If Pentagram’s Micheal Bierut reckons a book can “make better designers of all of us,” its likely to be a pretty useful tome. The designer was heaping praise on Logo: The Reference Guide to Symbols and Logotypes by Michael Evamy, which is just about to launch its new mini edition with publisher Laurence King.
The book draws together more than 1,300 symbols and logotypes, demonstrating, as Bierut puts it, that “the next time you are tempted to design a logo…chances are, it’s already been done.” It features a beautifully simple new Pentagram-designed cover, which features the Spin-designed logo of the former edition. The new cover uses a bright blue mark, as a deliberate contrast to the previous black and white.
All the big names are there in terms of both designers (Saul Bass, Paul Rand, Lance Wyman) and brands (Starbucks, Kodak, Disney), and there’s something compelling about leafing through such familiar visual cues and seeing them in the context of a broader design history. We had a chat with Michael Evamy about what makes a great logo, how best to design one and his favourite examples in the book.
Why are people so interested in logos? Both designers and non-designers seem to be fascinated with them.
I think it’s to do with the compression of meaning: the representation of something as large as an organisation in just a few marks. Humans seem drawn to symbols that resonate with their own experience and can accommodate different interpretations. The more economical they are, the more we’re drawn, the more they fascinate us. The digital era has made logo-makers, avatar-creators of all of us, so the art of the logo, of capturing maximum meaning with minimum means, is more magnetic than ever.
“The digital era has made logo-makers, avatar-creators of all of us, so the art of the logo, of capturing maximum meaning with minimum means, is more magnetic than ever.”
What made you write the book in the first place?
Like everyone else, I’m fascinated by these things, and by the stories of their creation, evolution, application and reception. There didn’t seem to be many good books on the subject published since the 1970s, besides Per Mollerup’s Marks of Excellence. I liked the idea of making a handbook of logos, but not just any logos. I wanted the book to be a snapshot of the field, so they had to be in use – none that had come and gone. I also got to work with Spin, which was a real pleasure, although I think I caused them a world of pain with my late changes of mind about logos, categories and so on.
“As Paul Rand said, a logo should be distinctive, memorable and clear. To be great, it should do those things better than the rest.”
What makes a great logo?
As Paul Rand said, a logo should be distinctive, memorable and clear. To be great, it should do those things better than the rest. And, preferably, represent something great, too, whether it’s an organisation, service, person or product.
What does a designer need to consider when designing a logo?
Numerous things. But before they start designing, it’s about the client, the competition, the context and the audience. These will all shape the idea. It’s about establishing parameters: asking questions such as, what are the client’s objectives? What’s the best use of the budget? How and where should the logo be used? How can they become distinctive? What’s the competition doing? Who are the audience? Where do they encounter the brand and what’s their view of it? What are the cultural considerations? Then it’s about locating something distinctive and identifiable within the client and conveying that visually, within those parameters you’ve set.
What do you think of sites like 99 Designs, or almost “instant logo” sites that that imply the process of designing a logo is quite simple?
I don’t know, I’ve never used one. But I’d imagine they’re a complete waste of time.
What are your favourite logos in the book?
There are very well-known and obvious ones such as the V&A, CN, Mobil, and FHK Henrion’s mark for the National Theatre. Others would be RCA, conEdison, Moderna Museet, Tate, New York’s MTA, Deutsche Bank and the Medima bunny. I’d also include almost everything in the book designed by Malcolm Grear.
Is there a danger with honing in on a logo as a representation of an entire branding project, when in some cases, it’s the application that can make an identity come to life?
The book was about logos. And that’s all we were looking at: logos in isolation, doing the things logos should do. I don’t think a great application can make a logo great. The 2012 Olympics was an amazing rollout of an aesthetic that the logo initiated. That and the acceptance of the aesthetic made people look on the logo more favourably. But it didn’t remove what many people thought were the logo’s flaws.
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