Rejected designs for the Federal Housing Finance Agency seal

The Federal Housing Finance Agency was formed in 2008 amid the housing panic. Among other functions, it is the regulatory organ overseeing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. It has not escaped notice that the agency has one of the blandest seals in the federal sector, a design realm traditionally adorned with wreaths, garlands and star-studded ostentation. How did that happen?

According to documents released under the freedom of information act, the agency paid Design Concept of Savage, MD., $400 for branding identity options, thereby getting what it paid for. The request was filed by Muckrock, which published the selection in full.

Working from some early design attempts by agency staffers (and what appears to be a rejected design from a another company, GovTech Solutions), Design Concept's offerings mostly involved abstract representations of houses, adhering to the agency's brief:

Overarching guidelines shared with design firm:
-We want a circle or circular logo.
-House (or houses) -- no temples (avoid columns and similar gov'tal structures).
-No eagle. -Simple, classic not flashy. -Flag and/or red, white and blue can be incorporated but not required.
Other elements/thoughts to add?
Some sample submissions from staff follow (for your information).

Of Design Concept's many variations on the house theme, all but one were duly rejected.

If anything, the FHFA proved that government, in hard times, can be an exemplar of frugality and restraint. Compare to the U.K.'s Olympic Committee, which paid £400,000 to ensure that Londoners have something to be ashamed of when the international spotlight hits town.

Let's start with the in-house suggestions:

Here's the offering from GovTech Solutions.

And just a few of the many from Design Concept.

It's not clear where the following ones are from, but I believe they are suggestions offered by an AI that lives in the fax machine used to transmit all the other ones. Its emergent mind, brewing since the machine's installation in 1982, finally burst into creative sentience after observing the proposals' particular combination of blandness, bureaucracy and silent human despair.


  1. I’m happy we got what we paid for, and more. The FOIA response letter notes that “…although you did not request it, we are releasing in its entirety the purchase requisition for the logo.”

    And the whole process was safe. The same letter notes that “…all mail sent to the FHFA via the USPS is routed through a national irradiation facility, a process that may delay delivery by approximately two weeks.” I’d like one of those.

    My design, representing a bureauocratic maze of obscurity, was unfortunately rejected for non-circularity.

  2. Kudos to the Federal Housing Finance Agency. As the author points out by way of the London 2012 example, all too often government agencies go overboard in a lame attempt to give the impression of “private sector efficiency.” $400 is all that needed to be spent and the logo does the trick. It’s not like they have any competitors or even a market to compete in!

  3. Actually, the second-to-last of the pre-fax-AI ones, showing the iconic house viewed by helicopter looking down at one corner, is pretty snappy.  I’d pick that one.

    Easily worth $400!

  4. Whoooooooa!! That one dude made a HOUSE, out of the initials of their name!!! He, like, turned the letters into a picture!!!! And they, like, work with houses, so it totally makes sense!!!!!!!!!


  5. What, No Comic Sans?

    Dude… just look at some of those old US Treasury certificates… just look at them! Soak up  the ornate filagree that incorporates miniature dioramas of life within complex interwoven lattices of healing light… peep the finely chiseled chins and noses of dead presidents whose faces are some of the most commonly recognized icons to America. 

    What happened to putting art into design? 

    What, now we demand “Spec” and have “Design Contests” via “Teh Sociel!”…

    This logo is almost beautiful and fitting in the way it represents America’s decline into a Fisher-Price plastic bleached oak flat-pack Made in China cardboard cutout cookie cutter characterless clutter of clusterfuck… 

    Sorry, I think I just need to breath.

  6. Those really do suck. I agree with JohnMc about the one with the “copter shot”–it’s not fully bad like the others. But that splayed-out “A” on there is driving me nuts! 

    Not worth $40, much less $400.

  7. Design Concept is probably run by one of the stake holders’ wives. She is really good at the Microsoft Word and she’s just started getting into the Photoshop Elements.

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