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A "Great Seal" Re-design

By  Nov 30, 2010

Topics: Design

Here's a graphic identity re-design that you might have missed unless you're a member of Kewa Pueblo, one of the Eight Northern Indian Pueblos in New Mexico. Even then, you might have missed it.

Previously known as Santo Domingo Pueblo, the pueblo decided to revert to its traditional, pre-Christian name, Kewa. Even while the official name was Santo Domingo, named for St. Dominic, a 13th-century preacher who founded the Dominican order, tribal members used the traditional name in their own community (as all pueblos do).

Former pueblo Gov. Everett Chavez pointed out that the name change was not meant to "demean St. Dominic," and that "We were Native first and foremost, before Catholicism and Spaniards."

To get to the point, a new tribal seal was designed, The Great Seal of Kewa Pueblo. We thought the design was interesting on several different levels.

Below, the old and new designs.

As Great Seals go, it's not surprising to see a variety of graphic elements symbolizing various aspects of an organization or entity. The most interesting thing about the changes here is the almost total abandonment of the church theme. The old seal is primarily a church with an American flag and a New Mexico flag; the new seal features mountains, pottery, jewelry, and corn stalks. And oops-we-almost-forgot, a tiny little adobe church steeple at the bottom that's so small it's almost comical. The new design doesn't "demean St. Dominic," but it seems hard to deny that it certainly minimizes him, intentionally or not. Hey, that's OK with us — it's your pueblo. We prefer the original Native American approach to spirituality anyway.

Oh how we wish we could have heard the design committee conversations:
"The church is still too big, make it smaller."
"If we make it any smaller you want be able to tell it's a church."
"You say that like it's a bad thing."

If it had been up to us, the church element wouldn't have made it into the final design at all (we believe in separation of church and pueblo).

For a graphic mark, the seal has an amazing amount of detail which isn't visible except in very large sizes. The yellow blooms on the corn stalks are barely visible even when reproduced in a large size. But that probably doesn't matter, since the pueblo isn't spending time and money on a marketing campaign. In fact, former pueblo Gov. Everett Chavez said there was no formal announcement of the change and that the tribe has been relying on "word of mouth" to publicize the changes.

Above, Great Seal detail.

The thing we find most interesting is that the new seal uses Helvetica for the text. Helvetica? Really?! Personally, it's hard to imagine any font being less suited for representing an American Indian pueblo than Helvetica. The original aim of Helvetica, according to the 2007 documentary film Helvetica, was to "create a neutral typeface that had great clarity, no intrinsic meaning in its form, and could be used on a wide variety of signage." OK, so it works on that level. Zzzzzz. Oops, sorry, drifted off reading the Great Seal's text set in the great clarity font.

The text in the old seal has a more unique, organic appearance that seems to relate better to a Native American pueblo concept.

Other than the Helvetica font choice, the seal is certainly unique and individualistic, and conveys a sense of pueblo culture and community. Apologies to Kewa Pueblo for altering their Great Seal, but we wondered what it would look like to replace Helvetica with almost any other font.

Hmmm, is it just us, or do these versions reek with personality compared to the Helvetica version?