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Logo Design Elements Slideshow

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Six Logo Design Elements


Typography is pictures of words. The letterforms work together to convey a message. In the same way that we decipher imagery, we decode typography.

The attitude, history, and culture of a company are conveyed in the letterforms of a logo. Choosing the appropriate typeface for a logo is a complex task. The shape of the letters in combination must be considered, as well as the legibility and distinct sound of the word when spoken. Certain typefaces will lend themselves to better legibility with upper and lower case.

Often, a type study is conducted to examine options. Once a general typographic direction is established, a letter-style will be created. There are instances when an existing font will work adequately, but proprietary and unique letterforms provide greater value. This is either a modification of an existing typeface, or a completely original typeface.

While most nongraphic designers will not recognize the difference between Helvetica and a custom font, it is the unique attributes of the custom font that give ownership to the client. A word of warning, however: the further the letterforms depart from the original recognizable forms, the more quickly they will date.

Letterforms can be thought of as clothing. A good pair of khakis and a white shirt will always be a classic and will never look out of date. The addition of a unique tie or scarf will make the outfit personal. Long lived, classic typefaces are perceived in the same way.

Alternatively, orange plaid pants and a pink tank top may get attention now, but as time passes they will become the focus of jokes when friends look at old photos. Trendy typefaces often suffer the same fate.

Typographic Classification
  • Humanist: calligraphic forms; e.g. Centaur, Verona
  • Old Style: refinement of calligraphic forms; e.g. Bembo, Garamond, Caslon
  • Transitional: share features of Old Style and Modern: e.g. Baskerville, Fournier, Bell
  • Modern: heavy contrast; e.g. Bodoni, Modern, Walbaum
  • Slab Serif: heavy, square-ended serifs; e.g. Rockwell, Memphis, Clarendon
  • Lineale or Sans Serif: without serif; e.g. Grotesque, Helvetica, Univers
  • Script: cursive; e.g. Palace Script, Young Baroque
  • Graphic/Decorative: decorative fonts; e.g. Poster Bodoni, Hobo, Dom Casual
  • Digital: digital forms; e.g. Oakland, Isonorm, Modula
Typography in Logos

(See slideshow.)


Color is subjective. There are emotional connections that are personal to each color we see. In relationship to logo design, color is integral to mnemonic value. It also conveys the tone of a company.

Although certain colors have accepted meanings in Western European culture, there are multiple meanings across cultures. In the United Kingdom, white is considered pure and positive. In China, white is used in mourning, symbolizing heaven. Red is connected with strength and life, but is taboo in financial communities (red means a loss or debt.)

In these instances, the color acts as a signifier of ideas.

The idea of “owning” a color is one of the highest priorities of a logo and subsequent identity. Orange has been associates with Nickelodeon for two decades. PMS 659, a deep dark blue, is used on the Gap identity, and was also the name of their fragrance.

Subverting standard definitions can help make a color proprietary. Wells Fargo’s use of red was considered heretical by the financial community, but has given Wells Fargo a clear identity above the multitudes of financial institutions with blue logos.

Color Meanings

The human eye and brain experience color to produce a mental and emotional response. As a result of this, colors themselves have meanings. The exact symbolism is often a cultural agreement. The following is a sampling of color meanings in the U.S.A., Canada, and Western Europe. Investigate a particular color’s meaning when using it in an identity system.

  • Red: passion, anger, stop, battle, love, blood
  • Yellow: joy, intellect, caution, cowardice, youth
  • Green: Fertility, money, healing, success, growth
  • White: perfection, purity, wedding, clean, virtue
  • Blue: knowledge, tranquility, calm, peace, cool
  • Black: fear, negativity, death, evil, secrecy
  • Purple: royalty, wisdom, spirituality, imagination
  • Orange: creativity, invigoration, unique, energy
  • Gray: neutrality, uncommitted, uncertain
Image & Iconography

Icons are loaded. They can be very powerful and convey a large amount of information quickly. They can, conversely, be vague and neutral, allowing for a broad range of meaning. The style of execution impacts the tone and meaning.

An icon created for a logo does not need to be a hard-edged, flat drawing of an abstract shape. While direct illustration of the subject matter is a mistake, various representational techniques can be utilized.

An apple acts as both a symbol of New York and of education. This may seem like a cliché, but clichés are, intrinsically, very recognizable. Such symbols should not be disregarded but, rather, presented in a fresh form. The iconography should engage the viewer. Seeing recognizable signs in a unique form is a good way to achieve this goal.

As society and culture change, the meanings of imagery and iconography shifts. Aunt Jemimi was an acceptable image in the 1930s, but has since been modified to better represent an African-American woman as an individual, not as a stereotype.

Responsibility for understanding the meaning(s) of an image lies with the designer.

Types of Icon
  • Diagrammatic: icons are simple representations of the structure of the subject matter. The process of thinking is conveyed by an asterisk in the Spark logo.
  • Metaphoric: icons are based on conceptual relationships. A hat for a talent agency communicates trust, honesty, and old-fashioned values.
  • Symbolic: icons are abstract images that have no clear relationship to the subject. Their only connection is their proximity to the subject. A nonrepresentational mark next to the name of a shopping center is a symbol.

A good logo will involve a shape that is appropriate and memorable. Shape is at the core of mnemonic value. Although it would be easy to say that a circle is the most successful shape for a logo, it would be untrue. There are logos made with squares, ellipses, triangles, and other unique shapes that are equally successful.

It is also wrong to think that all logos must be contained within a shape. The overall form of a logo should comprise a shape. This is achieved by the letterforms and icon being constrained within a shape. Alternatively, the letterforms and icon can create an implied shape.

Hierarchy and Scale

Myth: Everyone likes everything bigger. This might be true at a Burger King drive-through, but it is rarely true in design. A logo must be able to exist as a twenty-five foot sign on a building, but it must also function on a business card.

Intricate, complex, and layered forms might look incredible on a computer screen at 400 percent zoom, but will become a jumbled mess on a CD label. Obviously, simple forms reduce best. Converesly, bad curves or slopping kerning are only exaggerated on a fifty-foot billboard.

The issue of hierarchy and meaning are interconnected. Is an individual product more important than the parent company? This depends on two questions. First, will it be advantageous for the client to be associated with the product? Second, will it be disadvantageous? If the connection with a company will position the client inappropriately, there’s a much bigger problem that needs to be addressed than just the size of the logo.

Static vs. Changeable

The logo must serve as a central tool providing a cohesive voice for a wide range of applications. This does not necessitate that the logo be an intransigent, immutable object. Twenty years ago, the idea of designing a logo that could mutate was heresy. As the delivery systems of information have expanded into television and new media though, the desire for logos to move, change, or just plain “do something” has increased.

We now expect a logo on the bottom right corner of the television screen to animate. An accompanying audio cue is also expected. Whether is was meant to move or not is irrelevant; somewhere along the line, someone will make it spin.

Rather than allow someone else to make decisions about the changeable qualities of a logo, the designer should presuppose this scenario. Providing guidelines for motion, audio, and print is as important as choosing color.

Once again, however, the message is at the heart of the decision-making process. It might be possible to have a logo, twirl, flash, and bubble to the tune of “Surrey with the Fringe on Top,” but it not wise unless it is appropriate for the product. The action and reaction of the logo should reinforce the overall criteria and concept.