Surprisingly Creative Examples of Branding in the Federal Government

The Federal Government is a patchwork of hundreds of agencies, departments and other organizations. Like private companies, each of these bodies has a brand identity that appears on their website, letter head, badges, publications, flags, seals, and a million other places.

The most widely recognizable government brands – the President’s Seal and the US Flag – ooze power, institutional authority, and historical legacy. But they follow conservative design principles that wouldn’t win any awards for originality. The President’s Seal is a riff on the standard European coat of arms. And three-color bar flags are the international norm. (Want an original flag – think Japan or Saudi Arabia.)

Eagle-seals are fine for the President, but the three unique brands in this post succeed by departing from the standard Federal Government look.

Everything about the Forest Service logo is non-traditional.

The pastel colors in the two badge variations are one of a kind for government, and they’re also perfect for an organization dedicated to preserving our natural resources.

The stylized tree vector is a refreshing and crisp departure from the government norm of highly-detailed line drawings. It’s a friendly and quirky symbol placed smack dab in the middle of “U.S.” on the badge.

The friendly vibe is reinforced with the font treatment of “DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE” along the bottom. Have you ever seen a Federal Agency wrap text like that? It gives the whole image a hand-made quality that comes across as earnest and authentic.

The Department of Transportation is a great example of how to breathe new life into an older design. The red circle above was the pre-1980 logo, the blue one is the current redesign.

First of all, DOT should get credit for having one of the only seals to use an abstract design instead of the typical coat of arms template. The negative space in the circle references a moving wheel and is a clear reference to the Department’s function.

The redesigned logo doubles down on the successful elements of the original while improving some of the dated parts. The most obvious change is the vastly improved color palate. The hue of blue lends gravitas to the organization.

Switching the direction of the swirl was a more subtle tweak, and one that plays on the general preference for left to right / clockwise movement.

USAID is one of the best backronyms in the federal government. The name United States Agency For International Development, pronounced “U.S. aid,” fits so well because it speaks to the Agency’s mission of delivering foreign aid. The verbal association is visually reinforced with the strong blue and red font treatment.

This is also the only Federal brand that comes to mind that has a motto in the logo. “From the American People” is Don-Draper-worthy line that both inspires pride and makes for great PR when it shows up on hospital walls and bags of rice across the world.

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