Deconstruction of Logos

By Rachel Won / 25 May 2020 / Tags: Branding

What is a Logo?
The word “logo” is derived from the Greek logos, which means both “word” and “rational thought” so it is a bit of a paradox that the generally accepted meaning of a “logo” in English, and many other languages, is “a pictorial sign”, usually referring to a brand. Yet a brand, like most human ideas, is communicated firstly by a name and secondly by images. A logo really functions as a sign or a pictograph, a more-or-less abstract visual mark pointing to a word.

In the early days of modern branding, a trade name would often be written in a distinctive handwriting, like a signature, and this approach is still used today. Such word marks required customers to be literate in order to understand them, so a common practice was to augment the written word with a pictograph as a way a recognizable character. Simple geometric forms often did the trick.

Whereas a triangle, a circle and a star on their own are merely icons, where combined with a name they form something greater. An icon is transformed into a logo from the moment if acquires meaning in our minds by association with a brand name and all that brand represents to us. This process of joining symbol to meaning is at the heart of branding. Early logos often resembled little illustrations – literal representations of what the brand offered. Even today, the dividing line between a logo and an illustration can be blurry.

Simplicity and minimalist
With the arrival of modernism. logos became more simplified and minimalist, sometimes stripped to unadorned initials of a name with no visual element. Such marks still qualify as logos (as opposed to merely names set in type) because they have deliberated typographic styles that are maintained consistently in all visual communication relating to the brand.

Ultimately, global marketing campaigns that embed logos in the public consciousness have become so ubiquitous, it is theoretically possible for a symbol to function free of any written word.
In practise, however few brands can afford the enormous advertising budgets needed to pull this off, so the conventional solution of symbol plus wordmark remains the most common form for a logo. Certain truths about the DNA of a logo design remain timeless.

A Logo:
  Must have form and colour
  Will usually have a typographic element to convey the name
  Will need variations to account for the different contexts in which it will be seen
  Incorporates visual symbolism or iconography that is both universal and culturally specific

Designing all of a logo’s elements so that the brand is perceived in the way its owner wishes and its strategic goals are met is a matter of carefully selecting the elements of this DNA and finding the most harmonious combination for them.

Example 1:
In the nineteenth century, iconic illustrations and fancy, but generic type identified brands in advertising and packaging. In the twentieth century, this role was performed by logos and carefully designed elements derived from those logos.

Example 2:
With sufficient marketing support, a symbol such as Pepsi globe, by Arnell Group, can become familiar enough to function independently of its name.

Example 3:
The ultimate modernist logo: the IBM logo it a highly functional set of initials with an aesthetic styling by Paul Rand that is both beautiful and timeless.

Is a Logo necessary?
Some people have questioned whether logos are even still necessary in this age of brand overload and with the rise of nonvisual media like Twitter. However, most people would agree that a good visual expression of a brand begins with a logo, seems to be more critical than ever. It helps customers to pick out a brand that stands out, remind them what they love about the brand and reassures them in their selection of that brand.

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