Total recall: What constitutes good logo design?

Branding, Creative Studio, Graphic Design, Logo design, Logo design, Other / October 2017

Ben Cooper

The art and design blog Booooooom ran a blog that highlighted the attempts of 156 people to reproduce the logos for 10 famous brands from memory. Have a look at the results for a bit of a chuckle. I cast no aspersions on the drawing skill of the individuals, because as a copywriter my drawing skills are less than stellar. In fact you’d be hard pressed to discern the “scamps” and thumbnails I hand to my long suffering creative partner Ed from the drawings my kids produce. But what the blog did get me thinking about is this: what actually is good logo design?

Memorable logos are an important part of branding, and whenever I’m working on creating a new brand I always love seeing the logo come together. Logo design takes a lot of skill, and I get excited when designers bring in elements of the brand I’ve been creating into the logo, making subtle references to the brand values (or other aspects) in the design. To me that’s good logo design, because it makes a brand feel cohesive, even if people don’t initially notice it. Of course your logo doesn’t need to have hidden meanings and references to be strong and memorable, it’s just a nice touch.

 

So what is good logo design?

I’m not a designer, but I can tell you that a good logo must fulfil its function: be easily identifiable, strongly associated with your business, and able to elicit a positive response related to your brand – a bit like a bell ringing for Pavlov’s dogs. It’s a sort of visual shorthand and preps people for an experience.

To me a strong logo isn’t necessarily the most beautiful one, nor is it the one with design intricacies that make people go “oooooh”. A good logo can have this for sure, and the very best often do, but what matters is does it stick in the brain? And for that to happen you don’t need it to be something that could hang in the Louvre. In fact I would argue that what makes for memorable logos is more a case of simplicity, exposure and repetition, as well as the cognitive association you make between the logo, the brand, and the feeling you have about the company’s products or services.

A better test of good logo design is do people recognise it when they see it? And even more, can they tell a logo when it is reduced to its smallest discrete component or a portion of it? Draw a curvy, yellow ‘M’. Ask someone next to you what it is. 99 out of 100 will give you the answer you want (the other one will tell you it’s the letter M, either to be awkward or because they are thinking back wistfully to a Sesame Street episode).

The fact that I can’t draw on command a decent approximation of the Starbuck’s logo tells you more about my drawing skills and the unreliability of human memory than the power of the logo. If I see the logo I know exactly which brand it is for, and I could probably tell you based on seeing a small section of it.

What I also found interesting was the amount of old logos that were produced in the study. Is the logo we first associate with a brand always given primacy in our minds? Nostalgia is a powerful beast. Quite a few people drew Apple’s old multi-coloured apple logo (and this happened with other brands too), and no matter what I do that is the logo I always see in my head when I think of Apple. Perhaps this is why major logo overhauls often jar with the public, it rattles our sense of familiarity.

 

Memorable logo design isn’t easy

Logos sometimes come like a bolt from the blue, and in my experience it’s not uncommon for the designer’s first or second draft to end up being the basis for the final design, often with minimal changes. However memorable logo design takes real skill, especially because it can often be all too easy to make things complicated and flashy.

Don’t get hung up on whether people could draw your logo; when do they ever have to do that? Instead think does it represent your brand, and will people easily associate it with your business? Because those are the keys to good logo design.

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