In February 2019, Resources for the Future (RFF) unveiled a new logo—the sixth brand iteration since the institution’s founding in 1952. What follows is a brief history of RFF’s visual identity.
Starting with Serifs, 1952–1961
For its first nine years, RFF’s logo featured sharp serifs at discordant angles—a design that would have stood out as much to 1950s audiences as it does to our modern-day sensibilities. RFF’s founders might have been inspired by the distinctive 1950s wordmark of the Ford Foundation, whose initial funding was crucial in establishing RFF. Another possibility is that the design was inspired by the ornate typographies of the pre-Raphaelite movement, whose artists attempted (like any good RFF scholar) to capture the natural world with the greatest degree of objectivity.
Loopy Lettering, 1962–1975
During the 1960s, RFF scholars developed not only new ways of thinking about the environment, but also entirely novel areas of study—including the fields of environmental economics and urban economics. The 1962 revisions to RFF’s logo may have reflected the mood of those days—at an institution that was rapidly maturing and consistently producing highly visible and authoritative work. Thus, gone were the harsh and jagged forms, replaced by elegant, looped lettering.
Font Futurism, 1976–1983
RFF’s 1976 logo adopted a strongly geometric typography popularized by European type foundries of the 1960s—showcasing the precision of new printing technologies and symbolizing the emergence of a new technological age. This type of distinctive geometric typography became widely used in the 1960s and 1970s, including in the Star Trek universe. While the font may have reflected a similar spirit of futurism at RFF, the branding was destined to date itself—and indeed, it became the shortest lived of RFF’s past emblems.
What the Font?, 1983–1992
Perhaps the most peculiar evolution of RFF’s logo took place in 1983, with the adoption of “Resources for the Future” text that used an ambitious combination of uppercase, lowercase, italicized, and normal lettering. Were the lowercase e letters an homage to the e words that animate RFF’s research: “environment,” “energy,” the “economy”?
Reaching New Peaks, 1992–2018
In 1992, RFF adopted its first distinctive “double-mountain” logo. The branding succeeded in combining two key themes in RFF’s work—a mountainous skyline depicting the natural world, alongside three lines that might be interpreted as trend lines on a chart. There was much to like about this elegant combination of ideas, and the logo persisted for more than a quarter of a century—rendering it the most durable in the institution’s history.
When I became RFF’s vice president in 1989, I told Bob Fri—the president at the time—that I wanted to change the logo. He let me run with it but made clear to me that if everyone hated it, I would have to take the blame!
“I remember saying that I wanted something that looked more modern and that conveyed the fact that we’re an analytical organization,” says Paul R. Portney, who was vice president of RFF when he spearheaded this rebranding effort. “I thought that what the artist came up with was terrific. It looked like a graph, but conveyed a mountain range, as well. Originally, the uppermost of the two straight lines at the bottom was blue, connoting a river.”
Looking Forward, 2019–Present
Early 2019 marked the sixth, and current, iteration of RFF’s logo. Our goal was to refine the best of RFF’s historic brands into a memorable, elegant, and timeless identity. We decided to redeploy the double-mountain design, while smoothing out some of the harsher elements. Inset at the base of the mountains in the new design is a cutout triangle: a placeholder for rivers, transportation networks, energy infrastructure, or other natural and human elements that make up RFF’s work.