February 29, 2016
by Julie Dodd
When I saw the new Centennial logo for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, I was interested in learning the story behind the logo and thought you would, too.
The designer is Karen Key, who is a graphic designer for the Great Smoky Mountains Association. Here is our discussion about creating the logo.
Q: As a graphic designer for GSMA since 2006, you’ve been involved in a wide range of projects – from the Smokies Life Magazine to Hike the Smokies. What was special about creating the Centennial logo?
Karen Key: This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me! There will never be another 100th birthday of NPS, so that was a little intimidating to start. I knew this would also be a group effort. I’d have to work with GSMA and NPS to come up with something that could be applicable on lots of products and something that NPS really felt captured the Smokies’ mission for the Centennial. There were also parameters to follow from the National Park Foundation.
Q: The arrowhead and 2016 National Park Service Centennial wording were created by the National Park Service and the National Park Foundation. What guidelines were provided to the individual parks in designing their own individual logos and how did that inform your design?
Karen Key: There were exact Pantone colors, (a set of standard colors for printing that is specified by a single number) and fonts I had to use from the National Park Foundation’s style guide. Spacing around the actual Centennial logo was also a consideration.
Q: Your logo captures the diversity of experiences that the Great Smoky Mountains offer. How did you decide which images to include in the logo?
Karen Key: I always start with lists and some mind mapping. This sort of helps me make relationships visually. For example, I knew a bear had to be included with some sort of aspect of camping. A lot of the leaf foliage was added to make the shape of the arrowhead. I also had to design a less complicated version for smaller applications, like the pin and sticker (shown at the top of the blog post).
Q: Tell me about the process you went through in creating the logo.
Karen Key: Lists and mapping (see photo). I have a lot of inspiration literally right outside my window. If I get stuck, it’s easy to go for a hike and get some insight for whatever project I’m working on.
Q: How will the logo be used?
Karen Key: So far, GSMA has produced several products using the image, including a hot/cold cup, tumbler, coffee mug, T-shirts, pin, sticker, hiking medallion, and there will be more to come throughout the year. These items will be available for sale in all visitor center locations, with proceeds going to support GSMA’s mission to support the national park.
Q: When did you get interested in nature and hiking? I know you grew up in Erwin, Tenn., near the mountains.
Karen Key: My dad is a true outdoorsman. Hunts, fishes, etc. I grew up about five minutes from the Cherokee National Forest, so we did a lot of that stuff. Although, it wasn’t really until I started working for GSMA in 2006, that hiking has become one of my favorite pastimes. I realized that as a child, I took being so close to the mountains for granted.
My parents just bought my 3-year-old-daughter her lifetime sportsman license. I love taking her out in the park and instilling in her the wonderment of nature. That’s what the Centennial is all about, paving the way for the next generation of national park lovers!
Q: As a GSMNP hiker, what is a hike that you’d recommend for those who are taking the #Hike100 challenge?
Karen Key: Cucumber Gap loop in Elkmont is one of my most favorite places. It’s not as crowded and it’s about five miles total. There’s the beautiful Little River and lots of wildflowers in the spring. I love seeing the old houses in Elkmont and imagining the stories they hold. Alum Cave is another really great hike, but that one can be crowded.
Q: What else would you like to share about creating the Centennial logo or about your other graphic design work for the GSMA?
Karen Key: This particular project was a blast, but I really felt the pressure of representing the whole park! It was definitely a collaborative venture. I got some direction from GSMA’s Interpretive Products and Services Director Steve Kemp and our Product Support Director Dawn Roark. She has a great idea of what our visitors like to buy, so it was valuable to have her insight. We then narrowed my work down to three choices and all NPS employees got to vote on which one they felt suited us best. This is the one they chose.