Introduction to Logo Design Theory

A. Michael Shumate

A. Michael Shumate

Introduction to Logo Design Theory

The first day of teaching new college students, I tell them to call me Michael, not Professor Shumate or Mr. Shumate. Then I tell them that if they forget my name, they can always call me Grand Poobah. The term comes from the Gilbert and Sullivan musical The Mikado and is one of many titles that an officious character has bestowed upon himself.t The term Grand Poobah has come to mean “anyone with no real authority but who acts otherwise” (as defined, appropriately enough, in Wikipedia).

There you have it. I will speak with great authority where I have none, except that which experience has given me.

And what is my experience? I graduated with a BFA degree in Graphic Design, and I’ve been a professional designer and illustrator for nearly fifty years. My work has been used all over the world by many major companies. I have worked in virtually every area of graphic design: identity design, advertising, institutional, signage and interpretive display design. I have created identities in all areas of branding: commercial, government, institutional, product and retail. In addition to freelancing, I was a Professor of Graphic Design and Illustration at St. Lawrence College in Ontario, where I taught for twenty-five years.

There are some who say, “Those that can, do, and those who can’t, teach.” That may apply to some teachers. (Judge for yourself; see my branding portfolio on the About page.) But there is also another old saying, “The teacher learns more than the students.”

In my design career, I have created dozens of corporate identity designs, but in my teaching career I have guided students to create thousands of identity designs. It is that kind of perspective I wish to share.

When grading student work I had an obligation to evaluate the work and give concrete reasons for the grades assigned. I found that it was not good enough to point out failings; I had to try to teach how to avoid those failings in the first place.

I won’t quote other design books to justify my positions; I’ll just show each principle or issue and let your own eyes bear witness to you what is or isn’t true. You will see for yourself what works and what doesn’t.

As a teacher, I always looked for a book I could adopt for my courses that would summarize sound principles of logo design. I never found one. Instead, this is the book that I wished my students could have studied.

Over 25 years, the exercise of grading student work according to something solid and enduring has given me insights into the principles of branding design that I have not seen shared anywhere else. I wish to pass them on.

This will be a personal blog, from me to you, a fellow designer. My hope is to save you years of trial and error and speed you on to succeed in your corporate identity design. Perhaps you will look at this art of branding design with new eyes and even be a little wiser and more directed in your work.

I wish you success.

A. Michael Shumate BFA,
RGD Emeritus
Professor Emeritus
St. Lawrence College
a.k.a. Grand Poobah

Adapted from Logo Design Theory: How Branding Design Really Works

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