Tips for better logo design
A logo is a company's personal signature and helps create a strong visual image to establish company or product identity and recognition.
First created by Chinese calligraphers in about 2000BCE, logograms were calligraphic characters that represented a sound or word (such as the ' &'). Today the design and production of corporate identity programs is big business. Great logos are appropriate to their task, clearly convey the intended message, have meanings behind the symbolism, integrate the text and image, and have thorough rationale supporting each design element in the piece.
Above left: In English, the word chaos requires 5 separate symbols. The Chinese had so many characters in their alphabet that, around 1,800BCE (a really long time ago), they developed single calligraphic characters that stood for words - the mark, above right, is for chaos. The single mark was more efficient: easier and quicker to render. It was called a logogram, meaning written word - written = gram, word = logo. The term stuck and, today, we still refer to marks of identity as logograms, or more commonly, shortened to just logo. Some people also clarify the type of logo with these terms:
• logomark - a logo that is primarily image-based
• logotype - a logo that is primarily text-based
• logogram - a general term for an identity mark
• logo - same, but fewer letters
Common: identity, logotype, trademark, symbol, mark
Less common: logogram, icon, pictogram, logomark, isotype
A logo can be unaltered type, manipulated type, a symbol or visual, or a combination of type and visual. If a logo/identity consists of both type and visual/image, the two should be integrated to allow easier comprehension and memorability. A company's name is often part of their logo; an ad slogan or address is not.
Great logos convey the essence of what the company/entity is about. usually, they're not literal images of products, but more of the feeling one gets or the attributes associated with the company. A restaurant logo will likely not show food, but it will convey cleanliness, sophistication, tastefulness, etc. A logo for an insurance company won't show a paper policy to fill out but will convey professionalism, trust, integrity, etc.
It is quite common for design students and poor designers to design a logo that emphasizes the initials of the client's company. A logo should be something that the viewer will identify with that company. If the company isn't known by its initials, then do not create an identity of its initials - communicate the correct name of the company - what people will say, not a cute acronym nor initials. There are no great logos of initials only. IBM, UPS, AT&T want us to know them by those names. Those are the new company names - they are no longer initials.
Logo/identity critique checklist
A great effective logo should meet many of the following criteria:
Readable, legible, and easy to comprehend.
Suitable for the company's audience and purpose.
Impacts a strong lasting impression.
Unique from marks of other businesses.
Will last over time and not be dated to one trend.
Professional quality production.
Adapts to a variety of uses, surfaces, and media.
Retains clarity in a variety of sizes and applications.
The bottom line
• A great logo is an effective identity, not an ad.
• A great logo is a brief identifier.
• A great logo has type and image that are integrated (unless it is image only or text only).
• A great logo conveys a message/feeling/essence clearly.
• Jim's portfolio of logos, scroll down to Logos
• Scan through archived blogs: 2011 2012 2013
Some great identities
The real TX & OU weekend
During TX-OU weekend - the big game in the Cotton Bowl - I was wandering through Walmart trying to decide if I would really be happy as a Greeter at the front entrance (I am exploring that as a second career.) I noticed these pumpkin boxes, each boasting it's origin from a different state. Many states, to promote their industries, have a logomark to designate their home-grown products. I was familiar with the previous Made in Oklahoma mark, below left, and was never impressed with it. Mio? MIA? From even a short distance away, the reader would not know what it meant or which state it referred to. Why make people learn and remember an acronym? Just give the name of the state.
The state was smart to commission a new mark (3rd one). But, that new mark is fair, good enough, and okay; but, not great. It does say 'Oklahoma', but, the mark with its fine lines in the Osage shield and the serif font with thin letterstrokes may not work well when reduced or an a variety of surfaces and media.
On the right is the mark from Texas. Like a cattle brand of the shape of the state and the tagline Go Texan. A simple concept, yes - but, it works. Instead of just stating Made in Texas, the word Go is a verb, as in do something, act, take action. MIO just states a fact. Notice which mark, OK or TX, is more legible and more readable in the above photo at Walmart.
The people who designed the website got it right - exploit the unique shape of Oklahoma. There aren't too many states that most Americans would recognize from their shape. Texas, of course, and a few others. Oklahoma is one of those. While it may seem trite and overused to use the state outline, this is an instance where it would be appropriate - the purpose of the mark is to quickly denote an Oklahoman product, to give to the viewer the state of origin quickly and clearly - the shape does that better than any combination of words (and certainly better than MIO).
Website links: Made in Oklahoma Made in Texas Made in NY Made in Britain
The Sisters of Mercy
In 1884, five years before the Land Run of '89, the Sisters of Mercy of Lacon, Illinois, responded to an invitation to work with the local Native American tribes. Five Sisters, all in their 20s, volunteered to make the long trek in a covered wagon into Indian Territory. They crossed raging rivers on horseback, encountered outlaws, escaped quicksand, and survived tornadoes. In 1947, the order purchased what was then called Oklahoma City General Hospital in downtown. The Sisters of Mercy made a change that was unprecedented - almost two decades before the Jim Crow Laws of "separate but equal" were abolished, the Sisters of Mercy integrated the hospital for all people.
Mercy medical center used this logo for years, with the original Christian cross which Catherine McAuley, founder of the Sisters of Mercy, adopted for her ministry and a barb from the lower case letters (E & C) mixed in with upper case (M R Y). This logo was introduced in 2013, maintaining the original inner cross shape, but in multi colors, better representing the inclusiveness of Mercy medical centers. It is a nice update and modernizing of the original but still respecting the earlier cross. Setting the text in familiar U&lc, without the barbs, helps keep the visual focus on the word and the cross.
Elements that can be improved
I noticed the sharp inner points of the cross and the sharp outer points of the M over on the other side of the word. I thought I heard the capital M yelling at me, "Hang that cross off of me not the Y." The mass of the cross dangles precariously off of the fragile arm point of the Y. The M provides a more stable foundation for the cross.
Tip: Look for relationships and connections among elements. Strive to unite them
Yes, of course, the cross mark should be at the beginning of the logo, to convey that Christ and faith come first and project over the word Mercy.
The tension of the corners of shapes touching and the awkward captured shapes is a bit annoying. This will be addressed if the cross is moved to the M.
Some letterstrokes are inconsistent - stroke ends are at the same angle, except one - the R. Almost nice attention to detail. Almost. So, make them all consistent.
Lack of hierarchy - the colorful cross demands about the same attention as the larger, more massive text, Mercy. Maybe the cross mark should be a bit larger.
Marks with two different messages
1. An arc motion of the ball swinging counter-clockwise
2. A speedy ball shooting off to the right
Neither makes a great logo. The arc is an unnatural motion for a tennis ball during a game of tennis - the racket might make such a move, but not the ball. The flame motion is a bit better - it conveys the speed and fierceness of play during the Open, but the ball is rarely seen moving in a straight line, it curves over the net, tight into a corner, or a down from a high smash. Maybe the combination could be a flame trail but moving in a downward arc.
But, uh oh, both of the poor versions made it into the final logo for the US Open:
An arc motion to the left and a speed motion to the right. Do they both cancel each other out or just look uncomfortable? Does the ball just stop in mid-air between two opposing forces?
And, if the competing messages weren't enough, someone added the year in a different font, in italics, and in a position that does not respect the ball, the arc, or the US OPEN type. Wait, there's more - let's put a waving blue US flag in the background:
In this version someone thought the US flag should be in flames:
How this crappy logo might have happened:
• The client liked both versions and insisted that they both be included.
• The design firm mistakenly sent two files to the production department.
• A really poor tennis player thought it 'looked good'.
• It was a fun party game - a sketch pad was passed around and each guest had to add an element.
• The design firm is just not very good at research or playing tennis.
• Somebody just wasn't thinking; he/she got so close to the mark and it's options, they lost sight of what messages should have been communicated.
Tip: Designers should often take a break to remind themselves of the basics of design - the objective, the Big Idea (speed, action, excitement), the target market, the media used, and the result expected.
Okay, let's try to find the intended meaning in the mark:
• Slaughter guts (see the ripped off butt blood and guts)
• Bull farting out Oklahoma
• I just do not know what is going on with his feet - but they don't look right. But, then, nor does his tail or butt. I'm not sure a restaurant should emphasize a red butt so prominently.
You probly have more fun meanings, and we could go on and on, but we're not likely to come up with anything that is appetite-enticing or suggestive of a quality bbq & burger restaurant.
Great logos should maintain clear communication when reduced and when printed in black ink only.
Look how tacky the text looks on the door. This treatment helped earn Blu's the Logocrap Award this week.
Observations and lessons
• Consistency: Is it Bar-B-Q or BBQ - the door, logo, and website copy alternate. Tip: Pay for great design and for all the applications.
• Readability: serif typeface with thin strokes is tough to read. The serifs are a wise choice to convey the western bbq mood, but, remember, the designer is in control of the mark - fatten or bolden the strokes to provide a better visual weight.
• Visibility: Explore and consider contrast, value, color, point size, typeface, case, and on and on. Great designers thoroughly consider all the Design Components and are meticulous about attention to detail.
I bet the first time you saw it you read it as an L and a J. Most people do. But, because you likely saw it on television during a football game or a sports segment of the news, the L J logo was accompanied by Miami. That association helped the viewer learn that the L J stood for the University of Miami.
Important: We would not have learned the meaning of the L J if not for the repeated exposure on national media.
Most logos can't rely on repeated national television exposure to educate the public.
BTW: it would sure make a great L J U logo:
History of the U logo
From the U of M website by Lyssa Goldberg, 2012 (comments by Jim)
Miami athletics had gone through several years of uniform and helmet changes, with inconsistent logos ranging from an M to UM. The Hurricane Club commissioned a logo re-design; a Miami publicist worked with a graphic artist to develop the green and orange U logo in 1973. The athletic department was looking for something that would symbolize the University of Miami without having to say those words (like almost every other logo). The letters UM were not enough because they could have represented many other schools. (If UM could represent many other schools, the U could represent many more.) "It was quite a stretch," said one of publicist's daughters. "They took the U and said, 'This is the university.'"
The Athletic Federation ultimately wanted people who saw the split-U to automatically think of the University of Miami (automatically required years of repeated exposure). "Beyond our wildest dreams, this is what happened." (all logos want people who see them to think of the company it represents - not really such a wild dream.)
Simply saying The U did not cause any confusion because there was only one university in Miami. "If someone was referring to the university, you knew it was UM and the U symbolized the university."
In 1979, UM President Henry King Stanford sought to find a replacement for the U logo. The Graphic Department chair felt the U could have represented any university (good for them). But, students launched a "Save the U" campaign.
There seems to be no strong rationale for why just a U - a U that is in thousands of University names.
It's just a mark that, with lots of exposure - time & money - viewers have learned to associate with the University of Miami.
See the sign in this strip mall between a Pawn Shop and a Smoke Shop. Guess what product Humble Pie sells.
Assess the font selection (a 1930s era Art Deco style), the color (black & white), the arched baseline over the word Pie, and the name itself - Humble Pie.
Yes, of course, all of that says Pizza! Another good example of a sign company 'designing' a sign.
1. The forced spherical perspective on the text just doesn't work.
2. 3 different point sizes for 3 short words is too many.
3. The word Cue is larger than the words On and Express which are just as, if not more, important.
4. The yellow dot is distracting and slightly annoying because it is off-center in the red oval.
5. Letter C that forms an arrow going in a circle just makes no sense. That motion doesn't relate to pulling in for gas, a billiard ball, or an actor's prompt for the next line.
6. There is no clear hierarchy of elements to control the viewer's attention. There are just too many disparate elements fighting for attention.
What is the concept of this identity? A yellow cue ball? A red squashed ball?
Lesson: A successful design or ad must be based or a concept that is logical, impactful, and clearly communicates the message.
In 2012, The Philbrook Museum of Art sought to update their brand. The timing coincided with an expansion into a satellite facility in downtown Tulsa. The museum hired a design firm out of the New York City office of Pentagram, an internationally known design firm. Above is the new mark.
Some examples of the new mark on a brochure, the stationery, and, below, two web pages showing photos with missing grey squares.
The rationale of the design concept
The rationale given by the designer is that the mark is a square with two voids for the two locations of the museum. They placed a grid over a map of Tulsa and saw that the two voids formed a capital P when contained within a random square. The resulting P stood for Philbrook and represented a person.
It is a decent execution and application on a variety of museum materials.
But its a weak concept. Here's why:
The mark is based on an arbitrary geographic positioning boundary of a grid over Tulsa. Without being told or shown, no one would ever figure out that's why those two square voids are where they are. Great design concepts should make sense to the audience, not just to the design firm. This idea is based on a temporary alignment of locations. What happens to the concept when the downtown location closes or moves or when the Philbrook opens a third location? The concept will lose its basic rationale. What if the design team had placed a different size grid or square over the map of Tulsa? Would they have seen the P?
The new logo exploits the letter P as the centerpiece of the identity program. However (and this is important) absolutely no one in the universe refers to this museum as P, or the P. Nor should they, nor will they. Even with a P mark to encourage them. Some entities can rely on initials, like MoMA and Big D. But not this one. To make this even less appropriate, the word Philbrook doesn't even begin with a P sound, but an F sound.
Experiencing art should be a transcendental experience. It is one of the activities that encourages humans to feel emotions. Art should move us beyond our limits and boundaries and move us to expand and grow. The experience is organic, alive, and flowing. This sharp, hard-edged static mark does not fit the experience of viewing art.
The Philbrook is housed in a former mansion with an elaborately landscaped sculpture garden and grounds. It is alive with plants, vines, and water features. Inside are arches, curves, and a circular rotunda. Nothing about the chunky, square, cold mark respects nor fits the actual physical presence of visiting the Philbrook Museum. The former logo, while it may have had some issues, at least was a better fit with the museum and the experience of contemplating art.
Lesson: a contemporary mark and a slick execution can't compensate for a bad idea.
Some people will be fooled by the 'modernity' but thinkers can see past the presentation. Great design should appeal to the more thoughtful audience.
Great design must have a great concept as its foundation. Everything else depends on, supports, and builds off of that.
A new science museum opened in downtown Dallas in December, 2012. It is spectacular - the building itself is displayed as a major exhibit. The galleries inside are very well done with much interactivity and plenty of intrigue for both adults and younger visitors. There is a nice theater for 3D films, a cafe, and the required gift shop. But, look at this weird logo with the red gimmick brackets:
A major donation to the museum came from the children of Ross Perot and the museum is named in his honor. The logo was designed by a team from Pentagram offices in Austin and New York City. The building's shape was their main inspiration:
From one of the chief designers, "A cube can be represented by a simple pair of square brackets; and brackets, like parentheses, are literary marks that introduce additional explanatory content into a passage. The new museum is a cube filled with explanatory content. I like the dual symbolism of the brackets in the new mark.
The contemporary red brackets contrast the intentionally classic and timeless wordmark set in upper and lower case Caslon, and are also used in the website and environmental graphics."
(Pentagram also did the new logo for the Philbrook Museum.)
The logo design asks too much of the reader - Read the 'Per' - process, but ignore, the large bright red bracket - read the earth globe as the 'o' - process, but ignore, the large bright red bracket - and, finally, read the 't'.
That much deciphering might be okay in an ad or brochure, but not for the identity. An identity should communicate its message quickly and easily. Most of us don't have enough time to decipher logos. Not that a logo must be simple - it can be complex, but the elements should enhance the clarity of the communication, not distract. In this logo, the red color and the sharp-angled bracket shapes do not respect the globe nor the letterforms.
The red brackets, therefore, become just a gimmick - they don't add value to the communication of a message. (like that used in the shutterstock ad).
A museum of science and nature is about life, animals, plants, physics, organisms, and organic shapes. The concept of the interrupting brackets doesn't respect the angles and flow within the building, curiosity, science, or nature. Their association with written notions is too academic (boring).
Juxtapositions of disparate elements are often an effective design tool to aid memorability. But the element that does double duty must work well for each function. Here, the brackets must serve to emphasize the globe, but not intrude on the legibility of the word, Perot. They must be in balance and not grossly favor one over the other. Here, there is no pleasing balance. The brackets are just too dominant: they are larger than the surrounding letters and they are . . . bright red!
Lesson: A larger bright red element in a mark almost always intrudes.
We are too conditioned to see red as dominant and to see a larger size as dominant.
I wondered how it would look with the concept of simply replacing the letter O with the globe:
The open compass is an appropriate and strong image for a guide that helps one find one's way around the site. But, notice how obnoxious and demanding the large red brackets are - they become the defining element even though they have no relevance to the experience of the museum or the Visitor's Guide. The compass has to compete and fight with the red bracket crap. The compass is also a photo realistic dimensional image which is flattened by placing the 2D brackets on top of it. On the far right, both the compass and the logo globe are free to convey dimensionality. (I also made the text copy larger to improve readability on the cover.) The Visitor's Guide is handed to visitors - it does not need to get our attention.
Lesson: Sometimes, too often, designers crap things up with too many unnecessary graphic elements.
Tip: Great design is often knowing how much to subtract, not how much to add.
After the OKC Energy FC (Football Club) soccer team introduced their new logo, a blog poster noticed that the Energy logo had similar elements to the Seattle Sounders FC logo:
• Banner containing the team name
• Object above the banner name: top of space needle and OKC
• Letterform serifs (see the Rs above right)
• Pentagon: blue pointed shape and the green star
• Shield with straight-line top: convex and concave
• Blue and green colors
The Seattle soccer team logo (April 2008) is okay; the Energy logo (November 2013) is a more sophisticated design with greater attention to its detail.
The full story.
New OKC Transit logo
It seems that the concept has something to do with direction, movement, and access; as conveyed by 4 arrowheads going in each cardinal direction.
The Central Oklahoma Transportation and Parking Authority board voted on January 17, 2014 to adopt the brand name EMBARK for the services that it has provided since 1966 - including revamped bus service, parking garages, and the upcoming downtown streetcar. Brand awareness of METRO Transit - the current name for the bus system - was low. Research showed 45 percent of the public did not know the name.
• I don't know if we need to know the name - I suspect most people just called it the 'bus'. Like, "I'm taking the bus."
An Authority administrator said, "It makes sense to demonstrate how we're turning a corner with our public transportation in Oklahoma City. In just a short time, this won't be the same transportation system we have today, and the new name captures the spirit of where we're headed." The authority says EMBARK "implies togetherness and an invitation. It makes the transit system a journey we as a community undertake together."
However, it's a stretch to see 4 arrows, with two leading the eye away from the mark, as togetherness, an invitation, or a journey taken together. Maybe, 4 journeys about the city. Motion is not clearly conveyed by blocky, vertical, upper case sans serif letters and the colors grey and blue. Motion is often seen as italic type and colors that are lively (red and orange) or growth (green). Not that those are rules or to be expected. Breaking from expectation can sometimes be effective. Positives: The decision to revamp the brand and the idea of the 4 embedded arrows.
There is more to come in this branding effort - we'll see how it reads on the buses, in signage, and in the minds of the users.
Below left: blog reader Sean submitted this improvement:
Simple changes and much better: the arrows are more subtle, the font conveys motion, and the color is lighter and livelier. Hmm, let's see how it works in two colors - keeping the blue arrows from the original. And, below, with blue letters and blue with green arrows:
Prior names for the Oklahoma City bus service:
• 1966 - 1975: COTPA - the acronym for the authority
• 1975 - 1992: MassTrans
• 1992 - 2014: METRO Transit
Your innate design sense and The Jim Rome Show logo
The Jim Rome Show is a sports radio talk show hosted by, yes, you guessed it - Jim Rome. It airs live from Los Angeles for three hours each weekday. Syndicated by CBS Sports Radio, Jim Rome can be heard on more than 200 radio stations in the US and Canada, and over the Internet from Rome's official website.
These early logos relied on his initials, which is a symptom of poor design - unless people refer to an entity by it's initials, initials rarely communicate effective identities. The logo he currently uses, below, is better - no initials, no adornment, just the straightforward name of the star of the show. He is selling himself, his name is the appropriate brand. It is his unique label, used throughout the show and the website. Uniqueness in a client name should be considered for exploitation. Use what is inherent in the design project.
But, something should annoy your sense of design:
The clever stack of 3 blocks in the R are neither respected nor exploited in the E on the right. The E is almost a stack of blocks, but the middle arm does not align with the upper and lower arms. It is too close for comfort. Almost there, but not quite, the designer didn't go far enough - the E also needs to be manipulated to form. So simple to make it match the left side. The JR mark, top right, a pseudo-ligature, may have been the inspiration for the R in the current logo. The 'designer' deleted the vertical stroke of the R to butt up to the J.
On the left:
1. The block under the R is a similar width to the letterstroke width.
2. All three arms of the E align flush on the right side.
On the right:
This one has tighter kerning in the line THE JIM ROME SHOW. The improved spacing allows easier readability and allows that line to be enlarged which helps its mass better support the ROME above it.
• Too many gimmicks to draw the reader's attention: recycle symbol, ata in red, horizontal dash lines, ADS in larger point size.
• Recycle symbol is inappropriate - we want sensitive documents to be unusable, not recycled into another form, even if that new form is unusable - its the concept of recycle versus getting rid of it.
• Is that another recycle symbol as the dot over the i in 'Shredding'? That's just excessive. And stupid.
• Why are the letters 'ata' emphasized in red? I'm stumped. I can't relate ata to anything about data, shredding or absolute.
• The dash lines - I guess that represents shredded paper. But, I suspect most people would imagine shredded paper in a vertical motion, as if coming out of the shredder. Why are these different thicknesses and lengths?
• Why the emphasized on ADS? Will people really call it that. Doubtful.
• The angled margin serves no useful purpose.
• Did someone make money by 'designing' this logo?
The list above are some of the questions and issues that the designer should have asked him/herself. We can't depend on clients or printers to ask intelligent design questions. It is the designer's responsibility to objectively assess and improve his/her own work.
This is the recently introduced identity for a copy and print shop, right across Second Street from the University of Central Oklahoma.
This store has been in business for about 10 years. People knew it as 'Advanced' or 'Advanced Printing' (left foto).
What is the new name? Is it Apmok? APM OK?
Wonder why the name change? To a weird acronym?
And, what are those 3 balls for? They are not copies of each other. Beach balls? Weird Pepsi logos?
This place even offers 'design' services. But, their new logo represents much of what is wrong with design today - amateurs thinking they are designers and producing thoughtless work. Visual art, not design.
If you are proposing a new unusual name, avoid adding unnecessary confusing graphic elements.
Lesson: an identity should convey the essence of the entity, in a clear, easy-to-understand manner. It should be appropriate, memorable, and effective.
There is almost nothing that is well-designed in the piece. Here are some design elements to address:
• Alignment of elements help create order and continuity.
• Consistency of line, color, serif, stroke weight add to the cohesiveness of a mark.
• A single strong concept for the viewer to focus on aids understanding and memorability.
• Each element in a piece should be supportive of the concept - they should not fight for attention - the hierarchy should be easy to follow.
• The level of craftsmanship should be of high quality to convey professionalism, trust, and integrity.
• Do we really need all these items: the Star of Bethlehem, smoke coming from the chimney, a chimney, a black peak forming half of the letter X, serifs on half the X, a black line connecting the strokes of the L, a red line under the word 'roofing', or an extra stroke extending off the E?
Full essay on the Thunder logo.
This logo is so horrible, i really don't think i have to go into much detail. Not about the illustration style of the square cup, the useless initials (CCS?), the different point size and condensing of type, font selection, colors, wavy river of blue/magenta, alignment of elements, nor Capitalization Of Every Word In The Slogan. Nope, just don't need to go into it.
Reminder: logos are not literal illustrations of what a company does - they are identities that convey qualities appropriate to the company. A coffee break is to relax, energize, socialize, and enjoy the cup of coffee.