What’s an appropriate symbol for the essence of Context Institute? That’s the question we asked as we began planning for this new chapter in the CI story.
Conceptually, we wanted something that could convey our understanding of context and simultaneously convey the optimistic, generative spirit that is at the heart of CI.
The image you see above feels to us like it does this, yet since the meaning of such an image is so much in the eye of the beholder, we thought it might be helpful to share how we have come to see it. (We say “come to see it” since much of the following interpretation came after the image was created.)
An image for context
Context can be defined as “the interrelated conditions in which something exists or occurs.” Its roots go back to the Latin contextere which derives from com (together, with, joint) + texture (to weave, to braid). So context is both a surrounding and a weaving together.
As a surrounding, context only has meaning if there is something that it surrounds, something for which it is the context. There also needs to be some sense of connection, of relationship, between that something and its context. Thus, as a complete system, the concept of context requires three parts: 1) the surroundings, 2) that which is surrounded, and 3) the relationship between the two.
The three major parts of the logo represent these three aspects of context: the twelve-petaled, braided ring provides the surrounding, the central triangle is what is surrounded, and the spiral lines provide the connection between the central triangle and the surrounding braid.
An image for the Institute
The particular choices we’ve made for each of these three parts are intended to convey qualities of CI.
The central image: We have a long history (see below) of using triangles and triads in CI logos, and that tradition continues to speak to us. An upward pointing triangle conveys a sense of energy and upward direction built on a strong stable base. By being about three, it goes beyond dualistic, either-or thinking. By being more than a point, it conveys its own inner complexity — it is itself a system. This gets at one of the subtler aspects of context, namely that context is often what you notice after you have focused in on the core object or topic because the focal core is usually interesting and complex enough to grab and hold your attention. Context is yin so it is appropriate for the central figure to be correspondingly yang.
The surrounding context: Being a braid symbolizes our interest in weaving many strands of thought and experience from diverse cultures and disciplines. Twelve shows up in many cultures throughout history as a symbol of wholeness; it goes well with our focus on whole systems. The golden ring echoes the sun with all that represents for sustainability.
The spirals: Unlike straight lines, the spirals convey a relationship of flexible influence between the core and its context. The spirals also convey a sense of motion, which is appropriate for an organization focused on change.
What do you see in this logo? Please use the comment form to let us know.
The new logo is the latest in a series of images we have used over the years. We went back over that history in preparing this story of the logo and were intrigued to find how much continuity the new logo has with the images that came before it. We thought you might enjoy this history as well.
The first NOLLA logo
[The following images and text are taken from the first NOLLA Journal, published in July 1979. NOLLA stands for the North Olympic Living Lightly Association, which was Context Institute's first name. This logo was used on the NOLLA Journal from July 1979 to June 1981.]
The circular symbol [above] is a combination of three images for key ingredients that go into making living lightly work and work well. The triangle comes from Scott Burns’s The Household Economy where it is used to illustrate the changing productive and economic strengths of the marketplace, the household, and the community (government and community organizations). For example, in the 50’s and 60’s:
During the last 100 years, the market and the government part of the community have been growing, often at the expense of the household. Living lightly generally reverses this trend, reducing dependence on the market and government and affirming the productive strength of both the household and local community organizations (like food coops). The symbol in the logo expresses the goal of balance among these three sectors.
The inner ellipse represents any human activity with the three necessary inputs of material goods, skills, and time.
Our society generally puts a high value on material goods because they are easily visible, and easily accounted. Yet while we, as a people, have been focusing our attention in that direction, we have been slowly and quietly becoming skill (and time) poor in many practical areas so that we have often to pay “experts” to do much that we could do better and less expensively ourselves. Living lightly shifts the attention back to all three, but especially to skills as the central key for being able to live well consuming fewer material goods and freeing up more personal time. Putting your wealth in skills has a lot of advantages. They are unaffected by moths, rust or thieves, they aren’t bulky to store or move, they are inflation-proof, and they obey an economy of multiplication – I usually increase my skill in the process of teaching it to you. Only time, to learn and use, limits our potential wealth in skills. The symbol in the logo again expresses the goal of balance among these three inputs.
The outer circle represents the ecological, whole-systems awareness of the cycles in nature:
Again, our society has often tried to ignore the return part, throwing “wastes” into air and water and often taking billion-year-old resources, using or playing with them for a few years, then dispersing them as “trash” all over the landscape. If we were simply trying to live cheap, we might continue this pattern, but to me living lightly involves the commitment to participate responsibly in the cycles of nature, recognizing that the earth is one unit and that sooner or later we will reap what we have sown. The beautiful part of all this is that learning to move in harmony with nature (from gardening to solar heating to whatever) reveals the gentle and ungrudging abundance nature is always offering us. The symbol in the logo reminds us of these cycles and of the unity of all life on the earth.
These images could apply to living lightly anywhere. The outer symbols of mountains, trees, water, and land put them in place, our place, the North Olympic Peninsula, and emphasize that living lightly is a rooted experience involving real people attuned to a specific place. [End of 1979 article.]
The second NOLLA logo
In July 1981, at the start of the NOLLA Journal’s third year, the logo got an upgrade with imagery by graphic artist Laurel Black and calligrapher Genevive Starr. The conceptual elements in the graphic remained the same, but the addition of the calligraphy shifted the overall feel. This continued as the NOLLA Journal’s logo through its last issue in June 1983. (There was a six month overlap when we were publishing both the NOLLA Journal and In Context.)
The IN CONTEXT logo
When, starting in mid-1982, we changed our main focus from the local NOLLA Journal to the international quarterly In Context, we decided to go with a purely word-based calligraphed logo, again created by Genevive Starr. The intention was to create something clean with a forward momentum that had a sense of resonance with various cultures around the world. In Context used this logo from its first issue in early 1983 to the last print issue in late 1995 and then through mid 2012 on the previous version of the website.
The 1995 IN CONTEXT redesign
The last four issues of IN CONTEXT, published in 1995, had a new format designed by Marcia Barrentine that included the following logo-like image:
This image contains the letters ‘i’ and ‘c’ so it could be used for both IN CONTEXT (IC) and Context Institute (CI). When we built the first context.org site in 1996, we used this image as part of the home-page header.
The 2000 website redesign
As part of the graphic upgrade to context.org in 2000, we added this banner at the top of the page. The combination of calligraphed text with a central figure has a lot in common with the second NOLLA logo. The figure itself has similar elements to the new logo (central triangle, twelve-sided surround and curvy arms connecting the two) and was an important step in getting to where we are now.