The White House doesn't publicize changes to its brand identity. But something fishy has been going on with its logo over the past decade, according to a design agency that worked on refresh ideas for the famous mark several years ago.
The story starts in 2009, when New York-based digital design agency Hello Monday was invited to submit ideas for a redesign of the White House logo. Naturally, the agency, which had only recently opened its doors, was thrilled. It quickly dove into the history of the logo—and of the iconic north face of the White House more broadly, which the logo depicts.
You probably recognize the north face mostly from the back of the $20 bill (which used to show the south face, until the bill was redesigned in 1998):
Ronald Reagan was the first president to use the north face as an emblem; a famous version of it remains a fixture on the rear wall of the White House press room, as you can see in this photo (credit: C.W Fitzpatrick, U.S. Department of Defense).
The north face has also become the White House's de facto illustrated logo, both on the whitehouse.gov website and on printed reports it issues.
But when Hello Monday got to work on the brand, and looked at the logo as it appeared in 2009, it noticed something funny: One of the arches on the physical building had mysteriously become a pyramid in the logo, as you can see below.
—2009 White House logo (click to enlarge):
"We were surprised to discover something had gone wrong—or maybe it was a secret Freemasons cypher—call Nicolas Cage!" the agency writes in a lengthy, amusing blog post. "We'll do our best not to go all 'illuminati' on you, but the real architectural element is an arch—now look at the logo again… Yes, it's a pyramid."
The error seems to date back to at least 2003. However, there is another version of the logo where the arch is correct—but which has other inconsistencies in the alignment and number of back columns, according to Hello Monday.
How did the pyramid mistake happen? Since the White House doesn't publish anything about its logo, it's hard to know. "Everything is happening under the radar," agency president Andreas Anderskou tells AdFreak.
Here's where it gets even stranger, though.
During its 2009 presentation, Hello Monday presented two versions of a logo refresh. You can check them out below. In the first, the pyramid has been corrected to an arch. The other version is simpler, to read better at small sizes, and doesn't include arches or pyramids.
—Hello Monday 2009 proposed logo, detailed version (click to enlarge):
—Hello Monday 2009 proposed logo, simpler version (click to enlarge):
"We decided to clean it up and create two versions: a more streamlined version that kept the important details minus the triangle over the window, and a simplified version for digital use. We also optimized the kerning and tracking of the logotype," the agency says.
In the end, the White House decided not to move forward with the project, and so the proposed logos went unused. "Obviously we were very bummed. And also a bit surprised to see that they kept the erroneous logo up for the next seven years," the agency says.
But then this happened.
Sometime in the past year or two (it's hard to know exactly when), a new version of the logo was quietly put into circulation. Check it out below, and see it on the website here.
—2016 White House logo (click to enlarge):
The pyramid has been fixed and is back to an arch! But—oh no!—this new version has introduced a major new error of its own. The alternating arches and pyramids over the windows on the right side are now wrong. It should be pyramid-arch-pyramid-arch, a mirror image of the left side, as it is on the building itself (and as it was, correctly, on the 2009 logo). But now it's arch-pyramid-arch-pyramid. D'oh.
Fixing this would be easy, as Hello Monday shows you in this Photoshop GIF. (UPDATE: A reader points out that this Photoshop fix—flipping that section horizontally—actually doesn't solve the problem, as it makes the shadowing incorrect.)
Here's where Hello Monday's juicy conspiracy theory comes in. If you scroll back up and look at Hello Monday's proposed logos from 2009, they were the images that introduced the arch-pyramid-arch-pyramid mistake in the first place.
So, it begs a few questions: Did the White House use Hello Monday's treatments in early drafts of this new logo, thus creating the error from work it had rejected years before? Why are there different versions of the logo floating around? And why does the logo of the most powerful government office in the world have glaring mistakes in its brand identity at all?
AdFreak reached out to the White House several weeks ago seeking comment; so far there has been none. (Yes, they have some more important stuff going on.) But Anderskou finds the whole thing intriguing.
"Long story short," he says, "it's fascinating that 1) an institution like the White House has a visual identity that's full of errors; 2) no one knows about the identity; and 3) the error we did might be part of the current logo."
Of course, on that latter point, we had to ask Anderskou: Did Hello Monday put those errors into its proposed designs on purpose, as a way to "watermark," and thus protect, its pitch work?
"No, we didn't make them on purpose," Anderskou insists. "It was just a fast turnaround, and we were a younger company back then with less quality control."
As AdFreak waits for a response from the White House, so does Anderskou. He recently wrote a letter to President Obama about the logo (see below), offering to fix it. "It's a bit of mystery, but an exciting one!" Anderskou wrote. (We'll see if the president agrees.)
And if Obama doesn't respond, Hello Monday has a message for the next commander-in-chief: "Mr. or Mrs. Future President: If you want to make a change, the logo for your new house would be a great place to start."