It may strike some as exceedingly overt to start lecturing. But, here I go – I would like to share with you a phrase that will help you, as a professional designer, with your logo designs. Yes, this is a geeky post – but, one I am relishing writing. Given the expenditure of a corporate rebrand, we need to know what to do to make the design ‘just right’ and this is what this post is about – it is about Logo Design Theory. Specifically, B.L.O.W.O.U.T. – a summary of my process. If you want to find out more about what I have been up to head HERE.
Given the outlay of a rebrand – I need to know what is needed with the new design. How to get it ‘just right’. How to make a logo that ‘works’. Trial and error would eventually get you there – but then an infinite number of monkeys will eventually type the collected works of Shakespeare.
So, here we go….
B – Does It Work In Black
Every identity should be able to work as a flat design, in one colour like Black. Even if black is not the ‘official’ corporate colour, if the design doesn’t work in black, it doesn’t work. A lot of designers think this may not apply today, in the age of computer graphics and the web; are such notions passé and archaic? But, look at the logo that has dominated this age? Do I seem like a knuckle-dragging curmudgeon with retrospective ideas? Well what company has dominated technology for the past twenty years and indeed epitomises contemporary design and refinement from everything from advertising to packaging to product design?
Some may say the Apple logo is a clear, transparent, jelly look but it is based on their black logo design. In fact, the company use the solid shape, not the jelly version on all of its products.
Go to the Apple website. Do you see a version of the jelly logo anywhere? No, it is solid. And, only 31px wide! Try doing that with the jelly version. They started with the black version.
L – Lack of Mass
Mass gives an identity visibility at a distance or in small sizes. The shapes that make it up should not be too spindly. An identity with insubstantial and flimsy parts is effective and visually feeble.
Some die hards will suggest that contemporary identities can break older rules in the name of being modern. If you are rendering something on the web, it can’t be too spindly if it lacks mass. It would render terribly and not stand out – people would not notice it.
Use, what I call, a ‘cold eye’. this means, put yourself in a position where you think you have not seen it before – would you notice it if you did not know where it was? “If I did not already know what these images are, could I tell now?” That is using the cold eye.
O – Obscure Contrast
Legibility is readability, the capacity to be clearly perceived and clearly understood. Legibility is the function of contrast. And, contrast is a function of value, it doesn’t really matter the hue or the saturation of the colours. What matters most for contrast is sufficient difference in value.
Any logo that has low contrast – and therefore low legibility – has failed its very reason for being, to be clearly seen and read.
There are two major types of contrast, and they are both essential for a good corporate identity; external contrast and internal contrast.
External contrast means having a good difference between the design and the background. Internal contrast means that the elements of the logo can easily be distinguished from one another. A good identity has both aspects.
This is a drawback to using gradients, photographs or illustrations as logos. In one area there may be sufficient contrast, but in another there may not.
A quick tip – a few designer on Instagram seem to try to use all three primary colours in their logos. This is a bad idea because Yellow is a very light colour and consequently will not show up well against a white background.
W – Wayward Parts (Parts Out Of Harmony)
Visual conflict – elements that don’t harmonise – is a massive pitfall in logo design.
Examples include: Plopping a shape on some letters without considering the relative contours is an all too common mistake. You know, sometimes elements are not compatible or mismatched in some manner.
O – Overlapping Elements
You know, overlapping elements was once a popular technique in identity designs. But, people leaned around 100 years ago that it reduced legibility. Placing type over an image makes both the type and the image hard to read. Similar to overlapping is placing a signature inside a visual element. which makes the type subordinate to the visual and reduces legibility. Although, when the signature type is very brief I admit it can sometimes work, but only marginally. Larger signatures suffer considerably from this approach – it really ought to be avoided.
Putting text over another element is never a good idea and should be avoided.
U – Unrefined Shapes
Vector art is the medium in which all identities should be created, but this can be deceptive.
Vector art can give the impression to the designer that the shapes are better than they actually are because the edges are all crisp and clean. This can be especially true when altering letterforms if the designer fails to be sensitive to the inherent shapes of the font. Lack of sensitivity to angles is another shortcoming and curves also demand sensitive execution.
Because it is vector art, initially they can look passable but on further inspection we could notice that it is not a very sensitive design, not very subtle. Over time these clumsy curves become irksome and grating and you will want your logo replaced.
T – Tiny, Thin Elements
We have already dealt with the problem of thin mass, in this post. A similar but distinct issue is that of tiny elements, or thin lines. Even when found in a logo that has sufficient mass.
In every kind of printing (be that laser, off set, RISO, ink jet) there is a setback. I call it ‘ink creep’. The ink from the bigger object flows in to the negative space of the smaller elements to some degree. If the line is substantial enough, it will survive the encroachment. On the other hand, if the negative space on between the elements is too fine then it can fill in or be compromised. This is why designers don’t use fonts with small serifs in reverse; the serifs fill in. Fine reversed lines in a logo are susceptible to a similar fate. And, thin positive lines in a logo become thin negative lines when the logo is reversed.
Pixel Mush is another issue; the problem of Tiny, Thin Elements is not confined to print.
Some folks may not like an acronym. But, B.L.O.W.O.U.T. could be the difference between you getting a good logo and a duff one. Plus, it helps me remember what to do. If you take all of the elements mentioned in this blog post then you will avoid a design blowout when you next go to make a logo. The essential quality of good design is instant recognition and clarity. Anything that detracts from that is counter productive and contrary to what good design should be.