Monday, April 02, 2007

EPCOT Made Simple


EPCOT Center’s first 15 years were marked by a design aesthetic I always found both ennobling and surprisingly playful. Yes, I know some of you don’t agree, but even if you found the design more in keeping with Mussolini’s style of over-the-top grandiosity (albeit in a distinctly modernist mode), there was one aspect of EPCOT that no one I know could criticize:

The logos.

Oh, yes … the logos!

Now this was a brilliant concept: Reduce the grand scope and ambition of expansive attractions down to their absolute core essence, and then go one step further – create an overall design program that brings these disparate elements together.

There was the "radioactive" Universe of Energy; the virtually literal Living Seas; the straightforward (and oddly exciting) Horizons; the iconic Spaceship Earth ... and more, of course, including the main EPCOT Center logo that literally tied five of the circles (representing the original five attractions) together with a globe that represented both Spaceship Earth and World Showcase.

You could take the logos simply at face value -- as representing individual attractions -- or find even greater meaning in their careful design.

What Disney’s Imagineers created in EPCOT’s original graphics program was slickly beautiful and astonishingly ahead of its time. (No doubt AT&T's graphic artists at least thought about the original Spaceship Earth logo when designing that company's "spinning globe" symbol.)

Any great logo or symbol seeks to make a simple, easily understood graphic representation out of a difficult, abstract concept. It’s tough enough to do that for a single concept (like a corporation) … but to do it eight times for a single park, to create a strong, unified vision that not only identified individual components but also served as a way to tie them together … that was brilliance, pure and simple.

Compare the sleek, instantly indentifiable logos of EPCOT Center – created 25 years ago – at the top of this post to the busy, hard-to-read logo for the new Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor attraction at the Magic Kingdom. Now, bear in mind that in these deceptively simple circular logos, Imagineers weren’t just communicating the concept of a single ride or show, but of an entire, multi-faceted pavilion.

The logos could be understood and appreciated whether or not you spoke English, whether or not you were even old enough to read – they immediately told you where you were and, when used on park signage, where you wanted to go.

They made EPCOT Center simple, but they didn’t dumb it down. Many guests, myself chief among them, could envision a day when logos like this would define our lives, when we would spend our day orienting ourselves not through words and images, but graphically. The logos were in some ways the very definition of a “world showcase,” one we could all understand at a glance and easily navigate, even if we had different ways to communicate or interpret the experience inside.

The EPCOT logos were, in many ways, the apotheosis of the promise of EPCOT itself: A complex and exciting, vibrant, ever-changing world rendered simple and clear on the surface, at once homogeneous and plain, yet rich and varied. I loved those logos.

I guess it’s not a surprise, then, that they were among the first things to go when Epcot got “Disney-ized.” They truly set the place apart.

Like EPCOT itself, they exist now mostly in memory – perhaps waiting, like EPCOT, for the day when someone can appreciate their meaning and reconcile the Disney that created them with the Disney that destroyed them.

19 comments:

Claudia said...

I do miss those old logos a lot... so much so that I got the T-shirt (from a link in your blog!)

Bring back the good ol' days, hey!

Anonymous said...

Best post I've read here in a while... the logos were pure gold

Anonymous said...

I believe EPCOT was the first to incorporate logos for each pavilon. It took off worldwide after that.

FoxxFur said...

Sorry to nitpick, but I'd classify EPCOT Center as modern, not post-modern... it may be one of the last great modernist works in Western culture, actually.

Epcot82 said...

It's not a nit-pick. I try not to be too revisionist because, well, it's just too easy in the Internet age to "fix" rather than admit a mistake. I made a definite mistake here when describing EPCOT as being in a "post-modern mode," and for the record, that was how the words "distinctly modernist" originally appeared. Thanks to FoxxFur for the correction.

sdav10495 said...

Excellent post! The logos were just fantastic graphic design, plain and simple. As with so much that has disappeared from EPCOT Center, I'm shocked that today's Disney hasn't seen the marketing potential in them (I mean aside from the occasional "retro" merchandise offering). They're certainly not dated--add some gradient effects, shine them up a bit for the 21st century, and you've got emblems every bit as fresh, new, and meaningful as they were in 1982.

They often remind me of the posters for the British mega-musicals of the 1980s, which are often lauded for their simplicity and recognizability (not to mention ability to rake in money). How many times have you walked past the gleaming eyes from "Cats" or the Cosette etching from "Les Miz" or the white mask from "Phantom" and not known exactly what was being advertised? EPCOT is as long-running a production as any of those, and I'm surprised (well, maybe not so surprised) that Disney doesn't exploit that brilliant, unique design today the way those musicals still do.

Disney succeeded in making EPCOT a household name, and, like those musical posters, they easily could have made the pavilion logos "household images". There's certainly no shortage of people who already love them--where else in the history of Walt Disney World can a design boast such a fanbase? Of the many "steps backward" EPCOT Center fans have proposed making to lower-case Epcot, I can hardly think of one as smart or forward-thinking as the return of the logos. It's one of those changes that it's really not too late to make.

Dan said...

Love the logos; they feel both futuristic and timeless at the same time. It showed a respect and intelligence that is disappearing in Epcot, and I'm sad to say, all across Disney World currently.

Erica said...

I was absolutely in love with the logos when they were still around in the early '90s, when I was a little girl. I always associated each pavillion or attraction with their logos.

Now, I miss them very much. They added meaning, significance, and heart to the park. I can only wish that they can come back in time for EPCOT's 25th.

Hey, wishes can come true :D

Christian said...

A while back I made some desktop wallpapers based around the EPCOT Center glyphs...you all might enjoy using them...

http://www.deviantart.com/deviation/36591470/

Anonymous said...

At "Disney Parks" wishes can indeed come true -- if you are white family of five from the midwest!

St. Chris said...

Nope, sorry, this is Future World -- trolls belong in the Norway pavilion.

SirNim said...

AT&T's globe logo replaced the old "Bell" logo in 1984.

It's perfectly reasonable to suggest the EPCOT Center Spaceship Earth logo was the inspiration.

...

As much as I'd like to see the logos make a return for the "25th" (whatever the "25th" will be), I doubt it would happen considering the former Living Seas was recently all-but-stripped of any remaining instances of its logo.

Why not commission a whole new set of logos, then? They'd have to share a similar style and certainly be graphic, rather than verbal, in nature (i.e. logos, NOT logotypes!). Not necessarily encased in circles... It would certainly add a lot of texture back to the park. It could be pulled off nearly overnight...

Matt Arnold said...

Thanks for the desktop wallpapers of Epcot logos, Christian!

Captain Schnemo said...

I liked the way the logos tied Future World together. Each pavilion was very different, but the logos and consistent font reminded you that they were all part of something larger.

As they've abandoned the concept of Future World, so goes that aspect of connectivity as well.

Anonymous said...

I agree. The biggest disappointment is how Epcot could be a great blend of what worked in EPCOT Center and what it has become. I can easily see a place where the logos have evolved as new pavilions opened, certain attractions were preserved ala Pirates and Mansion, and new experiences joined in. I thought it was about progress... if it works, keep it; if not, change it. I know many argue that is exactly what happened, but I firmly believe a lot of the former was lost. The logos are the best example.

sdav10495 said...

Just a note that came to mind today--maybe it's just me, but more and more these days I'm noticing the Handel Gothic font (the one closest to the old EPCOT Center logo--not exact because the logo was specially designed) is popping up on quite a few new products and places. I probably would have agreed a few years ago that the fonts and styles of ye olde EPCOT Center might look a bit dated today, but clearly the "look" is coming back now...has anyone else noticed the resurgence of this font, or am I dreaming?

Rough and Tumble Boy said...

The logos were all apart of a grand vision, like the pavilions themselves. The designers even aligned the logos with the archictecture and landscape, from the curvy, organic nature of the west side versus the hard graphic lines of the east (just take a look at Google Earth or some other satellite site).

Once Horizons was taken out and Mission: Space was put it, this completely immersive 'theme' was destroyed. There was a reason Horizons was like a cut jewel. Nowadays, it seems like they don't care to retain their initial visionary designs. The disappearance of the logos was just another sad step in the wrong direction.

Anonymous said...

I miss the logos too and I miss the Old Epcot. I spent Christmas one year there after my parents were divorced and I just remember every minute of it being awed and never wanting to leave. Its more corporate now then it was in the early 80s, hey even Mickey has to make a buck and keep the doors open but at least we had it when it was there.

Anonymous said...

I don't blame disney entirely as I believe all logo and graphic design have gone downhill in the last ten to fifteen years. Everything is just way too busy nowadays. I blame the fact that the computer gives people too many options (but I digress). this was not done in a vaccum.

David

P.S. last time I was at EPCOT (last march) UOE still had it's logo in the entry way. And living with the land's fast pass stations still had the land logo on them. There is also a HUGE EPCOT logo on the ground behind the fountain behind spaceship eatrh. See em while they last.

PPS I was also told, while on the undiscovered future world tour that the EPCOT logo formed a lotus flower, which I'm told is a symbol of unity. just thought you'd like to know that