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  • This is Michael Bierut.

  • I'm Michael Bierut. I'm a graphic designer.

  • You might be familiar with his work, but interestingly, he thinks that logos are just kind of overrated.

  • I am actually often very ambivalent about them.

  • Let's back out a second: What is a logo?

  • Basically the face of a company.

  • Some are beloved. Some... the swastika is a logo and it's reviled, you know?

  • They have to work at tiny sizes, and huge.

  • There are three specific types.

  • First type is the wordmark.

  • The wordmark is the easiest one, and it's the one that we're all the most familiar with.

  • I mean, John Hancock's signature is kind of a wordmark.

  • And it can look crisp, clean, and modern, like the new Google logo looks.

  • It can look, somehow, that it has roots in a shared heritage, the way the coca cola logo looks, you know?

  • The second is pictorial.

  • Pictorial logos often function as a kind of Rebus, you know.

  • It's a picture, and you say the... what's in the picture, and it sort of is identifying the name of the company.

  • Sometimes directly like Target, sometimes more indirectly like LaCoste.

  • The third kind is kind of the holy grail, abstract iconography.

  • It's everyone's favorite kind of category because it just seems almost like magic, you know.

  • As a designer, people come to me and they'll say, "Oh, I want, like, something like the Nike swoosh."

  • They think that the Nike swoosh was the Nike swoosh the day it was drawn, but it was nothing the day it was drawn.

  • The company that birthed Nike commissioned a design student named Carolyn to draw some ideas.

  • And the Nike founders didn't really like them.

  • They sort of said, "Uh... let's use that one."

  • It wasn't like an overnight success.

  • And then they started putting it on the sides of shoes.

  • The shoes were good and then the genius of Nike's marketing apparatus made us further associate that product,

  • not merely with performance athletic gear but with the very idea of athletic achievement itself.

  • And that's how over a long time, a little mark means something big.

  • That's exactly how religious symbols work.

  • It's obviously not just anything inherent in shapes.

  • But it's about what those shapes have come to represent in the minds of the people who are looking at them.

  • But there is a fourth type of logo that goes beyond these three types and can use elements of each of them.

  • The logo system, a graphical framework that can have endless permutations.

  • The first gigantically popular example of the logo system would be MTV.

  • But Google's daily doodles are another great example of the logo system⏤a familiar mark that can also point to other ideas and issues.

  • This approach all has to do with technological change.

  • It used to be if a company was doing a logo, there'd be this, you know, military operation by which it would be inscribed on all their equipment and on their airplanes and their retail facilities,

  • and gold pins and cufflinks would be made for the executive suite and put on spittoons, in ashtrays, and the top of the skyscraper,

  • and would say "dwell" on everyone's business card, right?

  • Nowadays, none of that's as important as an email signature, or your Twitter avatar, or the little thing that sits next to your URL.

  • Those things are much more ubiquitous and they can be changed at the drop of a hat.

  • Bierut used this system approach for his Hillary Clinton logo.

  • We wanted to have a mark reflect the electorate and reflect the issues.

  • Those simple forms that comprise the H with the arrow in it are actually designed to hold not just two colors, say red and blue, but any colors you want.

  • The use of logo systems seems to be continually on the upswing now, probably because it allows the brand using it to expand the conversation beyond it's own name.

  • The logo kind of reminds people that that's... that's what we're... that's what our priority is today.

  • But at the end of the day, regardless of the shape, style, or system, it might not matter what your logo is.

  • It really is about thinking of these symbols as being empty vessels in a way, and then you pour the meaning into them.

  • So what's this all add up to?

  • Basically, those fights people get in about new logos are pretty misguided.

  • They think they're judging a diving competition, but actually, all these organizations are in swimming competitions.

  • It's not what kind of splash you make when you hit the water, it's how long you can keep your head above that water.

  • Logos need to have a long life, not win points in a discussion.

  • 12 years after the birth of that Nike logo, Nike came back to that graphic design student Carolyn with a gift.

  • A Nike ring with her own trademark on it, the swoosh.

  • Thank you very much, it's beautiful.

  • And an undisclosed amount of Nike stock.

  • Wow.

  • In 1973 when it was designed, her pay was $35.

This is Michael Bierut.

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What makes a truly great logo

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    Ray posted on 2021/06/17
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