How to design a good business logo

No matter how big or small you business, it pays to have a good logo. The world’s largest and most successful businesses realise this, of course. As Peter Shadbolt observed in his May 2015 BBC News website piece: “From Nike’s ‘Swoosh’ symbol to Starbucks’ twin-tailed mermaid or siren, the world’s largest companies take great care of their logos,” which, he adds, “connect our minds to the business, without the need to see its name.” He describes this “instant recognition” as “the holy grail for a business.”

As Shadbolt reports, in 2000 oil and gas multinational BP spent some £136m researching, creating, protecting and introducing its now familiar sunflower logo (called Helios after the Greek sun god). It suggests “heat, light and nature” says BP [http://www.bp.com/en/global/corporate/about-bp/our-brands/the-bp-brand.html], while being “a pattern of interlocking shapes: like BP, a single entity created by many different parts working as one.”

No less a figure than surrealist painter and modern art icon Salvador Dali designed the Chupa Chups lollipop logo

Meaning and power

When it comes to choosing a new logo, “it’s not always love at first sight,” Shadbolt adds, with good logos “gaining meaning and power over time”. And not all new logos are well received. Shadbolt recalls Gap unveiling a radically different new logo in 2010, only to scrap its introduction, following “public outcry.”

Caitlin Jordan’s blog, The Hidden Meanings Behind 50 Of The World’s Most Recognizable Logos  is worth reading (as are others on the same theme). You learn many wonderful facts, such as no less a figure than surrealist painter and modern art icon Salvador Dali designed the Chupa Chups lollipop logo.

And you may not know that Portland State University student Carolyn Davidson was paid just $35 for creating the mighty Nike logo in 1971. Later she was given company shares, but on first sight of her creation, Nike founder Phil Knight, said: “Well, I don’t love it, but maybe it will grow on me.”

Did you know that the world famous Coca-Cola logo was created in 1885 by Frank Mason Robinson, the fledgling company’s bookkeeper?

The evolution of the Google logo  is interesting. And did you know that the world famous Coca-Cola logo was created in 1885 by Frank Mason Robinson, the fledgling company’s bookkeeper.

Why have a logo?

According to celebrated American graphic designer Paul Rand (1914-1996), creator of logos for IBM, the American Broadcasting Corporation, UPS and many others: “A logo doesn’t sell, it identifies. A logo derives its 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 means is more important than what it looks like.”

Rand’s opinions about corporate logos are absorbing. “If, in the business of communications, ‘image is king’, the essence of this image, the logo, is a jewel in its crown,” he tells us.

“A logo derives its meaning from the quality of the thing it symbolizes, not the other way around” – Paul Rand

Rand likens a corporate logo to a flag, signature or escutcheon (a heraldic shield or emblem shaped like a shield). “A logo doesn’t sell (directly), it identifies,” he says. “A logo is rarely a description of a business. A logo derives its 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 means is more important than what it looks like.”

How to design a good logo

For Rand, the effectiveness of a good logo depends on its “distinctiveness, visibility, usability, memorability, universality, durability and timelessness.” He states: “A well-designed logo is a reflection of the business it symbolises. It connotes a thoughtful and purposeful enterprise, and mirrors the quality of its products and services. It is good public relations – a harbinger of good will. It says ‘We care’”.

“Simplicity is difficult to achieve, yet worth the effort” – Paul Rand

In his November 2015 LinkedIn post, Mark Facer, founder of Sheffield-based Neon Thunder Creative, offered his tips on creating good logos. He recommends keeping it simple while memorable (“Great logos can easily be recalled from memory. Who doesn’t picture the magnificent golden arches of McDonalds when they hear the word French fries?”). He advises: “If you’re unsure about your logo, ask others if they can remember it a few days later after being shown it.”

Facer also highlights the importance of versatility. The best logo, he says, “are equally fantastic in colour, grey scale, black and white or reverse”. They work at any size and work well regardless of the envrionment in which they appear.” Good logos, he says, engage the appropriate audience to “convey the essence of the brand”, while having a timeless quality that gives them staying power.

Last word, suitably, to Paul Rand: “The role of the logo is to point, to designate ­– in as simple a manner as possible. Simplicity is difficult to achieve, yet worth the effort.”

• This blog appeared originally on the HSBC Knowledge Centre website and was commissioned by Atom Content Marketing.