Once upon a time, there was a logo: Design tips to ensure your brand lives happily ever after

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If you’re under the impression that branding and advertising is a modern concept, you’re wrong. The art of branding dates back to primitive cattle owners, who (literally) branded their livestock with a unique mark as a sign of ownership. The Advertising Education Foundation states that at first, paint or tar was used to show ownership, but later, cattle were branded with hot irons – hence the name branding.

The epitome of branding is of course, the logo. The first of this kind of commercial symbolism was trademarked in 1876 by Bass Brewery, which was a red triangle with the word “Bass” below it.

Fast-forward almost 150 years on, and logos have become synonymous with branding.

“Logos live forever,” says Lesedi Radebe, Senior Designer at Breeze Website Designers (BWD). “This is why brands invest vast amounts money to develop the right logo and cultivate a brand around it.” According to an article by Business Insider, the red and white Coca-Cola logo is recognised by 94% of people around the world, and the Coca-Cola name is the second-most understood term in the world.

(If you’re wondering which word beat Coco-Cola to the number one spot – it was the word “okay”).

Cleaning up the clutter

According to Lesedi, one can clearly see how logos evolved over the years if you study a brand like Coca-Cola. “If we look back as recently as the 1990s, it is clear that many brands reflected the culture of that time. Twenty five years ago, complicated equalled trendy.”

During this period, computers were still new to the public, and so was the technology that came with. “3D” was the buzzword, and it wasn’t only the movie industry that jumped on this bandwagon, but designers too. “The mind-set was to make logos jump out at you. The more you threw at the viewer, the better.”

Today, consumers are mostly spared from this type of visual vulgarity. “It’s all about making design cleaner and simpler,” advises Lesedi. “We live in an era of over-complication and over-communication. In most creative industries, such as graphic-, interior- and product design, the mission is to create aesthetic tranquillity amidst the cluttered chaos.”

Don’t be louder. Be different.

Many people don’t understand the thought, time and research that go into developing a logo and corporate identity. According to CBS News for example, Pepsi spent $1 million in 2008 to revamp their logo. If the process was simple, these legendary brands wouldn’t have to spend this amount of money and time.

Lesedi explains that one of the main reasons is that a logo doesn’t exist in a vacuum. “Before you can start thinking about the actual design process, you have to start with a competitor analysis of the industry in which the logo will exist.” Companies such as Pepsi and Coca-Cola understand this. They spend massive amounts of budgets over decades to imprint their logo in the mind of the consumer.

Not every company has the budget to do the same, and Lesedi understands this.

That is why his approach, which is amplified by BWD’s philosophy, is not to try and be louder than the competitors – rather do something different. “BWD starts by pinpointing passport factors in an industry, which are design rules that everyone is following. For instance, if you compare various competitors’ logos in the insurance industry, you will be able to identify similarities in terms of colour, form, visual rhythm, etc.”

When asked why this is important, Lesedi says: “Because when you are familiar with the box, you know how to think outside of it.”

Go against the grain

He goes on to explain that BWD’s philosophy isn’t to break the rules for the sake of being different. It is a matter of knowing what the status quo is, so that you can stand out from the crowd without straying too far and confusing your audience.”

When asked to elaborate, Lesedi gives Apple as an example – a brand known for its disruptive nature in innovation and advertising. “Apple has always gone against the grain in all that they do, and this includes design. But the risks they took were always measured and based on research and insight.”

Lesedi further explains that a logo shouldn’t only have visual appeal, but also embody the brand. Google, for instance, has never lost their playful side, he says. “They are a multi-billion company, but when you look at their logo, it’s still quirky.”

In Lesedi’s opinion, simplicity like that takes a lot of courage and confidence.

Five design tips Lesedi lives by

Here are some of the guidelines Lesedi follows when designing a logo:

  1. Trust your gut
    Your sixth sense is a culmination of everything you know – what you have learned and experienced. You should trust your instinct and the first reaction you have when you see a logo.

If it’s negative, go back to the drawing board and search for the reason why your gut is sending you warning signals.

  1. C & C
    Have some confidence and courage. It’s important to follow design principles, but don’t follow the herd as well. Just because they are going in a certain direction, doesn’t mean they are going the right way. If you can creatively disrupt an industry, do it.
  2. Know when to stop
    It’s easy to fall into the never-ending cycle of retouching or redesigning a logo. Know when to stop. The chances are that you will just start adding embellishments that will subtract rather than add to the design. Remember – simple and clean.
  3. The cherry on the cake
    A logo is a summary of your entire brand. If you keep second-guessing the logo, the problem might be with the brand itself. Double check whether the brand’s strategy and proposition are clear before you look for the problem in the logo.
  4. Huh?
    Don’t try and be too lateral. Sometimes, the most literal logos work the best, e.g. Apple is a logo of an apple. Simplicity doesn’t have to be that extreme, but don’t try and be too clever. If people’s reaction is “Huh?” – you have a problem.

 

Lesedi Radebe

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