You probably don’t recognize his name, but you have seen his work. In the 1940’s Donal Mclaughlin headed of the Graphics Division of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the World War II-era precursor to the Central Intelligence Agency. Among other things, McLaughlin helped design visual presentations for use in the Nuremburg Tribunals and even designed the courtroom itself. His most famous design was also produced in the wake of World War Two.

Via Design Observer, a blog about graphic and architectural design, comes the fascinating story of how McLaughlin created one of the most universally recognizable symbols: the United Nations emblem.

The US State Department announced its intention to convene the United Nations Conference on International Organization in San Francisco in June 1945, and the OSS’s Presentation Branch was asked to create displays, certificates, maps and guides for the delegates, and one seemingly modest thing.”It was my good fortune,” McLaughlin told me, “to be assigned the problem of designing a lapel pin for Conference identification.”
He went through dozens of designs, struggling with the challenge of accommodating a suitable image with the conference’s name, date and location, all in a one and one-sixteenth diameter circle. His solution was what McLaughlin describes as “an azimuthally equidistant projection showing all the countries in one circle,” flanked by crossed olive branches. It appeared not only on the delegate’s pins, but was stamped in gold on the cover of the United Nations Charter. On June 26, the Charter was signed by delegates of fifty nations, and the United Nations was established. Donal McLaughlin, without fully intending to, had designed its emblem.

Today, July 26, 2007, is McLaughlin’s 100th birthday. And after a century on this earth he remains an idealist, “I still believe that the UN is really our only hope for world peace,” he tells Design Observer.

Happy Birthday, Donal Mclaughlin. Keep up the good work!

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