Last week I listened to Radiotopia’s magnificent podcast about design 99% Invisible. The particular show featured an interview with award-winning designer Michael Bierut. He is author of How to use graphic design to sell things, explain things, make things look good, make people laugh, make people cry, and (every once in a while) change the world, which came out in 2015. He is a partner at Pentagram in New York City and is the man behind the Obama and Hillary’s logos for the last three presidential elections, as well as designing the sign outside of the New York Times building on 8th avenue and these signs outside the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in New York, which elegantly remind dog owners of their responsibilities:
Logo is an abbreviation of logotype. Wanting to identify yourself, your work or your compsny is not new. In the past there were such things as coats of arms, signature seals, watermarks, silver hallmarks and literal brands. The first trademark legislation in England was passed by parliament during the reign of Henry III in 1266 and required all bakers to use a distinctive mark for the bread they sold. Nevertheless, it was the Bass red triangle which would revolutionise international brand marketing. in the 19th century Bass began applying red, blue or green triangles to their casks of Pale Ale depending on which of their three breweries they came from. After 1855 the triangles were all red and on January 1st 1876 the Bass Red Triangle became the first trademark to be registered under the UK’s Trade Mark Registration Act 1875. The rest is history.
Logos come in all shapes sizes and styles. Bierut has identified three types
- wordmarks: Google, Disney and Coca-Cola
- pictorial logos: Apple, Shell and Mercedes Benz
- abstract iconography: Adidas, Chanel and the Nike Swoosh
These are archetypes and a design may have more than one feature. For example, the famous I love NY combines 1 and 2.
The interview on 99% Invisible is called Negative Space Logo Design with Michael Bierut. The concept of negative space is essential for understanding many logo designs. Positive space refers to the areas in a logo that are the subjects, or areas of interest. negative space is area around the subjects. The classic example is the one when you either see two faces or a vase.
If you are seeing a vase, then you are seeing the white area as the positive space. The black areas become the negative space. If you see two faces, then you are seeing the black areas as the positive space and the white area as the negative space.
This allows designers to be very playful in what they do. They can often conceal messages. A famous example is the FedEx logo, which has am arrow between the E and the X:
Baskin Robbins are famous for their 31 ice cream flavours and you can see the number in the logo:
The Amazon logo has two for the price of one. First, the arrow points from “a” to “z”, suggesting the huge range of goods Amazon offers. And secondly, the entire thing looks like a smiley face:
Logos can be overrated. In the end they derive their meaning and usefulness from the quality of the company or organisation they represent. If a company is second rate the logo will eventually be perceived as a failure. Colour is a key element in logo design and plays an important role in carving out a brand identity. Colours acquire connotations and associations, though these will vary in place ant time. Here is achart I found online which shows how colours are used by companies:
Since the fist appearance of the red Bass triangle in the 19th century logos have conquered the world. but not everyone is happy with this. Sometimes logos can be attacked. One group who have been active for nearly three decades are the Adbusters Media Foundation. The Canadian not-for-profit, anti-consumerist, pro-environment activists are famous for their campaigns – Buy Nothing Day, TV Turnoff Week and Occupy Wall Street. I do not share their ideology but I do enjoy their spoofing of popular companies and advertisements.
Here are a couple of examples:
Sometimes, though, the damage is self-inflicted. One recent example is the logo for Trump Pence in 2016. Onceyou’ve seenit, it is impossible to unsee it :
When logos go wrong, sex is often the cause. Here are some examples that I found online:
I do have my doubts if they are all real. This has been my brief tour of the fascinating world of logo desgn.