How Morningstar's founder arrived at the name and logo

By Morningstar |  21-05-19 | 
 

Morningstar Inc. just completed 35 years of existence. Our founder, Joe Mansueto, tells CEO Kunal Kapoor how he came up with company name and what went behind the well-designed logo. 

How he came up with the name Morningstar….

When I was looking to name the company, I remembered a very powerful book that I read as a first-year student at the University of Chicago: Walden, by Henry David Thoreau.

The conclusion is very powerful, and I was wondering, how is Thoreau gonna end this book? And so I'm up on the fourth floor of Regenstein Library at the university, and I get to that last line: "The sun is but a morning star".

I still remember reading that line, pausing, putting the book down on my lap, and I look out over the quads, and the snow is falling. And I think to myself, what the hell does that mean?

I had to think about it for a bit. I mean, it's something that's been around as long as the sun. It's still in its infancy. It's about rebirth. It's a very positive statement. That line stuck with me, and that book meant a lot to me. It was all about independence, thrift, self-reliance, and those were all great qualities for a company to embody, and so when I was thinking of a name I really liked those qualities. That last line just had a very positive, optimistic sound to it: Morningstar.

The connection between the naming of Morningstar and the now ubiquitous logo….

I didn't know a lot about design, so I researched and looked at various designers who were out there, talked to a lot of people, and I read a book that really resonated with me: A Designer's Art by Paul Rand.

Paul designed the IBM logo, the old UPS logo with the package, the Westinghouse logo. What I liked about the book was that he approached design from a fine arts perspective. A lot of designers came out of the marketing/advertising world, and it was more of a trade, but Paul Rand came at it from this fine arts perspective.

When I was tracking him down, the first person I called in New York said, "Oh, he died a number of years ago". I persevered. I finally found him in Weston, Connecticut, and I called him up and said I admired his work and requested him to design the Morningstar logo.

He was a one-man band, no assistant. He very gruffly replied: "Urgh, I'm very busy. Call me back in a month."

Few weeks later, I got the same treatment: "Urgh. Send me a letter."

I wrote him a long letter, on how important this company was to me, how I admired his work, and why I really wanted him to create our logo.

I called again, I got: "Oh, I'm too busy, too busy."

Then I said what if I fly out and meet with you?

Then he changed 180 degrees. He later told me that my willingness to fly out made all the difference. He said he gets calls all the time from people wanting him to design their logos, and he only did a couple projects a year. So he's very selective about who he took on.

I flew out. It was Superbowl Sunday, a bitter cold day in January. I stayed in New York. The next morning I drove out to Weston, Connecticut, and I spent a wonderful morning with Paul in his home. He had a beautiful home in Weston. Floor-to-ceiling glass facing a wooded lot, and it was snow on the ground, and his wife would come in often and fill up our coffee.

He showed me all the art in his home. Talked about design. He has amazing anecdotes. What “idiots the people at IBM were” and how they mismanaged the whole design programme there. He designed a logo for Ford that didn't get accepted because the wife of the chairman didn't like it. He was a great storyteller.

Towards the end of the conversation, around lunchtime, he said, "Well, Morningstar, you've got an M, and an S, and an R, and a T. I'll call you when I finish. I'll let you know."

I told him that I just had two requests.

I want the logo and the name to be one thing, like Coca-Cola. I don't want a mark plus the name.

The second thing I said to him was that he has done great work with fantastic companies. IBM. Worked with Steve Jobs on the NeXT logo. But this company is really, really important to me, and I really wanted him to promise that he would do his best work ever.

He kind of growled about that, and so said, "OK, I'll call you when I'm done".

Then we're walking out to my car, I realized I had no idea how much this is going to cost. I'm a scrappy young entrepreneur. So I said, “Paul, I hate to ask the great artist, but how much will this cost?”

He kind of looked up at me, and said, "What are your revenues?" I said they're a million dollars. He said, "That'll be 50,000, half up front."

I agreed.

I fly back to Chicago, and I wait, and I wait, and I wait. I knew from reading his book, he advises clients not to bother the artist. Our head of marketing was saying, hey, we're designing a catalog. We need that identity, and so finally I just couldn't take it.

After about six weeks I called him, and I said Paul, how's it coming? He said, "Oh, I'm glad you called, Joe. I've just solved the logo. I've just finished it yesterday. I went down a wrong path. I filled up books with star logos, with Morningstar with a star in it," and he said, "Then I remembered where the name came from: 'The sun is but a morning star,' and so a rising sun, and as soon as I had the rising sun, I got it like that."

Then he sent me a book, and he kind of walks through kind of where you are currently, and then at the end is a gatefold with the new logo, and it had the logo, and on this book that he hand-made, he put a note on it.

Joe,

Here's my best work ever--with 11 letters.

Paul Rand

The original transcript of this conversation is available here.

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PHANI ITHARAJ
May 25 2019 12:18 AM
Thanks for the article. Great people always have great stories to share.
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