Who designed the WikiLeaks logo? "Design history" deserves to know about the origins of its Coca Cola of transparency. Research by Metahaven now reveals a basic fact about this involuntary political icon of the 21st century.
The media researcher Nicolas Mendoza referred to the logo as a “Coup de Net.” Inside the hourglass, Mendoza wrote in the journal Radical Philosophy, “the upper and darker planet is exchanged, drip by drip, for a new one. The power of the image lies in the sense of inexorability it conveys, alluding to earthly absolutes like the flow of time and the force of gravity: a bullish threat that grants the upper world no room for hope. The logo narrates a gradual apocalypse, and by articulating this process of transformation through the image of the leak, WikiLeaks defines itself as the critical agent in the destruction of the old and the becoming of the new world.”
WikiLeaks commented on this writing in a November, 2011 tweet: “Finally some gets the WikiLeaks logo.”
There is a tacit connection to the melting clocks from Salvador Dalí’s 1931 painting, The Persistence of Memory.
But such a connection doesn’t bring us anywhere closer to finding out about the maker. It wasn’t Paul Rand or Stefan Sagmeister—so much is certain.
WikiLeaks’ logo has been of almost disproportionate importance to the organization’s initial branding. In absence of any spokespersons or figureheads, in WikiLeaks’ early days of anonymity right until Collateral Murder (released on April 5, 2010), the organization’s logo was the only image offered to journalists—see for example the site’s legacy Media Kit, which appears to be have been last updated in April, 2010. The logo conveyed both organization, and the facelessness of those behind it.
Margarit Ralev, on the web site LogoBlink, has posted a 1963 Braniff International Airways print advertisement which displays North and South America enclosed in an hourglass—a strikingly similar configuration which almost certainly is coincidental, as Ralev acknowledges. Ralev also speculates that the origin of the WikiLeaks logo might be Europe, which is the “central” continent in both globes.
On October 8, 2012, in the comments below Ralev’s post, a user with the name “Heronimous” responded:
The origin is Australia. Perth to be precise. My friend and artistic collaborator designed it. She went to Uni with Assange in Canberra – and he asked her to make it. So your speculations are for the most part incorrect.
Julian Assange studied physics at the University of Melbourne and the University of Canberra between 2002 and 2005.
A Pacific physicist and illustrator
The New York-based leaking site Cryptome unveiled a set of WikiLeaks-related e-mails, exchanged at the time of the organization’s foundation in late 2006. Some of the (largely anonymized) exchanges deal with the design of the logo. There was discussion over the hourglass, and over an illustration of a mole which was still to be reworked into a “logo-sized icon.” It is not entirely clear whether the mole was considered as a logo, or merely as an illustration.
On December 9, 2006, the designer of these proposals wrote [sic]:
OK, so here are some further modifications:
First of all I changed the font on the 2 logos so whatever one you decide to go with, I think this is better. ( I am guessing you’ll decide amongst yourselves what logo is appropriate)
As to the mole: I disagree about several things.
The dark figures are now looking beyond/ above the mole but they should NOT look at one another, as I want no bonding or feeling of togetherness about them.
Moles have noses like little hearts (which makes them so cute), whilst seals dont really have a separate nose (it blends in with the skin). I tried a quick change with a drill but I don’t like it.
Also added a version with a darker mole bckground, but that takes away from the picture, and I think your eye is no longer drawn to the center.
Anyway, I will try to shrink the mole into some kind of logo sized icon over the next few days. Bit busy, cause of Christmas coming up but shall do my best.
Hope this is acceptable.
The message’s footer points to an attachment file called “Logos new font.jpg.” The attachment is not displayed in the Cryptome article, but still present on its server:
There were, indeed, two hourglass-like logos: the final choice the left, and another variation to the right, where the lower globe has disappeared; the upper globe is instead leaking splashes of water into a hand.
The same Cryptome page also features an email which WikiLeaks sent to Daniel Ellsberg on December 9, 2006. It has a list of the organization’s initial members:
1) Retired new york architect and notorious intelligence leak facilitator
2) Euro cryptographer/programmer
3) Pacific physicist and illustrator
4) A pacific author and economic policy lecturer
5) Euro, Ex-Cambridge mathematician/cryptographer/programmer
6) Euro businessman and security specialist/activist
7) Author of software than runs 40% of the world’s websites.
8) US pure mathematician with criminal law background
9) An infamous US ex-hacker
10) Pacific cryptographer/physicist and activist
11) US/euro cryptographer and activist/programmer
12) Pacific programmer
13) Pacific architect / foreign policy wonk
The “Pacific physicist and illustrator” at no. 3 seems to be the only WikiLeaks in-group member with the skills relevant to the Cryptome-leaked e-mail exchanges about the logo and the mole illustration. “Heronimous”’ claimed on the LogoBlink website that the logo’s designer was Assange’s fellow student—and Assange studied physics. But then, who would Heronimous be?
A combined Google search for the words “Heronimous” and “Perth” leads to the Facebook page of Heronimous Wang (Hieronymous Wang). On the “Hayase” Australian Comics Wiki, Heronimous Wang has an entry which calls him a “Perth based writer/artist. One half of Ask Dr Wang Productions with Aśka.” Aśka, then, is a “Perth based graphic artist, illustrator and metal head. One half of Ask Dr Wang Productions with Heronimous Wang.”
Ask Dr Wang, the compound name of Heronimous and Aska, runs a seemingly defunct MySpace page. Topping the friend list is Aśka, whose MySpace has a link to a portfolio page of her work on the DeviantArt network. There is a collection of illustrations, signed with a logo imprint, “Aska,” which resembles a metal band logo. One of the illustrations (signed, “Aska 2006”) features red drips which faintly recall the shapes of the “leaks” in the WikiLeaks logo.
Physics is my Mistress, Art my Mother and Road is my Teacher. Welcome to my world…
Would Aśka be the Pacific physicist and illustrator?
In a January 28, 2009 entry on wikileaks.org, Julian Assange announced the release of “thousands of pages of active insurgency and counterinsurgency doctrine from the US, UK and Indian military.” The article was accompanied by an illustration attributed to WikiLeaks’ “cartoonist.”
The “Aska 2008” signature in this WikiLeaks illustration is the same as the one on the portfolio images: a heavy metal logo that says the artist’s first name.
Despite the stark differences between Aśka’s drawing-based work and the, by comparison, clinically sterile hourglass, there are remarkable similarities. For example, here is an early 2006 digital drawing of a girl, titled Expired, rendered in the same colors as the WikiLeaks logo.
WikiLeaks is missing from any of Aśka’s many portfolios, profiles and web pages. She recently made a video animation of Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle. It includes a quote from Marshall McLuhan:
All media work us over completely. They are so pervasive in their personal, political, economic, aesthetic, psychological, moral, ethical, and social consequences that they leave no part of us untouched, unaffected, unaltered.
Here is a still of Aśka’s video, made on the second McLuhan’s voice says “ethical”:
An email was sent to Aśka with a request for comments. After a few days, an answer arrived.