Symbolizing Prince

A symbol connects with the human mind in a way that a word never could. Not only does a symbol instantly transmit meaning on multiple levels, it can be made into an object and held in your hands or worn on a chain around your neck. A symbol has the power to evoke an emotional response and communicate ineffable qualities such as majesty, divinity, purity or righteousness. A circle, for example, can communicate wholeness and completion.

It was a tall order then, when designers Mitch Monson and Lizz Luce, who were with Minneapolis design firm HDMG in the early 1990s, were contracted to design a symbol to represent Prince. Working with Paisley Park in-house creative director/producer Sotera Tschetter, Monson and Luce devised a symbol that unified the male (Mars) symbol and female (Venus) symbol, something which Prince had been doing since the cover of the 1999 album. Many have noted that the final design resembles the Soapstone Symbol used in alchemy, with a circle added on top. Others believe the design is reflective of the Ankh, the Egyptian symbol known as the “handled cross.” The Ankh is also known as the “key of life.”

Egyptian Ankh circa 1400, from the Metropolitan Museum of Art

In May 2016, Monson was quoted on the design industry website LogoLounge as saying of the Love Symbol: “It’s masculine, but romantic and sensual. It reflects his music and who and what he was, even as the king of reinvention. It’s normally difficult to express all the attributes of a client in one mark, but somehow the evolution of the Love Symbol really did lead to a mark that reflects so many of Prince’s attributes and passions.” Monson went on to say he felt the logo reflected three attributes that Prince embodied: love, diversity and acceptance.

The act of adopting a Love Symbol that unified male and female around Prince’s music was, in the words of Arlene Oak, associate professor in material culture and design studies at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, “… audacious, exhilarating, and humorous.”

In an email interview, Oak, who does research on how people engage with the world of designed objects and images, goes on to say the act was “Audacious, because who else but Prince would have the nerve to do that? Exhilarating because it was such a singular, purposeful, simultaneously self-creating and self-alienating action. And humorous (in an admittedly exasperating, mildly-torturing-of-others sort of way) because he must have known – or at least guessed ­ what chaos would ensue for others: all those discombobulated interviewers who contorted themselves around their irritation at not knowing how to address him; all those employees who had to run interference; all those friends who would mildly panic when they accidentally didn’t remember the new rules. He must have loved it, the winding people up. Plus, as he said, pragmatically, to interviewer Larry King, `it makes for great jewelry.'”

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