The Open Brand Project is a collaborative effort to evolve our corporate logo and brand system. A cross-functional team of in-house designers collaborating with Pentagram, a well-known international design consultancy, are working together to simplify and modernize our logo.
A big part of the Red Hat Open Brand Project has been looking back at our past and examining our roots. It is important that we imbue the new symbol with as much shared meaning from our history and culture as possible. To represent ourselves, we have to understand our origins.
Before there was Shadowman, before there was a red fedora, before we were an enterprise technology company, and before we helped make open source a driving force of technology innovation, we had our name.
And the origin story of our company name bears repeating.
Well before Marc Ewing founded Red Hat with Bob Young, he worked as a student in the computer lab at Carnegie Mellon. Marc’s job was to help other students. He was, by all accounts, highly competent and pretty friendly for an IT guy. Over time, he built a reputation (something we now might call a “personal brand”) for being very helpful, the guy you would want to talk to if you really needed assistance. He often wore a red Cornell lacrosse cap that belonged to his grandfather while at work. Eventually, everyone using the lab knew that if they needed help, they should “Look for the friendly guy in the red hat.”
Years later, when Marc began informally spinning up his own distributions of Linux, he called it Red Hat Linux.
Typewriter and office supply salesman Bob Young (also a gifted brand-thinker) spotted an opportunity and partnered with Marc to build a business around those early releases. Building on Marc’s personal brand as a helpful friendly expert, a guy who knew what he was doing and was happy to share his knowledge and expertise, they decided to call their company Red Hat.
A few years later (no one is exactly sure when), a very meaningful coincidence deepened our sense of purpose as an open source software company. Someone (no one remembers who it was) researching our name encountered some interesting and illuminating history about red hats.
In early modern Europe, red hats represented freedom and the pursuit of liberty. Manumitted (emancipated) slaves in ancient Rome were given a hat (called a pileus) to signify their liberated status. Maybe some were red, but in Roman times the color wasn’t as important as covering your newly-shaved head (another symbolic act of liberation). But by the 1700’s the red hat emerged as a symbol of freedom and emancipation in European art and culture. Once you’re aware of the pileus or Phrygian cap, it’s hard to walk through a western art museum without seeing them everywhere.
(Source: Nina Aldin Thune)
The “bonnet rouge” became a symbol of liberty during the French Revolution. Soldiers in the American Revolution wore red knitted stocking caps. Even today, the red hat is found as a symbol of freedom and democracy that can be found in the flags or seals of cities, states, and nations. It is found in the seal of the U.S. Senate, the state of North Carolina, and Bolivia just to name a few.
The official Red Hat fedora represents freedom of a different sort: the freedom to connect, form communities and share code. For open source contributors and proponents, it can be seen as a symbol of their movement, a validation of their efforts and beliefs. It is a symbol of software freedom.
The Red Hat fedora is a meaningful symbol with a powerful story behind it. We are lucky our founders built our brand around a story about a knowledgeable expert with a generous spirit, who was willing to share what he knew. We were also fortunate to understand our connection to liberation movements of the past. Both ideas fueled our culture over the years, strengthened our resolve to overcome obstacles, and gave us a symbol to rally around as we helped change technology.