There are lots of kinds of cheeses: brie, cheddar, gouda, feta, American, Swiss, Philly, Velveeta, parmigiana, asiago, mozzarella, gruyere, and more.
They’re all good, but not always appropriate depending on the situation. If you take your girlfriend on a fancy date at a French restaurant, you’ll probably put brie on crusty bread and nibble on grapes. If you’re eating a quick meal alone, mac-and-cheese will do. If you want a midnight snack, a piece of cheddar melted on a piece of toast is perfect.
Logos are the same way: it can take lots of forms, but they’re not the same. Each has it’s own personality and is appropriate for different brands. It’s not all “just cheese.”
There are a couple of things that give you an idea of the kind of brand a logo represents. Typography is a great place to start. It could be classy and elegant, or playful, or utilitarian. Or trendy and fashionable, or descriptive of a certain place or era.
A logo’s shape plays an important role in how it is perceived. Generally, the more symmetrical a logo is, the more stable or established it appears.
Of course, a logo’s color says a lot about its brand. Gold and black are often associated with expensive luxury brands. Orange is youthful or sports-oriented. Lime green is usually funky and edgy, and lately it is used as a symbol of friendliness to the environment. Finally, blue and red are typical of corporations, and have been for years.
Finally, stylings to the “surface” of a logo convey quite a bit about a brand: a smooth, shiny surface treatment says that the company it stands for is slick and modern or high-tech.
This has become rather common in recent years since reproduction technology has changed so much. In the 1960s and 1970s, logos were flat and hard edged out of necessity. Gradients just weren’t feasible from a reproduction standpoint.
Now that a logo will appear on screen far more often than in print, and design software capabilities have changed so much, logos have become fuzzier and more three-dimensional and more gradient-y. Perhaps the biggest advantage of seeing your logo in print is that there you can use metallic or fluorescent ink.
Sometimes a trendy logo just says that the company has jumped on the bandwagon without really understanding what it means.
In the end, the success of a logo really boils down to is appropriateness: does it accurately reflect the brand and industry it represents?
It should stand out, but not to the point of being inappropriate. That is what makes it tricky — and why you should hire a professional.
Post-script: Hat-tip to my friend Lora for suggesting I write about the differences between logos.