Logo Design Visual Technique #3: Fragmentation

A. Michael Shumate

A. Michael Shumate

A design can be broken up into smaller portions using stripes, dots, triangles or any other repeatable solid shape. These shapes can be tapered (in the case of lines) or rendered at different sizes (in the case of dots, triangles or squares). Grids can be employed to keep the units even or progressively larger and smaller. Vector programs like Adobe Illustrator can be useful in creating such fragmentations.

Fragmentation can provide some of the benefits of gradients without the drawbacks. It can also give the illusion of different values while using one solid color, again, without any of its drawbacks.

When using fragmentation, avoid making any sub-shapes too small. Otherwise, you fall into the pit of Tiny Elements and Thin Lines (Deadly Sin of Logo Design #7). Rather than using twelve lines to fragment an element, try eight or seven. This is the very lesson that Paul Rand learned with his own IBM logo and Saul Bass with his AT&T logo (see Chapter 27).

When using tapering lines, it is important to avoid making the ends with too fine a tapering point. Such needle-like points can be subject to filling in or dropping off. Either make tapering lines with blunt tips or increase the angle of taper at the ends to make less visually fragile points. The value of doing this may not be apparent with a positive version, but every logo ought to be able to be reversed. Printing any fragmented design in reverse may show fine points that are in danger of filling in.

When in doubt, try a test print of the logo design in positive, and reverse at only a half-inch high—or even smaller—on regular or even poor quality paper. Is the print clear? Do the fragmentations remain separate and clean? If not, try fewer and larger fragmentations.

As long as care has been taken to avoid Deadly Sin of Logo Design #7 (Tiny Elements or Thin Lines), fragmentation can be effective. Some of these could be improved with fewer parts.

Recently there have been numerous logos designed that are made of many colorful facets. Some of them are beautiful. But they are also fatally flawed because they typically do not reproduce well in grayscale, having poor internal contrast, and do not keep their faceted quality when rendered as solid black.

With some of these identities, the designers have seen the deficiencies and have designed an alternate design for one-color usage with separated facets. But this means that the one-color version is actually a different design, underscoring the original design’s flaws.

The solution is simple. Just separate the facets into discrete parts with a gap between each element in the first place. This prevents having two designs: a separated and non-separated one, which are really two different designs. Here care must be taken so gaps are not too small, but it works for a multi-color version, grayscale and in solid black.

Here are two samples of a common variety of very colorful logos being created lately (A). However, these often do not convert well to grayscale (B) and lose their multi-faceted quality altogether in one solid color (C). The solution is to fragment the facets to begin with (D). This may inspire an overall simplification, (not a bad thing), but the result will hold together better as both grayscale (E) and in any solid color (F).
Three Fortune 500 Companies, Leidos, Assurant and American Tower respectively, have multicolored logos (A). The first two also have black & white versions with altered logos (B). This logo design change has a different feeling apart from the lack of colors. A better solution is to design both the color and B&W versions with separated elements (C). This makes for better clarity in the color versions as well as keeping the logo designs identical.

Adapted from Logo Design Theory: How Branding Design Really Works

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