In my more academic studies of graphic design, I have come across some writings about logo design that ring so incredibly true and useful that I thought it would be a public service of sorts for me to share them. Instead of trying to paraphrase or rewrite these nuggets of pure knowledge gold into my own words, I will mostly be doing a copy and paste job to let the original author do the talking. I mean, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Right? I certainly can't say this stuff any better myself.

Anyone ever heard of design guru Paul Rand (1914 - 1996)? He knew a thing or two about a thing or two - particularly logo design. Look him up if you care to know more about him, but in short, he designed some of the most successful and recognizable logos we know today, such as IBM (1967), Westinghouse (1960), UPS (1961), and ABC (American Broadcasting Corporation [1962]). I've looked at some of Mr. Rand's logo presentations and believe you me, that guy put oodles of thought and exploration into every phase of the design process. So yeah, he was pretty much an expert on logo design. Here's what he said, quite simply and directly, about what a logo is and does in an article he wrote for AIGA in 1991 titled "Logos, Flags, and Escutcheons". Pay attention here, because this alone should clear up a lot of misconceptions we encounter today about the role of a logo:

"A logo is a flag, a signature, an escutcheon.

A logo doesn't sell (directly), it identifies.

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."

In the same article, he goes on to say:

"Should a logo be self-explanatory? It is only by association with a product, a service, a business, or a corporation that a logo takes on any real meaning. It derives its meaning and usefulness from the quality of that which it symbolizes. If a company is second rate, the logo will eventually be perceived as second rate. It is foolhardy to believe that a logo will do its job right off, before an audience has been properly conditioned. Only after it becomes familiar does a logo function as intended; and only when the product or service has been judged effective or ineffective, suitable or unsuitable, does it become truly representative."

With that being all cleared up, we find that we don't need to visually convey in a logo every aspect - or even a couple of aspects - of our business. This is not the logo's job. It's rarely even possible and it's not necessary But this doesn't mean that we just give up and type out our companies name in Arial, either. I think the real key is developing some mnemonic factor in the logo. Paul Rand said, "What is needed is finding a meaningful device, some idea that reinforces the memorability of the company name." Well said, Mr. Rand.

Going back and quoting from the aforementioned AIGA article and elaborating on the topic at hand, Rand said:

"The Mercedes symbol, for example, has nothing to do with automobiles; yet it is a great symbol, not because its design is great, but because it stands for a great product. The same can be said about apples and computers. Few people realize that a bat is the symbol of authenticity for Bacardi Rum; yet Bacardi is still being imbibed. Lacoste sportswear, for example, has nothing to do with alligators (or crocodiles), and yet the little green reptile is a memorable and profitable symbol. What makes the Rolls Royce emblem so distinguished is not its design (which is commonplace), but the quality of the automobile for which it stands. Similarly, the signature of George Washington is distinguished not only for its calligraphy, but because George Washington was Washington. Who cares how badly the signature is scribbled on a check, if the check doesn't bounce? Likes or dislikes should play no part in the problem of identification; nor should they have anything to do with approval or disapproval. Utopia!"

Dang, Paul Rand! Did you just say that personal likes or dislikes should play no role in the design of your logo? I think you did! Well touché! I realize that may sound a bit idealistic and harsh to say your personal tastes don't matter in relation to your logo design, but in the end it's true. All you would be logo designees, it's your hard-earned cash on the line, so while it may seem important (and understandably so) that you get an end result that appeases your personal tastes, it's not nearly as important as getting an end result that gets the job done and works well. We need to trust the experts. And designers, the same goes for you as well - put your personal tastes aside and do what is right for the job at hand. Just because your favorite color is black doesn't mean you should use it when developing a logo for a florist. Just because you think grunge type is the next best thing to oxygen doesn't mean you should use it on your sister's wedding invitations. Designers and designees - we need to look at things more objectively.

This brings me to another great piece of text from Rand's AIGA article:

""It reminds me of the Georgia chain gang,' quipped the IBM executive, when he first eyed the striped logo. When the Westinghouse insignia (1960) was first seen, it was greeted similarly with such gibes as 'this looks like a pawnbroker's sign.' How many exemplary works have gone down the drain, because of such pedestrian fault-finding? Bad design is frequently the consequence of mindless dabbling, and the difficulty is not confined merely to the design of logos. This lack of understanding pervades all visual design."

Oh the humanity! Simply so true.

Two quotes above - the one that starts off with "The Mercedes symbol…" - it kind of sounds like Rand implies that good logo design doesn't really matter; it just has to be memorable. Well, no. Once again, Mr.Rand, will you fancy us with some insight here?

"All this seems to imply that good design is superfluous. Design, good or bad, is a vehicle of memory. Good design adds value of some kind and, incidentally, could be sheer pleasure; it respects the viewer-his sensibilities-and rewards the entrepreneur. It is easier to remember a well designed image than one that is muddled. A well design logo, in the end, is a reflection of the business it symbolizes. 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.'"

I love that! Yes, we do care!

So what should a good logo design include? As stated by Paul Rand (and I agree with this list wholeheartedly) a good logo design should include these essential elements:

a. distinctivenessb. visibilityc. usabilityd. memorabilitye. universalityf. durabilityg. timelessness

You mean that's it? CAKE! I kid, I kid. Logo design - GOOD logo design - is not necessarily easy. Achieving list A through G in a simple little logo ain't a walk in the park.

Logos need to be simple. However, I can think of some instances where this doesn't necessarily have to be true. With the emergence of the screen as the dominant medium and new and improved printing techniques, logo design is changing in some ways, but I regress and will leave that discussion for a future blog entry. For the most part, the essence of good logo design remains that same as it has been for a long, long time. So again, logos need to be simple… but simple doesn't mean easy. Take it away, Paul Rand!

"The role of the logo is to point, to designate-in as simple a manner as possible. A design that is complex, like a fussy illustration or an arcane abstraction, harbors a self-destruct mechanism. Simple ideas, as well as simple designs are, ironically, the products of circuitous mental purposes. Simplicity is difficult to achieve, yet worth the effort."

That's right - simplicity is difficult to achieve. Don't I know it!

The last point I'd like to make on logo design (for now) is this: "Don't try to be original. Just try to be good." In a sparkling little jewel of a YouTube video I recently had the pleasure of watching, Paul Rand is speaking with some design students when he says:

"What did Mies van der Rohe say? 'Don't try to be original. Just try to be good.' That sounds sort of naive but it's true. What it really means is being good is damn difficult. So it's very difficult to be original. You have to have an idea. And you don't have an idea when you have nothing to work with." (Ahem - For more on that last line, please refer back to my last blog entry .)

What that quote also means to me is it's nearly impossible to be 100% original these days, and one should not become so enamored with this concept as to become unproductive. When someone is completely obsessed with doing something entirely original (entirely being the key word), it reminds me of those idealistic kids in design school who refused to trace an illustration for a class assignments because that would somehow mean compromising themselves as an artist. Okay, Pablo Picasso.

In Reality, we're all exposed to the same influences; we're all exposed to the same shapes, symbols, patterns, and forms. This only becomes more and more prevalent as the world continues to expand into melding cultures and consumer based societies. Still, it is important to achieve design that sets you apart.Don't get me wrong here - I'm not saying that doing something new and fresh is a trivial pursuit, and that originality should not be sought after. Remember, Paul Rand says a good logo must be distinctive and memorable. I'm simply saying chances are that any great idea you have has probably already been done somewhere, somehow, in some form, so don't obsess over it. If you always set out to be uninfluenced and 100% original all the time, you'd never get anywhere. Just try to be good; practice forward thinking, solid design principles, and good results will follow. Designer, Mike Davidson says:

'Tell yourself at every step in the design process that someone has undoubtedly already thought of this and what can you do to really set it apart. In design, and particularly logo design, the pessimistic axiom that 'everything has already been done' is becoming more and more true, and it is only the virtuous designer who can continue to stand out in a sea of sameness.'

True dat, Mike. I think the real challenge is not being completely original, because it's nearly - if not completely - impossible, but to apply your ideas in a new and fresh way.

In other words, just try to be good.