Fedoras forever? A logo change at Red Hat is coming this year.

The Red Hat sign is prominent on the Raleigh skyline when you approach from S. Wilmington St., and it too will change if the company's Shadowman logo changes.
The Red Hat sign is prominent on the Raleigh skyline when you approach from S. Wilmington St., and it too will change if the company's Shadowman logo changes.

As corporate logos go, Red Hat's fedora-sporting "Shadowman" is about as iconic as they come, but he could be living on borrowed time.

The software company, based in downtown Raleigh, is in the midst of an "open brand project" and in October is due to roll out an all-new logo. The color red, and a hat, are likely to figure in it somehow presuming in-house designers follow the advice they're getting from customers and employees.

But Shadowman's survival is far from assured, as the company has already said its research suggests he's "seen as more secretive than open, and more villainous than heroic."

He dates from the time when Red Hat's leaders "had the notion we were sneaking into the data center" to take on established competitors like the former Sun Microsystems that traded in proprietary software, said Leigh Day, Red Hat's vice president for marketing communications.

A Dick Tracy-style secret agent, detective or private eye might not be quite the image that Red Hat wants these days given that its business revolves around convincing businesses to use open-source software packages to run their back-office computing systems.

Red Hat's "Shadowman" logo emerged in the late 1990s. The company's now working on changing it. Red Hat

The rebranding effort has been underway for about a year, and the company is hoping to roll out some logo ideas early next month at the Red Hat Summit conference in San Francisco, Day said. The final choice should emerge in time for the company's "We Are Red Hat Week" celebration in October.

The company's working with a New York City design consultancy, Pentagram, but it's relying on its in-house graphics designers to actually come up with the new logo. As of now, they're busy pruning a menu of more than 100 possibilities.

The showing at the San Francisco conference will allow them to get some more customer feedback before narrowing the possibilities further and running some tests of how well the finalists work on social media and other channels, Day said.

Red Hat's research included a survey of 1,203 people, from both in and out of the company, about the possibility of a logo change.

Some of the advice it received from the survey was clear-cut.

"Red resonates with people, and, clearly, the hat resonates with people," Day said, acknowledging the two elements participants said are the most important part of the company logo.

And when it comes to the type of hat, the message from survey participants was "fedoras forever," the style holding the approval of 81 percent of the people who responded. Nothing else came particularly close, even though the company in its early days used a Lincoln-style stovepipe hat in its logo.

The Shadowman logo with his distinctive fedora emerged in 1997, before the company left Durham for Raleigh, and hasn't changed all that much in the years since.

"We haven't touched our logo in 17 years," Day said, adding that Red Hat's research has pondered how brands like Morton Salt, Delta Air Lines and Airbnb have made changes to their logos that range from subtle refinements to radical replacements.

The project ultimately will affect the appearance of Red Hat's headquarters in downtown Raleigh, which sports the Shadowman logo. "We’re still working out the exact timing for the transition but if the logo changes we’ll change it everywhere," company spokeswoman Allison Showalter said.

Ray Gronberg: 919-419-6648, @rcgronberg