Bill Gardner on Logo Design: Simplicity Rules. For Now.

Bill Gardner knows logo design. The founder of LogoLounge, the definitive encyclopedia of logo design, he reviews countless logos that site users upload — more than a quarter million to date. LogoLounge is a visual search engine that’s not just for logo designers, but for marketing and creative professionals who want to stay ahead of trends in typography, iconography and color.

We recently asked Gardner, who’s presenting “A Year of Good, Great and WTF? The 2017 LogoLounge Trend Report” at HOW Design Live, about what he’s seeing, what he’s loving and what he’s over.

How did you become the “logo guy?” What led you to develop LogoLounge?
Gardner Design had always been heavily involved in branding and developed a strong rep for our logo design work. Our offices were packed to the brim with great books on identity and logo design. I’ve got a pretty good memory and our designers would often ask me which book a certain logo they recalled was in. Or worse, they would start looking through the library for a certain reference … not only was searching for logo reference a time vortex, but our books started to look like a carnival with all the multicolored Post-it notes flailing from the pages.

It was 1997 and eBay was two years old. It dawned on me that if someone could upload a teapot to their site and anybody could type in the keywords to find it, why couldn’t I do the same thing with logos? A few years went by to let the idea and technology catch up with each other and the site was launched in 2001 with 2,000 logos from some of the most highly respected designers and corporate branding giants: Chermayeff & Geismar, Landor, Michael Vanderbyl, Duffy Partners, Hornall Anderson and a handful of others.

Now 16 years later the site has just crested a quarter million logos uploaded by our thousands of enthusiastic members in more than 100 countries. Now 10 top-selling LogoLounge books later, the publications have become the largest selling identity design series in the market.

Your 2016 Logo Trend Report notes that simplicity rules the day in logo design these days. Why do you think that is?
After 15 years of creating these reports you tend to see a cadence that cycles through design. It’s a slowly swinging pendulum that may take five or seven years to cross from one side to the other. We have been through a period where many identities were rich in color, detail and texture. These can be really captivating — but often their message is complex and not as quick a read.

This movement to a more spartan design solution is not exclusive to logo design. Websites are being scrubbed to clarify content and boil down the message. Packaging on shelves stand out when the brand allows the consumer eye to rest in a category awash in clutter.

Logo design is matching the environment’s context by simplifying shapes and font solutions. Helvetica and pure geometry rule. All that said, the pendulum doesn’t stand still; when it reaches any extreme, the cycle will reverse and we’ll see a slow return to more detail.

Is there a design trend in identity that you’re ‘over’?
Yes, but that doesn’t mean the rest of the world is ready to move on. In the last two years designers have been looking to abandon or evolve the style of mono-line logos. They were born out of the visual language used by interface and icon creators.

We first identified this in the 2011 report, and at its apex, mono-line was being used to define everything from complex crests and 3D shapes to letterforms and simple iconic symbols. It stripped the logos of large areas of tone or color. But as a trend, it’s starting to come full circle, with these mono-line forms being colored in like a coloring book or lines starting to take on variable widths.

I think that mono-line is so heavily invested in the graphic environment that we’ll see the continued use of the technique for identities for years to come. It may wane — like the color of that sweater you won’t wear anymore but you still can’t bring yourself to pitch.

Trends tend to recycle in roughly 20–30 year increments. Is there anything from the ‘80s or ‘90s that you’re seeing back again?
I consider the average hibernation period to be 30 years. Two pragmatic reasons for this: First, it’s an opportunity for the consumer to relive their past at a time when they can better afford it. And second, to a younger demographic, the novelty of neo-anything can be intoxicating. But I think we’re highly mercurial today and the cycle may grow even shorter

In the ’80s, we were winding out of an era of fat-line marks. Saul Bass and the Bell logo, Danne and Blackburn’s NASA worm, Chermayeff and Geismar’s U.S. Bicentennial star. Today, take a look at Aaron Draplin’s fat-line marks that are leading a resurgence that era’s style.

What’s the sure-fire recipe for disaster in logo design?
I love a quote from Tom Geismar: “Nothing dulls so quickly as the cutting edge.”

I’ll pair that with a Michael Beirut quote: “Some think of logo design as a diving competition when really it’s a swimming competition. It’s not how big a splash you make, but how long you keep your head above water.”

I won’t try to conflate these two, but the essence is to be mindful of the duration of a strong mark. It survives and avoids the brand reassignment pool by being conceptually smart and not brash and arrogant.

Can you point us to a couple of particularly successful new identities or redesigns from 2016? And share a couple of thoughts on why they work?

instagram

I was in the minority that loved what Instagram did with their rebrand in May 2016. On a deeper dive I think those that were the most agitated by the change were frequent users that still had a crush on the old skeuomorphic Polaroid mark. Especially in a sector that mandates tiny avatars and favicons and that rations out pixels like compliments, you have to be highly scaleable. The simplified camera holds the equity of the original but with a dramatically clean icon. A new color palette attests to the vibrancy of the Instagram environment with a high chroma fade.

mastercardPentagram smartly reimagined MasterCard by dropping all the visual foreplay used to mate the signature red and yellow hemispheres. The move toward a cleaner solution allowed the purity of two circles to overlap as the consumer has always imagined they should have. The vibrancy reset on the colors was subtle but just vivid enough to capture that critical second look. Pulling the typography out of the symbol was probably the bravest move on the design team’s part, but it opened up the possibility of the mark as a standalone element.

A few other notable designs from last year:

Chris Trivizas, Athens Greece, Kuzinera Pasta/ Love the uber-simple rolling pin for pasta, but did you notice it’s made out of a piece of tortiglioni with a spaghetti handle shoved through it? Made me look twice.

Slagle Design, Columbus, Ohio, EduGo/ I could only imagine this is an educational activity program. Simple figures and clever integration of the letters of GO in the bike wheels.

Outdoor Cap, Bentonville, Arkansas, Sub Sonic/ You never know where a part solution will come from. Love the idea of SubSonic being repped by a snail but look at the posture of the critter and that mixed facial expression of determination and consternation.

 

Ortega Graphics, Montreal, Quebec, Canada, Fabrixsa/ for a textile company this simple logo shows a beautiful weave and coloration of and unmistakable swatch tried out by pinking sheers. Nicely restrained and informative at the same time.

Sagmeister & Walsh, New York, NY, MeetUp/ Redrafting the MeetUp identity was no small effort but the idea of the amorphous gathering and the other joiners arriving helps convey the personality of the app. Seeing the animation work S&W did on this pays it off at a glance.

Norbert Prell, Budapest, Hungary, Year of the Rooster/ There are a million great rooster marks in the design cannon but this is about as simple and to the point as you get. Tremendous economy of line, scale and color. A comb, a beak an eye and whatever you call that goofy little droopy thing. Nuff said!

That’s just a taste of what Gardner will share when he takes the stage at HOW Design Live. If your work involves identity, branding, iconography, type or color — or if you have an insatiable curiosity about visual trends across media — then you won’t want to miss his presentation. Gardner joins other presenters including Jonathan Hoefler on type, Jim Krause on color and Gemma O’Brien on hand-lettering. Current registration discounts extend until March 21, so sign up now!

Got a logo design you’re proud of? Submit it to the LogoLounge 10 design competition by February 28, and have your work considered for publication in the next edition of the world’s most exhaustive review of identity design. Get more info here.

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3 thoughts on “Bill Gardner on Logo Design: Simplicity Rules. For Now.

  1. shannonmuench

    I was intrigued by the Fabrixsa logo design and the company it was designed for. Turns out it isn’t a real company and this logo is for sale on stocklogos.com. Not sure if the creator listed there, Spintherism, is the same as Ortega Graphics. That is my only beef with Logo Lounge is that you don’t have any background about the project or client for whom the logos are created.

    1. jusparn

      Hello Shannonmuench,

      The vast majority of logos on the LogoLounge website list a client (or lack thereof) and many even provide background information about the project. If you join/visit the LogoLounge website, you will see that the designer of this particular logo listed it as “Unused” and Mr. Gardner is right in saying that the logo was created for a textile company (even if the logo is currently for sale). Also, on the LogoLounge FAQ, you can read that “logos do not have to have been chosen by the client or in use to be eligible.” Furthermore, if you visit the designer’s website, you will see a link to his StockLogos portifolio, confirming that he is in fact, the same person.

      Regards,

      Parn Jus.

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