There are four elements in every logo concept: the message, the personality, the aesthetic, and the context.
Clothes Don't Make the Man, They Speak For Him
When a man puts on a pair of baggy orange pants and a red rubber nose, he announces to the world that he's a clown. When he dons white tie and tails, he tells the world that he's going to a formal event. Jeans and a plaid flannel shirt may communicate an outdoor adventure or a hipster lifestyle. A business suit creates the impression of an executive. The same man may dress in many different styles, but the clothes do not change him. Clothes don't make the man, they speak for him — they communicate his personality, circumstances and intentions.
The same is true for your company. When you walk into a restaurant you can probably make a pretty accurate assumption about the cost of an average meal. You may also get a good idea about what kind of food is served — steaks, health food, Italian — all of these things are conveyed by the “clothes” the restaurant wears. When customers look at your website, see your ad on TV or take a package off the shelf to learn more about what's inside, they get a glimpse into the personality of your brand.
The personality of a company is a critical part of the logo concept and brand identity. A logo can be fun or serious, cute or formal. It can speak to the stability and longevity of a company or describe the kind of experience consumers can expect. When you develop a logo, understanding how to meld shapes, colors and words with existing social contexts to define personality is a critical part of the process. This is a unique form of creative alchemy: a good logo design is a distillation of the mission, offering and personality of a company.
But design must serve the concept it's intended to convey. Sometimes personality is conveyed through a set of instructions. When Nike says "just do it" they aren't suggesting that you just buy the shoes. They are, instead, suggesting that if you want to be athletic and energetic and fit, you should get off the couch and go do something physical. The logo for Slow Food includes a snail, an indication that we should both cook and consume our food with more mindfulness. In the case of Dunkin’ Donuts, the name itself is an instruction: take that doughnut and dunk it in some coffee.
Sometimes the personality is conveyed by visually engaging the organization’s mission. The Whole Foods green leaf logo speaks to the idea of healthy food that comes directly from nature. The United Nations logo features all the continents on the planet surrounded by leaves from an olive tree — a visual representation of peace encircling the globe.
Personality can be conveyed by linking an organization to an archetype. Sports teams use this approach to develop visual personalities through their mascots. Animals of every type associate teams with the ideas of speed and strength and ferocity. Mythological creatures — a phoenix, centaur or griffin — can convey meaning, and many companies have used ancient gods as their standard-bearers.
The first step, of course, is choosing a personality that your company can wear comfortably. Each entrepreneur must decide how she wants her company to be understood by the public. She must choose a path that appeals to customers and feels appropriate to her. It can be a tricky thing, but when done correctly, the right corporate identity can create its own value.
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