Sometimes familiarity really does breed contempt.
If you’ve been working with the same brand and
logo for a few years, you might be itching to make
a change. Maybe you’ve been daydreaming about
brightening up the color palette or redoing the mark
altogether. It feels a little dated, and you’re brimming
with ideas to make it better. Unfortunately, boredom
isn’t a valid reason to redesign a logo. “The question
isn’t, ‘Are you tired of it?’” says Bill Gardner, owner
of Gardner Design in Wichita, Kan. “The question
is, ‘Is your customer tired of it?’”
REASONS FOR CHANGE
In many cases, the public is only beginning to
recognize a mark when it’s already wearing on the
design and advertising teams. And most logos carry
a considerable amount of brand equity, so there
needs to be a solid rationale behind an overhaul.
Gardner says there are three common reasons a
company might want to make a change: First, a
business with new management or ownership may
desire to visually signal its evolution. His firm, for
instance, designed a new logo for the Conco construction
company after it was sold. Since the old
owner had an eroding reputation among customers,
the new proprietors wanted to let people know the
company was turning itself around.
There’s an even more pragmatic reason to
update: A shift in the product line. When a company
known for selling widgets suddenly adds chicken
to the mix, they may need to change both its logo
and name. Gardner’s firm, for example, redesigned
the mark for an upscale lingerie brand called
Belabumbum after the company expanded its focus
on the maternity market. The old logo—prominently
featuring a slender bottom in panties—didn’t
play well in this second business area. A geographic
expansion can have the same effect. If a restaurant
named after a city opens outlets across the country,
the name and mark may not work three states away.
Finally, a shift in a company’s overall ethos
might be cause for a new logo. This often happens in conjunction with an ownership, management or product line change. When management at Dynamic
Graphics changed, for instance, a new logo was created
to reflect both a change in owners and business
philosophy and to make sure potential customers
could differentiate DG from existing product lines
already owned by the company.
MAKEOVER OR MAKEUNDER?
But even when there’s a good reason for an overhaul,
sometimes a light hand works best. “A slight modification is done quite often,” says Ann Willoughby,
founder of Willoughby Design in Kansas City.
“You don’t even see it. A complete brand overhaul
is a very big deal. It’s a lot better to have a logo
that’s completely out-of-date than to create confusion.”
Many iconic logos, such as the famous
Coca-Cola script, seem timeless because they’ve
evolved through a series of small changes over the
years. Willoughby’s firm, for instance, modified the
Wonder Bread logo. Since brand loyalty is so high,
the changes needed to be slight to avoid confusing
longtime customers, but the logo also needed to
work as part of a larger strategy that included new
products and packaging changes. The makeunder
solution? A move to lowercase type and a slight rearrangement
of the dots.
Willoughby describes a logo as the symbol for a
brand—a way to visually communicate what a company
really stands for. As such, she suggests conducting
a brand audit before redoing a logo. Take a look
at all the elements of a given brand—from the way
it’s conveyed on business cards to signage and packaging.
Evaluate each element from both aesthetic and
strategic standpoints. Does the logo match the image
the brand wants to convey? Does it differentiate the
company from competitors? Talk with customers and
suppliers about how they perceive the brand. Does it
match the way the company wants to come across?
Why or why not?
Since most logos operate as part of a larger system,
this auditing process should give you a better
idea of what really needs to change about a company’s
visual identity. Then, if it still makes sense,
you’re in a much better position to overhaul the
logo. Start by working with your client to uncover
the company’s vision, values and meanings. Then
take a look at all the products and services offered by
the business and figure out who holds a stake in the
brand—from internal staff and customers to retail
buyers. It’s also crucial to understand where a logo
will be applied. “Where will this brand live?” asks
Willoughby. Those uses may include everything from
websites and outdoor signage to packaging, letterhead
and business cards.
At least one key to the design process lies with
words rather than images. “What are the adjectives
you want to describe your brand?” asks Noah
Scalin, founder of ALR Design in Richmond, Va.
“If you’re vague, the logo will be vague. All I’m
doing is translating the client’s message visually.”
A well-considered adjective list gives you a starting
point to begin experimenting with a logo design.
When Scalin redesigned the mark for the Green
Glass company, for instance, the logo needed to
communicate the firm’s environmental sensitivity
and help attract a younger clientele.
Try taking the time to talk with clients about
what certain adjectives mean to them. What do they
consider hip? Or understated? Can they show you
examples? It also helps to take the time to understand
where they see themselves in the business landscape.
Management at Green Glass was able to point out
stores and catalogs where they’d like to sell their
products. Scalin encourages his clients to take the
time necessary to develop an appropriate logo process—rather than rushing through to meet a quick
deadline. As he reminds clients, “The design needs to
represent you for a long time.”
As you work up potential logos, focus in on the
two or three most common ways the mark will be
used. Then test the potential logos in those contexts.
Take the time to mock up a business card, or illustrate
how a sign might look on the side of a building.
Try out the mark in color as well as black and white
and make sure it works reversed out—a common
logo application. Willoughby believes a logo needs to
be singular enough for people to easily understand it,
but urges designers to avoid obvious, overused symbols
such as houses and trees. Push for a more interesting
way to express the client’s ideas. Willoughby’s
firm also takes another important step before presenting
to clients: They test initial designs with consumers.
This allows the team to tell the client exactly how
the target audience reacted to the marks.
Though some logos—like those for a temporary
product line—aren’t meant to last forever, most
marks need a fairly long shelf life. So how do you
avoid a logo that screams 2007 five years down the
line? Avoid short-term trends—colors or type that
may only be in style for a few years. Opt instead for
classic elements. “Trends run in a 30-year cycle,”
Gardner says. “Take a look at movies being remade.
Look at the colors being recycled—browns, light
blues and oranges.” Instead of taking your cues from
these ’70s revivals, focus on what differentiates your
client from the competition and communicates the