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Random Logomarks – Does a logo have to be obvious?

Not all logo marks appear to have a meaning, they look random and abstract. Many large brands appear, at least on the surface, to have an identity that seems devoid of any real connection.

I find coming up with random marks pretty tricky, when a client has suggested I use my artistic licence, I actually end up crawling to a complete stop. Devoid of direction and inspiration. I feel very much like some brain less idiot who needs a set of instructions before even thinking about designing a logo.

I know now that I just can’t do it and won’t do it. A logo should not be created free styling if it is to represent a person or a business.

When I am faced with this it is usually because a client has trouble communicating their thoughts and translating it into the brief, this is quite common. It’s often easier and quicker for a client to just say, ‘do what you feel is best’. But without any brief, you really have no chance of creating something appropriate.

One little bit of advice before I get going, don’t be fobbed off and be expected to design a logo without any kind of brief. It usually ends up messy and often takes more time in the end because of the nature of subjectivity between designer and client.

Get a brief for every job. If a client is resisting, help them create the brief.

Random or meaningful?

Some logo designs can appear to be relatively random but actually have a tight and structured creative brief with noddles of meaning and associations.

The problem is only a handful of people will get to see this brief, so most people will have no clue as to the real meaning and history that the logo may link to. In day to day use, most people will see the logo and will have to just view it as it appears, in or out of context, the few of us that are interested will read the logo process write ups or company profiling made available.

Is this a problem?

It’s not a problem, it may create a mist of who, why, what and where, but for the most part, our interaction with the logo is only a small portion of the overall brand experience, especially so in retail and service brands. A logo’s visual stamina is usually more important for brand labels clothing and electrics, cars and other performance machinery where the logo/identity is a status symbol.

Interestingly, we may have feel the desire/need to buy into a certain visual brand but in doing so actually have no idea about the history of the visual image we choose to adorn ourselves with, and spend lots of money for the privilege. Not too dissimilar with the tattoo trend of adorning oneself with Chinese, half the time we have no idea if the translation is right. Most of the time we don’t care, it’s  about the initial perception.

Curiosity elevates prestige

Some brands even use this mist as a way to increase the mystique of a brand, often a brand will become more powerful because it is open to our own unique perception of things. If marketed correctly and subtle markers and directions are left, our imagination can transform a brand into something far more interesting than if a brand forces meaning onto us.

The risk is that some people will form a negative and inaccurate perception, but the larger view is that forcing this mystery on us can be played upon in any number of ways that suit at any given time.

A brand that has a clear mission statement, focus and reason for the visual identity can struggle and stagnate. variety is the spice of life, and peoples imagination is the perfect capsule for generating variety.

It’s an interesting topic, neither way is right or wrong, but equally, some ways can be better or worse for certain brands.

Kristen Wheeler Logo

The logo design for Kristen, at least to some, looks random and without a clear message or visual meaning. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Upon reading the brief, it becomes clear what these pretty blue circles represent and this was enough for Kristen.

I suggested that Kristen then puts up a page on her website that talks about her work process and ties this into the logo design. This way, for clients that are interested, they will view the logo in a greater context and view it with slightly different eyes thereon after.

The tag line that we came up hints at the core of the meaning as much as one can fit in a few words. But it’s an interesting example of what works for one client and for another. Some clients want and need a clear visual link, bordering on the too obvious and cliché, other clients are more than happy to have a more abstract look and feel, even if the real meaning is only known to a few people.

In this case, the logo is dynamic and vibrant enough to work on it’s own and people will generally wonder if it means anything. This actual process of thought and wondering is how a logo can become more memorable that a overly obvious logo.

The more obvious a design, the more we risk making it invisible. Not always true, but it’s a risk to be aware of.

To sum up

The only thing I would say is that a REALLY random mark runs the risk of being an unmemorable design. If there are no clear visual links and/or if the design is uninspiring (always subjective, so hard for me to really quantify) then it may be forever stay in the shadows.

If a random mark has the ability to create curiosity and thinking, then this is very positive. If the mark is random and yet fails to create any sense of curiosity, then we run the risk of a bland and forgetful logo.

Some logo designs just look like the designer gave up or was really struggling and it can show through in the general execution. Poor font choice, poor spacing, poor colours, it just looks like a half hearted attempt.

I believe that in order for a logo to have any chance of working, the first thing that needs to happen is that the designer has to be happy, confident, inspired or at the very least, committed to completing the project to the best of his/her ability.

The moment you give up on a design is the moment you should consider your options and your professional duty.

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