Why The Oscars Logo Got A Makeover

LA-based agency 180LA gave the Academy its new visual identity.


Invariably, when an actor wins an Oscar, he thanks the Academy in his acceptance speech. At which point, millions of people watching are probably wondering, who and what exactly is this omniscient Academy?


While best (or perhaps only) known as the organization behind the annual awards show, the Academy is also a company that employs thousands of people who work in education, on film archiving, and–right now especially–on the soon-to-open, Renzo Piano-designed Academy Museum of Motion Pictures. Despite the year-round work, the Academy’s visual identity only spotlighted one thing: the Oscars.

Which helps explain why last year, the Academy enlisted the help of 180LA, a design agency based in Los Angeles, to create a new visual identity. “They needed a unifying idea, regardless of whether you’re an archivist in white gloves taking care of treasures in film, or a Steven Spielberg type,” says William Gelner, 180LA’s chief creative officer.

The old Academy logo had existed since the 1920s, and it exclusively showed off the shape of the Academy’s gold statuette. At some point, the statuette became ensconced in a round oval. To create a more encompassing brand identity, Gelner and the design team decided that the Oscar had to stop hogging the spotlight.

The Academy’s old logo

“It became a simple solution,” Richard Harrington, head of design, tells Co.Design. “For me it was all about the light that was behind the original logo. So we picked that light up and shone it down on top of the Oscar, and it created an ‘A’ shape. There were the same components: we’ve got light, we’ve got a statuette. And it’s an ‘A’ shape, which obviously stands for the Academy.”

Gelner and Harrington also found that by stashing the anchor logo–of the statuette underneath the letter ‘A’–they could easily integrate it into larger signage for the Academy, or the Oscars, without reinventing the entire look. “In the old logo, the Academy brand itself felt like a tagalong, versus being the brand behind the Oscars,” Gelner says. “Now there’s a huge emphasis on the A.”

About the author

Margaret Rhodes is a former associate editor for Fast Company magazine.