The Smiley Face
is one you’ll instantly recognize, seeing as it’s one of the most iconic and most universal icons on the planet. You still see it in use today, albeit taking on more varied looks in the form of emoticons. But they’re still famously cheery, famously round, and famously yellow.
But more importantly- to our subculture, at least- it’s become a defiant symbol for rave culture. Something of a mascot. And its status as such was solidified when London’s fabric nightclub lost its license and shut down because they continued to use it as a talisman in their struggle to keep going.
But did you ever wonder how it came about? How did we end up with the mostly featureless, yellow smiling icon we know and love today?
It’s generally accepted that Worcester, Massachusetts-born Harvey Ball created the Smiley Face. The former sign painter apprentice attended the Worcester Art Museum School, taking up fine arts. After serving in Asia and the Pacific in World War II, he started his own company in 1959: Harvey Ball Advertising.
It was during his tenure there in 1963 that he was commissioned by Joy Young of the State Mutual Life Insurance Company of Worcester to create a visual icon that was to become a mainstay of a friendship campaign. The goal was to raise employee morale.
Harvey was tasked with creating something that was going to be on buttons. Naturally, the visual icon had to be round. And that was when he came up with the classic, enduring Smiley Face: a smiling, genderless being on a cheery yellow background. It went through a couple of changes, from being eyeless to having eyes, from having uniform eyes to having one smaller than the other with the intent of making the face more human via imperfection.
It all took less than 10 minutes to finish. He had no idea that when he was paid $45 for his design that it would be a classic recognized the world over and that it was going to become a symbol of defiance for rave culture.
Numerous clubs and musical acts of all sizes and from all sorts of places have adopted the smiley in their logos and marketing material. Take for example Shoom- it’s right there in their logo! The Smiley Face has come to embody the wild, careless abandon and happiness people lose themselves in when they go raving and by the looks of things, it’s still going strong.