Few aspects of graphic design cause as much introspection
as logo and identity design. Perhaps it is
because a logo is often meant to last for years, so
it had better be done right. An ugly poster can be
ripped off a wall. Packages can be given new labels.
But a logo is a serious investment. Design fees are
just the tip of the financial iceberg. Implementation
for a multinational corporation can cost hundreds
of millions of dollars and take years to complete.
Even a small start-up could be risking its existence
on a new logo. So while a bad logo may not sink a
company, a good logo can go a long way to ensuring
brand loyalty and customer preference. Fortunately,
many designers understand and revel in the chance
to put their mark, literally, on an organization.
WHAT MAKES A GOOD REDESIGN?
The basics of logo design are simple: create something
that is unique, memorable and distinct to the
company. But redesigning a logo means working
with existing preconceptions about the company,
its products or services and its customers. Taking
into account existing equity—the elements of an
identity that are well-known and embraced by the
target market—is crucial. The old logo may be an
ugly duckling, but it’s quite possible that may be its
charm. And only proper research can tell you what
should be saved and what should be tossed.
Another important aspect of good logo design is
the embrace of the craft of design. So get in there and
tweak those serifs. Work that negative space. Adjust
your curves until they’re perfect. Round off points
and add inkwells so interior corners don’t clog up on
press. And color? That should come last. Working in
color can often obscure errors in form and craft. The
best logos are built well—and built to last.
Implementation must always be in the back
of your head: Can this be reproduced? The fax and
black-and-white newspaper ad may no longer be the
litmus tests, but they aren’t forgotten. A logo often
has many different drawings that account for varying
presses and substrates, from one-color black to fourcolor
process and beyond. Many of today’s logos are
rich in color, taking advantage of the current available
software to depict transparency, dimension and gradations.
But even the most complex, gradient-laden
logo “should adhere to the classic rules of logo design,
being recognizable even when reduced to its smallest
and simplest form,” says Sven Seger, worldwide executive
creative director at Siegel+Gale (www.siegelgale.com). According to Seger, all these new developments
can be fully implemented, but the designer must do
his homework, work out the techniques necessary and
ensure the client is willing to pay the resulting costs.
The most common design crime committed by
bad logos is trying to say too much. Logos identify; they don’t explain everything about a business. How
much can one really say in an area less than a square
inch? Keep the message simple and to the point, and
you’re already ahead of the game. And remember,
there’s a difference between visual execution and concept.
Even the best sports logos—as illustrative and
detailed as they can be—convey one primary message.
Finally, know your competition. Nothing happens
in a vacuum. Knowing what your client’s
competitors look like and what they are trying to
communicate can help you focus your designs in the
right direction. Looking like another company is a
dubious prospect, creating confusion in the marketplace
at best and, at worst, inciting legal proceedings.
Hundreds of logos were unveiled last year via splashy
parties, triumphant press releases or just quietly
leaked into the world. Who did it right? Who has
guts? Who gets the votes for the best logo of 2007?
Best argument for unionization
The hardest task for a designer is being your own
client. Where we can provide objective, third-party
wisdom for our clients’ projects, we can’t seem to
break free of all the preconceptions, random ideas
and woulda-coulda-shouldas for our own identities.
So credit the folks at Enterprise IG, now The Brand Union (www.thebrandunion.com), for developing a
strong logo and identity for the group. The field of
brand design agency logos is filled with unassuming
type treatments and classic wordmarks. Enterprise
IG was as guilty as the rest. To escape the pack, The
Brand Union embraced its playful side, creating a
symbol of many parts that is a clear metaphor for the
business. As executive creative director Wally Krantz
puts it, “It is about the building—the process of
it—not the built. It’s part of our strategic positioning
as master brand builders.”
Best classic revival
Saks is the grand dame of New York department
stores. That alone won’t please the shareholders,
so they hired Pentagram (www.pentagram.com)
to reinvigorate the store’s identity. The smart call
was to make new what once was old. The new logo
is a redrawn version of its classic early ’70s script
typography. Pentagram didn’t need to reinvent the
wheel, just tailor a logo to look like the clothes Saks’
sells: elegant, high-end and trim in all the right
spots. The logo’s application—sliced into hundreds
of pieces and rearranged as modern mosaics on
shopping bags and window displays—introduces a
contemporary edge to this timeless logo. “The decision
to re-entrench Saks in the familiar equity of its
former script was a stroke of logic. Slicing and dicing the mark into its own visual vocabulary was the
stroke of genius,” says Bill Gardner, Gardner Design
(www.gardnerdesign.com) and LogoLounge.com.
Best swoosh left behind
If there’s one place an artistic brush swoosh might be
appropriate and still have meaning, it would be an
art school. Still, Maryland Institute College of Art
(MICA) needed something more modern and unique
to its history, and the brush stroke wasn’t cutting it.
In its place is another typographic masterpiece from
Abbott Miller and Pentagram, a logo all about juxtaposition.
Pairing the crisp monogram of a Victorian
slab serif with multitextured graphic patterning, the
typographic simplicity gives it timeless appeal, while
the texture adds depth and vitality.
Best grace under pressure
Here’s a tough job: design a logo for a national
memorial tied to a seminal moment in modern
American history—the September 11, 2001, terrorist
attacks. The beauty of this logo by New York-based
Number 17 (www.number17.com) is its subtlety.
No overwrought sentiments, no hugging people, no
attempts at depicting the actual events of that day.
Two squared-off gradients instantly recall the footprints
of N.Y.’s Twin Towers. And the contemporary
horizontal type lends the perfect complementary
grace note. But the coup de grâce is the realization
that the elements form a subtle healing cross.
Best logo from another dimension
Nowadays, many arts institutions brand themselves
through architecture. The challenge is reducing a
dramatic dimensional form into a crisp, flat logo.
For Portuguese concert hall Casa da Música, Stefan
Sagmeister (www.sagmeister.com) brought his
own unique spin to the notion of a modern, flexible
identity system. The symbol itself is a palette of
bold renderings of the building, seen from different
viewpoints. Sagmeister and his team then developed
a software program that would sample images and
derive a simplified color palette for each logo iteration.
“The 17-point solution software to select color
palettes … is one of the most inventive application
solutions I’ve ever encountered. You may not like the
results on every spin, but that won’t stop the addiction.
You’ll have to spin it again and again,” says
Gardner. Simple? No. But unique and just plain cool.
Best second attempt
Sometimes the second time is the charm. The city
of Chicago already had a well-regarded logo for
its Olympic host bid, designed by VSA Partners
(www.vsapartners.com). But since its approval, the
International Olympic Committee (IOC) declared torches and most other Olympic-related motifs offlimits
to city applicants. Its torch snuffed, Chicago
had to start anew. So VSA went back to the drawing
board and somehow managed to combine the original
mark’s fiery equity with the Chicago city star
to deliver a stronger, more cohesive solution. The
sparkling colors invite, while the overall compact
shape allows greater versatility for the symbol itself.
Chicago may have lost the skyline, but can now
hang its hope on a bright star for 2016.
Best destination brand
Pulling up dockside is a real surprise of a logo for
southern California’s Port of Long Beach. Eschewing
the traditional thinking of what a key shipping port
is, Siegel+Gale and the town of Long Beach realized
the logo would speak for much more than cargo carriers
and shipments from China. Seger says, “There
is no difference between the local community and
the port, so the logo needed to reflect that. The
primary audience is really the community.” The
logo is colorful and rich, evoking a destination and
community without ignoring the primary economic
driver—a perfect marriage of purposes.
Best excuse to spend implementation money
Now arriving from the Middle East, via Australia’s
Cato Purnell Partners (www.catopartners.com), is a
new brand for high-flying Dubai and its international
airport. It’s a wonderfully modernistic kaleidoscope
of color and pattern, depicting the city as the aspired
aviation center of the world. A complex drawing like
this absolutely comes with its challenges. It requires
money to ensure proper implementation, and one
would expect nothing less from Dubai.
Like most people, you probably spend about 10 to
15 minutes, max, choosing an outfit to wear for the
day. It’s a fleeting moment you’ll revisit the next
morning. Yet it’s not like you throw just anything
on; you still want to look your best. Now consider
that you can wear only the same outfit every day for
the next five to 10 years. Feeling the flop sweat yet?
Add the additional challenge of getting your 50 best
friends to agree that it’s the look that fits you best,
and as most of you are aware, that’s a bit what it’s
like designing a logo for a large company.
The logos featured here are all the result of
long hours at the sketch pad and in meetings, deep
discussions, possible crying jags and a few drinks. It’s
hard and serious work, but when the forces are properly
brought to bear, the result is a beautiful mark,
a happy client and a true measure of the power of
design for business.