Entertainment Creative Creative Works

Designer behind Prince’s symbol on what it was like working with the music icon


By Amy Houston, Senior Reporter

March 28, 2024 | 10 min read

Mitch Monson was a young creative in Minneapolis when he worked with Prince to create the infamous Love Symbol. We talk to him as part of The Drum’s Entertainment Focus.

An early sketch of Prince's Love Symbol

An early sketch of Prince's Love Symbol

In 1993, on his 35th birthday, Prince stunned the world by announcing a symbolic transformation. Leaving behind his birth name, Prince Rogers Nelson, the singer adopted the ‘Love Symbol’ to mark a new era in his life and free himself from his tempestuous recording contract.

Addressing the media, which he was notoriously skeptical of, the Purple Rain hitmaker said in part: “Warner Bros took the name [Prince], trademarked it and used it as the main marketing tool to promote all of the music that I wrote.”

The bold move reflected Prince’s hunger for artistic autonomy and set a new precedent within the music industry. Amid all the confusion during those years (especially on what to call him as the logo was unpronounceable), it wasn’t widely known just how long these plans had been in place and the lasting impact that the decision would have.

Now, 30 years on, and after the passing of the singer in 2016, the creative mind behind the symbol, Mitch Monson, shares exactly how it all went down all those decades ago.

Making the mark

The creative director was 29 years old when he was working alongside two friends on their startup design company called HDMG, which was fortuitously close to Prince’s Paisley Park estate in Chanhassen, Minnesota. It was late 1991 and the singer had just released his 13th studio album, Diamonds and Pearls.

Creatives Sotera Tschetter and Lizz Luce contacted Monson to work on the follow-up project. “We started working on music video work that was going to be related to his new Seven album, which ended up being called the Love Symbol album,” Monson explains. “And then he was going to be touring in Japan, so we were doing some stage design.”

Over the next year and a half, Monson says they got deeper into the work. “Prince really enjoyed working with us and wanted to talk to us about doing what we thought was a simpler graphic element that was going to be part of the album. But obviously, at that time, it was a much bigger deal than that because he was trying to break away from Warner Brothers,” recalls the designer.

“He would come in and spend time in editorial, working with our editors, because he wanted control of that, especially if it was going to be something that was pushed out through the label.”

During those initial years, Monson says most of the important conversations were periodically between Luce, Tschetter and Prince. At that time, the singer was going about things quietly and was a bit more “reserved.”

Evolution of the Love Symbol

Early inspirations

A lesser-known fact is that a precursor for the final symbol can be traced back to Purple Rain, which topped the charts in 1984. A prototype is on Prince’s motorcycle. There was so much legacy to it, even before Monson touched it.

“What was interesting to us is that from that point forward to 1992, when we made the final version, it had been expressed probably 10 or 12 different times in different forms,” the creative says. “In the Get Off music video, it got more front and center where it’s very serpentine and unique.”

The symbol people know today is based on Prince’s fascination with the male and female connection; he wanted to find a more gender-neutral way of portraying that. “What he really wanted to do was to refine this and make it something that was even more inclusive.”

During that period, Prince also found inspiration in actor and dancer Carmen Electra, who became a significant muse for the symbol. Overall, the mark’s design intricately weaves together various elements of symbolism: the scroll motif draws from the Eye of Horus, an ancient Egyptian symbol associated with protection and wellbeing.

Additionally, nods to the Yin and Yang philosophy signify the interconnectedness of the cosmos, while circular features symbolize the encompassing forces of the earth and sun. Notably, a subtle inclusion is the reversed segment of the number seven within the central stem of the logo.

“The reason that that’s important is that it is considered one of the most sacred numbers, but it’s also the name of the signature track. And Prince officially changed his name to Love Symbol on his birthday, which was June 7.”

Prince's Love Symbol

Prince’s presence

Prince is someone who was known to champion local talent and Monson says that whenever he was even in the building, you could feel his presence and that the energy shifted massively. “It was how inspired everybody was when you knew he was there; everybody was just in a different space.”

As a creative person, Monson recalls that Prince did not work regular hours either, which was something everyone had to get used to. “If he got inspired by something that at two in the morning, that’s when you’re starting,” he says. “He just didn’t have the timetable that all of us did and we were young enough to have just gotten on for the ride.”

It was just such an exciting time in all the team’s lives getting to work with the legendary performer in his hometown and at such an early stage of their careers. Monson says that the experience changed their business and taught them so much so early on.

“What he taught us is just an incredible work ethic; you’re always iterating and always cranking through things. But also, you’re inspired all the time. It’s a rocket ship ride. It’s one of those things that I think we all really embraced and that’s what made it incredible.”

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Lessons from the Love Symbol

A lesson that Monson learned during that time was just how quickly creative projects move and that, as a designer, you must put everything you have into every single element of whatever you’re working on. Everything got made and approved quickly; it wasn’t overthought, which is often where the best work comes from.

“Prince was really happy with all the connections that were being made in the mark, so it didn’t take a lot of time to get to a final. Great clients equal great work. And he’s the perfect example of that.” During those years, the Kiss hitmaker had lots of strong, creative people around him, whom he put a lot of trust in.

During his lifetime, Prince defied gender and racial stereotypes, always embracing people from all walks of life. “He accepted others without discrimination. And hopefully, the symbol has that kind of lasting legacy.”

At the time, Monson had no idea what was going on with Prince and Warner Bros and had no real sense of just how groundbreaking the Love Symbol would become. When it was revealed, it was a global news story and signified Prince giving a massive middle finger to the music industry.

“I got the impact of it was when he was at the Super Bowl. He’s playing Purple Rain in the rain. They don’t want him on stage; he’s still going to go out there and play.

“My niece called me to say, “Hey, Uncle Mitch, isn’t that your symbol in the middle of the stadium?” Any of us who are alumni of the Prince Experience were connected then because that was the biggest presentation of the symbol, of him, his work and his legacy.”

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