The Six Universal Attributes Of a Great Mark
If we weren’t in the room when the decisions were made, if we don’t know what the CEO’s intentions were, how can we say one logo is “better” than another?
As in ice skating, technical merit can be judged independently of communications content, and we can all see the skater fall. The first five things that distinguish great marks from ordinary ones are technical; the last one addresses content. Great marks are always:
The design idea need not be unique in the world, just distinctive enough so you can “own” it in your particular marketplace.
Can be printed small, in ink or pixels; works in black on white as well as in colors; works in reverse too, white on black. (Faces, human or animal, usually flunk this last test; the eyes turn white.)
Communicates purely in visual terms, to the right brain hemisphere; doesn’t depend on verbal, intellectual interpretation. (Example: Tenneco seriously considered and rejected a “10ECO” logo design. Clever, but it’s not a mark, it’s a pun.) If a wordmark, it can be recognized by form alone (you don’t have to “read” Coca-Cola’s logo more than once or twice).
- Simple in form.
Contains only one graphic idea, one gimmick, one dingbat. Thus if there’s a symbol, the accompanying name is plain and unadorned. And if it is a wordmark, one idea or device makes it special–like IBM’s stripes. (The more unique the name, the simpler the graphics can be.)
- One message.
In content too, great designs try to express no more than one attribute (such as stature or speed or dynamism) and support a single aspect of positioning.
In the end, of course, the content’s got to be right. An otherwise-great mark fails if the reputation, positioning, and personality expressed are at odds with management intentions.
"Across the Board," February 1997