Ah, think tanks. Refuges for failed politicians, failed politicians’ advisers, and sockpuppets for partisan interest groups. Sometimes a few of them produce interesting research, too.
If you’re not familiar (although if I know my audience, you oh so definitely are) a think tank is a fairly catch-all term for an organisation that produces research on policy solutions, usually falling into one of two categories — a focus on a specific area of policy, usually with some kind of lobbying angle, or a talking shop for debating ideas, usually with some kind of partisan lean.
If you’re the sort of person who’s actually interested in how the country is governed (rather than following my monkey brain in only being able to process the vibrant pageantry of electoral combat) they’re probably where you’ll end up working and gradually coming to despair at how little attention actually gets paid to what you produce.
Thanks to Jack Tindale for sending in this idea and giving me an excuse to start digging into this interesting collection of branding!
As usual, each logo was entered into a 1v1 matchup with every other logo, in a very long round robin that eventually compared every possible combination. The results were then sorted by the number of wins, producing an ordered ranking. I then switched a few around based on my personal whims, because this isn’t a democracy.
Grounds for inclusion were that it had to appear on Wikipedia’s list of British think tanks; still be operating; and have a distinct logo. If you’re a think tank that didn’t make the list, well, properly categorise your Wikipedia page and come back! Or tweet me.
For the first time in one of these, I should offer some disclosure! I’ve worked in and around British politics for a few years and that’s meant I’ve worked with some of the organisations on this list. Specifically, I’ve worked as a freelancer for Progressive Britain, Unlock Democracy, the Fabian Society and the Young Fabians. I’ve also done work via third parties for Compass and the Electoral Reform Society, and when it was still funding CityMetric, the Centre for Cities indirectly paid me for a couple of articles. I would hope it goes without saying that I’m not enough of an egomaniac to have deliberately ranked them higher as a result, but since I’m sure people would have treated it as a gotcha regardless, I’m heading them off at the pass. On with the show.
143. Cornerstone Group
Described by its Wikipedia page as a “High Tory political organisation within the British Conservative Party”, the Cornerstone Group is primarily a faction for the more reprehensible and clownish elements of the Tories’ right wing, including such intellectual powerhouses as Jacob Rees-Mogg and John Redwood. As such I take absolutely no shame in ripping into this visually incomprehensible rectangle of heavily artefacted vomit. The only reticence I have in putting them dead last is the thought that it might encourage them to improve.
142. The Cobden Centre
A sort of libertarian organisation founded by Steve Baker, the MP for Wycombe. I’m sure there were admirable qualities in Richard Cobden, the anti-Corn Law campaigner whose visage makes up the core of this logo — but whatever they were, shoving a dead, grey, largely unknown man with a rapidly receding hairline front and centre in your branding is not going to give you gravitas. The splash of green so dark you have to zoom in to see it is not helping matters, to put it mildly.
141. Commonwealth Freedom of Movement Organisation
A central problem of logo design recurs here — a lack of confidence in direction leading to incoherence, overdesign and concept collapse. In this case, that could have been avoided by placing the Southern Cross as a starfield within negative space described by the Maple Leaf. That would have been a start, but would still have left us with the Star Trek grade font choice that sits as well next to the subtitle font as a lit cigarette sits next to an arm.
Sort of centre-right localism foundation which reads to me like a euphemism for NIMBY factory. Uses a visual identity that makes me think they run a leisure centre in the East Midlands in about 2003, and the colour palette of a Bruiser bar.
139. Halsbury’s Law Exchange
This one’s not technically incompetent (aside from the weird shadow box which I couldn’t find an example of the logo without, so must assume it’s deliberate), it’s just the sort of thing they use for extreme cases of insomnia. It sounds like a market stall that sells old documents on vellum.
138. Cordoba Foundation
No relationship between text and mark, and a colour scheme so downbeat I think I’m going to go listen to some Nick Cave songs to cheer up.
Officially an anti-extremism group which is ironic considering their founder’s recent history. Visually though, there’s not a lot to commend here. The twiddlier the serifs, the fancier your mark needs to be to justify it, and the grass stain they’ve used here doesn’t measure up.
136. Scottish Global Forum
If I have any real loathing in my warm and expansive heart, it’s for pre-rendered 3D logos. They’re an absolute nightmare to lay out in most design situations, and they’re very rarely suitable for vector use, so you end up limited on scale, too. The Saltire swooshes appear to converge somewhere around Yekaterinburg, which is probably not a great implication.
135. Centre for Policy Studies
In a way, this has an honestly to it, because the utterly bland and nondescript look is a good cipher for how the Conservative Party likes to pitch its radically ideological policies as dull common sense. On a purely visual level, it’s crap and boring. The text’s too small, and although I guess it’s kind of mesmerising when used as an event backdrop, there’s not a lot else to get excited about.
134. Global Warming Policy Foundation
Strange that you’d need a whole foundation for a single idea about global warming policy — specifically to do nothing about it. Yes, this is one of those fun dishonest think tanks which show up a lot in this list, run out of Tufton Street and with a gigantic question mark where its funding transparency should be. The blue to red gradient isn’t an inherently awful bit of visual design on its own, but since they’re using it to evade charity laws on lobbying and to perpetuate the continued destruction of the planet’s ecosystem, fuck them.
I was quite shocked to learn they’re a finance and tech think tank, since those guys usually have good logos, or the cash to buy designers to make them. You can tell they don’t have a lot of faith in this one because they’ve had to type it again more legibly underneath.
Absent that context, it’s hard to tell what it’s actually meant to say because the merged Z and Y share too many integral lines for the differences to stand out. You could also mistake it for saying 2en group, which would be just as meaningless.
132. Centre for Defence and International Security Studies
Okay, I’m bending the rules a bit to get this one in because it no longer exists, but I had to show you this. Look at it, because it’s sure as hell looking at you. It would be hard to come up with a better visual for “we are an evil shadowy foundation” short of writing that out in rainbow Comic Sans.
131. Centre for Social Justice
The foundation set up by Iain Duncan Smith after, during his ill-fated stint as Leader of the Opposition, he had an attack of conscience while touring the poor Easterhouse estate in Glasgow, and then proceeded to come back eight years later and make the benefits system brutally punitive anyway. The design crimes on show here are more on the “boring” than the “repellent” side, but since those cons come with very few pros, down here it sits.
130. Global Ideas Bank
The sort of logo an Apprentice loser comes up with in about six hours. Nothing bespeaks the idea of deep intellectual thought better than calling something a bank, by the way. What we want is for our ideas to be stored away in a vault where nobody can access them.
129. Centre for Strategic Research and Analysis (CESRAN)
A classic of cramming in too much out of insecurity — including using the acronym twice within the same visual space. There’s maybe a nugget of inspiration in the lower case title and all-caps subheading, but overall you should CESRUN away from this one.
128. Centre for the Analysis of Social Exclusion
You can sort of tell they worked out they wanted to be called Case and then worked backwards to justify it, in what we in the biz call a backronym, most commonly found in cringeworthy American names for legislation like the PATRIOT act. Anyway, as well as documenting Pac-Man’s shameful desire for a slice of hot pizza, this is boring and awkwardly laid out, and loses additional points for being from the LSE, which per my university rankings clearly has very good designers on hand.
127. Selsdon Group
I’m delighted (furious) to be among the elect geniuses (weird nerds) who know the story about the name of this Tory Right think tank headed by John Redwood. It comes from the name of a hotel where then-leader Ted Heath drafted a new set of fairly right-wing for the time policies, which led to him being labelled “Selsdon Man” by Harold Wilson. There, now you have to use part of your brain for that instead of more useful things, too.
You’ll notice I’m not saying anything about the logo, which is because it’s so bland and generic that to do so would cause my computer to melt itself in protest.
126. Africa Research Institute
Another one failed by the pre-rendered 3D issue. Cut out the backdrop gradient and whack the Africa cut out in a black circle and you’d have something 40 places higher, but alas, that’s a timeline we do not inhabit.
125. MigrationWatch UK
There’s a lot to annoy about the MigrationWatch UK brand. Let’s start from the top:
- Their neutral sounding name which gets them used as an authority when they are a very ideological anti-immigration group, run out of the same building as all the opaque astroturfed satellites of the Conservative Party.
- The deliberately very amateurish branding which serves to make them look down-homey and grassroots when they’re swimming in cash.
- The terrible slogan. 30 million is meant to be the number who oppose immigration, I suppose? But that’s not that impressive any more. That’s less than half the UK population. It’s also not intuitive at all, as evidenced by the fact I’m discussing it and still can’t be arsed to Google why.
- The crap cut outs of Britain and Ireland. That’s not where the Isle of Man is. Also, they put Man on the map, but the Isle of Wight isn’t there, and nor are Orkney and Shetland — actual integral parts of the UK. Speaking of integral parts of the UK, not only is Ireland really wonky, but it’s not, last I checked, part of the UK’s immigration arrangements. Which implies they 1) want to reconquer it (unlikely), 2) want to reintroduce border controls between Ireland and Northern Ireland (probably getting warmer) or 3) don’t actually care (on the money!)
- Ooh, we’ve used a magnifying glass to imply scrutiny! We have all the nuance and visual wit of a school play set designer.
A campaign group around religion in public life (with generally liberal sorts of stances) it was curiously founded and run by Jonathan Bartley before he quit to become co-leader of the Green Party of England and Wales. Well, for a given value of curious.
Logo wise, I guess it’s meant to evoke thought bubbles, but it sort of peters out, and I kind of hate the font which doesn’t go with the round curves of the bubbles at all. With all the resources of religious imagery available, could have done a lot better.
Flashbacks to Moray Council — the concept of interlocking polygons isn’t a bad one, but if you are going to do it, for the love of god pick some colours that don’t look like they got left out in the mud.
122. Social Affairs Unit
Secret government department that tortures dissidents in offshore shipping containers, I’m imagining. Have to get a bit creative when there is so little content to work with here.
121. Legatum Institute
The logo equivalent of those very angry men who have a picture of an eighteenth century wit as their profile picture and think calling people a nonce on Twitter is the same as writing a seminal work of philosophy. Apt, considering that the think tank is basically tailor made as a vehicle for dressing regressive right-wing views in respectability. Their stated aim is to “advance the education of the public in national and international political, social and economic policy”, which as dystopian rhetoric goes is pretty high up there.
120. City Mayors Foundation
As friends and followers will know, I love a good city. They’re vibrant, living organisms with their own flows and rhythms and unique identities that make them exciting and constantly-changing places to live, work, travel and do business. Cities are great, and good mayors can be great too.
So why are they then being sold with this mushy grey logo that wouldn’t look out of place in a market town solicitors’ window? If the solicitors closed down a decade ago? And were blind?
119. The Henry Jackson Society
I’m writing this about 100 metres from a large bust of Henry “Scoop” Jackson, the Cold War era Democratic Senator from Washington whose name adorns this very dull logo. While the real Scoop Jackson was a lot more nuanced than his posthumous reputation suggests, the HJS have not got a lot to say about his big-state liberalism and support for welfare and trade unions — instead they have become mostly a talking shop for headbanging right wingers like Mike Pompeo to give their wrong opinions about how to defend liberal democracy.
The font is okay. Shame about the rest.
118. British Future
There’s a lot going on here, none of it very obvious. I think the tapered stroke in the bottom left might be implying turning a page — fine, reports are what think tanks to, and that’s a metaphor with future-y vibes. But we read left to right, so stick it on the right hand side if that’s what you want to imply!
The ellipsis is doing nothing for me either, and the highlighted “i” seems to be there mainly so they could use their secondary colour. Or it’s a very dated 1990s internet reference.
117. Scottish Constitutional Commission
This should be painted on the side of a 30 year old bus serving the inadequate transport authority of a mid-sized American city. “The Constitutional Commission, brought to you by Thistletwat County Regional Transit and driven by volunteers”.
116. New City Initiative
I refer the honourable gentleman (if you’re reading this you probably are, I have analytics) to my earlier remarks about how good cities are, and then add the positive and exciting connotations of the words “new” and “initative”, and then restate the question about why they are being sold via the medium of modernist gravestone.
115. The Constitution Unit
Reminds me of the logos on the spines of school library books when I was small, possibly because it’s very 1990s. The sliver of green in the bottom right intensely bothers me because it’s on all the variants of this I could find, implying it’s not just an error — or it was, but a screenshot of the error is the only version of the artwork they have. As a designer that idea stresses me intensely — always back up your working files, folks.
114. Institute of Advanced Study
Designers! Heed my call! You don’t need to put a 1px stroke between an initialism and a full name! It’s unnecessary to the visual hierarchy and it’s distracting!
113. Centre for Health and the Public Interest (CHPI)
See above comments, with a very slightly more interesting font.
112. National Institute of Economic and Social Research
Remember! Friends don’t let friends use maroon as their primary brand colour! Not that that’s the primary problem here — no, that’s that this graph doesn’t make any sense. I can’t tell where the X axis is meant to be.
111. Institute of Race Relations
I can’t tell if the intention here was to emphasise “Race” so much because it’s a way of cutting through discomfort about the subject, but if so, fair play, that’s quite a nice idea. Unfortunately the execution isn’t great — the lettering is cut off in the bottom right corner, and some of the line work is weird (look at the curve of the C).
110. Commonwealth Policy Studies Unit
Nice concept to simplify down what I think is meant to be a representation of the world down to such a degree, but the colour scheme is not doing it for me, nor is the layout (keeping the full name on one deck and placing it to avoid the descender on the P means that the whole logo is ridiculously wide and would be a burden to a designer trying to make it look balanced).
109. Smith Institute
Named after John Smith, former Labour leader whose untimely death in 1994 led to the rise of Tony Blair. Negative space use is nice, although the I is too thin so it’s not immediately obvious.
108. Bow Group
One wonders why the Tory Right needs so many organisations and groups that all public exactly the same thing. The bow iconography here is hardly very innovative, is it? And the dirty yellow and blue combo is giving me distinctly Bananaman vibes.
107. Official Monetary and Financial Institutions Forum
Full credit to OMFIF for having this list’s most fun name to say. Omfif. Omfif omfif omfif. Like I’m chewing on a big chunk of toffee.
Anyway, the roundness of the pillars is off grid for the sharp corners of the main title font, and the line width is different to the enclosing circle. Sort those out and this would be much better.
106. Public Policy Institute for Wales
What’s wrong babe, you’ve hardly touched your polygonal Wales? Font combo is not gelling with the sharp polygons very well, but the faux-3d effect isn’t totally offensive? Big textbook vibes.
105. Independent Transport Commission
Reminds me a bit of the Stagecoach logo in shape, which is not the sort of thing that screams independence. And unless you have a very very good reason, brown is best avoided as a key colour.
104. Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies
Name is too short IMO. Needs a “Foundation” or a “Research” crammed in there too. The crest is alright, actually, but I sort of hate the enclosing box, which I could only see being useful if you needed a pretext for a white background to use it against photography.
Ooh, look at us, we know some latin and have access to the Illustrator “pencil” texture. I’m pretty sure it’s the default one too — one of those logos where the name doesn’t suggest any imagery so they just come up with something abstract.
…Have they used apostrophe marks as bullets between those words?
Another Tory think tank. Feels like it should be emblazoned against a plain background on the side of a bus. Or change it to REPENT and it could serve the same purpose but for the sort of Christians who hang around the library where I work with signs saying “Ask me why you’re going to hell”.
101. Jubilee Centre
Another religion-in-public-life one, with some actual religion-adjacent imagery going on this time. Colour scheme is not great, it’s all a bit just-discovered-the-colour-wheel.
100. Science and Technology Policy Research (SPRU)
Not sure I can add much on this that I didn’t say for the University logo, since this is basically a sub-brand rather than existing in its own right. A good subject for entry to mid table, then.
99. Institute for Strategic Dialogue
I’m warning you about the random lines, once again, designers.
98. Scotland’s Futures Forum
Sort of cross-party public affairs think tank run by some MSPs. It’s not doing anything particularly exciting here although I do like the choice of purple.
97. Adam Smith Institute
Once again we have a dead block, although it’s a little bit better artworked than Cobden. Again with the ugly and unnecessary ruled line between text elements, though.
96. Oxford Research Group
Nice font weight variance, but otherwise very text-heavy. If you didn’t know what they did, the subtitle could look quite ominous.
95. The Wilberforce Society
I guess this one has some gravity, but it also feels like a bit of a missed opportunity given Wilberforce’s heritage. It’s student-run, which is the sort of thing that could only happen at Cambridge.
94. Von Hügel Institute
I’m always jealous of German graphic designers because the umlaut is a lovely thing that can serve so many creative uses. Sadly here it’s squashed down into a kind of manic smily face while the logo as a whole makes some annoying missteps, including inconsistent font use, two separate subtitles, and another superfluous line.
93. Bruges Group
Yet another gathering place for the Tory Right, named after a speech Margaret Thatcher gave in 1989 shortly before she got ditched by her own party (lol). Naturally this is the sort of thing Tory MPs were built to get worked up about. Another weird bit of vector outlining here, with some fabulously wrong chunks of Europe floating around (all hail angular Crimea). But the font is okay.
92. Royal Society of Arts
A good basis here, but the giant black block would be better replaced by a line of the same weight as the spine of the R — could even spin it out into an enclosing box?
91. Resolution Foundation
Back when this list was still a bad idea lurking in the back of my brain, someone made a joke to me about how exciting it would be to see the Resolution Foundation duking it out with the John Smith Institute, and, well, here we are, Torsten Bell wins by knockout. It’s inoffensive. The flag/arrow thing on the Resolution feels like an effort to have something visual going on but not having a clear bit of imagery to fall back to.
90. Royal Air Force Centre for Air and Space Power Studies
Between the Wikipedia list being compiled and this list being written, they’ve crammed the words “and space” into what is already a very busy logo. I guess if the RAF is the “fucking around”, then these guys are the “finding out”.
The RAF logo is obviously nice and the roundel is a classic, but I can’t rank this much higher because it’s not original design, it’s piggybacking — and more to the point, piggybacking with a system font.
89. RAND Europe
Impossible to see these guys without thinking of Milhouse’s conspiracy theory board containing the saucer people in that one episode of the Simpsons. Beyond that, it’s a square with some words and a curve. I think they came up with game theory. What more do you want?
88. Wales Institute of Social and Economic Research, Data and Methods
Do not take them for some conjurer of cheap policy solutions. Yes, yes, it says wizard. Visually though, I’m more concerned with how the I appears to be making a bid for freedom. I wish it luck with its new life.
87. Institute for Employment Studies
Behold the glowing yellow head of the Institute. Line crimes astutely avoided here, and there’s been an executive decision to go all lower-case which is nice.
86. International Institute for Strategic Studies
I like that this is meant to be a minimalist globe symbolising communication and diplomacy, but it could also be the glowing trails of two descending ICBMs. Tense!
85. Renewable Energy Foundation
I don’t really associate serifs with renewable energy, which I guess is because the latter feels quite sleek and futuristic whereas serifs are stereotypically stuff. I guess it’s functional enough, but I can’t help but see a missed opportunity.
84. New Philanthropy Capital
A classic case of “draw something nice because fucked if we can put a big sack of cash on the logo”.
83. Institute for Jewish Policy Research
I like a slash element, and the minimalism of this one is nice. I’d have drawn it in a bit closer to the lettering, or even placed it slightly behind the R to imply a sense of forward motion and urgency.
82. European Foundation
Like many Conservative institutions, this does the frustrating counterintuitive thing of naming itself after the thing it dislikes. The trad line art and severe serifs give it away, though.
The I is meant to be a little pictogram of a citizen, I guess, but good lord does that stick out from within the serifs. I guess they’re lucky it’s right in the middle so it doesn’t throw the balance off.
80. The Taxpayers’ Alliance
Like several others this is another opaquely funded lobbying group for supervillains, but unlike their dogshit logos this one is simply inoffensively mid table. As a proud taxpayer I’d like to announce that if this lot ever hire me, I will charge through the nose for terrible shoddy work.
79. The Centre for Cross Border Studies
What I called my research into Canadian Covid restrictions when I was trying to book a trip to Vancouver. Wild font choice, but an okay direction. Suffers mainly from trying to do too many clever ideas and them not quite gelling.
78. The Work Foundation
The way the W and F are ligatured together in the square makes it look at a glance like it says WTF, which would be a good approximation of my response when asked if I know what this lot do.
77. Policy Connect
Okay font choice and inoffensive concept — those certainly are sliding together. Shame about the anaemic colour scheme — I wouldn’t have gone for maintenance corridor grey-brown myself.
76. The Constitution Society
TWO superfluous lines in this one! Could be passed off as a useful design element if they went to the same width as Constitution, but alas.
75. Bright Blue
The think tank for Tory modernisers — they’ll still vote to fuck up the country but they’ll make anguished noises to the Times while they do it. Trying to do a kind of bokeh effect with the shape array on the left, and also create a forward (or right) facing arrow. A bit too busy to be truly good, but there’s been thought there.
74. Institute for Fiscal Studies
Basically the NIESR logo if they did it properly — better font, better colour, better graph, same boring concept.
73. Centre for Economic Policy Research
Yeah this one’s okay. The font probably isn’t quite monospaced but that’s a decent attempt at making it look as such. Not quite the boring dull blue they could have gone for.
72. Education Policy Institute
I have a vague memory of copying this for some academic logo work about six years ago, but I can’t now remember what it was, so no danger of conflict of interest. That’s how it works, right? Anyway, bit of artistry on that pie chart lining up with the corner of the otherwise boring box.
71. Society of Conservative Lawyers
Can you imagine a less fun name of an organisation? There’s no bit of imagery you could manipulate out of those words which would increase its appeal so I guess that’s why they haven’t bothered.
70. Institute of Education
Once again fine, but only by virtue of clinging to its parent institution’s brand, so it hardly counts.
69. Centre for European Reform
I quite like the focal point and the choice of the red and blue they’ve used here. Once again mooching off an existing brand, though, means it can’t go higher.
68. New Policy Institute
Like the Dreamcast, it’s thinking. Colourful and playful which the name wouldn’t automatically suggest. Not into the rounded corners on the lettering, apart from the N lifting its ankle coquettishly.
67. International Growth Centre (IGC)
Smushing the letters of your mark together like this (the technical term is kerning) is a risky move, but with a very simple geometric font like this one, it basically pays off, even if it doesn’t attempt anything ambitious.
66. Defence Synergia
Could have gone for straight up two weights of text here, but the additional blue… polygon? Adds a certain something. Could be the contrail of a passing fighter jet, or a scalpel held to an enemy’s throat. That got dark.
65. Institute of Economic Affairs
Ah the IEA, the ur-example of opaquely funded, neutrally named villains. Expect to see them on a TV near you explaining why young people are to blame for the housing crisis. The red dot signifies the enormous red flag on a pole flying over the house of anyone who takes them seriously.
Still, nice slab serif.
64. Higher Education Policy Institute
The Intel Inside jingle just played in my Millennial brain and now it has to go through yours too. I keep mixing it up with SETI, the American program searching for aliens. Possibly because the dot on the I within the loop looks like a planet’s orbit.
63. The Intergenerational Foundation
A Nintendo Mii arriving at a party in a hobbit hole, with his pet amorphous swamp monster, who has brought pizza.
DEMONS. Sorry, yes. The use of the circle to represent the whole of society (the demos from which we derive democracy) is neat. Simple, but fairly effective.
61. Common Weal
What I find fun about Common Weal is that they pretend to be an independent organisation but are very obviously just an SNP adjunct, to the degree of holding a The World Transformed style sister conference alongside SNP conference in 2016. As a fairly avowedly leftist-in-rhetoric organisation, this admittedly well done mark looks a bit centrist to me?
60. Innovation Unit
I dunno if you’ve been to the UK recently but I’m not convinced it’s replete with thriving societies, I’ve gotta be honest. Anyway, the I and U made out of negative space is clever, even if it reminds me of a screenshot from Thomas Was Alone. I’d have been consistent and either had two slab serifs or two sans serifs.
59. Initiative for Free Trade
Big chunky letters that I think are meant to recall stacked shipping containers, nice. Colour scheme’s pretty tasty, too.
58. Local Government Information Unit
Nice work on the lettering and the beige and purple contrast works surprisingly nicely if you want a subdued but still fairly discernable palette. The little nonchalant guy leaning against a wall that is the lower case I is a pleasant treat.
57. Orthodox Conservatives
I’m not entirely sure but I think this means “Conservatives who are very right wing” rather than “Conservatives who follow the Orthodox church”. Anyway, this is extremely severe, isn’t it? Very authoritarian both in the trad neoclassical pillar imagery and in the tight phalanx of serif lettering.
56. Wales Governance Centre
Cardiff Uni’s logo is great, but this can’t rise much higher due to the Law of Derivative Logos which I just made up.
55. Progressive Britain
Fair cop, I designed this one after they relaunched from Progress. But I think it holds up pretty well — I was trying to strike a balance between the two words as well as working in the national colours, a Labour-y red, and the slashed tips of the Is, which are meant to be a small nod to the smaller stripes in the UK flag. In the full implementation of the brand it goes with a mint green which was a) there to balance the fairly strong red and blue and b) to be a nod to island heritage and the sea.
Putting it top fifty felt a bit narcissistic, however, and I’ll be the first to admit there’s not much clever illustration or use of space in here.
54. Green Alliance
A novel idea to create a logo for an organisation with Green in the name that doesn’t actually use the colour green. I like the hanging quote mark device and the way they’ve tucked the tail of the G in behind the ascenders on the two Ls.
53. Foreign Policy Centre
Too many colours in my view, but I suppose it’s trying to represent a coming together of different people. Dealing with the troublesome “The” in a way that doesn’t stick out too much is laudable, although I might have just ditched it entirely.
52. Nuffield Trust
Nuffing very groundbreaking going on here, but that ffi ligature is ffit.
Described as “Mayite” in a few places which is quite funny considering what a disaster her premiership was. It’s like someone still self describing as a Heathite. Still, either they’ve done their own font work or they’ve very closely matched the cute gradient arrow with the line width on their existing one. Nice.
50. One World Trust
There’s something a little bit cool about flat shading on 3D effects — feels like you’re living in a Katamari Damacy game. What I might have tried would have been to wrap the green circle’s bottom lip around the black tube to create an illusion of a Mobius strip, emphasising the world federalism point. They’re never going to get anywhere anyway, why not have some fun?
49. WebRoots Democracy
WR! Gd gd yll, wht is it gd fr? absltly nthng! Sy it agn!
Despite making me sing that in my room sounding like I’d had my jaw wired shut, the gluing together of the W and the R in Illustrator is innovative.
48. Institute for Government
For an organisation that sounds dry as Saharan dust, they’ve put in some effort here to make things a bit exciting, which I now realise I probably unconsciously stole when doing the Progressive Britain brand. Nice blue, the stripes are a good reusable design element, just an overall reasonably solid package.
47. Polar Research and Policy Initiative
Did you know polar ice has fingerprints just like humans? No? That’s because I made that up to fill words. Overall though, nice subtle gradient! I would love for there to be slightly more integration between the mark and the title.
46. Hansard Society
The sort of nerds who follow politics closely enough to care about what MPs do and say, rather than my InDesign knuckle duster approach of focusing on the tasks required to get them in there. If you are going to do a parliamentary logo, you have to use the Elizabeth Tower, it’s the law. The tapering lines on Westminster Bridge are not personally to my taste, mind.
45. Chatham House
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̸̡̖̀͘ͅḮ̴̬N̶̼̲͘͘ͅ ̸̲̖̈́̓͊A̶͍͌ ̴͍̜̥͝G̸̙̭͒̕L̷̲͎̈͠Ǫ̸͇̑̔͠B̸͍͉͊͠E̴̞̓ ̸̞͚̐F̸̝̟̰̉̈͊A̶͓̥͂͠ͅC̶̫̻̿͊̕T̵̼̀̒O̶͚̐R̵̰̥̘͐Y̶̥̕
44. Population Matters (formerly known as the Optimum Population Trust)
Ooooooh someone’s fancy enough to add a trademark symbol. Quite who’s out to steal the mark of an organisation creepily obsessed with Malthusian notions of population control and which until fairly recently campaigned for cutting child benefit, I don’t know. I will begrudgingly admit the font and layout are okay.
43. Nuffield Council on Bioethics
I don’t know if they have anything to do with the Nuffield Trust and I don’t care enough to find out. Their three-deck layout along with the horizontal slice kind of puts me in mind of an airline or a game developer with delusions of classiness. It works.
42. British American Security Information Council
Oh we do love a backronym in this list don’t we. The Basic Bitches have clearly been stealing from every other classic modernist design going, but if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
41. Manchester Institute of Innovation Research
MIIR, like a noise a needy cat makes 90 seconds after dinner time. I think it’s a shame the Manchester Uni logo is wedged alongside it here, since while it’s a perfectly okay design, the straightforward two decks with variable weight would have allowed the quite long name to still retain some simplicity.
40. International Institute for Environment and Development
Here’s a little trick for any aspiring public affairs designers out there — elements of punctuation and layout markup, as well as mathematical and computing symbols, are already great bits of pre-made design, which crucially the users of them don’t think of as such. Such an example is the brace, used here to represent an open book with good effect. This will also serve you well when designing music related logos and brand guidelines.
39. King’s Fund
Surprisingly modernist for a logo related to a monarch. It uses Neo Sans, which was the Labour font from 2008–14 and for which I have a surprisingly popular loathing. Beyond that, yeah it’s fine? The words are wedged a bit close together like commuters in a lift.
38. Institute of Welsh Affairs
For people who really want to have it off with someone’s missus in Caerphilly Castle. Seriously though this one’s quite nice — classy, understated serif balanced with the perfect circle, and the rounded back of the A used to good effect to position the… flag? Dragon’s tail? I’m not sure on that bit.
37. LSE IDEAS
Briefly escapes the event horizon of the Rule of Derivative Logos since the Ideas portion on its own is quite nice. The use of a closing square bracket to tie the sub brand into the parent brand is well thought through.
36. Wales Centre for Public Policy
Pixel Wales! I love it. Or perhaps an angled representation of a Stealth Bomber. Either way, simple but effective and laser-targeted at the video game enjoying parts of my brain.
Pillars are what the youth would call trad AF, but it contrasts nicely with the sans serif title.
34. New Local
We don’t speak of the old Local Government Network. They had to burn it down, bury it under concrete, and then execute the construction crew.
Reducing the words in your organisation’s name is always and everywhere a good idea if you can, and your designer will thank you for it. This is nice and simple as a result! Something bothers me about the blocks in the equals sign slightly overlapping, though.
Surprising at first glance that the advertising industry would have such an understated think tank logo, but actually I think that probably plays to their strengths — it wouldn’t be ideal to go in reminding your lobbying partners that you’re the guys with heaps of money who already know how to sell things and put them off being minded to help you. Better to look like a sober-minded advocacy organisation.
32. Unlock Democracy
Here’s a weird fact. Via a series of mergers and acquisitions through the late 90s, Unlock Democracy — a pro-PR pressure group fronted by former Lib Dem MP Tom Brake — are the ultimate descendents of the Communist Party of Great Britain, at least in terms of assets. Happily that’s not widely known, or it would bring new light to the staring eye of the keyhole. Overall it’s a fairly flexible brand, with a little bit of flair but still usable for more sober applications like report presentations.
31. United Nations Association — UK
I mean again, this is a classic of design that I really don’t think gets to count as separate from its parent organisation. If I was doing UNA sub-brands I’d think about doing a little highlight on the globe device for each host country. Or maybe shifting the projection to focus on that state. Could cause problems with disputed boundaries, mind.
30. The Education Foundation
For parents of radiation-emitting children. Quite a nice autumnal colour scheme, although I’d like to see more of that central dark green to offset the brighter colours.
29. Centre Think Tank
Once you see the C here as a top down view of a man struggling to unclog a sink, you won’t stop. What is it with centrist outfits using hot pink? That very short lived “The Independents” group in Parliament did the same.
28. Social Liberal Forum
The left-wing faction of the Liberal Democrats and the one that tends to lose internal elections, as far as I can tell from that party’s byzantine structure. The filled in O representing an open forum for discussion is a nifty touch.
27. Jimmy Reid Foundation
The arrow points to his position on the political compass chart, ha ha ha. The sort of host from which Common Weal emerged, and a pro-independence organisation. The arrow containing a subtle J and R is something that’s quite clever once you work it out.
26. Young Fabians
“Robin it’s just a square”
Yes, BUT it’s infinitely reusable, and Futura is a classic which harks back to their 1930s heyday. It would be fair to say the Fabians are an organisation which values their heritage, and this retains that while staying relatively in line with modern design trends.
25. Overseas Development Institute
Now this I like — if you’re going to have a plain initialism, playing with the structure of the letters is a really clever way to add some individuality. In this case the exposed infrastructure of the O and the sunrise in the top right evoke the stated aims well.
24. Centre for Cities
It’s simple, but there’s lots of shapes in that mark you can associate with cities — parkland, the wheel and spoke layout so beloved of large UK cities like Sheffield, a subway train emerging from a tunnel — urbano-British can project for days.
Lads, while you’re here, I’ll give you an extra ten places if you bring back CityMetric.
23. Policy Exchange
The one Policy Connect always gets confused with, which I’m sure delights them to no end. The two tones of orange is a nice way of bringing contrast without complexity, and as their events prove, it makes for a fairly good backdrop.
22. New Economics Foundation
Usually paired with a minty green for a pleasing contrast with the red, this is one time I will allow a line to intrude uncriticised, since it provides a red spine of social democracy running through the white background (which admittedly you can’t see on Medium) representing the pages of their reports. This might not be deliberate — but death of the author means I can conjecture if I want.
21. Joseph Rowntree Foundation
See! It is possible to do an initialism and full title without leaning on pointless dividing lines!
20. UK in a Changing Europe
The lines representing bridges between communities, this takes a simple word mark and has some fun with it. Kind of a fan of the heavily rooted angular feet on the K and the R, too.
Ooh yes, using quote marks as serifs around the word of the lord, this I’m on board for. Not the religion thing, but you know, credit where it’s due.
18. Sutton Trust
Quite an old fashioned logo in many ways, more reliant on line work than on illustration and complex font choice — or maybe that’s the use of a compressed font giving me retro vibes. Either way, my instinctive clicking has given it a strong showing.
17. Police Foundation
Keeps it very simple, doesn’t go for hackneyed policing stereotype imagery, either the helmets or the Sillitoe Tartan. A bold decision which probably helps keep it looking somewhat less partisan.
16. Young Foundation
We haven’t had much monoline work in this list so far, so it’s nice to see one making an appearance near the end. Might have been nice to have the ends of the top of the lines sitting flush with the bounding box.
15. Social Market Foundation
I know that these guys seem to be constantly hiring on W4MP Jobs without having the foggiest idea what they do or who they are. I now know one more think about who they are — people with a great taste in fonts.
Ooh! We like a marker swipe with negative space text! And it’s rare to see handwritten font work which doesn’t look overblown and hideous, so the fact it’s subtle enough here that it looks like someone actually trying to write for use on a logo is a good decision — whether it’s custom work or a well chosen off the shelf font.
13. Institute for Public Policy Research
It’s fun to work for the IPPR! (If it isn’t, take it up with the Village People, not me). The stacked lettering in those prominent slab serifs is strikingly reminiscent of Robert Indiana’s famous LOVE statue and painting (which I saw at San Francisco MOMA — it was excellent). The hot pink works well here, and brings some extra energy to what’s already a nicely acrobatic logo.
12. Health Foundation
I’m not saying it’s perfection, but there’s merit to simple work executed well. Lining up the spines of the H and F with the T does show attention to detail, and the use of the closed circle to signify a holistic approach to lifelong health (I’m projecting quite hard here) is clever, if that’s what they meant.
11. Centre for London
It’s hard for me to put a finger on why, but I really like the extruded leg of the L here — it reminds me of the old UPA animation style from the late forties, as does the use of that tall, stately sans serif. London gets an unfairly bad rap, so it’s nice that their Centre is well presented.
10. Welsh Centre for International Affairs
Even despite the Font Crime of Lato, there’s some whimsy in the staggered hierarchy of the layout here which pleases me greatly.
Not just saying this because of my ties to the co-op movement — there’s some clever geometry going on in the lettering here, and a lovely bouncy sense of fun to the perspective of the two M figures.
8. European Council on Foreign Relations
The star stepping demurely out of its round window (a very simplified version of the EU flag, one assumes) is weirdly anthropomorphic, and I love a good monoline illustration. Gold star. Well, orange star.
Bold! Adventurous! Angular! It’s all here, along with a charmingly primary-coloured blue which manages to jump out of the screen.
Much better than their previous logo to begin with, this manages the great trick of offsetting text (so the O can be eaten by the Pac-Man C) without unbalancing the whole mark. The neon blue is up with modern design thinking (a bit lifted from fintech products like Monzo, admittedly, but until Compass start trying to sell me a new card, I’ll let it slide). I’ve worked with their brand and they also use neon green and red, both of which are fairly awesome for creating a sense of energy and urgency to their work.
5. Fabian Society
It’s already basically featured once on this list, but it bears repeating that it’s a good bit of design — the slightly darker-than-Labour red is a nice nod to its rich heritage.
4. Policy Network
Remember what I said about common markup visuals being ready-made great design elements?
Yeah, two faces talking. Great work.
A late entry that gets many bonus points for raw audacity. Lovely bit of Swiss design.
2. Electoral Reform Society
Working in ballot design to their logo without massively overdoing it was the challenge here, and it’s hard to argue they haven’t succeeded, subtly highlighting the essence of their case along with a neat, pluralistic and subtle colour scheme.
1. Centre for Welfare Reform (CfWR)
I’m not just giving them a top ranking because they’re based in Sheffield, although that doesn’t hurt, but because this is just a great example of simple design done elegantly, and in a way that doesn’t announce itself as politically radical in a way which would turn off some potential audiences. The idea of letting a thousand flowers bloom via the interconnectedness of a social safety net, summed up in 30 slivers arranged artfully, gives it the top spot for me.