Branding (and logo design) is ultimately about trust were the words from Branding trailblazer Wally Olins.
It makes sense. When choice is available, we buy from who we trust.
We know that branding is much more than just a logo and it often takes more than one interaction to trust something. The trust comes after some fuller form of brand experience – some time on a website, with a staff member in a shop, using a product – and the like.
So, we have to wait for our logo to be trusted. Or, can we stack the deck and make our logo more trustworthy all by itself? I believe we can!
How is this possible? Well, humans have been making graphics for millennia and there are some existing visuals cues that can prompt helpful associations.
I’ve intentionally (and unintentionally) borrowed some of these visual cues in my logo design and branding work for small businesses. Let’s take a look at three examples.
The Flag Logo
In a flooring world of beige carpets and robotic sales people, MFC aim to bring vibrancy, enthusiasm and a bit of joy into a customer’s home. Where flooring is never boring is the promise and it has worked well.
The super-simple and super-bold logo design is very reconisable and has a super-quality – it looks like a flag (with a colour twist)!
Flags are a recognised visual language and come pre-loaded with connotations around identity, history, permanence and belonging. Great for suggesting brand credibility.
Checkout the world of flags. Horizontal and vertical bands of solid colour, stars, crests, emblems and more. It is a rich graphic field.
Just remember to not over-detail, the logo has to work small! Simple is best.
Recognised Symbols In Logos
Ability Plus provide mobility equipment and living aids.
I helped rebrand Ability Outlet to Ability Plus in 2012. The main goal was to reposition the company from a price focus to a personal service focus. A key part of this was to professionalise the company image and deliver a consistent branding system to rollout in all stores, advertising, online etc.
We already had the word plus in the name. However, the symbol for + is much more powerful. The + mark is an internationally recognised symbol. It means this place (these people) will take care of you, help you, be there for you. It is a favourite for pharmacies, hospitals, paramedics and even countries (flag symbology gets everywhere).
Naturally, all of the above associations fit very nicely with a mobility company so, I put a + in the logo design.
What other cross-border symbols can you think of?
- Recycling arrows (popular with green/sustainable companies).
- Road signage system symbols.
- Hazard symbols.
- Crowns and monarchy related.
- Heraldry – that’s massive within itself!
All of these existing meanings are ready to be adopted and modified. But, your logo needs to be authentic. You can borrow, just don’t replicate.
Referencing Famous Logos
This logo design was for floral designer, Karen Woolven.
The aim was to mix modernity, tradition and flowers in a mark with a sense of sophistication. I’ll let you judge the success of that. Karen loved it and so did her clients.
It was only later that another designer pointed out to me that it reminded him of the world-famous TFL Roundel.
I hadn’t seen this and hadn’t referenced The Roundel in my research and development. Perhaps it was subconsciously in my mind, which is, a primary purpose of brand identity!
Humans assimilate more quickly and are more likely to recall simple graphic forms. This is a big reason for the success of The Roundel, a rectangle over a circle in primary colours. It doesn’t get much simpler! It is also ubiquitous in one of the world’s most famous cities. That helps.
The visual connection to Karen Woolven’s logo is clear to see. With Karen and her team working on events in London and the Home Counties, I imagine many of her clients would have made a subliminal link.
Now, I would never advocate copying another logo. Integrity and legality aside, you want your brand reputation to be built on what makes your small business or organisation special. Your logo should derive meaning from that.
However, we can learn much from existing logos. Design is often an iterative process and I see no issue in referencing a quality of an existing mark to bolster the effectiveness of a new mark.
Where Do We Go With This?
Graphic languages are everywhere. Branding has been borrowing forever. I believe it is a balancing act – what can we take from somewhere else and, more importantly, what can we add to make a logo our own.