When we think of the most famous and memorable logos used by large corporations today, we often think of deceptively simple concepts. For Microsoft, it’s the panes of a window, Apple uses an apple, Facebook a lowercase “f” and Twitter a tweeting bird. These are corporations with millions and even billions of dollars in annual revenues, who have brand recognition and millions of customers throughout the world – why, then, do they use such deceptively simple logos as identifiers? The word deceptive is not implying that these companies are trying to deceive anyone, but so much more goes into a powerful logo design than simply applying a letter to represent a social media company, or a simple illustration of a fruit to represent a consumer electronics company. What makes a simple logo so “deceptively” memorable and effective?
One of the first keys to understanding the power of a simple, effective logo is understanding the primary purpose of any logo – to identify a company or brand. Too many business owners and managers want a logo to do so much more, all at once – to tell a detailed story, or magically embody a sales pitch. However, that’s not how effective logos work. Top designer Paul Rand once said, “A logo is a flag, a signature, an escutcheon, a street sign. A logo does not sell (directly), it identifies.” Even the logos representing the largest, most complex companies, and sometimes even the most complicated or arcane products or services, still act primary as simple identifiers.
Creating an effective logo may be a “simple” enough concept, but it’s more difficult than it may seem at first glance. Arthur William Radford once said, “Half of art is knowing when to stop,” and the same applies to logo design. Too many clients and designers aren’t satisfied that a basic logo design is good enough, and often feel that more branding elements have to be incorporated in order to “improve” an existing logo. The last thing a business wants is for a potential customer or client to be annoyed by a logo, or for anyone to spend too much time studying a logo in order to decipher it – logos are supposed to be memorable, but no one wants a potential client to remember a brand as being confusing, irritating or needlessly pretentious.
Before the Internet became ubiquitous, small business owners rarely had to worry about how a logo would appear on anything other than paper, and rarely in any other color than black. Phone book advertising, business cards, brochures and fliers all presented similar formats for displaying a logo on paper, but times have changed – logos appear in a wide range of formats, on different backgrounds, and must work equally well in print and in digital formats such as avatars, icons and digital document headers. Will a logo be equally appealing on a billboard, a high-definition monitor, a banner in your brick and mortar location and on a small smartphone screen or even a relatively tiny digital watch face? The best logos, such as the iconic Apple logo, are equally memorable and effective on a billboard or a smartphone screen.
Flexibility is also an important factor when considering the use of color in a logo. Modern logos must be equally memorable, effective and aesthetically pleasing in the colors you chose to represent your company and in black and white or grayscale. Color can be used to accentuate a certain component or part of a logo, but it can be significantly less effective when rendered with the color accentuation removed.