Imagine you’re at a party and you spot a woman in a nicely-fitted, black cocktail dress. Every aspect of her presentation is flawless. You imagine she is classy, well-spoken, polite and educated. Imagine your surprise when, after going over to introduce yourself, she smiles, revealing a yellow, stained smile. She raises a glass gracefully to her mouth and then spits, a nice slimy, brown strain of saliva, peppered with tobacco. Suddenly, it doesn’t matter that she was so smartly dressed or put together. You imagine her now, sitting on the porch, wearing a pair of well-worn jeans and a t-shirt, a can of beer her hand.

For better or worse, people make assumptions about others based on appearance. And to some extent, as we discussed in Introduction to Branding, we accept and acknowledge this. We make efforts to present ourselves properly depending on the occasion and the audience. We don’t wear jeans to a gala. We don’t wear cocktail dresses to a baby shower. But what if you had to wear the same clothes all the time? You’d probably chose something that you felt represented who you were and attracted those of similar interests. If you’re athletic, maybe you choose to wear tennis shoes in your forever-outfit. If you’re interested in fashion, maybe you throw on some edgy accessories.

Logos Identify Your Business

When we talk about branding and logos, your logos should be that forever outfit for your brand. It should have lasting power and be able to immediately connect with your audience. As designer Jacob Cass explains, “A logo identifies a company or product via the use of a mark, flag, symbol or signature. A logo does not sell the company directly nor rarely does it describe a business. Logos derive their meaning from the quality of the thing they symbolize, not the other way around – logos are there to identify, not to explain.”

To understand this, let’s look at some of the great logos of all time—those that designers admire for their simplicity and longevity.
Notice that these classic logos have a few things in common:

  1. They are simple. They use two colors, simple shapes or letters
  2. They don’t feature or advertise what they do. Apple does not have a computer in the logo. ABC and CBS do not have a broadcast antennas, TVs or a camera lenses. Nike doesn’t have a shoe or an image of a man running.
  3. They do nod to important ideas. The Nike logo was created by Carolyn Davidson in 1971 and represents the wing of Nike, the Greek goddess of victory. Regis McKenna and Associates worked on Apple’s 1976 logo, a revamp of Steve Job’s original logo, which pictured Isaac Newton sitting under an apple tree that was considered too complex. McKenna boiled the logo down to the apple silhouette, adding the bite mark, evoking the seduction of Adam and Eve and the Tree of Knowledge. CBS’s logo clearly references the human eye and the idea of watching.
  4. They represent entire companies. We don’t need the words “Apple Computers,” “Columbia Broadcasting System,” or “Nike,” to know what these companies do. The image is branded on our minds and elicits a response.

Logos and Brand

Though you may think that it’s only designers that hold logos dear to their hearts, it’s not. We get attached to logos too—especially logos that represent products we adore.

Take, for example, Gap’s disastrous logo change of 2010. If you’re not a Gap fan, you likely didn’t care when the blue box with the all cap, white “Gap” image was replaced with a black “Gap” on white background with a small, blue box hovering over the “p.” But some people did care. In fact, a lot of people of cared. CNN reported that one Gap fan took to Gap’s Facebook page and posted: “If this logo is brought into the clothing [store] I will no long[er] be shopping with the Gap. Really a bummer because 90% of my clothing has been purchased there in the last 15+ years.”

Crazy, right? The store wasn’t changing. The clothes weren’t being replaced with tin-foil suits and burlap dresses, but loyal Gap fans were afraid that a change in logo signaled a change in experience. They were clearly so happy with the experience they had with Gap that the idea of change drove them to panic, which is the sign of a strong brand.

After the backlash, Gap dropped the new logo, effectively announcing,


We’re not changing. Don’t worry.


Though logos are just a piece of the branding puzzle, a strong logo adds brand identity that is without comparison in power.