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Good, Great, or Hated: How to Rate Your Own Logo

Hexanine: Rating Your Logo

“Products are created in the factory. Brands are created in the mind.”  - Walter Landon, founder, Landor Associates

Every organization worth its salt has a logo or visual identity that helps distinguish, identify, or describe its brand to audiences. And if you’ve visited the Internet at any point lately, you can see that everyone has opinions on logos. But when people say “I don’t like it!” or “That’s terrible,” what do they actually mean? There is a deeper question beneath such reflexive comments, though. Honestly, how do you evaluate a logo? How do you know if your company has the next Nike swoosh on its hands, or something much less awesome?

Being identity designers, we’ve seen thousands of logos, and have designed many of them ourselves. It can be tricky evaluating a logo’s strength, because there is more involved than just judging good looks. Below are some considerations, based on the criteria we use to judge our own work at Hexanine. Taken together, all of these put combine to form a useful benchmark for determining if the “front door” of your organization is doing what it should. How does your logo rate in each of the following categories?

1: Differentiation. How well does it stand apart from other logos? Is it unique and memorable — especially when compared to your competition? Or does it get lost among other organizations who share adjacent mindshare or audiences? In an age of constant brand bombardment, the Zag is a crucial ingredient in standing out. For some industries, differentiation might be the difference between market dominance and permanent second-class status.

2: Aesthetics. This is traditionally considered the chief responsibility of designers — and rightly so. Having a visually-strong mark is now the cost of doing business, and organizations who don’t pay attention to the power of beauty do so at their peril. Is your logo well-crafted? Does it employ great symbology and excellent/appropriate typography? Are the visual details of layout, color harmony, and illustration executed at the highest levels? Does your logo scale well and reproduce effectively on a variety of platforms? Clients who come to us for identity design or redesigns typically have beauty atop their wish lists, but it’s only part of the overall brand picture. Visuals are the glue that hold an identity together, but they also work in service of all the other following areas.

3: Conceptual Strength. Differentiation and beauty are not enough. Strong, sophisticated conceptual thinking is what separates logo makers from true brand identity designers. A logo that doesn’t tap into the brand’s ethos and business goals is like a cheap Hollywood set  – beautiful to look at, but not strong enough to withstand close scrutiny. How well does your logo echo the brand story? Does it communicate an appropriate metaphor? Does it include necessary chunks of the brand’s essence and heritage? Does it function like a page torn from the larger brand’s tale? Is it correctly aimed at the people and audiences who will draw the most meaning from it?

4: Surprise / Unusual / Aha! Factor. This is that difficult-to-quantify aspect of identity design that causes someone to take a second look, or to dwell on your logo for another moment. That Something Special could be almost anything, as long as it makes sense within the context of your brand. It might be a surprising and unusual combination of symbols, a visual pun, or some hidden element that reveals itself over time. None of this is absolutely required, but it’s certainly icing on the cake of the best identities. This isn’t flash and sizzle, but it’s something that helps an identity remain in the mind, tying itself forever to a set of products, services, or a larger brand.

5: Usage. How well is your logo being used? This seems like it’s outside the purview of logo design, but in truth, some of the most important work is done after a logo is designed. Building a context and visual language around the mark is essential to making sure your overall brand identity is successful. Some visually unimpressive logos benefit from exceptional visual positioning and a proper context that allows them to shine all-the-more brightly. What other visual parts of an overall identity are paired with your logo? Do photography, illustration, original patterns, and imagery add up to help the logo be more than the sum of its parts? Context can become the perfect stage to spotlight the best aspects of a less-than-perfect logo, while also minimizing its weaknesses.

To show how this might work in practice, we’ve rated some well-known logos. Very few corporate identities are going to rate perfect in every category, but the ratings below will show you how well-rounded logos can be successful, and how some brands choose to focus on some aspects at the expense of others.

Nike: Usage makes all the difference
Nike does an amazing job with its very simple logo. But the power of the brand is not in the visual execution of the mark, but in the power of its use. The swoosh has been burned into the brains of billions of people via amazing association with athletes, emotions, and sporting events. Wherever the logo appears, it is always used flawlessly, transcending any issues with the construction of the logo itself.
Hexanine: Nike Logo Rating

FedEx: The Godfather of hidden images
While the FedEx logo seems austere, its simplicity and strength are memorable in themselves. Its unique and varied usage across parts of the company was quite provocative in 1994, and allowed the brand to grow and define itself visually on the canvases of its moving delivery trucks. And of course, there is the infamous hidden arrow. 

Hexanine: FedEx Logo Rating

Microsoft: Simply bland
The Microsoft identity is decently-made and generally unremarkable. The mark is very static, and the typography is completely forgettable, which might be an unforgivable sin in the software industry. The brand took a risky move by porting the brand’s most powerful (only?) brand asset — the Windows color palette and iconography — and poured them into a new corporate identity. Simple logos are not always easy to execute, but in this case, simplicity means losing what little personality the original had. This execution is bland, except when used to great success in its motion graphics applications.

 Hexanine: Microsoft Logo Rating

Apple: Cleverness that ages well
Apple’s once-bitten piece of fruit has evolved with the company since its initial rainbow-colored rollout. It has been beveled, liquefied, and stamped on the backs of millions of iPhones and iPads. The original brand story of hidden knowledge (Eve, the Garden of Eden, etc.) has been all-but-lost in its modern incarnations, but the company’s backing with gorgeous, functional product design has only increased. The cleverness of using fruit to sell computers and electronics hasn’t aged a bit.

Hexanine: Apple Logo Rating

Starbucks: Pouring a tasty cup of omnipresence
This beautiful and transcendent mark is so ubiquitous that it doesn’t need typography. The logo’s application on thousands of street corners and billions of coffee cups doesn’t hurt, but it succeeds not just because of its constant presence in modern living. It endures because of solid coffee and a whimsical mark that stands for a brand experience that has changed modern retail and the way people think about hot beverages forever.

Hexanine: Starbucks Logo Rating

T-Mobile: Not so pretty in pink
Pink (magenta, really) — is the best thing the T-Mobile identity has going for it. The logo is clunky, seems difficult to use, and has far too many moving parts to be considered visually successful. The typography seems inappropriate for the brand, and suggests the fact that T and Mobile are headed towards a visual divorce, slowly drifting apart. But T-Mobile has ended up owning its magenta brand color in such a powerful way, that it barely needs a logo in its communication. Consistent, repetitive, and effective use of the color has allowed the brand to own that bright, cheery magenta in a way not seen since UPS captured Brown. Someone must have been thinking pink.

Hexanine: T-Mobile Logo Rating

It’s easy to critique from afar, and every brand his its own idiosyncrasies and issues, but having a solid framework for success in logo and identity design is the first step in making sure it’s not your organization’s logo in the crosshairs.

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14 Responses to “Good, Great, or Hated: How to Rate Your Own Logo”

  1. Fun read. I have to agree with you on the Microsoft description. The logo mark would make sense if the company’s name was, Windows. I did a personal rebrand of the Microsoft identity and designed it inspired by Microsofts history and electrical pathways of a circuit board. Hope you enjoy.

  2. Tim Lapetino says:

    Thanks for the comment, Anthony. Like your Windows rebranding — VERY friendly. It definitely has a lot more inherent personality than what Microsoft launched.

    Thanks again for reading.

  3. I think you undercut Nike on your conceptual score. The swoosh seems to emote action and movement, which would be a core image that brand wants to cultivate.

    If that doesn’t count as conceptual (and it’s soft for sure), then maybe there’s one more evaluation category missing. It’s not pure aesthetics / execution but it’s something about the visual structure of a mark in communicating identity values in the receiver. Warmth or strength or action or playfulness, for instance.

    While I’m at it, I’ll also quibble about the conceptual score for FedEx. If the the arrow already rings the bell in the suprise category, I’m not sure there’s much brand concept left, at least not at the level ya’ll have posted here, which makes it seem like it should be an exemplar for “high concept mark” and I’m not sure it is. (I think it’s tough for a typographic mark to be high concept anyway).

  4. Brian Terry says:

    I really like your analysis of these brandmarks.

    I think it’s important to only make judgements about brands marks when viewed in context to what the company stands for along with it’s vision and who it’s target audience is.

    The way you’ve balanced the merits of each brandmark makes a lot of sense to me and Apple is definitely the clear winner for so many reasons.

  5. Tim Lapetino says:

    Brian, I think you’re absolutely right about the best judging of logos happening when you understand the business goals and context of audiences and restrictions. As outside observers, we don’t always get to be privy to all the internal details, so we try to take those into account, if possible.

    Chris, I think as far as Nike and FedEx are concerned, what is “high-concept” and powerful changes over time. Both brands now have a solid history, and while they might not have the same initial impact, they do have something that is more valuable — the omnipresent, everyday equity of awareness. It’s expensive and time-consuming to get to that place, and once you become ubiquitous, it’s a difficult road to keep breaking through in fresh ways — but that’s a problem that most brands would be happy to have!

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