We are surrounded by logos. Before pursuing my career in graphic design, I rarely gave consideration to logo design. Perhaps you too have never stopped to consider what logos are or why they exist. Logos are so deeply integrated and widespread in culture that many are oblivious to the plethora of logos they interact with every day. Our participation in logo design is most often passive, habitual, and second nature.
We interact with countless logos daily. Even as you read this, there are likely over a half dozen logos in sight. Look at the header of this web page, on your browser tabs, computer, cell phone, coffee cup, pens, the books on your shelf, your clothing...
Here are a few logos easily visible from my desk: Apple, Hydro Flask, Google, Adobe Illustrator, Nike, Panasonic, Pilot, Stewart Design. If I spent more time looking, I could easily find several dozen more in our office alone (and that doesn't even include the multitude of logos I will see online throughout the day). In fact, the average American encounters hundreds - even thousands - of logos in our everyday lives.
Now that you are aware of the abundance of logos around us, the question remains: what is a logo? This simple question yields a simple answer. A logo is an identifying symbol.
An Identifying Symbol
Logos do a lot of heavy lifting. Your logo is the face of your company and the foundation for your entire brand. It is the first thing seen on your website, advertisements, stationery, signs, uniforms, and the like. The style of your logo - the fonts, colors, imagery - will directly influence the visual language across everything associated with your business. However, the purpose of a logo is not to explain what the business does; instead, it identifies the business.
Logos identify an individual, product, service, or business. This identification communicates origin and ownership. For example, a coffee cup with a green siren is a product of Starbucks. A vehicle with the bold purple and orange letters “FedEx” written across its side is owned, operated, and filled with packages delivered by the courier FedEx. These products have been identified as coming from or belonging to an organization.
The implementation of your logo explains your business. It is through the accompanying marketing materials - your website, brochures, tagline, product packaging, graphics, and photography, and even face-to-face conversations with customers - that the products and services of your business are both outlined and expounded upon. This process is referred to as branding.
Consider the Stewart Design logo: a red block with the letters SD cut out. While there is a clear mnemonic association with our brand name through the use of a letter mark, which increases memorability, there is no indication of a computer, graphic design, or our services in any way. Similarly, what does the Apple, Target, or Starbucks logo explain about the products or services offered by their businesses? What do these logos mean?
Even the best-designed logo marks have no meaning instantly, even if it was added intentionally. Read that again. Even the best-designed logo marks have no meaning instantly, even if it was added intentionally. Renowned graphic designer and author, Michael Bierut, describes a logo as “an empty vessel.” As discussed above, your logo is the vessel through which you identify your business. However, a logo is empty without association and interaction.
A logo gains meaning through its association with a business. Association is developed over time as viewers familiarize themselves with your logo through your branding. Yet, familiarity alone does not inject meaning into a logo.
In and of itself, a logo carries no meaning without interaction. The goal of any business is to provide its customers with a positive experience. In doing so, this positive experience is now associated with your logo. As a result of repeated association and positive interaction, your logo will become recognized, revered, and remembered. The unique symbol used to identify your business now has meaning.
Businesses need good logos and logos need good businesses. One cannot exist successfully apart from the other. Ultimately, the effectiveness of a logo is dependent on the success of the business which it identifies.