Some of the world’s most iconic brands are recognisable when the company name is removed. An even more exclusive club has achieved ownership of a particular shape so that it doesn’t even need to be fully realised into a logo form to be associated subconsciously with its brand.
Here are five logo design tips to help you master shape and symbolism.
01. Strip it back to basics
There are a few golden rules to which all the best examples of logo design adhere. Firstly, and perhaps most importantly: simplicity.
Put thought into your concept, but don’t overwork the execution, or adorn a mark purely for the sake of it. You want ease of recognition, as well as versatility of scale and application. Think: will it work as well when used tiny in the footer of a website, as it will emblazoned on the front of a building?
A great way to test the simplicity of your concept is to keep subtracting elements until you reach its most basic form. Be brutal here. Is it still recognisable if you sketch it quickly with a few rough strokes? What are its most unique, defining features? Generally speaking, the simpler a logo design, the more memorable it will be.
02. Understand shape psychology
There are certain ‘clip art’ style visual cliches guaranteed to make any logo design expert gnash their teeth. Avoid common offenders such as lightbulbs to represent ’ideas’ or globes as shorthand for 'international’ at all costs.
But shape psychology goes far beyond the obvious. Often used as a symbol of the hugely influential Bauhaus School of Design are the yellow triangle, red square and blue circle – the product of research by Wassily Kandinsky, who argued that shape and colour can transcend cultural and language barriers.
Kandinsky argued that bright, zingy yellow complements the angular sharpness of a triangle; cool, spiritual blue is a perfect match for a circle; while an earthy, visceral red partners nicely with a square. We’ll explore colour theory in a bit more detail later on.
03. Master grids and structure
It’s becoming increasingly common for design agencies to air their sketchbooks in public, whether on online platforms such as Behance or Dribble, or as part of project case studies on their own websites, or released to the design press.
Often these workings include the technical side of a design’s composition, revealing and discussing the grid that underlies its construction and the specific curves and angles that define the shape.
Such projects can be invaluable reference points to inform your own work, and can help make abstract design principles such as the golden ratio come alive in application.
04. Employ negative space
Smart use of negative space in a mark can raise a smile, using wit to aid brand recognition. As discussed, FedEx is an oft-cited example of smart negative space used in a purely typographic mark, but there are plenty of stand-out examples of symbols employing it too.
Used cleverly and appropriately, negative space can also pack extra meaning into a logo design, reinforcing the theory that simplification through subtraction can lead to a more memorable brand mark.
05. Make use of wit and humour
Negative space is just one way to raise a knowing smile. The late, great Alan Fletcher, founding partner of Pentagram, was one of the leading pioneers in employing simple wit in graphic design, a practice that lends itself beautifully to logo design in particular.
Originally written by Beryl McAlhone and David Stuart and revised and updated by Nick Asbury and Greg Quinton at The Partners (now Superunion), seminal design book A Smile In The Mind: Witty Thinking in Graphic Design is an ideal reference if you’re keen to introduce wit and charm in your work, packed with inspirational examples from the world’s leading exponents, including Fletcher.
As Quinton and Asbury say in their introduction to the 2016 version: “Wit is big business, integral to the success of giants such as Google, Apple and Coca-Cola… wit is the alchemy that turns suitcases into adventure vehicles, vacuum cleaners into household friends.”