I have an opinion article in today’s Nature that I’m quite pleased with. It’s called “The art of conservation”, which could make it the first time that a title I proposed at pitch has not mutated en route to publication.

I have been thinking about conservation imagery for many years, making a brief survey of it in my first book Lonesome George and again in The Way of the Panda. With the Worldwide Fund for Nature’s panda logo 50 years old in July (almost certainly 16 July if you want to be precise), it seemed a good moment to reflect on the way that this and other conservation logos have evolved through time. It is a journey that I argue tells us quite a lot about changes in conservation practice. You can read the full article online to get the detailed argument, but here’s a précis.

Conservation brands have gone from being homespun, anatomically accurate, single-species creations to being stylized, abstract, frequently global images. This is a direct reflection of the conservation movement’s journey from a single- to a multi-species focus, with organizations increasingly operating at the level of habitats, ecosystems and the globe. It also embraces the increasing reliance on design and advertising agencies.

Conservation International’s new logo is perhaps the best illustration of this evolutionary process. It was launched in September 2010; you can read the press release – New Logo for a New Mission – here. It was created by Sagi Haviv, partner at the New York graphic design agency Chermayeff & Geismar; it is stylised; it incorporates a globe; and it has an abstract human figure thrown in for good measure. Mr Haviv kindly took the time to answer a series of (probably quite annoying) questions and I have posted the full transcript of the interview here.

I had great fun with this article and inspired by Ed Yong’s brilliant stem cell timeline (which on www.dipity.com has clocked up more than 300,000 views in a couple of months), I have produced one to accompany my Nature opinion piece (see above). I don’t imagine for a moment it’ll get anywhere near 1000th this attention but I enjoyed playing with this great site. I have only covered a minute selection of all possible conservation artwork and freely admit to a British- and US-centric bias, so if you work for (or are a member of) a conservation organization that I did not cover please feel free to add to the timeline; I think I have set it so anyone can add a new “event”. [NOTE ADDED 1/5/2017 Dipity now appears to be defunct]

Naturally (as it would support my overall thesis) I’d be very interested to have further examples of amateurish, biologically faithful logos from the 1950s and ’60s, the involvement of professional designers from the ’70s and ’80s, the appearance of human elements from the mid-1980s onwards and the incorporation of global motifs from 2000ish. In particular, it’s really interesting to see how logos changed over time within one organization.

In addition, exceptions – and there are plenty of them I’m sure – can also be instructive. WWF’s panda is one of them. Though it has undergone three stylistic mutations since Sir Peter Scott’s 1961 original, it remains rather old-school in its single-species design, with no explicit attempt to bring humans into the picture or to acknowledge the global extent of the conservation problem. But, I argue, it didn’t need to. The Chinese Cultural Revolution, which prevented WWF from becoming involved with pandas until 1980, meant the charity – and its image – never fell into the trap of being type-cast in a species-specific role but was able to become established as a truly global symbol big enough to embrace the entire conservation movement at every step of its evolution.

How have conservation brands evolved?
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