In 2010, after acquiring VeriSign, internet security giant Symantec introduced its now ubiquitous logo with the black checkmark and yellow circle. The total cost of rebranding, logo included: $1.28B. The cost of the Google logo, designed in 1998 using a free graphical editor: $0. And yet, even with the massive difference in cost between them, they can both be considered examples of effective logo design. Money can buy you a slick image, but it isn’t the only ingredient, or even the most important.
You probably don’t have the logo design budget of a Symantec, BP ($211M) or Accenture ($100M), but going too far in the other direction means you probably won’t be reaching your branding potential. Since staying-power is one of the characteristics of an effective logo—the image having endured long enough to burn itself into the psyche of consumers—it would be a risk to take on a new design without careful consideration. If it fails, your logo will not only become a cautionary tale for young graphic designers, it will give your brand a disjointed feel. Too many reboots will squander brand equity and may end up confusing consumers.
While it’s true that even the most durable brands have undergone major transformations over the decades, it’s also true that they have become permanently linked to one visual branding element or another. In general, strong company logos share a core group of characteristics:
They transcend any one platform, size or colour scheme. A logo should be able to appear in a variety of scenarios—websites, banners, pens, letterheads, business cards—without losing its identity. A prescribed set of variations, such as different colour combinations or typographical arrangements, will give the logo added versatility.
They are simple enough to allow easy recall, but distinctive enough to stand apart from competing brands (this is probably the toughest challenge of logo design, and explains how many logos, accidentally or not, evolve into highly intricate pieces of artwork). With the rise of mobile browsing, simplicity has never been more important.
They provide an instant tell about the brand they represent. It could be subtle or overt, but in the age of shortening attention spans any clue will help capture the attention of the target audience (and tell people when they’re not part of the target audience).
They convey a mood, which establishes a conscious or unconscious connection with the viewer. This could be described as the brand’s personality—playful, businesslike, edgy, adventurous. In the graphic design world, many would argue that a logo should come to embody the brand’s personality, not dictate it. But that doesn’t mean it has to be a blank canvas.
They create some kind of positive association with the brand, whatever that means. In some cases it’s as simple as using warm colours or shapes that resemble a smile. More recently the trend has been toward lowercase letters, in a calculated attempt to break down barriers and appear more approachable.
They avoid trends in favour of the core principles of good design. It’s easy to get swept up by fads—beveled edges, drop-shadows, whatever the current flavour might be—but this creates a finite window in which your logo will be considered appealing.