Lora Starling, Founder & Logo Designer, Starling.
Brands create our dreams. Without branding a perfume is just a nice smell, clothes are something to cover our bodies with and a car is a machine to get us from A to B. Whether we are buying a soft drink, shoes, mustardor aspirin we are swayed by the branding which is essentially identified by the logo. Yes, there are differences in the product or service branded but often these are tenuous. When there are similar versions of the same item, we will even pay more for the brand we align with. Differentiation is vital in a competitive, busy world, we make choices in seconds and the logo is king. How we identify these differences is through branding, how we recognise them is by their logo. The intimate link between these is one of the strongest bonds in successful brands. Creating these bonds can take time, they can be so hardwired they are difficult to break. Gap famously tried to change its logo in 2010 and the backlash ensured it lasted only 6 days. We love our favourite logos apparent by our willingness to display our allegiance visibly. We wear them emblazoned on our t-shirts, handbags, shoes, watches and so on.
The challenge is, of course, how do we build this bond in a new brand?
The first stage is to become really clear on our brand. What is it we are actually selling and promoting? Whatever it is, its success will depend on more than its physical construct. We may think we have a top-class skill, a fabulous product or a new concept for a better life but what will tempt clients away from their loyalty to their current brand choice and attract them to ours? We must deep dive into our business and meet with its spirit to the heart of the values that underpin successful brands.
The values connect us and our customers, potential and existing, to our brand, they are vital and it is not enough to choose some pleasing desirable words. They can be tenuous at worst, cliches and vague – a quick Google search provides us with 200 values to choose from including abundance, adaptability, and approachability through eagerness, empathy and imagination to uniqueness, warmth and wonder.
Most of these are positive human values that we would all choose to aspire to. But we are not all the same, our friends are not the same – we often choose them for their individuality, the friend we run to for sympathy, the one who we know will kick us into shape and the one that will take us in and feed us or make us laugh. Brands are like our friends giving us what we desire, even if brands create that desire in the first instance.
Values must be researched and challenged until we are sure they connect deeply and resonate at the core of the brand. Most importantly, while it is crucial we love our logos, it is not all about us. We are building a powerful design that creates a bridge between us and that part of the outside world we need for success. We are co-creating a logo with our potential clients.
Values need to be translatable into the logo, at least the logo must visibly support them. Often we cannot turn to logic to mirror these values visually in a design.
“If people believe they share values with a company, they will stay loyal to the brand.” Howard Schultz, CEO Starbucks.
When we look to existing successful logos can we detect these values?
We can’t dissect logos to look at why they are successful. It’s like analysing the paint on the Mona Lisa to find the source of the smile. But we can look at what makes them up to create the design for a start. Logos are a combination of the most powerful elements: name, symbol, and colour. Each of these independently has been employed throughout history to engage us to change in a certain way, to attract a particular future. Each carries a powerful value in its own right and can be selected to match, support and deliver the brand values.
Each of these elements needs to be tested rigorously against the chosen values. If there is discordancy we will note it, even unconsciously and we can become confused about the brand, even mistrustful. Each option and every permutation must strongly be tested against the values. Every element creates chords that anchor our logo to our brand values. Every detail, every letter space, the nuances in colour choice and resolution of the symbol, and the alliance between each of the elements adds threads that strengthen the bond from the brand to the logo.
Getting your logo’s name right is vital and can be challenging in a world of inspection. It is the only way we identify our brand verbally whether written or spoken and each presents options. Too long, too fussy, too boring…or too hard to pronounce. And of course, there are the language considerations.
But as the Egyptians said, that which does not has a name cannot exist. The name itself can hint at the values literally; chunky sounds chunky, smooth sounds smooth.
Real names describe, or hint at, a product such as Microsoft,and an abstract name like Häagen-Dazscould even possibly work as a fashion brand, probably not a car, but is now synonymous with quality ice cream.
Then we have the choice of typefaces and typography. It really matters. Experiments have shown we respond differently to different type and typography even if we are not design-trained. Caps create one straight line whereas the ascenders and descenders in lowercase can add interest; and every letter space matters.
We may want a symbol. Actually, all logos are symbols, even if there is no actual symbol. The name creates a shape and eventually, we recognise Coca-Cola, for example from a distance well before we can read it. When we do choose a symbol to enhance the name we have infinite choices and we can be inspired from numerous sources. The natural world has inspired BP’s sunflower, ING bank’s lion as well as Lloyds Bank’s horse and Apple’s bitten apple. The advantage is that these familiar objects come with a ready set of values, lion for strength and so on, and everything we do in the design will add to the value match. Without the spiral graphic petals making the sunflower it would just be another flower. Without the bite, the Apple would just be another apple. If ING’s lion was running and Lloyds Bank’shorse was jumping, we would feel differently about them. Every detail matters.
If we choose to adopt an abstract shape we would be following in the success of Nike, Mitsubishi and the Red Cross. Although the values in these may not be readily apparent, each triggers a response in us. It has been shown that there are five shapes that appear in all cultures, circle, triangle, square, cross and spiral and they mean the same in each even when those cultures are geographically distant. For example, a circle stands for wholeness, a square for stability and a cross for relationships. To further compound our choice of symbol a flower can be round, and a sitting animal forms a triangle. Every choice in the attention to every detail further strengthens the relationship between the brand and logo.
Colour is probably the most recognisable element in a brand and has an advantage in being recognisable from a distance. It has been used for thousands of years to affect our mood and future such as in tribal body paint and stained-glass windows in churches. Blue is the most popular colour for brands. We trust blue, it makes us feel safe, it is clean and calming. Shared by Facebook, Twitter and a plethora of pharmaceutical companies they reassure us. Red, on the other hand, excites us and can even raise our blood pressure. Sports teams wearing red have more wins; researchers are not sure whether it is because the colour attracts the attention of the umpire or energises the players. Whether we choose red, blue, yellow, green or purple there are infinite shades and hues and combinations of these colours, and every subtle change makes a difference as to how we see it. Colour is so important brands will register and fight for it. Cadbury chocolate is purple, and so was Darrel Lea chocolate in Australia. Cadbury fought in court for over 5 years to become the solepurple chocolate brand (they did eventually fail).
When we get these elements right and hone them to perfection so they visually and verbally resonate with the frequency of the brand values, they are worth protecting. The logo is not just identifying the brand it is singing it into existence. Our clients see the design and, quite literally, their brain cells fire in a sequence triggered towards the brand. The deeper we go into details, into the caring and most vitally, the amount of love we pour into the design, (as well as our brand – an important linked value) the more attractive our logo will be.