“Ultimately, the only mandate in the design of logos, it seems, is that they be distinctive, memorable, and clear.” — Paul Rand
You’ve probably heard me say it before: we ask our Logos to do a lot. And, not surprisingly, I could write for days on the subject of Brand Identities. In the spirit of Mr. Rand’s simple declaration above, I’ll do my best to keep this post short(ish) and sweet!
First off, let’s get our terms straight. You’ll hear people refer to a Logo as everything from a brand, mark, symbol, emblem, identity, signature, and any number of other slightly confusing monikers. Personally, I like the term Brand Identity because it pinpoints the exact relationship between a Logo (the identifier) and its brand (the entity it identifies, which is about much more than a mark).*
My preferred version of a Brand Identity also includes a Tagline: a short, written descriptor that clarifies the Logo’s visual message. For the most part, I’ll use the word Logo here, since it’s a time-honored term and — let’s face it — takes much less time to type. I also like to capitalize the word “Logo” because: 1) It should project all of the character and individuality a proper noun implies; and 2) It’s kind of a big deal.
So, back to the many jobs we insist our Logos perform. As the most visible representation of a brand, the Logo must act as anchor, ambassador, and advertisement, all bundled into a perfect package. Like a familiar face in a crowded room, it should inspire that instant “zing” of recognition. At the same time, a stellar Brand Identity isn’t just easy on the eyes — there should be some interesting stuff going on beneath the surface — something I refer to as the “multi-layered” effect.
Is it fair to ask quite so much of a measly mark? Yes and no. Before a Logo can do its job properly, the business, group, product, or service it symbolizes must be solid and well-defined. Just as a shaky foundation causes cracks in a building’s facade, a lack of planning and clarification can lead to subpar results. And, while some solutions emerge almost effortlessly, others require a bit more digging to unearth. Your Logo’s level of awesomeness also depends on a good working relationship with your designer…which is why you should entrust it to a professional with a degree in graphic design. Not a crowdsourcing website. Not your artsy nephew. Not your summer intern. Unlike a one-off piece, your Brand Identity needs to embody the essence of all that you do, so it’s worth investing a bit of time and money in its (and your) success.
In addition to setting your mind at ease with excellent credentials, portfolio samples, and work experience, a smart designer will ask a gazillion questions before getting started. She’ll want to hear all about your humble beginnings, your pesky challenges, your hopes and dreams…heck, it may even be helpful to know your parakeet’s first name! Respond to her questions, however random they may seem (you never know which of your answers will unleash those creative floodgates). Then, be prepared to play an active part in the development of your Logo: give honest, thorough feedback; remain open to unconventional ideas; and trust in your designer’s expertise. The more positively engaged you are in the process, the more your Logo will reflect the heart and soul of your brand…and the more you’ll love it.
Speaking of important questions, let’s revisit that Paul Rand quote (who, by the way, designed Logos for a veritable alphabet of corporate clients, from ABC and UPS to IBM and FedEx). Take a long, hard look at your Logo, and — you guessed it — ask yourself the following:
~ Is it clear?
Can you tell exactly what the Logo represents, at a glance? Is it easy to read at a small scale, and does it translate well when applied to everything from a business card to a billboard? If there’s a Tagline paired with the Logo, does it help clarify or confuse the brand’s purpose?
~ Is it distinctive?
How unique is your Brand Identity? Are there any particular elements that make it unusual, and does it stand out when compared to others? If you study the Logo a bit further, do you get a basic sense of the style and philosophy of the entity behind it?
~ Is it memorable?
Close your eyes. Can you accurately recreate the Logo in your mind? If not, which parts seem fuzzy? Fast-forward to five years from now. Does your Brand Identity still feel fresh and relevant? Now take ten baby steps forward and execute a full-twisting back flip. (Just kidding, you can open your eyes.)
So, you’ve put your Logo through its paces. How did it measure up? If you’re feeling confident about its ongoing ability to represent your brand, fantastic! If, on the other hand, you’re less than impressed with the outcome of this pop quiz, it may be time to brush up on the basics. Shoot me a note and let’s decide if your Logo could benefit from a multi-layered makeover. I promise not to ask too many questions about your parakeet.
* My favorite definition comes from professional oddball, ze frank: a brand is the “emotional aftertaste” that surfaces in response to an experience with a product, service, or company. (Yup, that pretty much says it all.)