That’s NOT a Logo!

Art is always subjective. But when it comes to logo design, decisions should be made with more than aesthetics in mind.

If you conduct a Google search using the query “What is a logo?”, you will likely see a blog entry from 99Designs towards the top of the search results. Dispersed within the text, the blog provides sample logo designs. One of the featured logos is an intricate Ragda Mask rendered by a very skilled artist. However, this design isn’t a logo.

Illustration by BATHI.

The illustration is well-executed and it looks cool — So, why shouldn’t this design be used as a logo?

A logo isn’t a picture-perfect illustration. A logo communicates more with less. A great looking logo is just the beginning.

A practical explanation of logo design best practices

In their succinct list, Creative Markets states that a logo should be memorable, timeless, relevant, original, and versatile. Some of these qualities can be subjective. Although the 99Designs post identifies the Ragda Mask design as a logo, it likely represents a fictional organization and additional details could not be verified. For this post, let’s assume that the design is intended to be used as a logo and that it is relevant to the brand’s intended audience and mission. So, the undeniable issue presented by the Ragda Mask design is versatility.

In logo design, versatility refers to…

  • Colors and Printing: Will the logo be effective as a single color? Will the logo be effective in the reverse color (light logo on a dark background)? The complexity of the design and the amount of color used will be a factor in the cost and reliability of printed reproductions.
  • Scaling and variations: Does the logo remain legible and identifiable at large and small sizes? Can the logo be utilized in horizontal and vertical layouts?

COLORS AND PRINTING

Is it a coincidence that nearly all of the brands listed on Interbrand’s “Best Global Brands 2017 Rankings” utilize a limited color scheme? If you scroll through the full list, you’ll notice that the presence of gradients and special effects are very minimal.

Source: Interbrand.

Let’s try the Ragda Mask as a single color placed on light and dark backgrounds. The illustration is strong and the loss of color doesn’t change that. However, without color separation some of the details bleed together. For example, the red of the lips no longer frames the teeth.

The original artwork (left) accompanied by black and white versions used on light and dark backgrounds.

In other areas, the color details of the Ragda Mask are lost entirely (example: the circles within the eyes) and the treatment of the “24/7” text now looks rather generic with the absence of the color and gradient-like effects.

Full color printing can be expensive and gradients can be difficult to reproduce consistently. In 1990, Mastercard modified their interlocking circle logo due to printing considerations. Although Mastercard recently updated their logo, the color scheme remains minimal. Most companies, large and small, will want to consider their printing costs.

The interlocking lines introduced in 1990 solved the issue of representing three colors with only two to save on print production costs…
— Armin Vit, Brand New
MasterCard logo, 1990.

The full color Ragda Mask might make a great (and expensive to produce) screen printed tee shirt, but I think it’s safe to say that you’ll never be able to successfully embroider the intricate details on a garment.

Even if you feel that you don’t have to be concerned with printing, a defined color palette will help to create a more recognizable brand.

SCALING AND VARIATIONS

At some point, most designers have been instructed by a client to “make my logo bigger”. A logo that can’t be used at a smaller size is a big problem.

Will your logo look good as a 60px square social media avatar or an App shortcut on a smart phone? You may have noticed a trend in recent years, which has many brands developing a secondary icon or a lettermark. This minimalist shift is an effort to improve legibility and recognition in the digital space.

Source: Wired.
How far out of focus can an image be and still be recognized? A [logo] which is subject to an infinite number of uses, abuses, and variations… cannot survive unless it is designed with utmost simplicity and restraint.”
— Paul Rand, A Designer’s Art.

Jim Nielsen put Paul Rand’s theory to the test with his Logo Integrity in Focus study, in which viewers are challenged to identify logos that have undergone varied levels of gaussian blur.

Nike’s logo at varied levels of blur.

Incredibly, some logos can still be identified with a significant blur.

Keeping a logo design simple is crucial for scaling and variation. The Ragda Mask is too detailed and won’t work well at reduced sizes; the smaller details and text will be nearly invisible.

A fictitious Twitter account using the Ragda Mask.

A symmetrical logo, like the circular design of the Ragda Mask, is conducive to varied applications. If your logo is asymmetrical, you will want to have a plan for vertical and horizontal implementations.

Netflix’s “Bordertown” varies the logo treatment to fit the implementation while maintaining a consistent look.

Design Shack has correctly proclaimed that the static logo is dead! In 2018, animation can also be a consideration when a logo is designed.

…movement in the design can delight users when done well.
— Carrie Cousins
Google’s animated lettermark.

So, what is a logo?

Like most creative endeavors, opinions on a logo design can vary. However, the way a logo looks is only a small part of a much bigger picture. Logo design decisions should be made with more than aesthetics in mind.

Quickly! Without peeking, does the famous double-tailed Starbucks “Siren” have an iris drawn on each of her eyes?

During a redesign in 2011, the franchise considered, but ultimately rejected, a revision to their world-famous mascot which featured a more fully-rendered eye.

Left: A version of the Siren’s face with more detailed eyes and sharpened facial features. Right: The approved version with simplified facial features.

Why did Starbucks decide against refining the Siren’s facial features?

  • Perception: The simplified eyes and slightly asymmetrical facial features were chosen because it makes the Siren appear more natural and human.
  • Practical: The softer, less detailed features will reduce better when the logo is used at a small size.
  • Aesthetics: The simplified eye shape helps to maintain a consistent line weight that was already present throughout the design.
The yellow line overlay highlights the consistent line weight.

A LOGO SAYS MORE WITH LESS

When we look at the Starbucks logo above, we don’t see the full figure of the Siren. We see her through a circular frame that highlights her most essential identifying features (double-tails, crown, long flowing hair). In logo design, the aspiration should be to communicate quickly and clearly with minimal visual information.

Goal.com claims to be the world’s largest football website, providing live scores, news and more. Goal.com’s logo is a gorgeous example of simplicity. The football “goal” is depicted with a single line. The trademark is brilliantly placed in the upper-right corner, appearing to be a ball entering the goal rather than a legal element that would normally be disregarded by a viewer.

Goal.com logo.

The design also exhibits thoughtful restraint by not filling the entire interior space with the wordmark. Instead, the word “GOAL” sits along the baseline at the approximate height of a goalkeeper.

Simplification isn’t a trend, it’s a necessity.

A GREAT LOOKING LOGO IS JUST THE BEGINNING

Touting a variety of naturally flavored sparkling water beverages, Ugly Drinks is a brand that successfully balances creativity and best practices.

The wordmark “Ugly” contains a letter “U” that resembles a protruding tongue.

Ugly Drinks logo.
…Channeling the rebellious spirit of the founders, we created a brand that points out the Ugly Truth and says the unsayable, but still leaves you with a smile on your face…
— Stephen McDavid, Design Director, JKR

The “U” tongue also acts as an icon for the brand and appears as their Twitter profile image. The icon can be still be easily identified when scaled to smaller sizes.

The Ugly Drinks Twitter account.

The protruding tongue element is repeated by a assembly of fruit-themed characters that appear on a number of promotional items.

Flavor characters.

The icon can be varied for each of the flavors offered by Ugly Drinks, while still remaining recognizable as the same brand.

Variations of the Ugly Drinks icon.

With minimal color, the logo and icon communicate the “rebellious” brand message. Whether it is being used for printed or digital content, large or small scale, the logo is simple and versatile enough to work in any execution.

The logo utilized on packaging and other promotional materials.

Wrapup

Design encourages us to think outside of the box and break the rules. But, be mindful of the best practices discussed above before you spend a lot of time and money building a beautiful, but ultimately useless logo.


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