A great logo shouldn’t just sell you something—its purpose shouldn’t end with its function as a strategic tool. A logo embodies a brand’s identity and, ultimately, our identity in relation to the brand. Good logos will increase sales, sure, but great logos are beautiful.
Think about your favourite logo: maybe it’s the iconic Nike swoosh or the half-eaten fruit on the back of your Apple laptop. Both designs are beautiful in their simplicity and efficacy; they each effectively embody a brand while evoking a response within us based on our perception of the brand. They’re provocative pieces that incite an emotional reaction.
There’s something interesting in the composition of these two logos: nowhere can we find the words “Nike” or “Apple” within them. Instead, we have a swoosh and a literal apple.
There are symbols and metaphors in logos, both of which we widely associate with art. Logos themselves are—to use the fancy academic term—visual metonymies for their entire brand. They are imbibed with meaning to provoke a certain reaction from their viewers.
This is not to say that logos are exactly the same as what we think of as fine art.
For instance, The Starry Night probably wouldn’t be as good at selling chicken nuggets as the Golden Arches. Logos are meant to be far simpler than what we find on the walls of art galleries, but that doesn’t discount the thought and care that goes into designing a beautiful logo.
There is also, of course, a discrepancy between the motives for creating logos versus creating fine art. Logos are meant to sell things to you. Traditional art is meant to be moving, emotionally stirring, and tell us something about the world and what it means to exist in it.
The merits upon which logos are judged differ as well. For a company, a good logo sells more of your stuff. That’s it. How we judge good art, though, is something nobody agrees on.
There is, then, a utilitarianism to the function of logos that prevents them from being viewed with much subtlety. However, the pragmatic judgement of logos and the imprecision of artistic criticism belies that both can be, and are often, beautiful.
Seriously, a good logo can sell you a pair of running shoes, and that’s perfectly fine. That doesn’t mean it isn’t a piece of art. Something can be practical and beautiful.
That’s where the artistry of logos ultimately lies: their ability to do something useful and embody meaning not readily available to our eyes.
Great logos are also just fun to look at. It’s cool holding your Starbucks cup and seeing the green mermaid printed on the side. It’s nice reading a book and having the cute orange Penguin logo on the spine. Ultimately, logos can look good and enhance our experience with a product.
Because of this, logos are intimately attached to our experiences.
The Lego logo is beautiful. The red background with the yellow outlined “Lego” is aesthetically pleasing and perfectly encapsulates the toy’s simplicity. However, when you see that logo, its impact goes a lot deeper than its appearance. Who didn’t love Lego as a kid? Whose memory isn’t filled with late nights following crumpled booklet instructions by the light of a TV?
Regardless of what you were building, no matter how big or small, on the box and on the booklet, there was the Lego logo.
Now when we see that red box again, it holds a far deeper meaning. It transports us back, momentarily, to days spent clicking small plastic blocks together and the joy we felt when we finished putting a set together.
Great logos can do so much more than sell. They can be beautiful, represent what we want to be associated with or how we wish to be perceived. They can be time machines.
So maybe the Nike swoosh isn’t the Mona Lisa, and maybe the three stripes aren’t The Birth of Venus. That’s okay.
There’s beauty in simplicity, and delight in the colour of it all.
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