For years, graphic designers and their clients have been trying to solve a problem with the wrong tool. In this article we’ll discuss some of the common misconceptions around Logos and the role they play in Branding, leading to requests like these: "I want the logo to explain what my company does in a glance", “We don’t like it, can you change the shape?” “What if we added a picture of this to the logo” ...etc
If you’re familiar with branding or design, you know these requests often lead to terrible decisions for both design and strategy. Yet, it only takes a few minutes of browsing designer’s social media profiles to understand just how frequent these types of requests are. Why is it so common? Do ALL business owners really have bad taste? Or is it the designers who are causing this situation for themselves?
For any designers out there that might be reading this, the hard truth is still the truth and this is on you. We can’t expect our clients who have no design experience or background to understand what works and what doesn’t. What if this recurring problem derived from the way designers have been marketing their logo design services in the first place?
I think that just like business owners, designers make too much of a fixation on the logo. You’ll often see them advertise their logo design services as creating “The face of the company” or worse, that they'll design “Meaningful” logos that tell the company's story. I get where they are coming from. “Logo” is pretty much the only term the business owners understands before working with a designer. What's worse is that they can be created practically for free on platforms like Fiverr or Wix, the need to embellish the role of the logo to convey its value is now vital for freelancers competing against these platforms. This creates a situation where the logo becomes the focal point of the design project, the missing piece that'll turn the client's company into a brand. No wonder the client won't settle for a meaningless wordmark! “The face of their business” doesn't look anything like his business. So how can we avoid this situation?
1. Redefining The Role Of Logos
I always tell my clients that Logos are overrated, they’re usually very surprised to hear this from a designer but then I proceed with the explanation, “The logo is NOT entirely representative of the company’s brand”. Unless you’re a multi million dollar company with a tremendous marketing budget, your Logo by itself is really not that useful. It will never be used without context and will always be experienced as a part of something more important, like packaging or a presentation deck and that is what people will remember. It takes tremendous time and money for people to start associating a whole experience to a mere symbol. No matter how great this symbol looks, it cannot replace branding or marketing for the business. Great logos don’t make great businesses, great businesses make great logos.
By looking at things like this, we start to understand the true role of the logo. The logo is not the face, It's the signature.The richer you get, the more valuable your signature becomes and as your business grows, your logo too becomes more valuable. It’s the same principle. This completely changes the role of the logo in design projects. The logo goes from shouldering the responsibility of capturing the essence of the brand, to being a simple signature to apply consistently. Just like a painter signing their name at the corner of the canvas. At first, it’s just a name but eventually it becomes a label of ownership and authenticity. This liberates the logo from the unrealistic expectations we once had for it leading to step number two.
2. The REAL face of a company
There is a branding tool whose purpose is exactly what so many people expect from the logo. It has many functions such as differentiating the brand, conveying or even explaining what the company does or even entertain through witty illustrations. We name this tool an Identity System, it is a set of unique visual assets composing the look of a brand including the obvious logo, a color palette, selected typefaces but also illustrations, patterns and typographic compositions/lockups incorporating the brand’s messaging. These unique assets will be the ones put forward the most when designing the final marketing materials as their potential for storytelling and differentiation far exceeds the logo's. Mascots are a perfect example of that, think of how the Kellogg’s brand Frosted Flakes is indissociable from Tony The Tiger.
Identity Design is a wonderland for both the designer and the business owner. It can be tailored and personalized in order to fit the specific needs of the company and ensure that its story and ideas are successfully communicated to the world. It allows us to get everything that we initially imagined for their logo in the form of a complete and functional brand identity. Sure, it’s a bit pricier but it doesn’t feel like a compromise, it’s actually an investment that will help the business grow and in return generate more revenue.
See, what leads to the requests we mentioned in the beginning of the article is that every business owner wants their brand to live up to how they perceive it. Once they understand that they can’t achieve that with a logo, the value in a full identity system is clear as day.
Now that we got the theory down. Let’s see how we can definitely get rid of the same old logo requests. Whether it’s a short project description, a full case study or an in-person presentation, we need to shift the conversation from the logo to business problems. The difference between art and design is problem solving, that also happens to be the language business people understand best. Unfortunately it’s impossible to prove that a new logo can have any impact on the bottom line, but that’s different for visual identity systems because they’re built on actual strategy and not just aesthetic rules.