The Discourse Logo: A System Of Rainbows

Jeff Atwood February 17, 2013

A great logo distills everything about your company and its mission into one succinct image. Getting the logo right sets the tone for everything else you’ll do. That’s why one of the first design elements we tried to nail down on Discourse was our logo.

But what is Discourse about?

Discourse is a project about fundamentally reinventing a technology that hasn’t changed much since the year 2000, web forums. All the cool people spend all their time talking on nifty modern websites like the Facebooks and the Twitters and the Tumblrs these days. Who even visits forums any more?

That’d be like going all the way across town to a run-down arcade to play that ancient, creaky old Street Fighter II machine when you could be playing a 3D, high definition fighting game on your console in the comfort of your own home, against anyone in the world over the Internet.


The very idea of typing paragraphs to other people has fallen out of favor as well. Can you even type a paragraph on Facebook any more? Is this even possible? Doesn’t the enter key submit your brief thought on someone else’s status update? 140 characters in a tweet should be enough for anyone, right? And why bother with those characters at all when a screen full of copypasta images on Pinterest will suffice. It’s faster to visually process than a lot of tedious words.

Who the hell cares about typing paragraphs on the Internet any more?

Well, as it turns out, we do. A lot. That’s why Discourse is, in a word:


Imitative of a style, fashion, or design from the recent past: “retro 60s fashions”.

Clothes or music whose style or design is imitative of those of the recent past.

Stack Exchange is a system of unicorns. It doesn’t really make sense for it to be open source, because it is a system that requires so much rigor and discipline in what it will accept. Having just a few rare, mystical, dew-flecked instances in appropriate science-y and fact-based topics is all that is needed. It’s a deeply beautiful thing to encounter a unicorn because so few exist.

Discourse, on the other hand, is a fully open-source system of rainbows – it needs to be all things to all people, and covers the entire spectrum of discussion up to and including things like forums for people that you may strongly disagree with. Rainbows are not hard to find. They’re seemingly around every corner. Just look out your window.

We now have some design direction to work with: we want something retro that has a rainbow element. What could be more retro than 80s consoles and computers – So many indelible design touchstones from the earliest era of typing paragraphs on a home computer.

Many early computers and consoles also had rainbows in their logos.


Dare I mention the early Apple logo? The rainbows, they are everywhere!

How do you capture the rainbow continuum of discussion along with that exquisitely retro feeling of actually typing a paragraph on a keyboard, and not some kind of touchscreen or gesture device? Here are a few of the early iterations we went through.

With a bit of tweaking, and the Century Gothic font, I hope you’ll agree that we ended up with a logo evocative of the themes that matter to the next decade of conversation on the Internet. If typing paragraphs on your iPad is retro, well, we’re unapologetically retro.

We bundle a “sketched in” pencil version of the logo with the GitHub installs to encourage owners to replace the default Discourse logo with their own identity straight away. Discourse won’t be successful because of us. We’re not in the business of running forums; we just create great free 100% open source forum software. If Discourse is successful, it’ll only be because we helped make your forum work.


  1. Julien
     February 17, 2013 2:45 am

    I really love how you make an “artsy” process feel so scientific :)

  2. mercime
     February 17, 2013 5:34 am

    Best -> sketched pencil version of the logo

  3. John Atten
     February 17, 2013 6:08 am

    I really like the direction this is headed. I have also enjoyed the minor kerfuffle around the source code – watching these types of debates from the sidelines is an excellent way for some of us to learn. Keep up the good work, Mr. Atwood and team.

  4. Galaxy613
     February 18, 2013 11:04 am

    I can’t wait to use this and host forums using this!

  5. Jon
     February 18, 2013 11:04 am

    All you need is the “D” logo. The “iscourse” portion will soon be redundant: You’re too hot.

  6. Jeremy
     February 18, 2013 9:02 pm

    When I look at the logo, I naturally read it as “iscourse”, not “Discourse”. The icon really doesn’t look like a “D” to me.

  7. Jeff Atwood
     February 20, 2013 3:50 pm

    You’re in luck! Guess where goes?

  8. JeffP
     March 7, 2013 9:46 am

    a) This may be cold, but CR as shift-enter works in FB.

    b) These are very large fonts in WinXP 19″ monitor 1024 height, w/Chrome @90% zoom as well as overall layout; it was painful to read the main/home/front page about Discourse, too much scrolling. Also this blog; is it better on my Phone or Paddy thingy?

    c) tags, related and applies to – I could write volumes on why this is useful…

    d) My personal peeve about forums are that often I find comments, solutions and similar mixed in with no final resolution; I’ve personally spent days working on something only to later find that it doesn’t work for my desired intent, then later find via another search engine similar musings.

    So, I like the having a voted best answer feature, as well as restating; because the best, or less than best answers should fit the question, and any answer should have a stated qualification because so much is contextual. I can say that many times a less than best answer was my start to my particular best solution.

    e) Yeah Team, Go Rails!

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