Composed of a downward-facing arrow crossed by a curlicue and crowned by a perfect halo, Prince’s Love symbol is a portmanteau of Venus and Mars emblems, a rogue protest against his record label, and, when it debuted in 1993, a conundrum for the media to reproduce. But if there was one person who could compel the publishing industry to adopt an entirely new font, it was Ƭ̵̬̊, aka The Artist Formerly Known as Prince.
New York magazine has the story on the symbol’s beginnings. When Prince disbanded from New Power Generation in June of 1993, he legally changed his name to the symbol Ƭ̵̬̊, which had no formal name or pronunciation. To ensure he was referred to correctly in the media, he distributed 3.5-inch floppy disks loaded with a custom font–compatible with Macs and PCs–that replaced capital Ps with his Ƭ̵̬̊ symbol. He also made the files downloadable on CompuServe, the first commercial ISP. Explicit instructions on how to use the symbol accompanied it. To avoid confusion, the first time Prince was mentioned in a story, the symbol could be followed with the parenthetical “the artist formally known as Prince,” which is what most outlets ended up using in lieu of the symbol. (One can only imagine the arguments from managing editors about house style guides and how to handle this aberration.)
Prince’s graphic designers made the font out of their own frustration on how to communicate internally. Chuck Hermes, a member of the Paisley Park design team told New York:
“It just seemed like a logical thing to do … Everybody was having a hard time. He didn’t even want us to be calling him Prince in person. Part of it was, there was this glyph, this symbol that we didn’t know how to pronounce, and he wasn’t giving us any clues.”
About six months after the floppy disks were mailed out, Steve Parke, one of Prince’s employees, spotted it in Rolling Stone. He told New York:
“How many people can just say ‘Hey, I’m changing my name to this symbol so can you use it from now on?’ and everyone’s like ‘Alright. Okay. No questions asked. You’re Prince! We’ll do it!’ It was kind of funny to me.”
So in addition to being a musical genius, you can add typographer and savvy technologist to Prince’s list of achievements.