The Language of Logos
Logos are your 3-second elevator pitch. Getting them right reduces the cost of customer acquisition; removing friction to your sales funnel. Getting them wrong…well, let’s not go there.
Logos are created to visually communicate the key attributes of a brand (no, the logo is not the brand). In the blink of an eye, with or without prior interactions, a person should gain a basic understanding of the core values of the brand just from a quick look at the logo. Is it fun? Serious? Complicated? Distinguished?
To tell a company’s story, I work closely with designers as we learn about the core values to be communicated, then verbalize and visualize them. Many writing tools are used to do this including analogy (a reference to an existing experience), semiotics (the science of symbols), visual culture (known associations), and rhetoric (metaphors, etc.). When a logo is minimalist, and the subject has a wealth of cultural ties to it, it can unintentionally welcome a variety of interpretations. It is in the branding of the logo that these references can be utilized rather than ceding control to them. Good branding reframes those references to provide new context and, thus, new meaning.
Take, for instance, the iconic Apple logo.
But…what does it mean?
After reading interviews with Rob Janoff, the designer of the Apple logo, it’s amazing the number of interpretations the public has shared over the years. Some of my favorites:
- The bite in the apple is referencing the computing term’ byte’.
- The apple references the biblical event when Eve bit into the forbidden fruit, signifying knowledge and lust.
- The fruit itself is referencing the discovery of gravity by Newton when an apple fell on his head while sitting under a tree.
- The colors of the rainbow (ROYGBIV) are in the wrong order, suggesting hope and anarchy.
- The colored logo is an homage to Alan Turing, the famous father of computer science who broke the Enigma code in WW2, and committed suicide in the early ’50s while facing a jail sentence for homosexuality.
- Turing also apparently killed himself with a cyanide-laced apple. His favorite childhood story was also Snow White, where she falls asleep forever for eating a poisoned apple to be woken up by the handsome prince.
So, did anyone get it right? In Rob’s words, “they are all BS.” His reasoning for the design focused on readability, simplicity, and intrigue. The only creative briefing Steve Jobs gave him was, “don’t make it cute.”
At first, he prepared two versions — one with the bite and one without — fearing the bite may look too “cute.” The bite was added simply for scale. Rob’s concern was that people might confuse the shape with that of a cherry, so adding the bite mark provided context. He also felt people across all cultures could relate to it through their own physical experiences of biting into an apple. It became iconic.
Rob also confessed that the purpose of the stripes was to reinforce what differentiated the Apple II from other personal computers at that time. The Apple II was the first personal computer that could reproduce images on the screen in color, so the color bars in the logo are actually representing the color bars seen on the Apple II’s screen.
The Apple logo we see today may just be an apple that someone has taken a bite out of, but over the years it has become a very scalable, polished, well- designed, and functional logo. One that represents a high-end consumer experience worldwide. The apple is serving Apple exceptionally well.
What about the rest of us?
That’s great for Apple, who have spent billions on their marketing, customer experience, packaging, and all that, and have done so for years. What about us? For all the rest of us, how can we make our logos work hard for us?
After more than 25 years of marketing and branding experience here are a couple of tactics that anyone can implement, easily and inexpensively (depending on how far you want to go with it).
- Make it evocative. Whether you get your logo from, Fiverr or Ogilivy, when you look at it, it should evoke an emotion. What emotion and how to do that are other conversations, and…people need to feel something when they see your logo. Otherwise, it’s pretty much a no-go.
- Be consistent. Your logo can be one of your most valuable assets; be nice to it! Don’t stretch it, or cramp it, or minimize in any way (look at the Medium logo, upper left; it always has breathing room around it because it’s important).
- Use it intelligently. Just because a lot of people might see your logo somewhere, doesn’t make it a good idea to put it there. Think about if the context in which it will appear supports what you stand for.
At the end of the day, logos are communication tools. They are part of your conversation with your markets. Don’t have them say anything you wouldn’t.