Signs of Financial Insecurity

It's hard to miss Washington Mutual after its shameful subprime mortgage collapse. But I liked the old yellow-and-blue logo, now replaced everywhere by Chase's octagon. WaMu's final logo dates from 1997, when it made a major—and ultimately disastrous—expansion into California lending. (Hello, Kerry Killinger.) WaMu (founded in 1889) doubled down on the letter W with its new corporate motif: Based on an earlier wheat-stalk design, the new scheme merged W-elements from Great Western Financial, a large California thrift that WaMu acquired that year. The fluted, upturned form is friendly and bright, like supplicant hands or the head of a flower. It's vaguely organic, suggesting harvest season or a river delta. It's open (like the thrift's disastrous lending practices), not closed. This contrasts with Chase's '60s-conceived logo, whose interlocking-C design connotes security and enclosure, like a vault. The blue octagon reads like the floor plan of a building, or snakes devouring their tails. There's no obvious point of entrance or egress. The icon conveys solidity and stand-alone purpose. It's not exactly friendly, but it evolved during an era when large corporations weren't trying to be sunny and chummy with their customers. You want friendly? Friendly banks fail. 

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