David Airey is an independent graphic designer working with companies of all sizes since 2005.

Beyond the logo

“The role of the logo is to point, to designate — in as simple a manner as possible.”

Those were Paul Rand’s words in a 1991 article published by AIGA: Logos, Flags, and Escutcheons. I agree. But of course as most of you will know, the strongest visual identities are about a lot more than a trademark in isolation.

Andrew Sabatier said we should avoid all reference to the word logo: “Logos are only meaningful in context and they should be seen to add value to that context. It is unlikely that a logo alone will be able to add sufficient value to a business. Logos are best employed in a system of brand marks that determine a unique brand experience.”

By Dubai billboard
By Dubai concept, by Andrew Sabatier

Whatever you choose to call these identifying marks, Andrew’s right about the value they offer a new client.

In their book Identify, Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv agree on how much worth a newly-crafted logo adds to a business: “It is only after a mark is officially adopted that the public will embrace it and with time come to associate it with their feelings about the company or institution it represents. Like a good red wine, a trademark needs to mature.”

Shinsegae ribbon
Shinsegae, by Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv

Logos can prove to be much more valuable when they’re less to do with a single mark slapped on a mug, a t-shirt, a tote bag, and more to do with being one piece of a collection of elements, a sentiment backed up by Pentagram partner Michael Bierut: “The best work in the area comes down to what most designers would agree on: the obvious thing, it’s not the actual logo but how it is used.”

Nuts.com
Nuts.com, by Michael Bierut and team

Michael Johnson shared the analogy of an iceberg to explain the point. “There’s this bit above the waterline, and then there’s a huge bit under the water. I used to use this analogy when I was trying to explain to clients that, yes, you stick a flag on the iceberg so that you can see it, and the logo or the symbol is like that flag sticking out above the water. But I’m really aware of the fact that under the water there’s this massive great bit of ice that’s full of all sorts of applications, all kinds of areas of the brand that still need to be designed.”

Cystic Fibrosis
Cystic Fibrosis, by johnson banks

A single mark that sums up a company in a very basic way can eventually hold a lot of equity, but if what we design is to really add interest to a company’s visual appearance, there’s no denying the value of what’s beneath that waterline.

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2 comments about “Beyond the logo”

  1. A good post with valuable links, David.
    I agree, the way the logo is used is important.

    For beginner logo designers: always present the final piece in use. The clients don’t have your imagination and it will help them visualize the logo in use.

  2. A book from Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv is one that will definitely be worth buying. They know what they’re talking about based on their work.

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