EXCLUSIVE: The story of the “BAD” logo

You saw it on LP’s, MC’s CD’s, merchandise, tattoos and even more… But do you know the real story behind the iconic BAD logo? Designer Jeffrey Spear reveals how he created these 3 red letters that are part of popular culture.

Prior to the BAD logo, did you work on another album project for CBS or other company ? What was your background before this project ? 
My background was, and continues to be, in graphic design. At an early stage in my career, I decided to specialize in custom typography, illustrated lettering, art titles and trademark design. As one of the few type designers in Los Angeles, I was called upon to develop title treatments for films, television shows, and record albums as well as trademarks for a wide variety of consumer products including toys & games, real estate, and food & beverage. While I had not worked for CBS prior to BAD, I had been gaining a reputation for excellence in the Los Angeles entertainment community and was thrilled for the opportunity.

How did you get involved in the Michael Jackson BAD project ?
I was constantly promoting my capabilities in lettering, art titles and custom typography throughout the Los Angeles advertising and entertainment communities. The call from CBS to work on Bad was simply a stroke of good fortune. 

The very first version of the BAD album cover is plain black with on the front a picture of Michael’s face with a lace: did you work on that version or developed any logo for that ?
The only version of the album I have ever seen is the one featuring a leather clad MJ on a stark white background with the Bad logo superimposed. This is, to date, the only version I have seen.

The first version of the BAD artwork. By then, then, the album’s title was Smooth Criminal.

How did the airbrush concept come about ? Was it developed as the BAD short film began shooting ? 
I was asked to make a word mark for the title that was edgy, street smart and urban. Since graffiti fits this description, I researched urban graffiti wherever I could find it. This included subway graffiti in New York as well as the murals and tags found in Venice Beach. I was not aware of anything being filmed.

How many versions did you create before you came with the final one ? What was the technique that you used ? 
There were probably 6 or 8 versions that explored a variety of paint techniques including coarse brush strokes, spray paint, and stencil – all used in urban graffiti. I also made sure to provide options that addressed spelling as b-a-d, B-a-d, and B-A-D.

A cello with the BAD logo, probably used for production by CBS in the 1980’s (unconfirmed). Archives Richard Lecocq

What was Michael Jackson’s reaction when he first saw the logo ? Did you have any chance to speak with him about him ?
I never met Michael. Since my contact was strictly with the art department at CBS, I have no idea how he felt about the design.

Were you aware that the logo would be used and presented on such a large variety of items: records, merch, tattoos etc.

Some official items featuring the BAD logo.

No. In fact, CBS was not at all willing to pay me a reasonable fee for my efforts. One of my friends sent me a copy of an ad that Macy’s had run in the New York Times promoting their “Bad” department. Here was a full page ad featuring cups, shirts, and other such souvenirs that were adorned only with my logo. Kinda rubbed me the wrong way knowing how much money was being generated from my efforts when I was so poorly compensated. I wasn’t looking for big bucks, just a fair shake. While working with CBS provided some hard lessons from a business perspective, the visibility that working on this album produced for me was significant and was a boost to my career. 

In 2012, the BAD logo was revamped for the 25th Anniversary of BAD. Did you work on it ? What do you think of this special version ?
I have not had any involvement with Bad since it was originally released. Since I have not seen the anniversary edition, I can only assume they used my original art once again. 

The BAD25 logo revamped by kaNO and MAD.
Jeffrey Spear was not involved in this new version.

Lately, the BAD album, like many classic albums, has been reissued on vinyl. But the logo has now a smooth edge aspect, without all the quality and rendering of the airbrush you created. Did you notice that as well ? What do you think ? 
As I’ve mentioned, I have not kept tabs on the many incarnations of Bad or MJs career (other than buying his albums as they were released). I would imagine that the smoother version is simply the result of file management. The camera ready artwork used for the original album (pre-computers) was a photocopy (reduced in size) from a larger airbrushed artwork. The use of the copier, and the distortions that it made when the original art was reduced in size, added some of the texture.

The BAD artwork with the smooth edges BAD logo. Spot the difference!

More than 30 years later, this lettering remains as one of the most iconic in pop culture. Looking back at it, how do you feel ? How do you feel when you see a tribute to it ?
At the time, working on the album was just a job. I was not a fan of MJ and was barely familiar with his work. While my time in Los Angeles expanded my appreciation of music and my record (CD) collection is sizeable, I was too young and naive at that time. The fact that this design is so iconic is kinda cool and always gets a strong reaction when people I meet realize that I was the designer.  I think others are far more impressed than I am for sure.

Final words, thoughts ?
I am happy to have had this experience. As mentioned, it taught me some valuable lessons in business and was a boost to my career. While I was poorly compensated, I was given tickets to MJs Los Angeles concert when he was touring the album. The most fun that night was seeing the Bad logo made out of thousands of tiny lightbulbs attached to a specially constructed electronic curtain lowered onto the stage from the ceiling during the performance.

It was also fun seeing Mad magazine publish a parody to MJs album. The cover of that issue featured Alfred E Neuman in a similar leather jacket with the word M-a-d illustrated in a style that followed my own rendering.
I am also so very glad that my work has brought so much joy to MJs fans. Thanks for reaching out.

Interview by Richard Lecocq

A very special thank you to Jeffrey Spear.
Visit his website @

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