A logo is often the fastest way to build brand recognition. It is the easiest way to consistently apply a visual brand, and is usually the most powerful single visual or verbal brand asset companies possess—apart from their name. In some cases, where a company suffers the misfortune of a poorly crafted name, the logo can become brand asset number one. How well a logo performs for an organization is often a reflection of the company’s willingness to see it as an investment, one they continually have to nurture.
Without constant investment, a logo can become a visual crutch, a go-to that receives little effort and certainly no evaluation of specific needs. It winds up centered on the top of the letterhead and placed with the same heavy-handedness on every other piece of marketing material. In cases like this, the logo had better scream, “This is how we are different and why you should care about us”—a tall order for any symbol.
It is likely that no other piece of graphic design has the unobtainable expectations placed upon it that most clients have for a logo. It is widely thought by clients that a logo should represent every aspect of their positioning—something just not possible. When attempted, the logo is a tangled mess of ideas without focus, failing to please anyone. Instead, a logo should be designed to provide a glimpse into the brand, a visual cue as to why the audience should care about you. It is a symbol that often avoids depicting what the company does in favor of reflecting a company’s qualities.
It is also often expected that a new logo should have the same impact as known brands. In reality, it takes time for a logo to build associations with its audience, developed through experience with the brand. It is not impossible to think that many of the logos we accept as good today would be swiftly killed if presented by a designer to most clients—would the Google logo survive most committees? Would most clients say yes to simple logos like Nike and Apple without adding just a little bit more?
These examples are successful in large part because of their ability to work within a larger, ever changing visual brand. They have developed meaning through time and are now viewed as a stamp of the brand’s promise to its customers. More logos would be successful if the expectations put on them were realistic. A logo should:
1. Be an honest reflection of the brand’s positioning and promise
2. Provide differentiation from competitors
3. Allow for easy recognition and associations
4. Be based on a strong creative idea
5. Be able to be used in a variety of ways (black and white, color, large, small)
A good logo accomplishes all of this, usually through a simple solution without being cliché or trendy. It provides clarity of focus, becoming shorthand for the values of the organization, and the anchor of the visual brand.
Once the audience has an experience with the company, the logo becomes a badge, reflecting their perceived expectations. The company’s own behavior as well as marketing must then do what they can to influence these perceptions, encouraging the logo to become a trustworthy symbol that the customer can rely on every time, providing a clear competitive advantage.
Steve Zelle is a logo designer and brand identity consultant. Based in Ottawa, Canada, he operates as idApostle and is the founder of the community driven design website Processed Identity. You can reach him through his website or on Twitter.