April 16, 2012

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Concept: egos, copycats and the big fail

Design: if it’s fun, you’re doing it wrong

Execution: the logo goes to the bottom


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How to create a winning logo
Logo considerations separate pros from amateurs

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By Tim Coco
President and chief executive officer

Paul RandCompany logos are usually among the most misunderstood and poorly implemented facets of an organization’s marketing efforts. Yet, they make or break success.

Dominant left-brained executives often become CEOs and managers because they are logical, analytical and objective. Unfortunately, these traits either lead them to see no value in icons at all, at one extreme, or think too much about meaning and rationale at the other. Right-brained people are said to be more intuitive, thoughtful and subjective. They value imagery and emotion—ideal for marketing to the masses, but also read too much into logo design. Late designer Paul Rand, at left, creator of successful logos for IBM, UPS, Westinghouse, ABC and others, places the arguments in perspective.

“A logo is a flag, a signature, an escutcheon, a street sign. A logo does not sell (directly), it identifies. A logo is rarely a description of a business. A logo derives meaning from the quality of the thing it symbolizes, not the other way around. A logo is less important than the product it signifies; what it represents is more important than what it looks like. The subject matter of a logo can be almost anything,” Rand said.

Concept: egos, copycats and the big fail

A common mistake in creating a logo is to try to target all audiences and all messages at the same time. Such efforts result in oversized, complicated and confusing imagery. Examples of these excesses include a membership organization that places a star, dot or square for every location or audience segment. An attempt to include everyone and everything creates a confusing and fatiguing image that appeals to no one. It is easily forgotten.

Another fatal error is creation of a logo that addresses a contemporary or short-term need. After the September 11, 2001 attacks on the U.S., a flurry of red, white and blue logos—adorned with stars, stripes, eagles, etc.—overtook the landscape. The public viewed these with skepticism and contempt, believing those businesses were opportunists rather than patriots. Similarly, green-colored environmental imagery has likewise been dismissed by consumers as “green washing.”

Don’t be condescending or underestimate consumers’ savvy. As famed advertising agency head, David Ogilvy wrote, “The consumer is not a moron, she is your wife.”

Instead, aim for simple images or stylized (but easily readable) text. Keep logos audience-centered rather than boastful. Your targets want you to be thinking of them and not bragging about how big or important you think you are. Ego-driven businesses and managers are the first to suffer in the marketplace. They invite adversaries to try to bring them down. Also, try not to copy someone else’s trendy idea. Like copying quiz answers from your classmate in fourth grade, you may be copying mistakes. This is a sign of low self-esteem and may even raise legal issues.

The most important benefit of a logo is its consistent and repetitive use. It becomes a shortcut for the business or organization in the public’s mind. The ugliest logos—Coca-Cola and General Electric, as examples—still work not because of their beauty, but rather because of their consistent usage.

Design: if it’s fun, you’re doing it wrong

As indicated above, distance yourself from contemporary considerations or you will be recreating your logo every year and losing the benefits of repetition. Just look at those dated “avocado green” or “harvest gold” kitchens if you need proof. Similarly, the characteristics of some new tool in a design program tend to result in a proliferation of copycat inventions.

Stay away from such clichés as scales of justice, clocks, columns, tree branches, etc. Seek originality and classic timelessness otherwise targets will view you as more of the same or be unable to distinguish you from your competition.

One of most important considerations in logo design is creating a piece that works in every iteration from signage, letterheads, envelopes, business cards, trade show displays, tall and/or wide ads, billboards, TV ads, websites, fax cover sheets, and even Web favicons (those little insignias next to your Web address in a browser bar). All too often a wide logo intended to be used across the top of letterheads or on a website either must be shrunken to near invisibility when used in a narrow advertisement or cut up and reassembled, sacrificing consistency.

Many managers and designers naturally enjoy the fun part of creating something and often don’t want to be bothered with science, research results or technical considerations. As boring and time-consuming as it may seem, consider all of the ways logos will be displayed. Create or require a Brand Identity Manual specifying how the logo should appear in every instance, what fonts are to be used, exact representations of color (Pantone Matching System, CMYK, spot, black and white, RGB, foil stamping, etc.), minimum sizes (for readability), whether reverse uses of the logo (white-only logo on a black background, for example) are allowed and what options are available when the logo must be reproduced in only grayscale (program books, for example) or solid black (fax cover sheets, etc.)

While full color (four-color process) printing is much more economical than it used to be, consider whether you can afford to constantly print a color logo or whether you should restrict designs to one or two colors. Raised (business cards), embossed or foil stamping (invitations, awards, etc.) are other considerations.

Microsoft and pals have dumbed down desktop publishing, but outputs are limited. Avoid do-it-yourself designing in Word, PowerPoint, Publisher, CorelDraw, etc. Logos should be designed in professional programs that support vector images. Vector images are those that can be scaled as large as a billboard without becoming distorted. File extensions such as JPG, GIF, TIF, etc. are not vector formats. Many such desktop publishing programs support only the red, green and blue (RGB) model intended for computer monitors. They will not properly display when given to a printer using the standard cyan, magenta, yellow and black (CMYK) print separations model.

Finally, advanced software programs are best placed in the hands of professionals. It’s easy to make certain elements invisible or transparent on the screen by placing white boxes over elements to be hidden. However, there is typically no white ink on a printing press and those little boxes will suddenly become visible. This is also true if you plan to have your logo appear transparent over a colored background on a website.

It’s more complicated than it first appears and perhaps not so much fun after all.

Execution: the logo goes to the bottom

Here’s a homework assignment: thumb through a major national magazine and see where company logos usually appear. You’ll find they are almost always at the bottom.

Good advertising is designed like an upside down pyramid that recognizes western human beings tend to read left to right and top to bottom. Graphics tend to be the first place the eye tends to land. As such, you’ll find most professional ads, billboards and other print materials train the eye to read from graphic to headline to body copy and then, lastly, logo. Consumers need to see or be convinced of an offer before they are told where to buy. Compared side-by-side, every scientific study has shown ads with logos on top significantly underperform to the point of almost being useless. Readers who see logos first subtly are sent the message,“The End,” and move on. Again, science trumps art in these instances.

It is the sign of an amateur to place the logo on top. Why then is it so ubiquitous in local, small town advertising? Advertising salespeople tend to put logos first, but only because they are catering to business owners’ or managers’ egos.

Websites pose an exception to the rule. This is because logos on the bottom may not be seen at all if users don’t scroll down.

Despite the length of this column, it addresses only a tiny fraction of the issues. Many rules also apply to slogans. If you have any questions, please submit a comment, use the Contact form or call (978) 374-1900.

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