What exactly are logos and is it right to see them only as identifiers of brands and businesses? How do people look at logos and symbols? Is there an authority that dictates the design process or is crowdsourcing the contemporary way of drawing creativity?
Recognizing Logos and Symbols
People sometimes use logos and symbols interchangeably. Many people simply call any design or emblem that represents a brand a logo. But logos are technically word imprints or wordmarks, with the term taken as short for the word logotype.
What Is The Difference Between Logos and Symbols?
If we follow this reasoning, the only real logos are those stylized letters that read different brand names. Some examples of such are the distinct Coca-cola dynamic ribbon, the Venetian blinds of IBM, the dark blue ellipse of Samsung, the hidden arrow in FedEx, the Sony vector logo, the iconic Disney logo, and the Amazon logo with an a-to-z-arrow that doubles as a smile. Again, if we stick to that definition, anything that visually represents a brand name, business, or organization that cannot be read is not technically a logo or logotype.
However, logotypes unsurprisingly face issues when it comes to the global economy. Since logotypes depend on words that are not necessarily readable to people residing in other countries, global brands often prefer to use images or designs that are recognizable regardless of the languages spoken. And so, a lot of companies nowadays take a rather abstract approach by coming up with a universal symbol to represent their brand. Take for example Nike, Apple, the Red Cross, Shell, and Microsoft.
The Meaning and Reach Of Logos Has Changed
With new logo design trends, the meaning of logos has changed from one solely being a wordmark to an image or graphic design that has a symbolic content.
Even Paul Rand, the famous American graphic designer renowned for his corporate logo designs, does not significantly differentiate between a logo and a symbol. He recognizes a logo as a symbol for either a business, product, service, organization, a nation, an individual, or even a belief. Logos appear in different guises like a signature, a pin, or a flag.
Aside from using logos and symbols for graphic representations of businesses, people also sometimes overlook their function as an identifier for anything else other than brands.
Paul Rand describes a logo as “a flag, a signature, an escutcheon” and “rarely a description of business.” He also characterizes logos as something that identifies objects rather than sell them directly. Logos, according to Rand, also derive meaning from the items they represent rather than define those materials. And lastly, in the same writing, Paul Rand explains that “a logo is less important than the product it signifies [and] what it means is more important than what it looks like” – a now popular quote on design.
As for flags as logos, the designs are more than just for aesthetic purposes. Elements in the design represent something that is a part of a country’s history and identity. And everything about that flag can also mean something good, neutral, or bad to other nations, depending on the relations at work.
And so, to replace a symbol that represents a nation might just mean a solemn undertaking. That was an initial reaction of the world when last year New Zealand announced to democratize the job. Instead of asking a professional to provide logo design services, the government of New Zealand issued an open call, inviting its citizenry to share their ideas with the best one to be selected through a public vote.
The Public’s Role in an Emerging Redesign Trend
Following the New Zealand government’s call for a redesigning of their flag, the Kiwis were poised to join an emerging low-key trend. Public input is becoming more and more welcome in changing logo designs as is apparent with Mozilla’s move to rebrand. The company behind the open-source Firefox web browser is bolstering its open-source principles by asking everyone to join their refinement stage where they encourage feedback on the work in progress.
The team behind the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo also had an open-call when they received backlash after claims of design plagiarism surfaced. After withdrawing the original logo, organizers asked the crowd for designs that will serve as a replacement, and they received more than 15,000 entries in response.
Is Crowdsourcing a Setback For Designers?
Just like other young professionals, some artists see the influx of the general public in their turf with a reasonable degree of wariness. AIGA, an association of graphic artists, addressed an open letter to the president of the Tokyo Olympics committee to show dissent with the open call. In the letter, the Executive Director of the organization pointed out that such competitions ask designers to “contribute their creativity and hours of work without remuneration,” but only in exchange for the possibility of winning said contest. This practice goes against the global standards of designers’ professional practice and compromises the ethics of their profession.
Going back to New Zealand’s move to have their flag changed, and after thousands of entries, a prominent designer of the nation felt offended with the lack of design input from professionals. Some might say the lack of well-designed logos shows how little support the move for a redesign has, while some of the poor designs are forms of protest against this call for change. The protest argument gained, even more, ground when, after months and millions worth of expenses, the Kiwis voted against a redesign and they got to keep their current flag.
The Power of Logos
Logos are a product of creativity with many forms and functions. They can represent brands, identities, prestige, and even social and political beliefs by being a form of protest. And all these qualities of a logo design have the capacity to influence change. Graphic designs, in the context of the New Zealand flag issue, did affect the outcome of the referendum.
While designs have been, in general, about providing solutions to problems, many designers look at their work at the core of creation and change, or in other circumstances, reinforcing the status quo. Since visual design, as in the case of logos, provide agency, effective logo designs have helped people, through empathy, to move to or from a direction dictated by what is being represented.
But then most of the time, people perceive logos differently. There are some who even see the logo without thinking about its meaning or function. As such, the power of logos and how they influence people is also limited by the actions of what they represent. Thinking that a new or updated design will bring good luck or transform the represented into something positive is not uncommon. However, people’s perception will only last while the object the logo represents continues to produce that meaning.
Earl Jonathan is a BusinessTown.com contributor.