Logos are our first descriptors of what’s being sold to us. They entice us in, usually with their bright colors and simplistic wording. The quality and clean lines of a logo can either bring people in – or hinder the business.
A friend of mine recently tasked a fellow musician with whom he plays with designing a logo for his small business. He takes in broken or malfunctioning analog audio equipment – turntables, receivers, cassette decks, amplifiers, monitors, etc. – and resells them after fixing them. He also does repairs.
When I saw the new logo, I felt a mixture of intrigue and amusement. A graphic that looks simultaneously like a radio wave and a heart monitor line underscores the name of the business, which features his full name in tall, skinny, blocky letters. He wanted the full description: “Audio Repair and Sales.”
I was told the graphic represents a schematic of a variance resistor. I thought it was cool; it didn’t really matter if those without a technical or engineering background might fail to understand what it meant because it looked neat. The lettering, on the other hand, looked funny.
A logo succeeds better when it inspires in you the object or business being sold. This is obvious, but from an abstract point of view, it can be challenging to achieve when creating one. It’s almost a visceral feeling. The McDonald’s logo is merely two golden arches, which, removing the cultural backdrop and history it signifies, mean very little. But they’re golden, and the background is red. Personally, I think French fries with ketchup. A logical connection can be made to fast food. Does any McDonald’s restaurant on this planet lack fries and ketchup from its menu and condiments station?
Firms of lawyers will typically go with a no-nonsense Serif font that emphasizes the seriousness of the business and affairs they deal with. Who has seen an office with a whimsical title in Comic Sans or other calligraphic fonts? There’s a huge difference. The wrong font can suggest that you’re a housecleaning business or beauty salon. Comic Sans is better used for a daycare center, or a play place for toddlers, especially for birthday occasions. If used to represent lawyers, they must be eight-year-olds who are play-acting.
Returning to the font of my friend’s new logo, I found it amusing because it inspired nothing about audio repair. The letters were sans serif, tall, skinny, metallic and colored navy blue. The stems of several letters did not have flat terminals, making one of the ‘n’s’ look as if it were standing on tiptoes. This appeared to have been done at random: several letters are ballerina dancers.
The navy-blue color and shine brought to my mind a pool retailer – a place to buy chemicals for your backyard oasis or contract to build one. In addition, the metallic shine and rigidity of the letters also gave the impression my friend dealt in motorcycles and choppers, not 1970s-era sound units. Adding in the variance resistor (knowing that’s what it was) and the amount of lettering – his full name plus ‘Audio Repair and Sales’ – and the logo looks complicated, overdone, and too busy (you’re thinking of a mix of things). Perhaps I have a bias, knowing him, as my judgment was he’s trying too hard to appear calm and official.
This leads to another relevant consideration: The relationship between graphic designer and business owner. One can solely brainstorm to a degree, but guidance from the owner is essential.
My friend had no idea what to do. He asked his musician friend to come up with something entirely on his own, specifying only the words required in the logo. Several designs were drafted. He picked the first one he saw. When I extended my constructive criticisms to him, he took little responsibility and suggested I take my points up with this friend.
As a business owner, you have the final say on how your company operates, feels – and looks. It’s your responsibility. Graphic designers are creative and smart. But you must have a clear idea of what you want as well.
Masterful graphic designers often have a better idea, but you retain the authority to make such decisions. Do you agree with their vision? Does it match yours? It must work for the relationship to work, for you and your business to have a genuine connection to the customer. If you don’t know what you’re doing, it shows.
As the nature of the business gets more abstract – from practical things like pool chemicals to abstract ideas like legal counsel – coming up with the right visual gets increasingly difficult. Therefore, the relationship between proprietor and graphic designer needs to be intimate and constructive.
We consume logos just as we consume food or celebrity gossip. Those logos that are simple and clear – McDonald’s and its golden arches, or Wal-Mart with its basic name and sun design – make a lasting impression on our view of the world and what we consume in it. Everyone knows what those logos refer to. They are cultural icons.
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