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The branding of Madison is a job with little to no wiggle room: There’s the Capitol building, then there’s nothing else.

So the city’s proposed “new” official logo is an emphatic derivation of an old one.

Though it dates to the original Madison seal, the proposed logo was designed in 2005 as a concrete medallion for a bridge that wasn’t built, was rescued for use on the city’s sewer access covers in 2007 and has since become a bold adoptive graphic darling on city building projects.

A proposal to abandon the current logo — a bit of whimsy that dates to 1999 as the winner of a contest to start the city’s millennium with a new brand — was presented to the City Council last week.

The proposed logo is a circle within a circle border of a starkly illustrated Capitol, with the night and stars on one side and the sun on the other. Within the border is simply “City of Madison” and “Wisconsin.”

Stylized, it’s new. Surrounded by reality, however, the logo is as old as the city, said Mayor Paul Soglin. He and others have been lobbying for the last couple of years for a “more dignified and stuffy original emblem.” It resembles the official city seal, he said.

“Some have criticized it, feeling the Capitol represents the state and not the city,” he said, “but any time you see a visual of the city, it zooms in on the Capitol. That’s what the focus is.”

The current logo was the product of a committee set up in 1999 by community sponsors, including the Wisconsin State Journal and The Capital Times. It ran a “Celebrate 2000” contest for a logo design that would help usher in the millennium.

“Outdated” was the kindest description city officials provided of the once-hailed logo.

“The scribbled lines and haphazard curvatures imply that this city is unprofessional and sloppy,” according to a somewhat churlish city report on the design change. The current logo is difficult to make out from afar and is hard to identify, and the shape is uneven and unbalanced, not to mention the colors “clash with the city materials on which it is placed.” The content is all wrong, the report said, and its branding “is behind the times.”

A final damnation: “As an iconic representation of the city, it does not do justice to the dynamism, liveliness and drive of Madison.”

The new logo was actually designed in 2005 by Zebra Dog of Madison for less than $10,000 for the city’s Engineering Division. Sarah Edgerton, the city’s webmaster, championed its suitability for citywide acceptance and for timing, as the city’s website is being redesigned. The logo apparently meets high standards, as it is described with 16 adjectives, including “powerful, iconic, versatile, modern, and “‘new dawn.’”

It also inaccurately depicts where the sun doesn’t shine, according to logo expert and graphic artist Jeanne Gomoll of Union Street Design, who pointed out — when asked for a review of the new logo — that the shadow on the Capitol is depicted on the same side on which the sun shines, a meteorological impossibility.

She liked the design.

“It’s a very retro look, which is really ‘in’ in graphic design right now,” she said.

“I can’t help but see that the sunlight comes from the right, which is also where the shadows are,” she added.

That is not a bad idea, she said, because it draws attention to the contrasts and “gives a very surreal look because of where shadows are. I like the sunlight and stars. It’s kind of cool and has a clean style, both in color and in black and white.”

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