The following is an excerpt from Dr. Bill Haig’s Expert Guide, Logo Design and Branding: A New Approach to Better Logo Design and Branding for Designers and Managers. While working with legendary designer Saul Bass, Haig began to identify and develop a fresh theory that changes the way we think about logos: Credibility-Based Logo Design and Branding. As Haig explains in his guide, logos are less about sheer aesthetics and more about the underlying principles that cause them to do their job: sell.
Creativity in marketing communication needs to be improved in order to be more persuasive. For example, consider one essential piece of marketing: the company website. Google AdWords research shows that 90% of visitors leave a website within 10 seconds of arriving. The reason for this is visitors most often infer from a few visual cues that a website is not credible; they then lose confidence in the company and stop browsing. There is no opportunity for persuasion. There is no opportunity for a sale.
This is a major problem.
Similarly, but on a much larger scale, when it comes to a logo—which defines and epitomizes an entire company—everything is at stake.
A logo must communicate a company’s credibility, which leads to visitor engagement, trust and ultimately the ability of a company to be more persuasive. Beyond a bad website, bad logos can sabotage even the simplest forms of marketing communications, such as business cards. Imagine if 90% of a company’s potential customers were turned off by the company’s business card.
In Logo Design and Branding, we address the problem of engagement, longevity and persuasion in logo design and branding by offering a solution: credibility-based logo design and branding. Credible means “expert” and “trustworthy.” If the company logo symbolizes the company business, voila: It says the company may be an “expert” in this business. “Trustworthy” is communicated in the design motif given to the company business symbol. “Branding” drives this company image home in all areas a business can find to place the logo.
Let’s delve deeper into a step-by-step process to begin to develop a credible logo.
The Logo Planning Questionnaire
First off, begin with my time-tested Logo Planning Questionnaire. This will serve to define the richest credibility traits for use in your client Logo Planning Report (aka Design Brief). Normally the designer charged with developing the logo will give it to the business decision-maker.
- How would you describe your company/business, products/services to someone who has no knowledge of their existence?
- What makes your company, business and products/services unique in your field of expertise? Why do people do business with you?
- What are your greatest strengths/attributes?
- How do your customers perceive you now? What do you need to change?
- How do you differentiate your company from your competitors? In contrast, describe your most crucial competitor. What can you do to be different, if necessary?
- List all the touchpoints where your present logo appears now, such as stationery, business cards, signs, trucks, websites. Are there any touchpoints you could be using with your new logo but are not now?
The purpose, again, is to extract credibility traits so that you can base a logo around them. The company will define its expertise trait when asked, “How would you describe your business to someone who has no knowledge of it?” But trustworthy traits can be a bit more difficult to dig out as they are usually found within multiple answers.
Here is a partial list of common trustworthy traits:
Secure, modern, integrity, large, small, productive, conservative, progressive, responsible, technological, highly technological, committed, energetic, trendy, innovative, prominent, cutting-edge, dedicated, unique, pragmatic, exciting, established, reliable, quality-minded, competitive, flexible, dedicated, responsive, proactive, traditional, stable, admired, orderly, old-fashioned, futuristic, dynamic.
Not all attributes are important in the answers. However, you should look for the ones that are repeated throughout the questionnaire. These are the richest and become the trustworthy traits described in your Logo Planning Report.
The Logo Planning Report
Both the company manager and designer can now develop a design direction clearly defined in verbal terms for the proposed logo based on the information developed in the questionnaire. Again, this is done before any design exploration commences. The final logo will be judged according to the agreed upon criteria.
The Logo Planning Report is easy to prepare.
State the objectives of the assignment. This is what the company wants to achieve with the new logo and branding program. The opening paragraph(s) substantiate that both client and designer understand why a new logo is needed or an old one changed.
Describe verbally the company’s “expertise” and “trustworthy” traits from the questionnaire. These become the design criteria the designer will use to create the logo.
Describe why you are using this logo form system. It’s important in planning your logo to start off right. There are three basic systems that most logos fit into: (1) company alphabet letters like IBM; (2) name only, like Exxon; and (3) logo symbol over the company name, (think Continental Airlines and United Way). This system allows the planned credibility traits to be communicated with simplicity and impact in a solid form. Thus, learning from my mentor Saul Bass, I always rule out the first two logo systems because they limit the ability to project credibility attributes in the logo symbol. The more one tries to add the company’s expertise or trustworthy traits to monograms or the name only, the less the logo communicates. Also, monogram logos are hard to establish and are expensive to do.
Think about how the logo is to be implemented, and what variations will be required. For an airline there are long-distance viewing requirements. There is signage in the airport and at check-in. There are ramp vehicles and workers in overalls. There are flight attendant uniforms. These are opportunities for logo communication but they must be large enough or proximate enough in use and design to be seen.
All of these applications are in addition to the website, business cards, letterhead, advertising, etc. Think about these applications when you’re creating or approving the logo and how it will be applied.
You’re working with credibility-based logo design principles that include desired traits even in color. In this sense, the color chosen emphasizes, or may complement, a credibility trait. Here are some connotations of colors relative to credibility-based logo design communication:
- Red: Symbolizes love, strength, sex, vibrancy, passion, energy, vitality, power. Is a good accent color.
- Blue: Symbolizes electronics, cooling, calming, protecting, security, authority, boldness, seriousness.
- Brown: Symbolizes the earth, nature, home, wood, leather, richness, politeness, helpfulness, effectiveness.
- Black: Symbolizes authority, power, boldness. Is classic and corporate.
- Grey: Symbolizes authority, practicality, earnestness, creativity. Is a traditional business or corporate color.
- White: Symbolizes refinement, purity, devotion, contemporary, sterility (medical field).
- Yellow: Symbolizes warmth, sunshine, cheer, happiness.
- Purple: Symbolizes royalty, high class, luxury, wealth, sophistication.
- Green: Symbolizes health, fertility, freedom, freshness, healing, calm, quiet,
So what does all of this look like in action?
Take a look at Saul Bass’ United Way and AT&T logos. United Way’s logo communicates its expertise as a “helping hand with a positive outlook.” Its trustworthy traits are “efficient,” “well-run” and “well-organized.”
The AT&T logo symbolizes the business as “communications” and “worldwide.” The design motif communicates salient trust traits such as “state-of-the-art” and “high-tech”—a large company with advanced products. Being trustworthy in these traits is communicated with a contemporary design motif.