Recently, I had the privilege to help teach a local college design class about the role of a logo. We had a good discussion, and I thought it would be fun to share an overview.
The first question to answer is: What is a logo and what does it do?
The answer is a graphic way to identify something. It is a type treatment and/or mark that provides a visual label for the company. A logo is part of the brand or identity of the company, but it is not the complete brand in and of itself.
If you don’t speak that jargon everyday it can be a little confusing, so let’s take a step back. There are three main terms* to understand:
As stated above, this is the visual element (type and/or graphic) that is used to identify the company.
A logo identifies.
This is composed of the various pieces that represent your business and form the overall company brand. The identity includes visual communication that can range from stationery to t-shirts. Plus it includes written content and public relations – the overall messaging that is carefully and consistently articulated throughout various means.
In fact, it’s ideal for the written messaging to come first and influence the logo and entire graphic look. Yes, we want things to be pretty, but if there isn’t a logical, sound message that is woven into all aspects of a company’s identity and drives the look and feel, the resulting visuals won’t be cohesive. That means the brand (explained below) won’t be reinforced to the consumer, making the entire communications effort meaningless.
The brand is the way your company is perceived emotionally. A company’s overall personality and image are created over time and are built on the foundations of the logo and identity. The result is the brand.
As Paul Rand said, “A logo derives meaning from the quality of the thing it symbolizes, not the other way around.” Once consumers understand a brand and attach meaning and value to it, the logo, by association, begins to function as the brand.
The following examples don’t have the company name with them. Do you know who they’re for? Do you have an emotional response to them? Do you instantly have other thoughts or images in your head about these companies? If you purchase their product, do you feel like you’re buying into a culture or philosophy?
If the logos illicit an emotional response, that is branding. It doesn’t come from the logo itself, and it doesn’t happen immediately. If you had never heard of the companies or seen any literature or graphics, would you even know what they do?
That said, if the logo isn’t done well, the identity won’t have the foundation to become a big brand like Apple or Nike.
What makes a good logo?
- Adaptable to other formats
John McWade, from Before and After magazine, has stated, “Logo design? Think simple. Simpler than that.”
Here are some other logos. What do you like or not like? What makes them stand out?
- Does it make a difference if a logo is type treatment only, like Google?
- Do you see the arrow in the negative space of the FedEx logo?
- Do you see the smile in the Amazon logo? Do you see that it’s an arrow pointing from A to Z?
- Do you notice that the CNN logo has combined lines to simplify it?
- Do you see the “button” of the YouTube logo is the shape of a TV screen (the old “tube”)?
What are other logo examples? What do you think works or doesn’t work?
Let me know below.
*For more detail, these terms are elaborated here.