Some band logos were not all the work of design professionals. Some were more random.

Nirvana - Smiley Face

Designer - Kurt Cobain - 1991.

Singer, lead guitarist and chief songwriter Kurt Cobain originally drew the enigmatic smiley face logo for a poster advertising the release party for Nirvana's breakthrough album, Nevermind on September 13, 1991. The bands typography had already been decided at random for their debut album Bleach, on Sub Pop Records in 1989. Eager to cut costs Lisa Orth, the labels art director told designer Grand Alden to use whatever font happened to be programmed into his typesetter. It was a font Onyx which still endures on the band Nirvana's merchandise.

Various theories have been put forward for the inspiration of Cobain's disconcerting sketch. Some believe it was based on the emblem of a former strip club, the Lusty Lady in Seattle about 150 kilometres from the band's home town of Aberdeen in Washington State.

But the Smiley Face usually drawn in Black on a Yellow background had been around since 1964 when American graphic artist Harvey Ball was paid $US45 to create a motif for a moral boosting symbol for employees of an assurance company.

The truth about the Nirvana version died with Cobain in 1994. It is the combination of Cobain and the design which give the logo it's power and given the continued resonance of Nirvana's back catalogue with new fans and of old, the band has never been forgotten as Grunge music pioneers.


Published by Julian Groom