If you take away all of the Seven Deadly Sins of Logo Design, What’s Left?

A. Michael Shumate

A. Michael Shumate

To recap the Seven Deadly Sins of Logo Design, they are:
B Can’t work in solid Black
L Lack of mass
O Obscure contrast
W Wayward or disharmonious parts
O Overlapped elements
U Unrefined shapes
T Thin lines, Tiny elements

It may not work for everyone, but an acronym like BLOWOUT helps me remember lists. I hope it works for you too.

Some designers may be dismayed by this list and say, “If you take away all the approaches that cause a BLOWOUT, there’s so little left. How can we work?”

Remember: the essential quality of any good identity is instant recognition and clarity. Anything that detracts from that is counterproductive and contrary to what a good identity should be.

Others may be tempted to think, “All the good designs have been created using traditional methods. We have to go beyond them to find new and uncharted territory.”

Still others may feel the old methods are too confining, too old-fashioned, too “been there, done that.” They may think that for a truly contemporary identity, one should use new visual techniques–even if they don’t really work.

Let us compare our visual world to the world of music. In Western culture, the ancient Greeks worked out for us the diatonic scale of notes. From the simple octave with its twelve possible notes, no end of music has been composed, century after century, style after style. Notwithstanding the invention of new musical instruments, modern composers do not require new instruments to compose contemporary music.

If you were to hear on CNN, “Today the leading musicians of the world have agreed that no more good music can be composed; it’s all been created,” you might want to check to see if it’s April Fool’s Day.

All of the music that is possible from the same simple notes has not yet been written, nor will we ever reach a point where no new music can be created. In our analogy, new instruments could correspond to new visual media. Why would anyone say, then, that our creativity as designers is being stifled by the need to use the same basic principles of visual clarity that have been honed and refined over the long history of identities?

Take heart. There will never be an end of good, well designed identities that work. Unfortunately, there will also be no end of poorly designed identities by people who have not learned the principles of this craft.

One need only look through design annuals to be inspired by new and marvelous design solutions for corporate identities. Sad to say, many of the bad examples shown in previous posts were also published in these same design annuals. Publishing a design in a magazine and saying it is good doesn’t make it good.

Remember: the purpose of a corporate identity is to clearly and instantly identify a company. Any factor that prevents that recognition is like the single hole in a balloon or a tire; it will cause a blowout.

But it is not enough to know what to avoid in the Seven Deadly Sins of Logo Design. This blog is not just about what not to do; it is also about how to design the right way.

So If we go back to our exploration of the three identity components (wordmarks, logos and monograms), and we’ve had a good self-brainstorming session (or better yet, multiple sessions) to come up with some ideas with each of the four possible concepts (corporate activity, corporate ideals, corporate name and abstract), we still have to decide how we are going to model, render, draw our identity.

After Brainstorming
After using the conceptualizing techniques discussed previously, a designer will have a number of possible concepts for any given identity project. Naturally, many concepts will be rather raw. Even so, looking at the shapes made for each concept may provide some opportunities for cross-fertilizing ideas.

The shapes in one concept may be just what another concept needs to make it work. This may foster a new round of conceptualizing based on the first round. As mentioned before, this process is best done manually with pencil in hand, not on the computer. Go to the computer vector program only for the final rendering.

After this stage, it may be necessary to visually process one or more concepts. A number of techniques can transform elements into something unique and useful. The same concept can be rendered using any number of beautiful techniques to give very different final results.

Does the way you work does the way you work affect the way you think?
(the answer is yes!)

Visual Processing Techniques
Now let’s look at some good visual approaches for executing a concept. Let’s say you have decided on a lion as an appropriate concept for your client’s logo. (Or an eagle, or a tree.) Any of those words may seem lame or over-used. Yes, there have been a million lion logos already, and maybe even half of them are good. That doesn’t mean there can’t be another good lion logo that is different from any lion logo that’s ever been produced.

We’ve seen how you can kick-start your creative juices by pairing the three possible identity components with the four possible identity concepts. Similarly, you can develop a distinctive and esthetic mark through any of the main kinds of visual processing. I’ve identified ten of them. There may be more, and I’d love to hear from you if you know of another one.

To help with that process, I’ve developed another acronym: CPFULLNESS. It can stand for Creative Priming FULLNESS or Cool Potential FULLNESS, or maybe even ConcePT FULLNESS. (Yeah, I know that acronyms, by their very nature, can be a bit contrived. But they can be helpful, too.)

Next we’ll examine some great examples of visual techniques.

Adapted from Logo Design Theory: How Branding Design Really Works

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