Summary: This article looks at how our identity has been visibly expressed, across the years. It does not examine our brand positioning, because there is little evidence that we thought in such terms until recently. The focus is on graphic design.
What is Corporate Identity?
Early Logos and Letterheads
Letterhead in the 1960s
Designing a Worldwide Logo
Designs of Large Headquarter Buildings
What is Corporate Identity?
Corporate identity is concerned with the visual aspects of a company’s presence. When companies undertake corporate identity exercises, they are usually modernizing their visual image in terms of logo, design, and collaterals. Such efforts do not normally entail a change in brand values, so that the heart of the brand remains the same—what it stands for, or its personality.
The best that such changes can do is to reassure audiences that the company is concerned about how it looks.1 Brands do have to maintain a modern look, and the visual identity needs to change over time. But the key to successfully effecting a new look is evolution, not revolution.2
With this in mind, let’s look at our history.
Early Logos and Letterheads
Research on our iconography, especially our logos, is a rich field. Ships multiplied on our letterheads from the 1930s:3 MTBs, battle cruisers, fully-rigged barques, Chinese junks. It was an early example of contextualization!
After World War II, with the advent of peace, a square-rigger became dominant in our US publications.4 It can still be seen, for example, as the emblem of the Discipleship Library that Fred Krebs maintains.5
Lorne Sanny has an interesting segment in his “Dear Gang” letter of April 23, 1962:
It has been urged upon us that it would be well if we could come up with an explanatory phrase or a sentence that would follow the term The Navigators on our letterhead and on other materials. This would give people a little more of a clue as to what we are trying to do. Some of you know we have worked on this in the past and haven’t gotten too far, but we want to work on it earnestly again.
We are not after a slogan or something clever but rather something that in a few words (say seven to eleven) simply describes what The Navigators are or do. Sort of an umbrella-type phrase that would cover any activity we are engaged in.
For instance, The Navigators—recruiting, building, and launching Christ-centered men and women. Or—recruiting . . . building . . . launching vessels fit for the Master. Or—helping produce reproducers in every nation. Or—helping recruit disciples and disciple recruits. Or—helping make fruitful Christian disciples.
He invited suggestions from our staff.6 The next relevant reference that Lorne makes in writing to his staff is in his letter of December 3, 1962.
We received quite a bit of comment on the November 14 mailing with the little booklet and the letter, the descriptive phrase and the symbol. One of our close friends called long-distance to say it was the best piece of material he had ever seen put out from the Glen. Other reactions were just the opposite. They had never seen worse! Of course, the reactions were varied on the part of our staff, and I think mostly negative—to the symbol, the way the word Navigators was formed with the two dots over the N and the descriptive phrase.
First, let me say that this is not “our new letterhead.” We are simply doing some experimenting. Rather than try to make a permanent change, we thought we would utilize some of the ideas to date in a general mailing for a one-time situation and see what the reactions are, then move on from there. I think there is universal opposition to the two dots over the N in the word Navigators. We are not entirely happy with the symbol. And I certainly hope we can come up with something better for a descriptive phrase. But I do think we need something different from a ship, and we do need a descriptive phrase. So, as you have ideas along the way, shoot them to us . . .
Lorne then adds several observations.
The right symbol and descriptive phrase are not necessarily the key to raising money, since the finances came in on this mailing in spite of this experiment to which some so violently7 reacted.
We can be resistant to change. . . . We constantly need to be exploring new ways and means to communicate the vision God has given us. Words can become very familiar and mean certain things to us, but not mean this to others.
This demonstrates to me that our staff and close friends have a real heart for every phase of our work and its public image . . . and this makes me rejoice.
Letterhead in the 1960s
During the 1960s, the square-rigged ship continued as our letterhead, showing Trotman as founder and Sanny as president, with the slogan “To Know Christ and to Make Him Known.”
In 1964, the Overseas Directors Conference, according to their notes, “decided to work toward uniformity of letterhead design in each country in order to simplify artwork and maintain a high standard.” Though this record is ambiguous, what was apparently meant was a single uniform letterhead, shared by all our countries. Nothing came of this.8
In the late 1960s, Lorne’s “Dear Gang” letter became “Dear Staff” (and the ship logo appeared) in January 1969.9 Then variations in the letterhead of this frequent communication with our staff occurred:
- January 1972: Lorne Sanny and a ship in circle with four prongs
- January 1974: “To The Navigators Staff” plus the same logo
- January 1975: Sail logo and Nav staff
- July 1975: “To The Navigators Staff” plus a ship in circle with four prongs
- January 1990: “To The Navigators” plus an eight-handled Nav wheel
However, by the early 1970s, quite a few Nav countries were using locally symbolic logos. Examples: a rising sun in Japan or a maple leaf in Canada.
Designing a Worldwide Logo
Our quest for clarity and uniformity came to the forefront again in the early 1970s. Thus it was that, among our supportive objective for 1972 to 1975, Rod Sargent was charged with “devising and implementing a common corporate identity for The Navigators.”10
In response to this requirement, Rod presented an informative briefing and slideshow on corporate identity at the end of 1973.11
He then argued that the name of our organization12 and the ship as a symbol were misleading. His survey of Nav staff had produced the following:
- 10 percent opposed to any change
- 10 percent expressing no opinion
- 20 percent favored keeping the ship
- 60 percent favored a new symbol, of whom half offered suggestions
Some participants in this conference spoke of the difficulty of making a corporate identity universal, saying it might be too “American” or too organizational. Furthermore, the same standard of excellence is not always desirable in every culture.
However, Rod prudently decided not to reveal the proposal from our consultants Lippincott & Margulies. This was for an identity expressed in a logo in which our global letterhead would carry half a dozen birds of different colors, flying in formation, and then each Nav division or continent would use a different color of bird from this flock as their logo.13 This would not have been liked!
There the matter rested, though our need continued. Dan Rich, in the late 1970s, designed the logo which was used widely by the US Navigators until early 2018. It was a simplified sail in a TV-shaped enclosure. It was rather divisive at the time.14 Dan’s logo was designed quickly for the launch of US NavPress at the CBA convention in July 1975, accompanied by the tag line Helping Christians Grow. Soon after, the USLT decided that this logo could work for the corporation as a whole, and adopted it. It lasted for many years, but with increasing local embellishments.15
Then, in 2002, we had an auspicious confluence of two major developments: the birth of The Core and the construction of our new international building. The latter presented an opportunity to strengthen the visual distinction between the International Executive Team (IET) and the US Navigators. Though organizational distinction between what was then called our global HQ and our USHQ had taken place in 1974, it was not always well understood or observed.16 Therefore, the IET commissioned designs for its new logo,17 providing design criteria in August 2002.18 A design by Tim Jaycox was approved by the IET19 in February 2003. They noted, “It is not our intent to advocate this as a worldwide standard but merely to use it for ourselves. The phrase ‘a worldwide partnership’ is especially appreciated.”
Some paragraphs from the IET design criteria20 are relevant:
We do not intend a full corporate identity. Our countries do not need this . . . and a homogeneous identity goes against the spirit of our Global Society, which we characterize as ‘pluriform’ and ‘sensitive to cultures and their diversity.’
Nor do we even seek a standard logo and style to be applied throughout our ministries. Each country, of course, should speak with a single voice. Trust is built upon consistency. However, the cultural variety of the visual styles that Nav countries use around the world is attractive. Our ‘branding’ is in the realm of concepts rather than symbols. And, in practical terms, trying to align our countries around a single visual style would present a huge challenge!
The US Navigators recently adopted a new unified visual style21 or image rather than a full corporate identity program. They are pursuing consistency of presentation rather than expressing core values. This US initiative offers us a stimulus and an opportunity: the stimulus to update and the opportunity to differentiate. Our existing presentation of the IET is both tired and almost indistinguishable from that of the US Navigators. This has contributed to the continuing confusion between our work and that of the US Navigators.
Our IET logo and style needs to resonate with our Calling and Core Values. In addition, it should try to meet most of the following criteria:
• Capturing our ‘internationality,’ our ethos as a worldwide agency
• Embodying our sense of partnership or community: unity in diversity
• Simple, fresh, uncluttered
• Tending toward understatement: We ‘market’ Jesus, not ourselves
• Avoiding sectarian or specifically ‘evangelical’ elements
• Featuring our English name, The Navigators
• Dignified and relatively formal
• Reproducible in transmission; not overly dependent on colors that will be lost in reproduction
In harness with the new logo were the design criteria for the new international building. Under the heading “Toward a Home for the IET,” the team carefully expressed the desired feeling that their building should evoke: a place of beauty [that is] secluded, warm, welcoming . . . environmentally sensitive. In this, our architects were notably successful.22
Incidentally, because this IET logo was quickly popular, we had to fend off several countries that wished to appropriate it. We insisted that it was only for use by the IET. To do otherwise would have meant entering upon an arduous and ultimately unsuccessful journey to homogenize the various logos of our countries around the world.
Designs of Large Headquarter Buildings
One aspect that has received little attention is the treatment of our larger HQ offices around the world, such as Singapore, South Korea, the UK23 and, of course, the USA.
Our USHQ building (south building in1978 and north building in 2000) has become aesthetically more vibrant. In the older south segment, we have moved across the years through several stages.
- Originally, chaste uniformity: no personal materials on partitions
- Insertion of art (paintings) on the walls (from Via Affirmativa)
- Many photos, but often of “us” rather than those we served
- Humanizing of workspaces, led by millennials
- Inclusion of departmental lounges, to enhance connections
What is still often missing are compelling illustrations of the people we serve.
Returning to the US Navs, instructive insights surfaced in the excellent “Gospel Movement Assessment Report” synthesized by Don Bartel24 in 2010.
As early as the 1960s, we had occasionally spoken of a future movement. Discussion among our leaders intensified when an embryonic community ministry emerged in the US in the early 1970s and prompted us to envision “The Marks of a Movement.”25 As Bartel has pointed out, what was then in view was a disciple-making movement rather than a Gospel movement. A powerful description of the latter came to us in the words of the international vision within The Core which we adopted in May 2002.26
For a brief period around 2010, our US chief communications officer was Larry Lincoln. Coming into the Navigators, he was again enthusiastic for “strategic global alignment to ensure complementary messaging, with consistent branding at all times.” He soon discovered that this degree of standardization would break with our history and not be in accord with the principles underlying our Worldwide Partnership.
In 2018, the US Navigators emerged from a thorough branding exercise, advised by consultants, which is being progressively introduced during the year.
By Donald McGilchrist
See also articles on:
Boards of Directors
Ethos & Values
The Approach to The Core
- Source: Simon Morris article on “What’s the Difference Between Corporate Identity, Brand Identity, and Brand Image?” (September 28, 2015).
- “Branding Defined” by Chris Quinn, published on www.insight180.com on February 2, 2011 takes a similar approach. “Corporate identity . . . is the combination of a company’s logo . . . and the tagline or definition statement used with the logo that communicates a . . . message about what we do or how we do it.”
- Similarly, in recent years, a host of designs by local ministries and missions has spread within the US Navigators, to the point where many believed in 2017 that clarity and consistency needed to be regained through a branding exercise.
- When The Navigators incorporated in 1943, Dawson Trotman’s affidavit declared that this name was chosen “to designate a particular phase of Christian work among service men.” See document of February 25, 1943.
- See www.discipleshiplibrary.com.
- He had been distilling our objectives and attached six thoughts on how we might better communicate, visually. See objectives of The Navigators, April 13, 1962.
- Coming from Lorne, this is an unusually strong word.
- Source: June 1964 ODC notes, section 16.
- The “Dear Gang” letters from Trotman and then Sanny had no letterhead design until this date.
- Source: December 1973 corporate planning conference, agenda.
- December 1973 corporate planning conference, minute 1.2.4.
- Rod was an early proponent of dropping “the” and referring to ourselves merely as Navigators.
- Rod, assisted by Donald McGilchrist, used the London office of Lippincott’s, which had a stellar reputation.
- It was Harv Oslund who commented that we once had a majestic full-sailed cutter as our logo and now had “a dinghy in a boob tube.” Source: Rich to McGilchrist, April 9, 2013.
- Early in the 1990s, Gert Doornenbal as our Europe director was writing on image and identity, but in the context of ministry access into restricted countries. Gert points out that we developed an image (how people perceive us) that was very different from our identity (how we perceive ourselves).
- See my article on “IHQ-USHQ Relationships.”
- From Rob Wood, Tim Mitchell, Steve Learned, Tim Jaycox.
- Design criteria laid out on July 26 and updated December 9, 2002.
- Why did we not place “IET” on or around this logo? From the 1980s, we struggled with the distinctly corporate aura of “executive.” It went against the grain of our Global Society. We tried Resident International Team (RIT) for a couple of years. Skip Gray weighed in with a comment about the “omniscient swivel chair at the foot of the Rockies.” The 1980s, in any case, were a period in which leadership was considered a bad word. By the turn of the century, the acronym had become widely accepted.
- See “Logo & Style for the IET” of July 26, 2002 in the July 2002 IET notes, appendix G.
- This was well intended but did little to reduce the plethora of local variations.
- See criteria generated by our team and executive summary on pages 28 and 29 of the July 2001 report to the US board on this project. Accessed in McGilchrist archives, box 79. Also, my deeper explication of what the architects (Bollar & Associates) had accomplished for us is in the separate exegesis of our finished international building.
- The Turner building in the UK is the only one named after a person. Joyce Turner was a veteran American missionary to the UK.
- August 31, 2010, forty-four pages.
- Proposed by Walt Henrichsen on June 8, 1972. See my article on “Community Ministries.”
- Bartel (loc.cit.) parses this vision to show how it captures much of the essence of the Gospel movements to which we aspire. One of his conclusions was that “we no longer have a distinct brand.” Here, of course, he is referring to the US Navigators, though this may well be true in some other contexts.