The Star Spangled Truth About Logo Design

by David Heitman

When a company is just starting out or perhaps re-branding itself, a lot of attention is paid to logo design as a means of projecting the company brand.

No doubt, the ability to convey the personality and distinctiveness of a brand is one of a logo’s most important uses. But after the new logo is initially unveiled, it will face the long-term task of serving as a brand asset that accrues value over time.

That’s why we  judge the success of a new visual identity system not merely by how it looks today, but how well it serves our client months and  years after we designed it. If we and the client like it better than ever five years after it was initially introduced, we know it was a winner.

That’s because logos are more like sponges than squirt guns. A logo should be able to absorb an organization’s brand equity as much or more that it projects it. The great ones by designers like Paul Rand (IBM, ABC Television, UPS) would receive a C-minus in art school today. But they are faithful repositories of brands worth billions.

In this sense, a logo is not unlike the Star Spangled Banner. A difficult tune based on a popular British drinking song that ranges an octave and a half, the Star Spangled Banner uses several words many Americans can’t even define. (Even the title is a challenge: define “spangled.”) But despite its many disadvantages, it has become a unifying symbol, an auditory logo with brand equity beyond calculation. Its ubiquity and repetition have earned it a permanent place in the American psyche. How many times have you felt that lump in your throat at the song being played or sung in a large crowd? (My fondest memories of the Star Spangled Banner are as a kid, going to a football game with my dad, because it was the only time I ever heard him sing.)

Of course I’m not saying that a logo should be as difficult to understand as the Star Spangled Banner is to sing; but I am suggesting that a logo’s ability to absorb brand equity through frequent repetition is as important as impressing people when it is launched.

It’s hard, of course, to project what a logo should look like years or even decades from now, but it’s crucial to do so. Just making the effort to do that will keep a company from embracing a trendy look that will seem dated in a couple years. A company that is committed to stability, substance and staying power needs to make a statement with a logo that suggests those same virtues.