I re­cently saw the Circle of Friends sym­bol ca­su­ally re­ferred to as the spin­ning logo”. It does­n’t ac­tu­ally spin, but that got me won­der­ing: If it did, what might it look like? Its shape does seem to sug­gest mo­tion.

What first came to mind could be de­scribed as hav­ing the me­chan­ics of a loosely cou­pled ratchet. I imag­ine the ring kick­ing the dots, which re­coil and then spring back into po­si­tion:

Spinning Ubuntu "Circle of Friends" symbol

Watching this re­minds me of try­ing—and fail­ing—to pull-start an en­gine. If I en­coun­tered it in a user in­ter­face I’d prob­a­bly in­ter­pret its stut­ter­ing mo­tion as a sign of un­cer­tainty, of per­haps the suc­cess of an at­tempted er­ror re­cov­ery or re­sponse from an un­re­li­able ser­vice.

The mood no­tice­ably im­proves when I model the sys­tem af­ter a torque lim­it­ing clutch. In or­der to move the dots, the ring must ini­tially ac­cel­er­ate slowly. Then, just as wheel ac­cel­er­a­tion is mod­u­lated for ef­fect in a hurdy gurdy, this sys­tem per­forms the table­cloth trick by skip­ping a seg­ment be­fore al­low­ing the dots to re­turn to po­si­tion:

Spinning Ubuntu "Circle of Friends" symbol

In a user in­ter­face, I’d ex­pect this to sig­nify that work is be­ing done. The dots’ os­cil­la­tion sug­gests that progress is still piece­meal, but the way the ring so grace­fully catches them just as they re­bound speaks to the work’s sta­bil­ity.

To more strongly com­mu­ni­cate a mes­sage of progress, I in­verted roles of the dots and ring, al­low­ing a trans­fer of mo­men­tum from the for­mer to lat­ter, which in turn ro­tates the whole sys­tem. The re­sult­ing dy­namic re­sem­bles an over­bal­anced wheel in per­pet­ual mo­tion:

Spinning Ubuntu "Circle of Friends" symbol

I find the con­tin­ual for­ward mo­tion of this pleas­ing. Presented with this as an ac­tiv­ity in­di­ca­tor in a user in­ter­face, I would feel re­as­sured that progress is be­ing made.

There is, how­ever, a some­what grue­some prob­lem I’ve over­looked through­out this ex­plo­ration. The mere act of sep­a­rat­ing dot from ring seg­ment is, upon reeval­u­a­tion of their orig­i­nal sym­bol­ism, a tragic be­head­ing of our three friends.