An easy path to a great logo

What makes a logo great?

I have worked with logos for so many years that all the usual arguments for why a logo is good or bad have been used so many times they start to sound like cliches.

Photo by Marcus Ganahl on Unsplash

I have worked on logos on my own, in teams and closely with the company that wanted the logo or a remake of what they had— and I have made both good and bad logos.

The rules (or cliches)

To understand what the perfect logo can do for your company you can set up a list of expectations:

  • Recognizable
  • Rememberable
  • Make the company stand out
  • Add value to your company

I am sure you can come up with further points.

All my years doing this have left me with one golden rule:

A logo design is primarily a graphic look that express your idea or expectations for your company.

It doesn’t matter if the logo is yellow, purple, or black. It isn’t important if it is made in Helvetica or some handmade font. It isn’t crucial if it is only an icon or only a name.

As long as it matches your view of your own company, and you decide to commit to the decision of the logo 100%.

The good logo will stand the time but only if you decide to use it and keep using it as it was thought and designed for.
You might want to optimize it to follow design trends and style of time — but it is not often a clever idea to change the logo completely.

Logo excellence

The best logos — those that are most famous are not necessary that good if you think about what they show.

The Nike logo. The Swoosh has been used in different variations since 1971.

One of the most iconic logos is the Nike swoosh. The story is that it was bought for about $17 back at the beginning of the company (the designer was later paid one million dollars).
The owner didn’t really like the logo to start with but decided to use it anyway. Show you how a “bad” logo can become great.

The Apple logo. The apple has been used since 1977 in different variations.

Another example is the Apple logo. We all know the bite of the apple.
Their first logo was Sir Isaac Newton sitting under an apple tree. After that they made the colour striped logo of the apple that later was turned into a single colour logo.
But why is it good? Well, it isn’t — what has an apple to do with a computer company? (Yes, I know all the stories — they are just marketing stories).

Consistency is the key

The Nike swoosh is basically a check mark even if some might say it shows speed or movement. It is not unique.

Some might say Apples logo is unique, but it is just a fruit of one of the best-known fruits in the world. That is not unique.

Nike started using the swoosh in 1971 (see picture further up)) and in the present version in 1978. Apple have been using their logo constantly since 1977 (the company was founded in 1976). That is what really make them stand out — the companies have kept using their logos and promoted them and build a brand up around them that they benefit from today — we all know their logos and brands.

It is easy to find logos that are good solid logos for companies that have changed logos through the years — no doubt that sometimes it can help a company to rebrand themselves making a new logo. More often it is just the owners wish to do something, more than it is really needed.

A redesign og a logo can sometimes help a company to comit to a change that they are making — and help them make the transaction to the new reality they are facing. But if it is done wrong, it can do the absolut opposite.

The logos of LEGO — in 1960 they made a new logo and only made changes to that version going forward.

One of those I think benefited from changing logos is LEGO, the famous toy manufactor in Denmark.
The company was founded in 1934 and changed logos often (1936, 1939, 1946, and from 1950 different variations). The plastic bricks they are famous for was put in production in 1949. My guess is that they never felt they had found the right one before 1973 when they changed their logo to something very close to the logo we know today — the one from 1973 was made clearer and sharper in 1998. Again, consistency from 1973 until now.

For one week the new logo was used in 2010 — before they redecided and returned to the old logo.

It is a matter of taste and I do not want to point at any specific brands saying they have a bad logo, but GAP made a new logo that was not received positive and they soon after returned to their old logo — the new logo was clearly a mistake for them.

Do not fix it if it isn’t broken

Every now and again many companies decide to rebrand their business. Any designer would love to help any company to rebrand and if you as a company decide that the rebrand is important and you are consistent and know it cost time and money, it can become a success. However, it might be just as good to fine tune your logo and upgrade your branding of the company and services instead of changing your logo or name.

Often a rebrand is decided when the company has changed from their original focus — either got new business areas, become much larger or other major changes. In that situation there can be a particularly good reasons for making the change as a logo sometimes becomes too strong in one area that makes it difficult to transfer to a new area of expertise.

Over the years I have seen many remakes of logos that I think has been elegant and feels natural — like the Apple logo that was multicoloured to a single colour — and it is usually much easier to be remembered by your customers when the new logo is based on the old one.

Avis have stayed loyal to their logo and only made few minor updates to it.

Another clear example of this is the AVIS logo (car rental). The first one from 1946 was the name in red where the A made a line that moved under “vis”.
In 1964 they simplified it and simply wrote AVIS in italic.
In 2021 they made the one we know today — no more italic.

The old saying “keep it simple” is another key element for the great logo. Notice how all the logos you remember the best are those that are really simple.

A simple logo is easy to remember and will often look more elegant. An elegant logo makes us think the company is more elegante too.

I could come up with many more examples — but it will be more or less the same story. For many of the major companies they have either kept a version of the original logo or have tried different ones in the beginning of their life and at one point found the one they since have kept with.

Microsoft has made several changes over the years. The 1987 logo has been the longest living one so far.

As I mentioned Apple, I could mention Microsoft as one that has not been very consistent in their logos —they seem to have changed it a few times more, but I expect the one they have now (from 2012) will last longer because they now are selling hardware to consumers and would like their logo to be recognized going forward.

There are of cause others that keep changing their logo every few years. Could be interesting to go deeper into this and see if it is more an expense or if they do get better results after each change. I do not have access to this kind of information so will just leave that as a thought.

All this leads to the fact that the easy path to a great logo is to keep using the logo you have… make it stand out and build your brand around it.

Have you changed your logo lately?
Did you get an advantage doing so?

Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

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Jens Peter Olesen

Jens Peter Olesen

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Graphic design, branding and always travelling. I write about what I see and learn in design, on travel and in life. www.creatic.design + www.NoRouteExplore.dk