The logo is dead. Long live the logo! The future of logos.

Now that the dust has settled, it’s time to see what’s left of the logo after all the ‘end of the year’ design write-ups and opinions. It has been bashed, celebrated, crushed and anything in between. In this article, we take look at 10 evolutions that will shape the future of the logo as we know it.

Whether it’s ‘blanding’, responsive logo designsonic branding or brand strategy, there are a lot of things moving in the field of logo design (and design in general). Let’s take a look at 10 influential evolutions that will shape logo design as we know it.

“It’s something we have been debating internally for quite a while. When you look at brands like O2, its success lies in the richness and depth of its brand world (bubbles, blue gradient, etc.). This forms a flexible branded platform that is instantly recognisable — you could remove the logo and still know the brand. The logo in itself is not the ‘hero’.

From Logos are dead

1 — From one-way communication to tribe building

This evolution has been going on for longer than I exist. The logo is not the essence of the brand, it’s an identifier, as is the messaging, the color, the typography, the photography, the people behind it. A lot of brands can work amazingly, even without a logo, just look at Pewdiepie, a YouTuber who has amassed 84 million subscribers. Did he need an amazing logo for that? No. Does he have a brand? For sure! Since Marty Neumeier’s shift of branding from target to customer-driven brands, the role of the logo has shifted.

The difference between logo, brand and identity.

2 — The importance of positioning

Big companies like Spotify, Uber or Google simplify their logo because they have become such relevant brands in the mind of the customer that they don’t need a complex logo in order to be recognized. Instead, it’s their products, service, communication, latest innovations and yes, their visual style, that gets people to recognize them.

That’s what positioning is all about. Taking that unique spot in the mind of the customer by creating unique value. When a company is so well known, the logo gets to play a different role. A lot of times, the logo doesn’t even need to be as ubiquitous. To prove my point, take a look at this famous store below. My guess is that you’ll still know which brand this is, even without the logo.

3 — Brand experience is key

What does that mean for yet unknown, startup brands, do they still need a classical logo? Look at studios such as Gin Lane and Red Antler who create amazing identities for startup brands. These startup brands are growing at huge paces, they are aimed directly at customers (often times only digital or a mixture) and they usually don’t have complex logos or logomarks. Not so unknown anymore are brands like CasperWarby ParkerHims,… Indeed, these companies have invested more into design than anyone else, but design in a more holistic and strategic approach. The whole identity is encompassed in one overarching idea and translated into a visual identity, and fitting tone of voice. The brand experience here is the signature of the brand, the way it speaks, the way the product is delivered. Of course, visual identity still matters as such, but the logo as its own element is oftentimes simplified.

Yes, these logos are simple, but look at the overall messaging and identity work. These are solid brands.

“Their primary distribution is direct and so they don’t have to scream with their design,” … “They can talk to people and use quieter design. All of the products out there that these companies are disrupting were designed to fight shelf wars when online wasn’t there. These brands don’t have to worry about that.”

— Katie Richards

4 — Responsive, moving logo systems

The evolution of technology has caused a certain ‘loss of control’ on how visual identities are seen. From different channels, operating systems, and screen sizes to cultural differences and physical limitations, a logo needs to work on so many levels, it needs to be responsive, simple. So again, maybe this is inspiring designers to create more simple solutions that can work across multiple media. Even some of the most iconic logos have been shaped into responsive systems. Not only are the logos adapting in space, but they are also adapting in time and in shape. A well-known example is the identity for the MIT lab by Pentagram (the one before it was also amazing and innovative).

The Google responsive identity created a motion language that uses the 4 colors as a way to communicate different patterns throughout the platform.
Practice what you preach. Here is a responsive logo I created.

5 — Blanding and the importance of typography

After many rebrands by famous tech companies such as Airbnb, Uber, Google and also some big fashion companies such as Burberry and more recently Zara, the design community responded. A new term brought to life: Blanding. Boring, predictable brands that use sans-serif typefaces. In my opinion. Today’s brands are more expressive than ever, they are just using fewer elements to express themselves. Are there ‘blands’ out there? Sure! But are there more ‘blands’ out there than 10 years ago? I don’t believe so.

Typography plays a key role in this discussion. Picking the right typeface in combination with the right tone of voice, photography and layout system in a well thought out system can be enough to create a beautiful, distinctive visual identity. Fashion brands, for example, are a lot more about the clothing, photography than the logo.

“The radical use of a neutral type eliminated all decorative elements. In Burberry’s case, these details weren’t superfluous; they happened to evoke style and class and heritage and something nobody else had — something that was, for lack of a better word, Burberry”

— THIERRY BRUNFAUT

As we can see, the logo is indeed simplified so much that isn’t really a ‘recognisable’, unique mark. The question of course here is if it really needs that. Maybe they are making room for more style and personality in the photograpy, the typography and overall identity. Of course sans-serif typefaces also work a lot easier on different digital platforms. I love how Armin Vit of Brand new frames it :

Armin Vit, co-founder of design firm UnderConsideration and its blog, Brand New, says the bare-bones look is “like wearing a black-tie tuxedo.” It’s not flashy but leaves room for personality to come through in other ways. In Burberry’s case, that includes a striking monogram print from Saville that the company has used aggressively in its ­rebranding efforts.

— Armin Vit

6 — The importance of words

A lot of brand names are becoming a lot more ‘visual’. For example, ‘Hims’ or ‘Casper’ are already names that have a certain ‘personality’ to them, hence, choosing the right typeface and building a strong identity around that can be enough to have a strong, visual presence. If you think about it, the stronger the name and the personality, the easier the visual solution. If your company is called: “Hairy monkey”, you don’t always need to have a symbol of a hairy monkey, because the words already summon the image. Picking a good typeface, the right colors, creating a pattern. This in itself can really set the tone. If you can combine that with great writing, you’re really ‘team awesome’. In advertising, we are also seeing a return to long-form copy. Remember these beautiful ads from Volkswagen? Apple is now repeating this in its latest series of ads. I do believe designers should no longer just go to ‘Lorem ipsum’ when they are mocking up things (Read the article on why you should write more here).

A revival of long copy?

7 — Anyone can design a ‘logo’

I see this argument a lot: ‘I could have done this’. Great! Then do it. Or ‘this was done in 5 minutes’. Does it really matter? If the Nike swoosh was drawn in 10 seconds or in 1000 hours, would it have less ‘value’ today (Chris Do has a great video about that)? The amount of time you put in a logo does not make it better or worse. It’s how appropriate the solution is for the brand. So yes, digital tools are becoming available for everyone, typefaces are more accessible and even ‘AI powered logo generators’ will provide options for starting companies to work with. What will separate great logo designers from logo generators or $5 logos from Fiver? Is it the ‘time’ they put in? Or is it really the memorable experience you get as a customer when interacting with a brand that matters?

Will AI take our jobs? I don’t think so, at least if we think bigger.

8 — Beyond visual identities

With the evolution of AR, VR and AI, brands have the opportunity to work on different levels beyond static, visual identities. Think about sonic branding, conversational design and all of these new things. Designers that know how to think about a brand as a system, as a personality, will be the ones that thrive in these new spaces. Something that’s already happening with some brands, is that the customer never actually ‘sees’ the logo, but only ‘hears’ one (think podcasts, Google Home, Alexa, …).

9 — Symbol or no Symbol?

The classical logo was usually focused on creating a symbol that could stand out, work on a billboard and on the smallest possible place (a favicon). Today, for a lot of brands the symbol is no longer needed, because it’s about the complete identity. We’re seeing a lot of ‘secondary’ symbols, used throughout the identity but not always in conjunction with the logo.

“Yes, the logo is the ultimate ‘rechargeable battery’ of the brand and is the final distillation of all the brand’s attributes BUT what we are debating (and we haven’t reached any conclusion) is that if the brand world is powerful enough, could the ‘logo’ simply be the company name designed in a simple, ownable way? Possibly, dare I say it, with no symbol to sit alongside it?”

— https://www.logodesignlove.com/logos-are-dead

Personally, I believe you need to go on a project per project basis. Think about how the symbol will work, why is it needed? Do we need it? For example, the recent Slack rebrand created a new symbol. A symbol for Slack is really crucial because it sits in your desktop icon, your app icon, it needs to pop, it needs to be visible. But for a beer brand, maybe a symbol is not key, it’s the matte black beer can, the funky message on top. Think who the heroes of the brand are, then decide whether you need an icon or not.

Of course Slack needed a recognizable, scalable and unique symbol.

10 — Content is key

The stories we tell, the value we create, that is what really matters. Starting 20 years ago, content has become key to creating amazing brands, it’s about the long term, consistent bringing of ‘authentic’ (I know, I hate that word) stories. The logo plays a role in that as an identifier. When you are looking for that cool inspirational quote you saw, that amazing product, you are looking for a logo that you can quickly recognize. But remember, the logo is not the content. Don’t make the logo redesign the story, make the story behind it important. And if you see a logo redesign, maybe don’t say ‘the new logo’ sucks, but think about the story behind it.

That pinkish little circle with ‘br’ helps people identify quickly who’s is sending out the message. But it’s NOT the message of course. It’s also not a symbol that explains everything about the brand and what I do.

To wrap this all up.

Is the logo dead? On the contrary, it’s alive and kicking! Has logo design become boring? Absolutely not, here’s a screenshot of my Instagram feed just yesterday; beautiful expressive identity work, some clean, some illustrative, some simple.

Am I saying that beautifully crafted logos have become unimportant? No, I love logo design (I do it myself). I love well-crafted design solutions. But I also realize that it’s about something more than that. The logo can be the cool glasses you are wearing that evening, that funky accessory that makes you stand out and look smarter. But if it doesn’t match the rest of the outfit, it’s just a cry for attention.

So if there is one takeaway from this article it’s to always look beyond the logo. How will it work within the complete brand? How will the customer interact with it? Does it need a symbol? Maybe the product or photography is so strong that we don’t want to distract the customer. How will the personality sound like? If you as a designer can push your client to think about his brand as something bigger than the logo, you become a lot more valuable as well.

All Rights Reserved for Stef Hamerlinck

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