Translation of an article by Jeff Davidson. The new Slack logo has made a lot of noise, so I decided to write an article about the qualities of a good logo. Note: This is not another logo design material. Any of my “rules” can be broken, but they will help reveal an important aspect of the business – the choice of a visual stimulus that represents the company. This is worth paying attention to right away, because changing the logo in the future can be costly, especially in companies that make tangible products.
Let’s start with the basics. According to the designers, the logo should be unique, scalable, simple and look good in monochrome. This is dictated by practice, and my article does not contradict any of these mantras. I’m just saying that there are other signs by which you need to evaluate the logo.
With sites like 99designs and Upwork growing in popularity, it’s not easy to find an impressive logo. It can be difficult for professional agencies to break through to large corporations and even medium-sized businesses, and startups often want to save money and outsource logo design to web designers. Also, due to the digital format, the images are not very creative, because the rendering programs are based on linear shapes – squares, triangles and simple ovals. In other words, unique illustrations are not as popular now because fewer people are drawing on paper.
Why do you need a logo?
To understand which logo is good and which is not, we need to know why they are needed. A logo is a tool for identification. Companies need to make their products and services stand out from the competition, and they do this with unique packaging styles, promotional tools, and other things.
If it wasn’t for the logos and branding, you wouldn’t know which company you’re buying from. If we had to read the etiquette and description of each product, products and services would be reduced to their pure usefulness – we would measure the value of everything only by its function. It’s a Marxist dream: imagine that every product, restaurant and company has the same type of logo in the same colors. The world would become boring. Novelty is extremely important in business, culture and branding.
So, a logo is a unique form that communicates the ownership of a product or service.
Logos (and branding) are important because products can replace each other. Imagine two sodas – Coca-cola and Pepsi. They represent approximately the same value to the consumer, the amount of liquid and sugar in them is plus or minus the same, so that most customers cannot even tell them apart by taste (it was proven in a study ). Branding is especially important for such products.
Many buying decisions are emotional, so branding paired with a well-articulated “schema” (mental representation) is essential when trying to instill a deep emotional connection with a product or service in the consumer. Typically, ads do this by telling stories that people associate with the company’s visuals.
You can see examples of the world’s most famous logos on the logolook.net. Also there you can read and see the history of their evolution.
For example, we understand that McDonald’s is McDonald’s based on the store’s appearance, signage, and logo. In its ads, McDonald’s combines this schema with images of joy, youth, and happiness told as a story to evoke a positive emotional response that we unconsciously internalize. Designers combine stimuli with stories – that’s what branding really is.
What should be a good logo?
1. Easy to draw from memory
If your logo is easy to spot, remember, and replicate, it’s probably good. Think Nike swoosh, McDonald’s arches and Adidas three stripes. All of them are quite simple and well remembered, so they are easy to draw. If the logo is difficult to reproduce, it means that it is “structurally” not suitable for long-term memory. This happens when the logo is too complex or banal.
The replay test is what I always do with my clients and is also the most difficult test for a designer. Think about how many simple shapes exist that already represent some kind of thing or function. There are 113,021 graphemes in Unicode 7, the universal character set table – and that’s not counting glyphs (from different fonts, etc.). Designers, on the other hand, must create something completely unique that cannot be confused with something else.
If a company has a logo with a “+” sign, it may not be memorable enough to squeeze into the minds of viewers. It is especially difficult to achieve memorization in the digital age, when thousands of businesses are invented and advertised every day. We have to compete with large flows of information, so the logo forms must be unique, then there is a chance that they will be recognized. So by using a logo maker try to create something that your customers will remember easily.
2. The logo should look like a solid design
Structural reliability is another quality that is often overlooked. Imagine that a graphic form is a material construction. Will she stand firm? Is she balanced? Symmetric?
People are attracted to language and symbols that are well organized, aligned and symmetrical. That’s why Comic Sans is the most hated typeface: it doesn’t live up to expectations. Structural reliability equates to thoughtfulness, and thoughtfulness equates to perfection. Most companies want to look perfect.
Keep in mind, while people are attracted to “robust” forms, we still value novelty, especially in art and nature. The catch is that the logo must be both new and reliable. How do you make it look organized, thoughtful, simple, and yet completely unique? The answer is to spend a lot of time on the logo and conceptualize ruthlessly.
People are escaping the city into nature because they want a break from the predictability of a mechanized society, but they understand very well the difference between art, nature, and functional products. We don’t want a fancy house that can’t stand the gusts of wind or rain. In nature, unstructured beauty wins, but we gravitate toward order. If the logo does not have a clear structure, there is a good chance that the company will look weak.
3. The founder of the project should like the logo
Logos are very dear to the founders of companies, often when launching a project or hiring a designer, they are the first thing they think about. Because of such love for the logo, it can be difficult to make.
The work may fail in advance, because the designer is not able to accurately guess the personal tastes of the founder and his associates. As a professional, he should know what suits the company best, but it doesn’t matter, because he is the one to make the decisions. This is their child. That’s why it’s important to structure the logo creation process to include a “discovery” phase where you can explore the employer’s tastes.
Without a well-functioning logo/brand creation process, you can start to get angry at each other because of the mismatch of tastes, and this greatly hinders the work. The designer must respect the founder’s preferences , while the founder must respect the designer’s time. If a designer is not good at listening, suggesting, presenting, and justifying, they will most likely be paid less than they expected for their efforts. Also, if the designer continues to allow for iterations or new logo concepts, the founder will make adjustments over and over again and the process becomes endless.
The founder should like the logo so as not to add unnecessary doubts to him. No one wants to settle for a logo they don’t like, which is why a logo is often the first thing a customer and their clients can think of. This means that the designer must convince the founder that his decision is correct. Design always consists of creation and persuasion. Design must be able to sell.
Note: This item only applies to companies where the founder and current CEO are the same person. If a corporation is rebranding, it is not necessary for the CEO to like the logo, his preferences can be ignored.
4. The logo should stand out
Great logos are ambiguous, intriguing, and often stand out from the crowd. Some people think that a logo should literally represent a product or service, but that is not the case. No one should look at the logo and know exactly what the company is doing. Remember, if you can combine different abstract forms while achieving simplicity and ambiguity, it can grab attention, which is very good for business. The bottom line is that people love mystery and novelty, and if you can get people to look at your logo longer, the memories of it will become more meaningful.
Standout designs, ads and stories go viral. This is how business works: people see or use something, tell their friends, and then it spreads. Advertisers don’t just list the features of a product and why you should buy it—they create something fun, interesting, dramatic, and powerful to make you want to share it. This way they avoid the idea that the company is trying to convince you to buy something for its own profit. Advertisers make entertaining content and show their logo at the end to create an unconscious connection to that story or emotion. Logos can take the same approach – they can stand out and be interesting enough that people want to talk about them.
Let’s take the logo above as an example. I must say right away that it violates the basic rules of logo design: it does not look simple, scalable, structurally sound, etc. However, it is so creative that the founder loved it and was happy to pay the designer and tell his friends about the logo. When I posted this work online, it caught my attention because of the creative use of the film clip in the typography (note that the shape of the “f” is the same “m” rotated 90 degrees).
When logos are so interesting that they start to stand out, it’s good for business. People talk about the FedEx logo and their interesting ad campaign because it’s catchy. Creativity and the ability to put two meanings into one shape is a great way to create something intriguing and memorable.
Also, the ambiguity of the logo guarantees its longevity. Imagine if the Apple logo literally depicted an old computer screen – you would have to change it when smartphones were added to the company’s products, the appearance of which no one could have foreseen before. Thus, literalness in logo design is detrimental to the company due to the unpredictability of the market going forward.
When designers become legends, they can start working like Paul Rand, who charged Steve Jobs $100,000 for the NeXT logo. Adjusted for inflation today, the price would be about $240,000. More interestingly, Rand provided Jobs with only one logo design (as he did with most of his late-career clients).
Rand despised design politics and made it his mission to find clients who valued his expertise. Steve Jobs, like most great entrepreneurs, knows how to choose talented people and trust them to do their job. Poor entrepreneurs can’t trust anyone, so they try to control every part of the business a little. This is the difference between great leaders and great egos. Founders should spend more time recruiting the right people and less time managing them. If you need an exceptional logo, find a great designer and let them do their thing.