Why Simplicity Wins in Logo Design

Can you draw your logo in ten seconds or less? If not, your logo may be too complex to be memorable.

“The principal role of a logo is to identify, and simplicity is its means… Its effectiveness depends on distinctiveness, visibility, adaptability, memorability, universality, and timelessness.” — Paul Rand

Paul Rand was an American art director and graphic designer, best known for his corporate logo designs, including the logos for IBM, UPS, Enron, Morningstar, Inc., Westinghouse, ABC, and NeXT.

He is widely regarded as one of the most respected and influential designers of our time, and was an advocate for simplicity. Many of his logos are thought to be some of the most effective and elegant design solutions ever, and the longevity far surpassed the normal life span of a corporate identity. Some of his logos went unchanged for over 30 years. IBM’s iconic eight bar wordmark turned 45 this year.

So why were his logos so effective? What made them so timeless? 
Many think that it was the simple aesthetic, and the absence of unnecessary “decorations” that made them stick.

Oftentimes, in an attempt to create something new and original, designers try to cram too may ideas or elements into one mark. I’ve made this mistake many times myself. When logos become overly complex, the true purpose of the logo is ignored. The goal is for the logo to be recognizable, timeless, and versatile. A complex logo is more difficult to remember, which makes it less likely for a person to recognize it when they see it a second time.

“Leave your client with just one thing to remember about the design. All strong logos have one single feature to help them stand out. Not two, three, or four. One.” —David Airey, Ten logo design tips from the field, Logo Design Love

Simple logos are better because they are more adaptable.

Too often, designers and clients get so fixated on the logo itself that they forget about its application. In today’s world of marketing and advertising, logos need to work on a wide variety of applications. The logo will probably be used in both digital and print applications. It might even be fabricated out of metal for a sign, or embroidered on apparel.

When considering the application, there are usually very practical reasons to avoid decorations and effects.

Designs that depend on lots of colors, gradients, fine lines or shadows will most likely break down and lose integrity. The design should work in black and white as well as color, and it should work at small sizes without any loss of detail (fitting it in a one inch square is a good test).

The Logo vs. The Brand

When setting out to brand or rebrand their company, many business leaders and entrepreneurs have unrealistic expectations for what the logo will do for the company. They expect the logo to sum up everything in one wordmark or symbol. They need to be reminded that the logo will live alongside their brand. In reality, the logo’s job is to identify and to act as the face of the company.

Your face does not define everything you stand for as a person, and the logo doesn’t define your company — it simply makes it recognizable.

The brand should do all of the talking for the logo. 
An effective brand strategy combined with thoughtful messaging, visuals, and interactions will strengthen the meaning of the logo, and over time it will become memorable.

Pentagram’s Michael Bierut on logos and their meaning.
“Don’t try to be original; just try to be good.” —Paul Rand

There are millions of logos out there in the world. Creating something that is truly unique and completely original is extremely difficult. If you focus too much on creating something that is different, adding unnecessary elements or effects, you’ll end up with a mark that is over complicated and trying too hard. There’s nothing less cool than trying to be cool.

If you can’t think of a pragmatic reason to round a corner, add an underline, a shadow or any other effect, then don’t do it.

When it comes to creating a memorable logo, less really is more.

Designing an effective logo is a complicated process — one that truly requires the right people to do the job. To see if Moncur is the right fit for your logo design needs, view our work at thinkmoncur.com and contact us today at 248.458.6990.