What made the logo great?

In 2016 Wally was the judge for the HOW Magazine 2016 Logo Design Awards. He was asked to contribute a written piece to accompany the promotions for the 2016 awards.
    Here is the full text of the piece that was published in PRINT Magazine on November 18, 2016.
It shouldn’t be necessary to clarify this, but it's worth stating: A logo is not a brand. It’s part of the takeaway of a brand experience or a brand’s personality, but it’s not the brand. If done well, the logo becomes an integral part of that experience. If done poorly, it becomes a liability and muddies the communication between a brand and its audience.  
        People who ask what makes a logo good aren’t usually clients or designers. Clients, since they’ve entrusted the designer to create a logo for their organization, expect that the designer know what will make their new logo good or their existing one better. Designers will know what a good logo is (the one they recently designed or are currently working on) and what makes a bad one (the one they didn’t do). The comments section on reviews of newly launched logos usually don’t add much to the discourse; instead they provide more of a checklist of what didn’t work, while discussing all the logos that look like the new one.
        Fortunately, the sphere of design discourse is not solely made up of a comments section. Design competitions allow us to look at a logo after launch, when the shock of the new has subsided, when we can evaluate and celebrate the ones that cut through the noise and make an impact. Ideally, we all learn from their successes—that’s what a competition like this is for.  
        As logo design criticism has moved from a discussion among designers to full-blown trending topics on Twitter and Facebook, lists of varying lengths have been provided to explain what makes a good logo: simple and memorable and timeless and versatile and appropriate and iconic and unique and scalable and legible and meaningful and modern and used consistently and communicates the brand message well. All of these qualities seem to riff off a short list that Paul Rand (1914–1996) assembled in his 1991 essay, Logos, flags, and escutcheons. He wrote: “The effectiveness of a good logo depends on:
        a. distinctiveness
        b. visibility
        c. usability
        d. memorability
        e. universality
        f. durability
        g. timelessness.”
        Note that Rand didn’t include simplicity. If you nail a, b, c, d, e, f, and g, a logo design can handle a degree of complexity and richness. Simplicity and versatility are qualities that are easy enough to demonstrate at the creation or evaluation stages: the ability to live at small sizes, how well it works in complex and changing environments, how effective it is in one color, etc.
        It’s the last one—timelessness—that’s the acid test of greatness.  
        The question then becomes not, what makes a logo great? but rather, what made the logo great?
        The answer, in my opinion, lies in whether it can stand the test of time. Why does that delivery truck still look great? Why does that bottle, only slightly evolved over the years, feel like it’s been around, unchanged, forever? Why does my favorite app feel like it was always a part of the brand, even though the sensibility was established in 1994? In other words, what can we learn from a mark that was created five, ten, or even twenty years ago?
        Creating something that will be timeless requires designers and clients to adopt a perspective that imagines a world beyond launch day and into some future—five or ten or twenty years away. Brands are not static things. They're never finished. They are dynamic and in a perpetual state of change and growth. Will this new or evolved logo be able to live in that world? 
        Of course, when the objective is to embody a place in time, timelessness is less important. The Olympics are a great example of this. Compare Lance Wyman’s work for the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, Landor’s work for the Salt Lake City Winter Games in 2002, and Wolff Olins’ logo for the 2012 London Olympics. All are stunning, and all are of their time. Then there are nostalgic logos where the purpose is to embody a time that has passed, like the delicious Stephen King ’80s–inspired logotype for Netflix’s Stranger Things.   
        A logo doesn’t need to be constantly changing, but it does need to represent an organization that lives with constant change. I discuss this quite a bit with my clients, recognizing that brands must be agile, and that managing a brand—and a logo—is less about rigid consistency and more about the ability to connect, adapt, and flex.  
        This way of thinking requires designers to be both completely confident in their decisions and selfless in what they are creating. Designers need to shed their egos and ask: How will this system work after it has left my hands? How will the internal designers at the company work with it? How will the range of advertising, digital, environmental, and event agencies work with it? Will it be something that will inspire new ideas in different mediums, or will it be something that is obligingly placed in a corner? 
        What we want to do with these marks, these systems, is to define a sensibility that isn’t necessarily perfect, but over time will be right for an organization. The notion of perfection in a work was brought up by artist Donald Judd in an interview with Claudia Jolles in 1990: “I don’t consider the pieces perfect. I just don’t think of them in that way. They should be well made, because if they are badly made, it is obtrusive, that’s all. Being well made is just eliminating troubles and things to be distracted by.” 
        What made the logo great? It was made well for the moment that it was needed. And it was able to grow when it needed to do something more.

Wally Krantz’s Outside Order is based in Brooklyn, New York.

OO&Friends is a strategic design studio making creative thinking real.

© 2021-2024 Outside Order Inc. All trademarks are the property of their respective owners.
Header photography © 2024 Wally Krantz.
Neue Haas Grotesk typeface by Commercial Type.
Website designed on Cargo.