One of Oxide’s very first clients was Nebraska AIDS Project (NAP). When we first opened our doors ten years ago, they were located half a block down the street. Turned out that a friend of a friend was the Director of Education at NAP, and the rest is history. We’ve worked with them on a wide range of projects from annual reports to Dining Out For Life promotions to condom boxes. In the summer of 2004 they decided it was time to look at a the big picture: an identity redesign.

Passionate Buffalo logo concept for Nebraska AIDS ProjectPassionate Buffalo logo concept for Nebraska AIDS Project

Their reasoning was sound: the old logo was boring and uninspiring. It didn’t say anything interesting about what they did or who they were. Plus people colloquially refer to the organization as “NAP”, and the logo had a similarity to the logo used by GAP. Last but not least, they were approaching their 20th anniversary and felt it would be a great time to refresh their image. We jumped at the chance to partner with them on a new logo.

We met with the team at NAP to figure out what really made the organization tick. They told us they weren’t an impersonal medical clinic, but instead a group of people that were both passionate about AIDS prevention and compassionate to their clients living with HIV and AIDS. They wanted the logo to capture their midwestern location “” but not specifically Nebraska, because they also served parts of Iowa and Missouri. And above all they wanted to stay away from anything with the ubiquitous red ribbon, because they felt using the symbol might cause people to confuse them with numerous other AIDS organizations.

We set to work, focusing in on the ideas of passion, compassion, service, care, and midwest. A wide range of our concepts and sketches contained flame in some form, as a symbol of passion and motivation. The concept of hands kept bubbling to the surface as well, as a way to show personal care, compassion, and protection. One of our final concepts even used a firewheel flower “” the symbol of Hestia, Greek goddess of hospitality and health. (Also called “Indian Blanket”, the flower is found throughout the Midwestern region.)

Nebraska AIDS Project concept sketchesVarious concept sketches presented to client for Nebraska AIDS Project logo

In the end, our best solution (and the one selected by NAP) was what came to be called the “Passionate Buffalo” logo. It’s styled after early Native American drawings, and utilizes the buffalo as the quintessential symbol of the American plains. The buffalo is also strong, steadfast, determined, and yet gentle. In the logo, it’s literally got fire in its belly, to capture the dedication and passion of the people of Nebraska AIDS Project.

Unfortunately, this story does not end well for our buffalo. The NAP committee we were working with selected the concept, we’d refined it into a finished logo and had completed the process of developing versions that contained the organization’s name. Then some transition took place in the management of the organization and things got placed on hold. Then after a couple of months, the Board of Directors decided they’d vote on the matter. The Executive Director sent us this note: “The board’s vote on the design was fairly evenly split. While there was a majority in favor of the design, it was so close that the Board President felt it best to table further action until the next quarterly meeting.” He also brought up the fact that one person at NAP mentioned that occasionally HIV/AIDS patients taking anti-retrovirals for treatment develop a condition known as “buffalo hump,” and they wondered if we were making a negative correlation.

I made strong arguments that if a logo change was to happen at all, unveiling it at the 20th anniversary celebration would be the most valuable way to go. I also sent this response to the “buffalo hump” issue:

“…the most vigorous defense I can make of sticking with the Buffalo logo is precisely that it took this long for anyone to even make an association between the two. Our cursory research suggests that the terminology is not terribly wide-spread, that various other uses of the term “buffalo hump” are used more often than the reference to the medical condition, and that it’s most certainly not exclusively a condition related to HIV treatment.

Additionally, I would argue that, even being a negative condition, the association of “buffalo hump” in those rare circumstances where someone pairs the two, is not a deal-breaker. Whether the buffalo in the logo symbolizes a strong and empowered volunteer helping to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, or symbolizes a strong and empowered NAP client (who might have any number of medical difficulties) who is raging against HIV/AIDS, the symbol is still just as important.

Also, a final, even broader issue is this: the intention of changing the logo was to get away from a meaningless square, and develop something with some symbolism and depth. I guarantee that anything we would design for you that is more than a geometric form of some sort, will be open to negative interpretation by some parties, no matter what form it takes. This is a risk inherent in the leaving behind of the square for something with symbology and passion. The fact that the Buffalo logo is so unexpected and open to interpretation is exactly what would make it so effective for NAP.” Drew Davies, Email to NAP (2005)

When all was said and done, the Board and the organization were simply not ready to take a leap of faith. We checked in regularly over the next couple of months, but never made any progress. In the ensuing months, the Executive Director, the Director of Marketing, and the Director of Education all left the organization for various reasons. The Board of Directors never even brought the matter back up for a vote.

Nebraska AIDS Project logo, 2010New logo for Nebraska AIDS Project by Chris Kelly and Daryl Anderson, 2010

The silver lining of the story is that five years later, Nebraska AIDS Project was finally ready to update their identity. They worked with Chris Kelly and Daryl Anderson of Clark Creative Group on a new logo that brings a much-needed modernization to the organization. Obviously, their goals and direction were different than they had been in 2004, but the result is still a good step forward for NAP.

But some days I still miss that passionate, persistent buffalo.

View the project page for Nebraska AIDS Project.