Donal McLaughlin Jr., Dies at 102; Helped Design U.N. Logo

The original U.N. logo design, at top, was replaced by the modified version of today.
The original U.N. logo design, at top, was replaced by the modified version of today. (Courtesy Of The United Nations)
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By Lauren Wiseman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 2, 2009

Donal McLaughlin Jr., 102, an architect who helped design the original U.N. emblem toward the end of World War II, died Sept. 27 at his home in Garrett Park. He had esophageal cancer.

A Yale University-trained architect and interior designer, Mr. McLaughlin was recruited to the Office of Strategic Services, the wartime precursor to the CIA. He was assigned to the OSS's presentation branch as chief of its graphics division and worked on visual presentations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff and more espionage-oriented fare such as cigarette-paper packages showing diagrammatic instructions for derailing German trains.

Mr. McLaughlin was part of an OSS team headed by architect and industrial designer Oliver Lundquist that in 1945 was asked to design all graphics for the United Nations Conference on International Organization. The convention of delegates from 50 allied nations met in San Francisco and signed the United Nations charter.

The Lundquist team was assigned to create displays, certificates, maps and guides for the delegates as well as what became their most enduring contribution: an official form of identification for the delegates. This became the prototype for the U.N. logo.

Lundquist, who died in January, said the team had a contest to develop an appropriate design and that Mr. McLaughlin, the graphics director for the conference, came up with the best choice.

The design was a top-down view of the globe showing all continents but Antarctica, cradled between two olive branches, symbolizing peace. The color was an important element of the design. Shades of blue were chosen to form a contrast with red, a color associated with war.

Mr. McLaughlin told the Yale alumni magazine in 2007 that designing the lapel pin involved a great struggle to blend an appropriate image with the conference's name, date and location -- all within a circle 1 1/16 inches across. He called his winning design "an azimuthally equidistant projection showing all the countries in one circle."

When Trygve Lie, the first elected U.N. secretary-general, called in 1946 for a new seal to be used on official documents, Mr. McLaughlin's design was slightly modified by a U.N. cartographer.

An architect's son, Donal McLaughlin Jr. was born in New York on July 26, 1907, and graduated from Yale University with a fine arts degree in 1933.

Leaving college during the Depression, he had trouble finding work until a friend recommended him for a job at the National Park Service in Washington. He later went to New York and worked for prestigious industrial designers Walter Dorwin Teague and Raymond Loewy. He also helped design the Kodak and U.S. Steel exhibits for the 1939 New York World's Fair and the interior of Tiffany & Co.'s flagship store on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.

He moved to Washington in the early 1940s to work for OSS and eventually settled in Garrett Park. There, he designed his family home, nicknamed "Mole Hills Estate," and lived with his wife of 61 years, Laura Nevius McLaughlin, who died in 1998. Survivors include three children, Coille Hooven and Karen Gallant, both of Berkeley, Calif., and Brian McLaughlin of Takoma Park; six grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

After World War II, Mr. McLaughlin owned and operated Presentation Associates in Washington, an exhibit design and graphic services company whose clients included government agencies and foundations. He taught architecture classes at Howard University for many years.

"I dreamed once of seeing my designs in brick and stone," Mr. McLaughlin joked to the Yale alumni magazine. "And instead, the thing I'm best known for is a button."

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