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6 Quick Lessons from Logo Galleries

posted by Matt Ward on Sep 22, 2010.

I really enjoy logo design, and one of the things that I often do when starting a new logo project is to visit some online galleries. In this post, I want to discuss the benefits of these galleries by looking at some simple lessons that we can learn through a careful analysis of the thought and technique behind a few featured logos.

I love web design – I really do – and I know that I talk about it a lot here on the blog. That being said, however, one of the other areas of design that I absolutely love working on is logos. It’s probably one of the most enjoyable parts of what I do, and I always look forward to a new logo design project.

What I have definitely found, however, is that the thought process involved in logo design is somewhat different than the thought process of other forms of design, many of which tend to have a strong focus on page layout. With logo design, you’re working at creating an identifiable mark, and there is no “page” to speak of (at least not in the classical sense). Instead, all the questions of colour, shape, line, typography and so forth are concentrated with a much tighter focus.

When I start a new project, I frequently like to head on out to logo design galleries like Logospire and LogoPond and have a look around to see what kind of awesomeness they have to offer. During such perusals, I am not looking for something to “inspire” me with the perfect logo concept. Instead, I like to look at techniques and consider the thinking and reasoning behind it. Doing this can often help me find new ways of looking at a particular problem.

So, in this article, I would like to look at six different logos that I have recently come across, and consider the thoughts and techniques behind them. I’ll also offer a few tips and suggestions about how you might use a similar approach or train of thought in your own work.

Mixed Metaphor

In many ways, logo design is about figurative thinking. We frequently tap into the power of metaphor, using a particular image in order to capture a concept or idea that we want to convey. At a basic level, our minds usually like to stick with a single metaphor, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but the Maritime Law logo instructs us in the incredible visual power that can by achieved by carefully mixing our metaphors!

This logo makes great use of a pair of carefully mixed metaphors

This logo makes great use of a pair of carefully mixed metaphors

The two different metaphors are both immediately evident. First, we have the basic shape of the balance, which has long been a symbol of the law and judicial system. However, the designer added sails to the poles of the weighing pans, thus creating the image of boats, a metaphor which reflects the term “maritime”.

Through this simple mixture of metaphor, the logo achieves a unique mark that does a wonderful job of visually reflecting the company name!

Thinking This Way

Here are some tips to help you think about mixing metaphors:

  • Think of all the different types of metaphor that could represent some aspect of the business and start sketching those things out.
  • Keep your shapes general and abstract
  • Review your sketches and look for common and/or similar shapes that you could use to bind the elements together.
  • This kind of thinking works well when you have two distinct concepts that you want to represent visually.

Form in Typography

It may sound incredibly obvious, but letters are shapes. Yes, they are unique and recognizable, with a very specific purpose, but when you get right down to it, they’re really just shapes. Moreover, they tend to be somewhat geometric, and share certain properties with innumerable other shapes. As a logo designer, this is something that you can really take advantage of, as shown by this Lighthouse logo:

lighthouse

lighthouse

Based on a simple logotype, it uses the power of shape to build an interesting visual treatment right into the typography itself. The designer found an interesting similarity in the shape of the letter “T” and a lighthouse with it’s beams of light emanating from either side, and capitalized on this relationship. By simply replacing the “T” with the stylized form of a lighthouse, the designer creates a unique and interesting logo that fully reflects the company name.

Thinking This Way

Here are some tips to help you consider form in typography:

  • Look at the shapes of the different letters in the company name. Can you find any interesting similarities between those shapes and others symbols?
  • Try setting the company name in number of different typefaces and weights. Different typefaces shape their letters differently, so the variety might help you see something in one type that you didn’t in another.

Changing Directions

As a Western, English speaking individual, I have developed a natural tendency to want anything to do with type to flow from left to right, but this doesn’t necessarily have to be the case! Sometimes, changing direction can be a useful design tactic for creating awesome logos. This GoMusic logo is a great example.

Text

The logotype reads from bottom to top, rather than from left to right.

The main mark itself is an interesting bit of typographic playfulness, using the basic shapes of the “G” and the “0″ to create a mark that takes the recognizable shape of a guitar. However, the design is not restricted to a traditional left to right orientation. Instead, it moves from the bottom to the top. Interestingly, it is likely this orientation that makes the guitar metaphor work. If the mark were rotated 90 degrees clockwise, the word “Go” would be much easier to read. This would put far more emphasis on the word, and take away from the shape of the guitar.

Thinking This Way

Here are some tips to help you start thinking about different orientations:

  • Print out or draw your letters out on a piece of paper. Then, just start rotating the paper to varying degrees, taking note of the different shapes that start to emerge.
  • Also, consider inverting the text completely. The more unreadable you can make it, the more you will be able to see other shapes emerge. You can always set it right again later.
  • To make this kind of thing really effective, though, the final mark still has to be readable, so try to focus more on rotation rather than permanently changing the reading direction.

Form & Negative Space

The relationship between shape and negative space is an interesting one, and is certainly something that designers can take advantage of when working on logos. Much of the theory is based on the Gestalt principles, such as Reification and Multistability, which attempt to offer some degree of explanation as to how we perceive objects. The Wine Forest logo provides a superb example of how this works.

wine-forest

wine-forest

At first glance, what most people will probably see in this logo are abstracted shapes of four trees, positioned in a straight line. By simply refocusing our perception, however, we can also see the shapes of three wine bottles, whose main outlines are actually formed by the shape of  the trees. In many ways, this is also another example of mixed metaphor (tree/forest + bottle/wine), but the technique here is a bit different. Whereas the Maritime Law logo combined two metaphors into a single image, this Wine Forest logo derives its secondary metaphor through the clever representation of negative space.

Thinking This Way

Here are some tips to help you think about negative space:

  • Use many of the same techniques that you would use for developing a logo based on mixed metaphors.
  • Instead of looking for shared shapes, look for opposing edges. For instance, in Wine Forest logo, the inward curve of the bottle’s neck opposes the outward curve of the tree branches.
  • Do you work in the negative space. Instead of tracing the shape of an object and filling it in, try building it up by filling in the negative space around the object. This could open your mind to all sorts of interesting ideas.

Logomatopoeia (or, Doing What it Sounds Like)

If you’ve studied English Literature at all, chances are that you’ve heard people talk about that wonderfully named literary device called onomatopoeia. To refresh your memory, onomatopoeia occurs when a word actually sounds like what it is describing. Words like “buzz”, “crash” and “zip” are some of the more common examples. Well, sometimes we can do something similar in logo design, and it’s a technique that I have playfully called Logomatopoeia.

Corny, I know, but this Shift logo is a great example of what I’m talking about.

shift

shift

Again, what we have here is primarily a logotype, in which the letters themselves become more than just letters. They actually visually represent what the word signifies. In this case, the “f” and the “t” are rendered to look like arrows, each seeming to move towards the other. Through this simple effect, the two letters ultimately appear to be shifting places, thereby visually referencing the meaning behind the word itself.

Thinking This Way

Here are some tips to help you start playing with some logomatopoeia:

  • This particular technique probably works best when reflecting some sort of action, so look at the company name. Does it contain a key verb (action word)?
  • If so, try sketching out a number of different means of reflecting that action in a visual manner.
  • Compare these sketches against the letters in your company name, and see if you can do something there. Or, consider building on one of your sketches as the main mark.

Repetition of Form (or Type)

Repetition is certainly a well known design technique, and it can be used in logo design just as well as in pretty much any other type of design. In this particular case, I’m talking about pulling out a typographical element from the company name itself and repeating it in the mark, just like was see in the Cloud9 logo:

cloud9

cloud9

For some reason, the cloud seems to be a hugely popular motif recently, and I can think of a number of different logos that have incorporated it. Nevertheless, this Cloud9 logo does so in an interesting fashion, by repeating the basic shape of the 9 in order to create the semblance of a cloud (with a few modifications, of course). The stems of the 9′s even works to create rain drops! One of the biggest benefits of this particular technique is that it brings a very high level of unity to the entire logo, through the repetition of lines, angles and curves in both the typography and the mark itself.

Thinking This Way

Here are some tips to help you start repeating shapes from your typography:

  • Sketch out some general, somewhat abstract ideas for your mark before you start thinking about typography. This will help you get a general sense of how you want the logo to look and feel.
  • Think about line thickness, curves, angles and so forth.
  • With this in mind, start looking for a typeface to match those needs.
  • Even better, try inventing a typeface. Creating custom letters and numbers is a great way to get just the style you need!

Conclusion

Well, I hope you enjoyed this little foray into the world of logo design. There are all kinds of other techniques that stretch far beyond the scope of this particular article. I encourage you to seek them out and experiment through the course of your own work (or even just practice).

More than anything, though, I hope this article demonstrates the true value that all those logo design galleries can have, even to designers of integrity, who are looking for more than just a cookie cutter solution to copy. By looking beyond the logo itself, to the various thought techniques that lay behind it, we can develop and expand our own thinking. That, in turn, should provide us with a stronger basis for our designs!

I wouldn’t quite call it inspiration, but it’s probably the next best think: education.

What do you think? If you browse logo design galleries, do you take the time to really look at some of your favorite examples and consider the thought process behind the design? Do you try to make it more of a learning experience than just a casual perusal of recent work? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this!

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Also from Echo Enduring Media:

An Unfolding Tale

About the Author

Matt Ward is a digital artist who lances freely under the moniker of Echo Enduring Media, and specializes in graphics design, illustration and writing. He is also the Creative Director for Highland Marketing, a creative direct marketing company based out of Waterloo, Ontario. You can follow Matt on Twitter

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Comments

Sep 23, 2010

John says:

The Maritime Law logo also looks like a bikini!!

Sep 23, 2010

Sandro Walet says:

Great article!

Sep 23, 2010

Ayush Kumar says:

Interesting points you highlighted there, Matt. Logos like the ones you showed above are the works of a pure genius. And another, who picks them out from the galleries and studies them, sharing his study with the community. Thanks!

Sep 23, 2010

Kersh says:

Superb! :) Thank you a lot! This article contains very important and useful information. Bookmarked.

Sep 24, 2010

bookvalue says:

the cloud 9 logo in pure genius! love it

Sep 25, 2010

flyingcowpromo says:

good logo design and good creativity.

web design phoenix

Sep 27, 2010

Christina says:

Great advice! Really appreciate the resources.

Sep 27, 2010

rashomon says:

Great article Matt,
Especially “Thinking This Way” part that gives suggestions and guides to many possibilities.
Examples are realy nice, keep writing.
I’m following you from this moment :)

Sep 29, 2010

Tom Telmann says:

Hello! Thank you for posting this interesting article! I really liked it and wanted to thank you for posting it! Tom

Sep 29, 2010

Card Inspiring says:

Very well written great article… thanks!

Sep 29, 2010

Sensitive Designs says:

nice logo and thanks for sharing..

Sep 29, 2010

Alastair McDermott says:

Super logo advice Matt, absolutely on message with you regards distilling or concentrating it down to the essence of pure design.

Well done on creating a new addition to the language, “Logomatopoeia” :)

Sep 29, 2010

Complexitii says:

Wow, beautiful post and fantastic descriptions! Definitely a breath of fresh air I’ll be sharing :)

Sep 30, 2010

@johnybyrne says:

A great read there fella. Where did you get your inspiration to write this article. Im a HUGE fan of using metaphors. Look forward to the next article.

Sep 30, 2010

Daniel S says:

Great Post! Thanks for that!

btw: I dont know the SHIFT Logo before. Damn. I made my own SHIFT Logo different – and mine is not that fancy. Damn.

Sep 30, 2010

Matt Ward says:

Checked out your site and you’re logo is pretty cool, Daniel! Nice work man.

Oct 3, 2010

DesignMango says:

wow they are some really inspirational logos. Now I just need to think of one myself!

Jan 25, 2011

Aleksandar Grkinic says:

wow, logo I designed (Cloud9) is actually featured here! thanks, it feels good! :)

Sep 11, 2011

Kyle says:

The Wine Forest logo is really slick. Simple color schemes with bold fonts is the way to go.

May 16, 2012

anonymous says:

Amazing article

May 24, 2012

Curt Gilchrest says:

Handy writing

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