Illustration by: Pablo Stanley (openpeeps.com)

Screw conventions, let’s rethink logo design

It ain’t rocket science

Designing a logo from scratch is one of those tasks that make you stare at a blank piece of paper and think to yourself: “OMG, where do I start?” A lot of designers will bloat their egos by meticulously explaining why some curve in an icon has a specific angle which matches some fantastic ratio in the font. This art form certainly has a place when there is time and money to burn, but designing a good logo is actually pretty simple.

Logo design is nothing more than the most simplified visual form of an idea, product, brand or person.

And the purpose of logo design is to cram as much of that identity into a colour palette, a typeface and perhaps an icon.

Logo = brand

I always begin my visual branding process with a logo, because it captures that essence of a brand. Everything else, the website, letterheads, business cards, LinkedIn banners, etc. can be derived from the feeling and visual guide of the logo.

So to make a good logo, you need to fulfil these two criteria:

  1. A good logo allows you to easily derive substance from it and create other visual assets.
  2. It’s easily recognised (also from afar).

Cool, but where to start?

First, we gotta drill down to learn the brand’s core identity. Usually, I ask my clients:

“What feelings do you want your customers and partners to have when they think of your company?”

The answer could be trust, fun, reliability, etc. Another good way of getting there is to explore a similar feeling. Like:

“That warm, comforting feeling when you visit your grandma, and you can smell her delicious baking as you walk in the door.”

This might seem oddly specific, but yeah, you can derive a logo from sentiment, and therefore, an entire brand.

Don’t be sheeple

Once you’ve nailed the essence and the feeling, you could incorporate an object that represents those feelings or even the product you’re selling. We’ve all seen countless lion logos of financial firms, representing, I guess, their kingly and calm dominance or numerous burger restaurants that put their names into a burger shape. However, you’re probably not going to convince anyone of your company’s uniqueness with that approach.

If you really want to stand out visually with your brand, you have to be willing to be loved and hated. Like with most popular art, the pieces that are remembered were usually very polarising in their time.

How to stand out: A story about an odd apple

I hate using the following as an example because it’s so common – but because it’s so common, it’s easy to get it.

Isn’t it weird that a computer company called itself “Apple” and put an apple as its logo? While it started off as a hot mess of typographic and visual elements, it was quickly reduced to that famous, bitten into apple logo that we know and love. It went through a couple of design “fads” of the 2000s, but it’s settled back into its basic shape now.

Apple logo history

During the silicon boom of the 80s-90s, when hardware and software companies were establishing themselves, their logos all looked kind of similar. What we got was “fast” slanted fonts and “CRT monitor scan-lines” (nobody under 30 has any idea what that is).

Companies had characterless and very dry names too: IBM (International Business Machines), COMPAQ (derived from compatibility and quality), Microsoft (derived from microcomputer and software). Apple’s name and logo seem pretty random among those competitors, but this reflected their out-of-the-box approach to their products.

And so here we are: I bet if you ask 10 people under the age of 60 to draw computer company logos, 8 out of 10 would be able to draw the Apple logo off the top of their heads, but it would be hard to find a single one of their competitor logos among the drawings.

Did IBM want us to remember how our eyes burned after staring at that flashing, scan-lined text all day?

Our 23 approach

What we really want to express is that “one-size-fits-all” branding solutions are very ineffective. On the contrary, we believe in the beauty of diversity and pluralism in design, and we want to show that in our branding. So that’s why we’ve decided to engage in a little experiment by asking ourselves the question:

Do we even need a fixed logo or colour scheme to go with it? Can we do a “logo of the month”?

It might be counter-intuitive, as convention would dictate that changing things up too often would dilute the recognisability of a brand. However, as long as you keep constant just some very essential elements, like the positioning of objects and what it says in the logo, you can be very creative with the rest of it.

Some examples of how our “23” logo can have consistency in form, and yet represent the pluralism that we stand for in marketing and design

TL:DR

If your logo is unique, simple and unusual, it will be remembered and empower your brand.

But what I also want to illustrate with the Apple example, is that there is no perfect logo. Do you think it really would have mattered if the two Steve’s called their company Peach or Melon instead? I struggle to find arguments about why it would have.

Furthermore, whether you use an icon or just a unique typeface, it really doesn’t matter as long as you’re communicating the essence of your brand in a memorable and recognisable way.

As I said, easy peasy.

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Vanja Ivancevic

Vanja Ivancevic

Currently checking out Berlin as a nomad location, while travelling with corona-induced anxiety.