Whether good or bad, logos can tell you a lot about the brands they represent. Let’s explore logo design by dissecting some of the best and worst examples from history.
Computers are getting better at more and more activities, but there’s one thing humans can still beat them at: pattern matching. Logos harness this ability to link an image with a brand. When we see a logo, we immediately think of what we know about a company. The logo itself gives us info, using colour, shapes and fonts to suggest different ideas. It’s a brand in a nutshell, and a remarkably efficient way of communicating.
The problem is that we’re almost too good at pattern matching: sometimes, we interpret images in completely different ways from each other, and may see things that are not necessarily there. Stuff like this is incredibly hard to proof-read for, as we tend to see only what we expect.
Take this classic optical illusion:
Do you see a young lady or an old lady? Most people immediately recognize one or the other — and until the other interpretation is pointed out, it’s impossible to see. It depends on what you’re expecting. Unfortunately for some logo designers, humanity’s ability to spot unintentional patterns is more than matched by its love of dirty jokes.
Paging Dr Freud…
When AirBnB redesigned their logo back in 2014, it didn’t get the response they were looking for. Their designers intended this swooshy, loopy thing to represent a “universal symbol of belonging”.
Meanwhile, Twitter couldn’t quite agree on what it looked like — but all the suggestions had a common theme.
Somehow the new Airbnb logo looks like every single private part I can think of on either gender, all at once. That’s actually impressive.
— Josh Johnson (@secondfret) July 16, 2014
Not to talk crap about Airbnb’s new logo… but it had to be done. pic.twitter.com/1EZHZCTVth
— Jonathan Shariat (@DesignUXUI) July 16, 2014
— Shaun Pendergast (@ShaunPendy) July 16, 2014
But Airbnb is an edgy, market-expanding startup — surely a staid governmental body wouldn’t play fast and loose with lewd imagery in their corporate graphics? Apparently, yes they would. Officially, the Office of Government Commerce dealt with government contracts in the UK. However, whoever designed their logo clearly thought they just jerk off all day long.
After a hasty logo change, the OGC was involved in planning the 2012 Olympics. Sadly, they brought their bad luck with logos to the table. The event’s masthead was unveiled to cries of “WTF?” “£400,000 for that??” and “It kinda looks like Lisa Simpson giving a blowjob.”
See what we mean about pattern matching? It must have taken a particularly demented genius to see poor Lisa amongst those strange geometric blobs — but once you see it, you can’t unsee it.
Pattern Matching Done Right
But our ability to imbue simple images with deeper meaning can be turned to a brand’s advantage. Take Amazon’s logo: the arrow both shows what they do (deliver products) and the result (a happy customer). The a → z is nicely worked in there as well.
Fedex make a similar point, but more subtly: look at the negative space between the e and the x.
Baskin Robbins ensured their early success by putting their main selling point, a flavor for every day of the month, front and centre in their logo.
The latest iteration is even smarter: the 31 is married with the company’s initials, in the same shade of pink their customers associate with their free sample spoons.
The Apple logo is one of the world’s best known images. It’s prompted a ton of speculation on its true meaning (bite = byte? Groan…) but most importantly, it’s a simple, unique image which is beautiful to look at, echoing the perfect design of their products.
In summary, great logos are ones that effectively use colors, fonts, and shapes to create a cohesive and meaningful portrait of what a brand is all about. Done well, logos allow a brand to become ingrained in culture, creating something larger than the product it sells. Conversely, a poorly designed logo can derail a brand’s trajectory and confuse potential customers. Thankfully, with some creativity, good design sense, and plenty of feedback, your logo can stand out–in the best way.
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