A Crash Course in Brand Identity
Logo design is equal parts art and science but the primary goal is to create something memorable. It is important to consider the word “brand” which comes from the Old Norse word “brandr” meaning “to burn.” Early products were marked with a hot iron. Most people are familiar with the ranchers practice of branding cattle. I am a vegan but I can’t help but use the rancher’s brand as the perfect analogy to describe what we are doing. The rancher and the marketer have many of the same hoops to jump through. They are dealing with an audience with the attention span of a cow fly. They are a twitchy bunch and hard to keep track of. The rancher needs to make a mark that is unique to distinguish their herd. It needs to be clean and simple so that it can be seen clearly from a great distance. The cleaner the design- that is, the less there is of it- the less painful the iron will be. The rancher and the marketer don’t have much time to do the job. It has to be fast. Both have to leave a good impression and it needs to last.
Less is More
I will be presenting the logo concepts in BLACK and WHITE, only initially. There are many reasons for this, the main is because every great logo works well in monochrome. Successful brands almost always only use one color. There are a whole host of reasons which I will touch on briefly. The “less is more” approach to the form should also be applied to the color. At this point in the development it is important to focus on the form. After we decide on a successful form we can adorn it with color if we choose. We can discuss that when the time comes.
Businesses are often asked to submit their logo at a predetermined dimension. Say, for example, you are one of many sponsors for a running event. The event coordinators want to keep an even playing field on their event poster and the banners that will be flying. They almost always want:
- vector art (line art vs pixels)
- black and white logo (no halftones)
- a predetermined size (“Your logo must not exceed 4″ in any direction.”)
They must keep a level field because everyone is paying the same price to sponsor. The event sponsors don’t want to get into any arguments so everyone has the same plot size. They also don’t want their printed promotional pieces to look like a NASCAR event so they ask that everyone submit their logo in black and white only. They may print everyone’s logo in a nice grey or reverse (white on grey) but you get the idea. Everyone is playing by the same rules. Let the logo games begin!
The logo at the upper left of this page is just to be used as an example. I am not recommending it. Why is it not worthy? You might not like the font but that is not the reason it is not a contender for me. It is based on an award winning font called SoHo and I paid a lot of money for it so the way it looks is not why I gave it the thumbs down. It gets the thumbs down because of how it uses precious real estate. Look at all of that waste! This is not a very sustainable logo.
“YOUR LOGO MUST NOT EXCEED ONE INCH!” said the angry event coordinator.
- The first example shows the wordmark really small and really hard to read. Yikes!
- The second one is a little better but not great. I bet you thought the BOLD font would hold up better than the light font? Wrong.
- That third one gives us a lot of logo for the buck.
- This fourth one has a good logomark presence but the text is too small.
- This fifth is fairly balanced. Nice size logomark and I can read the text OK.
- This sixth one would be good if you had a nice logomark (like Apple or Nike) or if you just wanted to be more understated.
In summary the shape of the overall logo has a big impact on its worthiness. The logo at the top upper left didn’t fare too well. Logos seldom score perfectly. Some do better in some arenas and not so well in others. The point is too be aware of the obstacles and develop a solution that is flexible.
Does it Work?
Novice designers deliver color logo, but then when the client needs to print in one color, they find their logo no longer functions. Keep in mind a poorly designed logo not only fails the black and white test, it also makes it impossible to properly print:
- using plotter cut vinyl (very popular for signs of all types)
- etched applications (glass windows, trophies, awards)
- cut metal
- silk screen (becomes more troublesome and costly, halftones look corse and clunky)
Here are six colored logos. Don’t worry, these are not the logos for your consideration. These are to demonstrate how color can get you into trouble. All of these adhere to the one inch real estate rule, but in this case the poor client only received color logos. Let’s see how they perform.
- The first one loses the overlapping color effect, it is harder to read and not nearly as fun.
- The second one survived perfectly.
- The third one also survived. A logo like this could be multicolor when it is available (web) and still be a viable option in just one color.
- The fourth one used different colors to distinguish the eyes and nose so they are gone.
- The fifth one is useless now. You could outline the text but it would be busy and hard to read.
- The last one looks boring now. You could “knock out” (printer talk) the sun (make white) but it would look like a hang tag.
So only two passed the color test. You can see how color gets tricky and how form and overall shape also have a lot to do with legibility. Let’s hope I don’t make any of those rookie mistakes with the fabulous assortment of logo brand possibilities I have in store for you.