“Art isn’t about originality, it’s about making a decisive statement.” UPN’s Vice President of Marketing David Ainsles worriedly explained. “For instance many of Shakespeare’s plays are similar to those written by Marlowe, yet generations of theatergoers have recognized Shakespeare’s plays as works of art that take their subject to a new level and become the definite standard. In the same way you might say that just because the new UPN logo uses a design somewhat similar to the UPS logo, we’ve also produced something that sets a new standard for excellence without worrying about accusation that our logo is derivative.”
Up until now UPN had been employing the familiar triangle, square and circle logo with each letter of the network name distributed on one of the shapes. But in tune with its new makeover, UPN decided it needed a new logo and David Ainsles was tapped for the job.
“I never thought much of the old logo and frankly it was a little embarrassing to work for a network that had something to silly as its representation. Every other network had its logo all on one single design, yet UPN relied on a distributed design and that was the first thing I set out to change. I put all the letters in one single circle
all black and white. Neat and professional and simple the way all the great ideas are, right? But then my nightmare began.” David continues.
The new UPN logo design was David’s biggest assignment at the network since he’d joined it in 1999. Up until then his work had generally consisted of signing off on promos for Star Trek Voyager and the WWF and making personal phone calls to affiliate managers.
“You know how sometimes you have a great idea and then you find out that somebody thought of it first and you wonder whether you actually thought of it yourself, or maybe you just subconsciously stole their idea because your own subconscious knows that you’re a complete failure and a hack. That’s what happened when I was walking down the street and saw a UPS truck and it hit me, their logo looks a little like ours. But I didn’t give it much thought until I was walking down the corridor with a box full of the new logos and one of the guys asked me, are we shipping something today?”
Early in college David had possessed an ambition to become a serious artist and then as a cartoonist even briefly drawing a cartoon series about mice who live in cubicles inside a mouse hole called Mous Inc. as a critique of corporate America. Mous Inc enjoyed a small degree of success until David was sued for plagiarism by Art Spiegelman forcing him to abandon his dream.
“I mean, My God, are we shipping something today. That was his first reaction to our network’s new logo. And I really panicked. I ran back to my office but there wasn’t much I could do except change the colors in the background of the logo to bright primary colors like red and blue. UPS’s background is brown and so I hoped that people wouldn’t continue to make the same association. But they did. Week after week. One of our affiliate managers was here and he looked at the logo and asked if we were receiving a package. This was one of our own and he didn’t recognize the logo for his own network. It was terrible. And then people began to laugh at me in the halls, asking me if I was working for UPN or UPS. It was just terrible.”
Before joining UPN in the fall of 1999, David had designed a new logo for the Red Roof Inn and overseen its customer appreciation program which involved sending postcards with a photo of a mint on them to customers and asking them to fill out a brief questionnaire about their visit.
“And the thing is that our logos aren’t even that similar. UPS has a modified box logo with gold on brown. Ours is a circle with white on bright primary colors. Our font is completely different too. So I can’t see how even laymen without any real background in graphic design could make this mistake. Let alone professionals in my own department.” David mourned.
“My story is the story of Prometheus who tried to bring fire to mortal men and instead had his liver torn out by vultures for his trouble. I’ll probably never have children of my own and this logo was my chance to put something out there. My chance to have a legacy. I mean think of the guys who created the CBS Eye or the NBC Peacock. You don’t know who they are but their work will live on in millions of TV screens long after they’re gone. And instead my legacy is the shameful one of a plagiarist. But perhaps even this is not the end of David Ainsles. Einstein too was laughed at. It took time for his ideas to really sink in. And I firmly believe that once my new UPN logo has been given a chance, that people will really learn to love and appreciate it and perhaps even its humble creator.”