Oy, logos. Am I right? There is little else in the world of graphic design that has been the subject of so much mind-melting, meme-inducing frustration.
Make the logo bigger. Make the logo "pop." Please add everything but the kitchen sink to the logo. Let's make sure we can never reproduce it at small sizes or in less than 17 colors.
While the designer is struggling to craft the perfect minimal artistic expression, one that encapsulates the very essence of their client in a seemingly effortless stroke, the client wants something that will instantly tell the unabridged story of their brand from cover to cover in nothing more than two square inches.
But both the designer and the client are overthinking it, because in the grand scheme of things logos don't matter as much as either party wants to believe.
The awkward box.
Your logo is not your brand.
Your brand is, simply put, your audience's perception of you. It is simultaneously the most important thing about you, and the one thing you cannot directly control. Every single aspect of way you run your business, that is how you control your perception. The logo is nothing more than a simplified, visual representation of everything going on behind it. A mental bookmark, if you will.
But if your brand is this subjective, ungraspable thing, how are you supposed to design a logo that represents it? Think of it like this—when you unleash a newborn logo into the world, you're giving your audience an empty box. At first, the box always feels awkward. Maybe it doesn't really go with everyone's furniture, or maybe like any new thing, it just takes some getting used to. But the audience takes your box (by box, I mean logo) into their lives, and they start filling it with stuff (by stuff, I mean meaning). You can't dictate what anyone puts in your box, but based on how you conduct your business, you can influence whether that box is used for prized possessions or junk. Over time, your audience will stop thinking of the box in terms of its outward appearance, and start thinking of it in terms of what's inside.
Great brands are responsible for the logos we all consider to be "good," not because the logos have some sublime quality to them, but because we've filled them up with our own meanings over time. It's also why when a ubiquitous brand redesigns their logo, the public response usually follows this pattern:
- Yuck, this is weird!
- I'm getting used to this.
- I like this better now.
You're making your audience have to look at a new box again. What they're thinking is, "Is it safe to leave all this valuable stuff in here?"
Merely a mental bookmark.
Earlier, I likened a logo to a mental bookmark, so let's switch gears to that analogy, shall we? A bookmark must really serve two purposes:
- To be easily seen in a closed book.
- To identify where something is that you want to recall.
So too, a logo must really only serve two similar purposes:
- To be memorable (as in, not easily forgettable).
- To clearly and legibly describe its owner.
It's controversial, I know, but it really is as simple as that. I'm not saying that it's not worth a designer's time to create something pleasing, or even fanciful. There is certainly room and merit to aesthetic exploration and craft. All I'm saying is don't have unreasonable expectations of what your logo is supposed to accomplish on its own.