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4 Things a Logo Doesn’t Have to Be
4 Things a Logo Doesn’t Have to Be
Take the pressure off your logo.

Oh, logos. We love ‘em, and we hate ‘em. Some are droolworthy. Others, mind-bogglingly bad.

Logos influence customers’ perceptions of your brand and its offerings. And when brands unveil logo updates, everybody chimes in with armchair commentary. (Yes, even Pivot participates.)

So it makes sense that choosing a logo is a difficult and scary decision. Everybody has an opinion, and the choice sticks with you for a long time. While there’s no magic formula for a perfect logo, choosing one doesn’t have to be a nail-biting, hair-raising, ulcer-inducing process.

By freeing yourself from unrealistic expectations, you can select an on-strategy option without all the heartburn. Here are four things your logo doesn’t have to do:

A logo doesn’t have to be a literal interpretation of your product.
Perhaps no logo myth is more paralyzing than this: “Our logo needs to say what we do.” It’s not bad if a logo makes it easy for customers to guess what you do, but limiting yourself to literal logos can be dangerous.

Why? Well, if you have a complicated product line, finding a literal logo is an exercise in futility. How do you visually represent insurance? Or consulting? Or marketing, for that matter?

And even if you have a product or service that’s easy to represent visually, a literal logo may not stand out from your competitors’ logos. When every plumber in town is using a wrench as a logo, your wrench logo isn’t distinct.

Some of the world’s best logos aren’t related to their companies’ products at all. Think about it: An apple has nothing to do with computers, and a swoosh has nothing to do tennis shoes. Or consider Target’s logo. It has no words, not even a shopping cart. It’s just a dot with a ring, but it’s simple and memorable. A study from 2003 found 96% of Americans recognized Target’s logo (more than the number of people who know when Independence Day is).

A logo doesn’t have to create your entire brand.
Logos influence customers’ perceptions of a company, but they can’t do all the work alone. They’re one piece of a broader visual identity, the combined elements that establish a brand’s look and feel. This includes everything from brand colors to website layout to interior and exterior design.

And even a broad visual identity isn’t the whole brand. In one of Pivot’s favorite books, The Brand Gap, author Marty Neumeier explains, “A brand is not a corporate identity system. … A brand is a person’s gut feeling about a product, service, or company.”

Customers’ experience with your company, your employees, and your products all shape that gut feeling. Logos can help, but you shouldn’t expect them to do it all.

A logo doesn’t have to please everybody.
Trying to please everybody can lead to unremarkable work. California-based agency A Hundred Monkeys, which specializes in naming products, explains this well: “We call it the Ice Cream Principle: Send 10 people to get ice cream and tell them they all have to agree on one flavor—it will be chocolate or vanilla every time. Boring.”

If you insist on finding a logo that everybody agrees on, you’ll wind up with chocolate or vanilla. It won’t represent the core of your brand, and it won’t stand out in a noisy marketplace. Instead, you should try to find something that works for your specific audience.

A logo doesn’t have to last forever.
A while ago, a chart comparing Coca-Cola’s and Pepsi’s wordmarks circulated, suggesting that Coca-Cola’s iconic wordmark hadn’t changed while Pepsi’s had gone through several iterations. The implicit conclusion was that a good logo stands the test of time.

But as corporate identity blog Brand New pointed out, this chart isn’t accurate. Coca-Cola’s wordmark has gone through several iterations, and the brand has a handful of different versions meant for different product lines and applications.

Logos reflect their eras, and as culture changes over time, so must brands’ visual identities. If your company’s logo looks like it’s from a specific era, it might be time to rebrand. And that’s okay. A good rebrand will help your company evolve without losing its essence. Any designer worth his or her salt will consider both a company’s past and its future as he or she works.

So what should a logo do?
Well, a lot. Since the beginning, logos have existed to show ownership. They started as brands on animals (the burn-y kind, not the marketing kind, even though that’s where branding gets its name), but they have evolved to protect and differentiate products, services, and ideas from competitors.

As such, a good logo should provide an anchor for a brand. It should be memorable but beautiful, work in different mediums, and be stylistically consistent with the rest of the brand.

Logos can be simple or complex, elevated or intricate. Each should give its audience a hint, a sprinkle, a little flavor of what a company stands for. It should make people want to learn more but not do all of the heavy lifting.

Most of all, a logo needs to make sense for your company. That’s why creating a logo is all about research, research, research. A designer should start by making sure he or she understands the client, their industry, their audience, and their competitors. Then comes visual research, followed by sketching, more visual research, more sketching, refining, more sketching, more refining, loving it, hating it, sleeping on it, testing applications, and even more refining until it works for the client.

A good logo is worth the time it takes to research, create, and carefully select the right option. It’s not quick or easy. Decisions that matter rarely are. That’s why it’s important to go into the process with realistic expectations. By eliminating the wrong “shoulds,” you can enter the process free of unnecessary fears and find a logo that makes sense for your company and elevates your brand.