Independent Thought

Photo by Morbid
Note - If you are sensitive to any use of the Iron Cross, be warned there is a single instance of it displayed for reference in this blog post.

You see this image above? Just looks like a standard pair of trucks, right? Well, there’s something different about this pair. This is a pair of Independent Trucks, but it’s missing the company’s famous “Cross” logo – a mark the company has worn since its inception. So why have Independent chosen to remove this signature logo from their trucks?

Independent have come under fire recently for the similarities between their logo and the Nazi Iron Cross. This has prompted them to remove the mark from all of their trucks, and in turn this is a subject that has the skateboarding community divided. Everyone loves to boil shit like this down to a “left vs right” political issue these days, but it’s more complicated than that (everything always is).

To be completely honest, I get it. This has been a point of contention on the Independent logo for years. Having said that, as the exact kind of person that White Supremacists think shouldn’t exist: I never saw the Indy logo as something offensive, racist or fascist. It is a mark that skateboarders claimed for themselves – almost replicating the DIY nature of skateboarding, taking something derelict and unwanted and making it into something beautiful, and giving it a new, positive meaning.

I’ve been doing graphic design professionally for over 10 years, and logos are marvellous, strange, impressive creations. Logos are a language all to themselves, and carry as much weight as words. Logos, like words, require context. Just because two words sound the same, doesn’t mean they are the same, and the same can be said for how logos look, and what they mean.

So, from a purely technical graphic design standpoint, here are the two logos. When we look at the Independent logo: it’s depiction is rounded, not square like the Iron Cross, and the dimensions on the Indy logo are ever so slightly more lean. It’s structure is also designed primarily to hold the Independent word mark inside it. The Iron Cross is also usually uniformly displayed as black, and whilst the Independent logo is usually displayed in a lot of varied colours, it is pretty synonymous with red.

These are all fundamental to the argument when saying that one piece of graphic design is the same as another. If these were two corporate identities and you took them to court, claiming one had ripped off the other, the technical graphic design argument would be enough to disprove the claim. The differences between them will become incredibly important when I detail how the logo was made in a few paragraphs as well. As I have said, context is key to understanding the issue here.

I do think calling out Independent for using this as their logo could set a precedent for calling out any existing logo that bears a passing resemblance to other offensive marks, no matter how tenuous. Where do we draw the line? On the surface, a side by side comparison tells me they aren’t the same mark. If you look at them both, from a professional graphic design standpoint, that’s the truth. There are key differences which separate them. But, as I keep saying: context matters. 

For anyone defending the Indy logo, I got bad news for you. The history behind the logo adds a tonne of fuel to the fire. Jim Phillips originally created the logo, and actually based it on the Iron Cross. He was fully aware of the negative association, but it had long been abandoned by the Nazis and Biker Gangs, so he sought to reclaim it for skateboarders, and use it as the logo for Independent Trucks. Phillips rounded it off, and played with the dimensions to give it it’s own identity, but even two of Indy’s co-founders (Richard Novak & Jay Shiurman) were sceptical and straight away called it out as looking “a bit Nazi”.

Phillips had to dig into the history of the mark and find explicit proof that other groups, that weren’t complete fascists, had used the rounded cross to convince them. It was the Pope’s use of a similar symbol which sold them on it, as they thought if the Pope is cool with it, then it should be OK for them. Having said that, as a graphic designer, this is a huge red flag – you shouldn’t have to work that hard to justify the use of your logo. Jim Phillips is a phenomenal artist and great graphic designer: coming up with an equally iconic replacement after Novak and Shiurman’s feedback should’ve been straightforward.

I’m not sure if the history of how this logo was created makes the issue worse or not. People like to simplify the use of the Indy Cross down to Independent knowingly using Nazi iconography. But, given the story behind the logo, I don’t think this is the case – especially as the connection was questioned, and discussions were clearly had about how the logo would be perceived. Variations of the logo have been used repeatedly throughout history, and as Phillips proved there was always going to be a historic justification for retaining it.

Whether knowingly using it, or not, the point remains that a significant portion of skateboarders aren’t keen on the company using the Indy Cross as their logo. Indy team member Breeana Geering even stated that the removal of the cross from the baseplates was a good move in her eyes, as she loves the company but was super bummed out by the logo. However much they try to remove themselves from the Iron Cross, for a lot of people it quite simply is never going to be enough until the current logo is gone.

Breeana Geering / FS Nosegrind / Photo by Mike Burnett

Lance Mountain called attention to the removal of the Indy Cross from Independent’s trucks, by showing the old baseplate, and in turn got a whole load of backlash. Some people bemoaned “cancel culture” and how it had forced (what they believed) to be an iconic and beloved brand to remove it’s own logo from it’s products. Others re-enforced the harmful nature of the mark’s connection to the Iron Cross, and backed Indy’s choice to remove it. 

Whilst some tried to use facts and the aforementioned general history of the Indy Cross’ use elsewhere to justify retaining the mark on the trucks, it became a bit of a mess. People took their defence of both sides of the argument to the extreme. I’m not sure if it’s good or bad press for Independent, but in one fell swoop they annoyed a lot of their customers with a pretty minimal change to their trucks.

The Cross is still present on all of their soft goods, so this doesn’t seem to be a total disassociation with the mark – which is really strange, and, if you ask me, a bit weak, especially given the controversy surrounding it. Logos and branding, especially when they endure for almost 40 years, aren’t the kind of thing you can phase out in such a half-hearted manner. 

In my eyes the best way to handle this would’ve been to grab the bull by the horns: completely re-brand and refresh Independent properly. Make the conversation about the new logo, and not the Indy Cross that can still be seen elsewhere. It would’ve made the change on the trucks make more sense, it would’ve been far less incendiary for a large chunk of their customers, and it certainly wouldn’t have made this story about “cancel culture”.

Photo by Lance Mountain

If logos are like words, and branding is language, then I guess it’s fair to say that all communication changes as society evolves and adapts. There are types of communication that are just utterly outdated in 2020, and people will treat you differently for using them. Language evolves and changes to match what people require it to be, and this is the same for a brand. 

I’m sad to see (what I believe to be) an iconic mark that skateboarders took ownership of being the cause of this much argument. Maybe Independent are tired of having this conversation every couple of years. Personally, if we’re seeing this cycle of controversy occur with this beloved brand, we should just let this particular logo quietly die out. When it really comes down to it, the thing that matters is the quality of their trucks, and I still think they are industry leaders in that respect – and they certainly don’t need a logo on their baseplate to prove that. 

P.S. If anyone at Indy wants a graphic designer to have a crack at doing some new logos for them - I'm totally up for it *wink wink*

6 thoughts on “Independent Thought

  1. Read the wikipedia page foo…. it was based of the POPEs design on his robe … do a image search for 1979 pope time magazine… prove your an idiot… I found a Time magazine cover of Pope John Paul from the June 18, 1979 edition. It was amazing; there was a cross on his vestments almost the way I designed mine. I marched into the office the next morning with the magazine to show what I thought was proof of acceptability. They both looked at each other and said, ‘Well, if the Pope has it, it must be okay!’ That was that, and the Independent cross was born.

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  2. Are we going to get rid of the Navy Cross Medal now? Which is the highest service medal someone can get serving the USA Navy??? This stuff has gone too far. Independent were my favorite trucks not anymore time to switch brands .

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    1. I mean people are allowed to interpret symbols any way they want. It doesn’t make it wrong to acknowledge the good or bad it’s been used for as everyone is gonna feel differently about it – and it’s up to Independent what they wanna do with it. Doesn’t change the quality of the trucks 🤷

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