What Makes a Great Logo?
There have been a few times over the years where I’ve presented logo designs to clients, seen them hesitate with growing looks of concern, and then heard them say “You know what, Jon? I just don’t like it.” And, knowing their comment is derived from a personal feeling about the way the logo looks, I quickly reply, “You know what? I don’t care”. They’re usually a little shocked by my abrupt, seemingly discourteous response, but at least I get their attention.
The truth is, it matters very little how you ‘feel’ about a logo. Whether you love it or hate it is largely irrelevant. Because, design isn’t about what looks good, it’s about what works. And when it comes to logo design, ‘emotional response’ has little to do with a highly successful logo.
Let’s analyse this further with a couple of considerations. Firstly, this article relates to company logos or designs that represent a long-standing entity. In other words, an image that must stand the test of time. Secondly, there are exceptions, but it’s always best to know the rules like a master before you break them like an artist.
So, let’s dive in. What really makes a successful logo?
The logo needs to be relevant to the company it represents. This can be achieved in many ways. Sometimes, the answer isn’t embodied in the image, but rather in the written name. For example, ‘Charlie’s Pizza Bar’ (if included in the logo) clearly identifies the type of business. We are no longer dependent on the content of the logo imagery to relay Charlie’s product or services. Now, if the logotype were just ‘Charlie’s’ or there were plans to drop ‘Pizza Bar’ in the future, it would be prudent to include some reference to ‘pizza’ or ‘pizza bar’ in the design. But, as it stands, it’s not critical. So, greater focus can be afforded to other criteria.
Some logos achieve relevance by conforming to a particular ‘look’ within their industry. However, this is a mistake and will almost always come at the expense of individuality. Individuality in a logo is the little ‘x-factor’ that separates your business from your competitors. When a potential customer is looking for your services, you need to stand out from the crowd. Best to be unique.
Durability & Flexibility
The rule of thumb is that a well-designed logo should continue working effectively for a minimum of ten years (providing the vision and character of the business or product remains intact). However, a logo needs the capacity to evolve. If you look at say the Coca-Cola logo, the design has undergone a number of ‘evolutions’ since it was first designed. However, we can always identify it as the original Coca-Cola brand. Design adjustments are never far removed and only ever introduced to keep the logo fresh and relevant to its generation.
Simplicity and neutrality (to follow) are closely tied to a logo’s ability to endure. Simplicity is mainly related to the speed of cognition and then recognition – how quickly a logo is digested and then recalled. However, simplicity also dictates how easily a logo can be modified or ‘evolved’ without compromising its core design, hence improving its overall longevity.
Neutrality relates to what we first discussed in how you ‘feel’ about the logo. Believe it or not, the less you ‘feel’ the better. Why? Because, what we are striving for is a neutral emotional response.
Have you ever noticed how things that are fashionable become unfashionable? Remember that song you absolutely loved and listened to over and over, and now you can’t stand it? Or those people you know that get wildly excited about everything, but days later they are slit-your-wrists depressed? Then, there are those you know that are just rock solid. Nothing seems to upset them. They don’t get overly excited either, but they’re the perfect go-to person when you need help or advice. They’re always there, always reliable, always dependable. That’s the human equivalent of what you want in a logo design. Rock solid and resistant to passing fads and trends. Never unfashionable because it’s never fashionable. A good logo just is.
Adaptability refers to the use of the logo – its applications such as stationery, reports, advertising campaigns, press ads, architectural signage, email marketing, promotional products, uniforms etc. Part of any strong brief should include how and where the logo is going to be displayed, not just now but perhaps in 5-10 years time. At the very least, a logo should be adaptable to portrait and landscape environments and should present well both on screen and printed materials. But, keep in mind, no matter how adaptable your logo, ‘skywriting’ is always a challenge.
Perception relates to how your logo is interpreted by your target demographic. The impression left with the viewer. For example, some supermarket or warehouse logos could be seen as a bit cheap and amateurish. However, what image do you think they want to portray when their sales are largely driven by price? By contrast, a jeweller will most likely want to portray an image of class, taste and intricate detail. Look at most boutique jewellers and you’ll see an image that reflects exactly that. Perception is important, and this is where market focus groups are most useful in testing designs.
Point of Interest
Point of interest is the most overlooked element in logo design, and yet it’s probably the most important. Point of interest is what ensures people ‘remember’ a logo. Now, ‘remembering’ a logo doesn’t necessarily mean that someone, after seeing it, can go away and redraw the design. However, what it does mean, critically, is that when they see the logo again, they’ll know they’ve seen it before. It’s called ‘recall’. Recall gives a company or product the ‘perception’ of strength and reliability.
Let’s use an example. You don’t need a plumber at the moment, but you pull up behind a ‘Pete’s Plumbing’ van at the traffic lights. The logo is a little bizarre. At first glance, you’d think it was someone sitting on a toilet, but it’s not. You don’t think much of the logo, but it caught your eye. The van takes off and you never think of it again.
Six months later, wouldn’t you know it! Your 3-year old son has been flushing his baby sister’s soft toys down the toilet. Plumber required. You grab the local news rag and find a list of fifteen or so plumbers. Your eye is drawn to ‘Pete’s Plumbing’. You don’t think you’ve ever used them. Maybe, a friend’s used them. Either way, you’ve definitely heard of them. They must be okay. You make the call. Bam! The rest is up to Pete.
So, what really happened here? Something very important. 6 months ago, you questioned Pete’s logo. Is that really someone sitting on a toilet? You processed what you saw. And the second you started processing, you lodged the image in your memory’s subconscious. You could have said, ‘What’s that?’, ‘That’s clever!’, ‘That’s ridiculous’, ‘It’s spelt wrong!’, it really doesn’t matter. That nano-second you thought about it, the image was embedded in your memory and able to be recalled.
So, there you have it. These are my ‘musts’ for a successful logo design. It really is a science rather than an art, and often what you would think are the most attractive logo designs, fail dismally when it comes to true functionality.
Oh, and one final important word …
If you’re looking at designing a new logo, please take great care. Firstly, if you already have a logo, remove your emotions and assess whether your current design really needs to be changed or whether it perhaps just needs an ‘evolution’. Should you decide that you require a new logo, I recommend seeking professional help. You don’t want to have to change everything in 12 months time because of a poor design. In today’s rocket-paced, image-driven world, changing your logo is the equivalent of changing your name. Not only do you sacrifice the years of exposure associated with your former design, but you also then have to spend a small fortune rebranding your applications and familiarising your clientele and marketplace with your new image.
As always, please call me on 0403 045 132 if you wish to discuss your logo or any other design requirements. And visit my website at www.jonbarratt.com for more information and examples.