One need look no further than the recent Gap logo redesign debacle to understand my melodramatic Vietnam war analogy.
But I actually meant to share my viewpoint as a graphic designer. Why? Because logo design is a war one can never win. It is the one type of project I consistently avoided like the plague, unless I was both designer and decision-maker. This is because great logos are never designed by committees. But most logos are exactly that–designed by committees.
Here’s the rub. Logo strengths are subjective. Evaluating them requires deep understanding of brand differentiation, implementation requirements, and the general graphic environments in which the logo will attempt to communicate. And then there is that necessary, unquantifiable, unresearchable dose of wit, humor, humanity, oddity, sophistication, nostalgia, art or power that takes a good logo from good to great.
And in most organizations the people around the table evaluating logos understand very little of the above. The evaluation becomes a “What did the research say?” or “How about we take the type from this one, and the image from that one?” or (my favorite) “I can’t exactly say why, but I just don’t like it” kind of conversation. And then you slowly, sadly watch some beautiful stallion turn into a plodding camel, right before your eyes. Everyone is “happy” but no one wins.
I participated in one such logo selection process online recently. A nonprofit leader I really like solicited a lot of logo concepts from 99Designs, a free marketplace where you get designers to speculatively submit logos in the hopes of getting paid for the one you pick. The submissions were pretty awful, but I carefully advocated for the couple of not-too-sucky ones, and then sat back and gnashed my teeth while the rest of the nonprofit’s advisors weighed in. The result: one of the absolutely worst, impractical, too-complicated and downright ugly designs was selected.
Thus, it’s nice to see Starbucks consistently doing a good job with their logo. Here’s the latest advance. Just like their confident choice of a semi-opaque company name, they demonstrate confidence in their type-free logo. Of course they ought to be able to just show a sliver of the mermaid fin and get a two-year-old to recognize Starbucks, given its ubiquity. (I’ll never forget when my own toddler son said “Coke” when he saw the scripty soda logo, as one of his first words–despite never having touched the product, read a magazine, or watched TV. That was some logo, and some brand.)
But still, kudos to Starbucks.