Purpose of Logo and Principle of Logo Design

By Xah Lee. Date: . Last updated: .

In the past several years, i realized i have a heart for logos. Probably because the nature of logo's simplicity, and often geometrical elegance, and my personal penchant toward these qualities.

Purpose of Logos

Logos, is a graphical representation of a entity. It is the visual analog of names. Logos are particularly important in our modern, capitalistic, corporate environment. Look around you, you can find tens of logos in your immediate surrounding, and recognize each of them or the company, without conscious thinking.

Logo is not a fashion statement. It has strong ties with marketing and public perception, which is a general property to anything representative, such as book covers, corporation's names, your attire.

Principles of Logo Design

Bad Logos: Generic

A good logo is not something generic, even if it is beautifully rendered.

gnu hurd logo old
Early logo of GNU HURD OS
bash-org
Bash shell
pythonHi
Early logo of Python
cvs logo
CVS logo
cvs logo 2
CVS logo

Good Logos: Symbolic

One quality of good logo is that it is reminiscent to what it represents. Here are some good examples:

Java logo new
Java's drink
gnu head heckert gnu
GNU's gnu head.
Windows NT 3.1 logo
Microsoft Windows's window.
Apple logo black
Apple's bitten apple.
RedHat linux logo 59428
Red Hat's red hat.
NVIDIA logo
nVidia's eye.
X11 logo
X-Window's sharp X.
Gnupg logo
GnuPG's lock with wings.
sgi_logo_2683m-s250
SGI Logo Visual Illusion
Be Incorporated Logo
Be media's eye-ear.
NeXT logo 8hz4k
NeXT's geometrical cube.
FreeBSD mascot
BSD's BSD daemon.
programming republic of perl Perl's ugly camel.
hurd sm mf invert
GNU Hurd's recursive arrows.
Wikipedia logo v2 en 25ZNr
Wikipedia's puzzle-piecing globe.
Shell logo
Shell's seashell.
McDonald logo
McDonald's M.
Taco Bell logo 2016
Taco Bell's bell.
Honda logo old y2k
Honda's H.
Yamaha logo 4
Yamaha's tuning forks.

Good Logo: Distinct

Sun Microsystems logo
Sun Microsystems's symmetric SUN blocks.
old ATT Logo jzJ8w
ATT death star.
Apache HTTPD
Apache feather.
General Electric logo
General Electric cursive font
ATI Logo
ATI Technologies (computer graphics chips)
Coca-Cola logo
Coca-Cola cursive font

Good logo should be distinct, a impression lock, even if it isn't reminiscent of what it represents. For example: AT&T's death star (globe connotation), Apache Webserver's plume (panache). General Electric's curlicue typeface in circle. Even typeface alone can do very good if in distinctive style: IBM stripped blue, Coke drink's cursive typeface, ATI's high-tech typeface, ebay and yahoo's colorful typefaces.

Note that many of the good logos mentioned above are in fact designed by renowned graphics artists.

Note that the logo of popular corporations are not necessarily good. Examples are: SONY, JVC, TOSHIBA, RCA, Microsoft, Google. These are just simple typefaces that are unremarkable.

Good Logo: Simple

Good logo should not be overly complex. It shouldn't be photographic or complex drawings.

Artistic Quality

Besides all the above general principles, a good logo has some artistic merits and quality in its execution. Good logos are often created by experienced graphics designers who have years of experience. A ugly drawing, even if satisfying all the above principles, does not make a good logo.

Further readings

In addition, your local libraries probably have many books about logos and logo history. Alternatively, ask a friend who is a full-time professional graphics designer, or a art student, she'll probably show you colorful books and periodicals and logo collections, and logo design social awards etc you didn't know existed.

PS: Logos, as a subject among human animal's activities and histories, is rather a trivial subject. And, of course, different person can have different esthetic tastes. Nor are logos a critical matter in view of the whole human endeavor. However, a minimal understanding of logos, and logo's design principles, is good to have as a general knowledge in our complex modern society inundated with computer graphics and corporate logos. (actually, recently i found out that there are academicians who calk up the issue to a term visual literacy with full discourse, which i think is overboard.)