History of the MSF logo

The MSF logo design story and the multiple attempts to reach our emblem!

Odile Hardy, MSF France Board Assistant, tells about the multiple attempts throughout the Movement to finally reach our MSF logo.

Soon after its creation, MSF adopted a cross-shaped logo,Bordeauxred, with the MSF letters constituting the horizontal bar of the cross.

Why a cross? For both the medical and protection symbols (it won’t prevent a MSF hospital from being bombarded, even with a red cross painted on its roof, during the 80’s): this Red Cross emblem is universally known to clearly point at the medical services in times of war and guarantees their protection. The use of the red cross in times of war by another organism than the red cross is governed by the Geneva Conventions.  Any representation of such a symbol out of this scope – and in times of peace – is a blatant usurpation.

The Geneva Conventions impose on to their signatories to forbid the unauthorised use of the name and the emblem in times of peace as well as in time of war, in order to ensure the universal respect of the symbol.

That is the reason why, at MSF inception, the International Committee of the Red Cross asked MSF to change its logo and to give up the cross. In 1985, MSF adopted a white cross on a red hatchings background, which represented the wound.    

It was then the Swiss government that asked MSF to change its logo, the white cross on a red background being property of Switzerland.

In 1990, MSF then adopted a both half-white half-red cross, tilting, on a red hatchings background.

This time, it was both the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Swiss government that request that MSF change its logo.

Meanwhile, as MSF has become an international movement, it was important to find a logo which will be accepted by each section. Each section was indeed tempted to adopt its own logo. At least 2 years were needed to reach an agreement between the sections about the current logo.

While keeping both red and white colours, this logo, adopted in 1994 by the MSF movement, still evocates more or less the red cross symbol but relies on a figure that might represents both the patient and the MSF volunteer, and keeps the wound symbol.

Then, it was necessary to clarify, in MSF international statutes, the rules of use and respect of the logo and name (graphics, colour, language, size, etc.)  within the movement, and insured it by MSF International.

We can notice that, nowadays, this logo is widely known and recognized.

MSF Logo History - A Little Calendar

1985: Logo (cross) submitted to the National Intellectual Property Organization (INPI). Complaints from the Swiss embassy.

1987: Legal action began against MSF.

1989: Appeals court in Paris bans the use of the MSF logo.

1991: Following legal advice, alterations to the logo are proposed.

1992: The International Council (IC) decides to keep the logo proposal designed by Alain Leterrier, with some changes requested. MSF Holland rejects the proposal, as AZG and Artsen zonder Grentsen has a strong brand.

1993: New logo proposal, chosen by DirComs, accepted (5 against 1) by the IC, though need an option allowing AZG. Not accepted by MSF Holland. New logotype proposed, with agreement to use “Médecins Sans Frontières”.

1994/1995: Graphic standards adopted/disseminated.

1998: The IC working group mandated to establish a coherent single logo: one brand.

1999: The working group’s solutions are accepted by the IC: MSF, full name, translation, “federating acronym”. The “running man” is an evolution from the original cross design. It is a compromise, in stark contrast to other organizations.

2008: The legal department focused on the protection of the identity of MSF. The working group is mandated to update the graphic standards (charte graphique).

2009: MSF International Council decision: MSF and full name and trademarks and logo are agreed.

2010/2012: Development of guidelines on use of the logo.

By: Göran Svedin