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WikiLeaks Logo Designer Revealed

In News on March 8, 2013 at 4:37 AM

Who designed the WikiLeaks logo? Part 1: Emblem and Void

Who designed the WikiLeaks logo? “Design history” deserves to know about the origins of its Coca Cola of transparency. Research by Metahaven now reveals a basic fact about this involuntary political icon of the 21st century.

WikiLeaks Logo

The media researcher Nicolas Mendoza referred to the logo as a “Coup de Net.” Inside the hourglass, Mendoza wrote in the journal Radical Philosophy, “the upper and darker planet is exchanged, drip by drip, for a new one. The power of the image lies in the sense of inexorability it conveys, alluding to earthly absolutes like the flow of time and the force of gravity: a bullish threat that grants the upper world no room for hope. The logo narrates a gradual apocalypse, and by articulating this process of transformation through the image of the leak, WikiLeaks defines itself as the critical agent in the destruction of the old and the becoming of the new world.”
WikiLeaks commented on this writing in a November, 2011 tweet: “Finally some gets the WikiLeaks logo.”

There is a tacit connection to the melting clocks from Salvador Dalí’s 1931 painting,The Persistence of Memory.

Salvador Dalí - The Persistance of Memory

But such a connection doesn’t bring us anywhere closer to finding out about the maker. It wasn’t Paul Rand or Stefan Sagmeister—so much is certain.

WikiLeaks’ logo has been of almost disproportionate importance to the organization’s initial branding. In absence of any spokespersons or figureheads, in WikiLeaks’ early days of anonymity right until Collateral Murder (released on April 5, 2010), the organization’s logo was the only image offered to journalists—see for example the site’s legacy Media Kit, which appears to be have been last updated in April, 2010. The logo conveyed both organization, and the facelessness of those behind it.

Heronimous
Margarit Ralev, on the web site LogoBlink, has posted a 1963 Braniff International Airways print advertisement which displays North and South America enclosed in an hourglass—a strikingly similar configuration which almost certainly is coincidental, as Ralev acknowledges. Ralev also speculates that the origin of the WikiLeaks logo might be Europe, which is the “central” continent in both globes.

1936 Braniff-WikiLeaks Hourglass Comparison

On October 8, 2012, in the comments below Ralev’s post, a user with the name “Heronimous” responded:

The origin is Australia. Perth to be precise. My friend and artistic collaborator designed it. She went to Uni with Assange in Canberra – and he asked her to make it. So your speculations are for the most part incorrect.

Julian Assange studied physics at the University of Melbourne and the University of Canberra between 2002 and 2005.

A Pacific physicist and illustrator
The New York-based leaking site Cryptome unveiled a set of WikiLeaks-related e-mails, exchanged at the time of the organization’s foundation in late 2006. Some of the (largely anonymized) exchanges deal with the design of the logo. There was discussion over the hourglass, and over an illustration of a mole which was still to be reworked into a “logo-sized icon.” It is not entirely clear whether the mole was considered as a logo, or merely as an illustration.

WikiLeaks Mole

On December 9, 2006, the designer of these proposals wrote [sic]:

OK, so here are some further modifications:
First of all I changed the font on the 2 logos so whatever one you decide to go with, I think this is better. ( I am guessing you’ll decide amongst yourselves what logo is appropriate)
As to the mole: I disagree about several things.
The dark figures are now looking beyond/ above the mole but they should NOT look at one another, as I want no bonding or feeling of togetherness about them.
Moles have noses like little hearts (which makes them so cute), whilst seals dont really have a separate nose (it blends in with the skin). I tried a quick change with a drill but I don’t like it.
Also added a version with a darker mole bckground, but that takes away from the picture, and I think your eye is no longer drawn to the center.
Anyway, I will try to shrink the mole into some kind of logo sized icon over the next few days. Bit busy, cause of Christmas coming up but shall do my best.
Hope  this is acceptable.
Battle on!
a[][]

The message’s footer points to an attachment file called “Logos new font.jpg.” The attachment is not displayed in the Cryptome article, but still present on its server:

WikiLeaks Logo Options

There were, indeed, two hourglass-like logos: the final choice the left, and another variation to the right, where the lower globe has disappeared; the upper globe is instead leaking splashes of water into a hand.

The same Cryptome page also features an email which WikiLeaks sent to Daniel Ellsberg on December 9, 2006. It has a list of the organization’s initial members:

1) Retired new york architect and notorious intelligence leak facilitator
2) Euro cryptographer/programmer
3) Pacific physicist and illustrator
4) A pacific author and economic policy lecturer
5) Euro, Ex-Cambridge mathematician/cryptographer/programmer
6) Euro businessman and security specialist/activist
7) Author of software than runs 40% of the world’s websites.
8) US pure mathematician with criminal law background
9) An infamous US ex-hacker
10) Pacific cryptographer/physicist and activist
11) US/euro cryptographer and activist/programmer
12) Pacific programmer
13) Pacific architect / foreign policy wonk

The “Pacific physicist and illustrator” at no. 3 seems to be the only WikiLeaks in-group member with the skills relevant to the Cryptome-leaked e-mail exchanges about the logo and the mole illustration. “Heronimous”’ claimed on the LogoBlink website that the logo’s designer was Assange’s fellow student—and Assange studied physics. But then, who would Heronimous be?

Aśka
A combined Google search for the words “Heronimous” and “Perth” leads to theFacebook page of Heronimous Wang (Hieronymous Wang). On the “Hayase” Australian Comics Wiki, Heronimous Wang has an entry which calls him a “Perth based writer/artist. One half of Ask Dr Wang Productions with Aśka.” Aśka, then, is a “Perth based graphic artist, illustrator and metal head. One half of Ask Dr Wang Productions with Heronimous Wang.”

Ask Dr Wang, the compound name of Heronimous and Aska, runs a seemingly defunct MySpace page. Topping the friend list is Aśka, whose MySpace has a link to a portfoliopage of her work on the DeviantArt network. There is a collection of illustrations, signed with a logo imprint, “Aska,” which resembles a metal band logo. One of the illustrations (signed, “Aska 2006”) features red drips which faintly recall the shapes of the “leaks” in the WikiLeaks logo.

Aska Art 2006

The same Aśka, or SuperAska, also runs two other portfolio sites. On the latter, there is her two-line bio:

Physics is my Mistress, Art my Mother and Road is my Teacher. Welcome to my world…

Would Aśka be the Pacific physicist and illustrator?
In a January 28, 2009 entry on wikileaks.org, Julian Assange announced the release of “thousands of pages of active insurgency and counterinsurgency doctrine from the US, UK and Indian military.” The article was accompanied by an illustration attributed to WikiLeaks’ “cartoonist.”

Aska Art 2008

The “Aska 2008” signature in this WikiLeaks illustration is the same as the one on the portfolio images: a heavy metal logo that says the artist’s first name.
Despite the stark differences between Aśka’s drawing-based work and the, by comparison, clinically sterile hourglass, there are remarkable similarities. For example, here is an early 2006 digital drawing of a girl, titled Expired, rendered in the same colors as the WikiLeaks logo.

WikiLeaks-Aska Art Color Comparison

WikiLeaks is missing from any of Aśka’s many portfolios, profiles and web pages. She recently made a video animation of Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle. It includes a quote from Marshall McLuhan:

All media work us over completely. They are so pervasive in their personal, political, economic, aesthetic, psychological, moral, ethical, and social consequences that they leave no part of us untouched, unaffected, unaltered.

Here is a still of Aśka’s video, made on the second McLuhan’s voice says “ethical”:

Aska Video Screenshot

Who designed the WikiLeaks logo? Part 2: An Interview with Aśka

An email was sent to Aśka with a request for comments. After a few days, an answer arrived.

She replied to an initial email:

Well, I must say it’s quite a surprise to hear from anyone regarding the logo. Thanks for your interest and the leads—it’s curious to see what people have written about it. […]
I am attaching the images for the WikiLeaks logos/images in chronological order to this email. 
That is really all there ever was.

Aśka’s work on the WikiLeaks logo proves that design as a “stealth profession” remains possible. For all the anonymity that it wanted (and got), Aśka’s WikiLeaks sign is, together with Anonymous’ question mark, a principal political image of the no-logo age. As someone commented on WikiLeaks’ Facebook post linking to this investigation: “whoever invented it, it’s history.”

The following interview with Aśka was conducted over email.

Metahaven

How did your involvement with WikiLeaks come about?

Aśka

I don’t usually design logos, but when friends ask me to, I never refuse. This case was no different. If I remember correctly, a phone number with African area code called my mobile, and it turned out to be Julian. He wanted me to create some graphics for his ready-to-launch project, more specifically, he was after some visuals which people could connect with on, as he put it, “an emotional level.”

MH

How did the idea for the hourglass emerge?

A

I made the logo in 2006, so it’s hard for me to remember what I was thinking about at the time I made it. I’m sure it would have been a completely intuitive response to the brief. I can see from my sketches that it was pretty much one of the first things that came to my mind. I was very interested in the idea of transformation that Julian’s website was aiming to achieve.

Changing the world may seem like a romantic notion, but it’s also exactly what needs to happen for each new generation to supersede the old. So I guess the hourglass is exactly that—a transformation in time. And the best thing about it is that once the last drop falls, you can turn it around and start again.

Aska WikiLeaks Logo 1

MH

How did the sketching and decision making proceed toward the final logo?

A

Julian picked the hourglass sketch from the first few proposals I sent. I followed that with the vector version and apart from the font I don’t think anything was altered.

There was an alternative line of thought though. It showed a wall from which bricks were being removed, with looming shadowy figures up above. Soon however, the idea became really complicated, and included moles and drills. After some back and forth fun, it got scrapped.

Aska WikiLeaks Logo 2

Aska WikiLeaks Logo 3

MH

What are your thoughts about what happened since? WikiLeaks is now extremely visible and well-known. Did you expect this to happen?

A

Yes and no is the short answer. The little I know about Julian is that he is very serious about his undertakings. If he wants to set up a website which uncovers world injustice and government conspiracies then he’ll do it. And at that point he already had all the drive, skills and facilities needed to do that. But of course it was impossible for me to know what that change will feel like before it actually happened. And yeah, it feels… BIG.

Aska WikiLeaks Logo 4

MH

Are you still involved with WikiLeaks, or do you still feel related to what it is doing?

A

I never felt that I was personally connected to WikiLeaks.

I don’t believe a logo has that much bearing at its conception, which is the only stage at which I was ever part of the process. In the end, any image connected with the WikiLeaks’ achievements, impact on the world and the monumental work and sacrifice of Julian and the WikiLeaks team, would gain some kind of value, and this is irrespective of the image itself.

Their logo—’the icon’—already has meaning ascribed to it by others—the organisation itself, the supporters, the media and the aggressors. None of this is connected to me, except incidentally.

I am immensely proud of WikiLeaks, but not because I had anything to do with it, but more so on the level of a person eager to see a less hypocritical, a more free and open future on the horizon.

MH

Thank you.

Via MTHVN

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