A few days ago I got subcontracted for a branding project. Being the brand designer that I am, the project sounded like an easy feat. But my contractors felt that the logos I was producing for their client were not “on par”, even though they clearly and simply communicated what the company stood for, and even after I provided examples of possible real-life usage. All of that got me thinking:
Why would a logo alone MATTER? More precisely, why would it matter how simple or complicated the logo is?
For example, my own logo is literally just two letters which are underlined, and it probably took me half an hour to design just the mark.
But it works.
Why does it work? Because I’ve built a narrative around it.
I went out of my way to contextualize it, to apply it onto different mediums, and acquaint the public with the brand.
I put it into slogans. I made intros with it. I used it in thumbnails.
And that is how you build a brand experience. The two letters on their own don’t mean much, besides the fundamental meaning of a letter.
But by putting them into context, building an appropriate mood around them, a certain attitude, and a consistent language, you manage to breathe in meaning into an otherwise meaningless jumble of letters or symbols.
And most of the time, you won’t even need any complex symbols or intricate typography. Some of the most famous logos out there have achieved their fame not because of how “well” they were designed. They achieved it because they were simple enough and the company behind it continuously kept building a strong narrative around it.
You may have heard of the $35 Nike logo story. Back in 1971, when Carolyn Davidson was only a student, she designed the simple “swoosh” mark which ended up amassing a lot of meaning down the road when Nike started picking up the pace as a company.
But the mark on its own meant nothing before Nike weaved it into its brand image and added the “Just do it” slogan to it. Today the company is worth around US$12.41 billion in total equity, so you can only imagine how much equity there is behind the mark now.
On another note, let’s take a look at a typography-only example.
My British friends probably come into contact with the logo below very often. It belongs to the National Health Service of the United Kingdom. But if you look at it more closely, it is just three letters written together in a plain font and placed into a blue rectangle. There is nothing fancy about the logo. The tail of the S doesn’t even align perpendicularly to the H.
But it works for its context.
So instead of wasting time trying to come up with a clever mark, the NHS brand designers spent their time creating very thorough and professional brand guidelines, so they can bring consistency across an extremely wide range of uses and convey a certain visual language that is expected from such a large organization.
This brings me to another point…
Brand ≠ logo, brand > logo.
Many readers here are very well-acquainted with Gary Vaynerchuk and his own branding.
But did he even bother with creating a detailed logo? Nope. He just used his own signature as a logo. What did he bother with? Creating a well-orchestrated brand experience. His brand has a specific language. It has a specific look. You know why? Because that’s how you win customers. Not with a fancy logo. But with an appropriate brand experience.
Then again… Gary’s branding is mostly personal. So let’s instead take a look at some of the corporate branding to see if there is a pattern.
Like maybe… the very site you’re reading this on.
Their logo doesn’t even have any colour! What blasphemy! But yet again… it works. The funny part with this example is that the logo you see today is only a recreation of their original logo. They tried to go the complex and tiresome route — and they got burned badly.
This “new” logo conveys the same qualities as the first one: reliability, strength, professionalism, and the black heaviness of the type references the bold headlines of the printed newspapers.
It manages to accomplish all of this with a simple chiselled “M” coupled with a black square and “Medium” written in the same chiselled treatment. Did it take them a while to arrive there? Most likely. But did they settle on a very simple option? Definitely they did.
And while it’s true that the Medium logo is full black & white on its own, throughout the site they couple it with these interesting collages, as well as with their famous green. This way, a full brand experience is easily created, and there is no witty, tryhard logo to divert the user’s attention.
But of course, simple doesn’t ALWAYS win.
There’s bound to be exceptions. Take for example, the Toblerone logo.
It has both typography and a symbol. It has drop shadows, bevelling, and a ton of hidden references.
The mountain in the logo not only references the Swiss Alps, but it also contains a hidden bear, which is on the coat of arms of Bern, the city where the chocolate originated. The city’s name also appears in the product’s name.
The reason why this “complex” approach works for Toblerone is because the product carries a lot of legacy (2018 is actually its 110th anniversary), and the brand has a premium vintage feel to it. If the logo were flat and used a plain typeface, the brand’s language simply wouldn’t be communicated as well.
Same goes for Coca-Cola.
The iconic wordmark definitely isn’t one of the simplest ones out there. But it is one of the most enduring ones, and for over 100 years, the mark has remained relatively unchanged.
Would they be able to communicate the same feelings — happiness, friendship, family — had they used a more contemporary typeface? Perhaps. But there would always be one key thing missing: the legacy. When you think of 1960s Americana, you think of Coca-Cola. Were it not for the complex vintage logo, that connection simply wouldn’t have existed.
So what are the lessons we learned in our exploration today?
Most of the time, especially if you’re starting a new brand, you just won’t need a complicated logo. All it takes is a few letters in an appropriate typeface, or even a simple symbol, and you’re good to go. Now, the thing that’s actually going to help your company, organization, or agency will be the brand’s positioning.
Think of your brand as a person. How would you describe them? Funny, serious, playful, professional, minimalistic, witty, modern, or perhaps vintage? If you chose “witty” and/or “vintage”, then go the complex route of Toblerone & Coca-Cola.
But in most other cases, don’t try too hard with the logo. Do try hard with the execution.
Now, if you’re someone who is interested in having this brand execution created for them or their company, then maybe you could benefit from a chat with me. Click here to be taken to the contact page.