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The process of learning involves both understanding what to do and learning how to do it effectively. However, knowing what not to do can be equally beneficial in pursuit of success. 

In light of this principle, we have developed a two-part series outlining 20 of the most common mistakes that plague logo design. And what better way to visualize the crimes of logo design than by utilizing some of the world's most well-known identities to showcase what could have been.

1. What FedEx didn't do: use generic stock imagery

One of the most heinous crimes of logo design is including generic, stock imagery. Such graphics are usually incredibly detailed, making them impractical for brand application. Additionally, clip art is indistinct due to its widespread availability. Function aside, one of the top reasons to avoid stock imagery is that it is illegal to use as your logo.

What they did

Thankfully, FedEx steered far from clip art, relying on the use of classic typography, color psychology, and the inclusion of an ingenious arrow within the customized EX alluding to the transportation and delivery services provided by FedEx.

2. What Target didn't do: include unnecessary detail

Well, they actually did. You can see a previous version of the Target logo here. The old Target logo may even be worse than the clip art above due to its illegibility. However, after a short six years, Target quickly realized the ineffectiveness of their logo and adopted the now iconic Target bullseye, which has remained unchanged for over 50 years.

We get it. The tendency is to design a logo that is more literal, more detailed. A common misconception in logo design is that "more is more." We are familiar with what we know, and what we know is detail. The abstract simplifications necessary in logo design can be difficult to accept and adopt. However, I think we can all agree it is unlikely Target would have had the same iconic success with the logo mark above. Such a literal, detailed representation is more difficult to remember, indistinct, and ultimately impractical.

What they did

Effective logo design is a process of reduction, simplification, and abstraction. The Target logo doesn't look like a target, really. It is formed by two circles, a bullseye, and a single ring. What it lacks in detail, it gains in memorability, distinction, and function. Not convinced? Take a look around.Simplicity is the core commonality between the world's most iconic brands.

3. What Twitter didn't do: depict a literal illustration

We are fairly confident that Twitter would not have become a household name with this illustration as the face of their company. This literal imagery is indistinct, difficult to remember or recognize, and an absolute nightmare for brand application. Can you imagine how terrible this icon would scale to a half inch? As a profile picture? Or how it would translate to single color or embroidered?

What they did

Twitter is doing it right. The Twitter logo mark implies the form of a bird in flight using simple geometry. The feeling of a bird is communicated without a literal depiction.

Like Target, the Twitter logo history is not without error. However, the current logo is a prime example of effective logo design.

4. What Mastercard didn't do: oddly align graphic elements

Another great way to ruin an otherwise effective logo is to offset alignment of graphic elements. This awkward imbalance communicates an unsettling, disorganized message to customers.

What they did

Within logo design, the logo mark and logotype should be centered both vertically and horizontally, providing a sense of order, attention to detail, and unity.

5. What Apple didn't do: add unnecessary effects

Gradients, drop shadows, bevels, embossing, textures, 3D effects – the list goes on. Such effects have no place in logo design. Similar to many of the previous examples, the inclusion of these over stylized effects produce a logo that is impractical (if not impossible) for replication and more difficult to remember.

What they did

Like many brands of the early 2000's, the Apple logo has a brief history of using gradients and 3D effects. However, they quickly learned from the error of their ways and ditched the trends for a timeless black silhouette.

6. What Facebook didn't do: distort proportions

A distorted, squished, skewed logo looks like a mistake. The perception of your brand is that you are amateurish, even incompetent. 

What they did

Maintaining the simple practice of proportionally scaling elements can be the difference between an effective logo and absolute garbage.

7. What Johnson + Johnson didn't do: ignore legibility 

An illegible logo is a useless blemish on your marketing materials. If your logo cannot be easily read, your business cannot be easily identified, remembered, or recalled.

What they did

This principle of legibility is particularly relevant when your logo features a stylized logotype. Be sure that your logo passes the test of easy legibility.

8. What Google didn't do: neglect proper kerning

Appropriate letter spacing – kerning – can make or break a logo. The example above is a travesty, a visual train wreck, a crime against typography.

What they did

Google paid attention to detail, carefully spacing each character of their logotype.

9. What Samsung didn't do: add unnecessary embellishments

Customization and embellishment can elevate your logo when applied appropriately. However, too many embellishments can distract and lessen the overall impact. When everything is embellished, essentially nothing is.

What they did

A stylized logotype can be an incredibly effective identity. Samsung, for example, customized the "A" within their bold logotype to promote visual balance with a simple element of distinction. 

10. What ABC didn't do: use too many fonts

Script, slab, serif, Papyrus...The example above is painful to look at. There are not only too many fonts used, but the fonts used also do not pair well with each other. There is no consistency in visual language.

What they did

Recap: 10 Ways to Ruin Your Logo

  1. Use generic stock imagery
  2. Include unnecessary detail
  3. Depict a literal illustration
  4. Oddly align graphic elements
  5. Add unnecessary effects
  6. Distort proportions
  7. Ignore legibility
  8. Neglect proper kerning
  9. Add unnecessary embellishments
  10. Use too many fonts

Continue reading: Common Mistakes in Identity Design: 10 Ways to Ruin Your Logo (Part II)

© 2006-2021 Stewart Design

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