the Canadian Beaver by Horace T. Martin at