Logo Design Love

For graphic designers and all who love logos.

Michael Bierut talking logos

Michael Bierut

From a recent interview with Pentagram partner Michael Bierut.

“The truth about logos is that they are not that hard to do. If you ask people in the US what logos they like and recognise, they’ll name Target or Nike. Target for example, is just a dot with a circle around it, that’s all it is, so if you want a logo like Target, you don’t need to hire a designer, you barely need to know how to operate a computer program, the logo may as well be anything. God knows we do a lot of them here, but I think the best work in the area comes down to what most designers would agree on: the obvious thing, it’s not the actual logo but how it is used.”

[...]

“There is this peculiar obsession with kerning on Brand New. I’ve realised that it’s because that’s what a lot of the people who comment on the site do during their work day: kern type. They don’t spend a lot of time presenting challenging identities to tough, cynical boards of directors at major corporations. A lot of them would never have done that, but they’ve adjusted the space between letters and it’s something they can react to with absolute authority. It’s fun, it’s anyone’s game, and everyone can have an opinion on a logo. I try to take it all with a grain of salt; I’ve never taken them seriously. I think that you could design a terrible logo for a good company with great people and they could build it into a great program. Alternatively you could design what seems to be a brilliant logo for people who are not smart or energetic or are incapable of associating with anything positive and it would become a terrible logo.”

Read the full interview on Facing Sideways.

Michael Bierut was involved in these previously featured Pentagram projects:

Read more about Michael Bierut.

Logo Design Love: A Guide to Creating Iconic Brand Identities, second edition

17 appreciated comments

  1. Interesting perspective on the logo development process. He definitely knows his stuff. Great read.

  2. Mr Bierut… I hope your not ‘dissin’ our ‘dissin’ of your colleges recent Stanmore Implants mark…

    “I think that you could design a terrible logo for a good company with great people and they could build it into a great program.”

    Well said… : )

  3. Absolutely spot-on in his assessment of Brand New. The obsession with kerning there is incredible. But don’t mention it to them though – they don’t like that…

  4. Great read, and something I’ve thought about before. What makes a good logo designer really? When making a great logo can be something that’s a very simple process with simple results, or can involve extensive research and deployment, and either way can produce good or bad results.

  5. I agree with pretty much all he says. He cuts through the cr*p to get to the core of the problem. Good ideas, beautifully executed.

  6. Gerard Syms

    Mr. Beirut is, of course, speaking from a vast well of experience and this needs to be respected, as it should.

    I can also agree with his last points, but I must ask: does he really mean, at the end of the post, a terrible logo… or a terrible brand?

    David, again, thanks for this type of post. Keeps expanding my horizon.

    All the best!

  7. Barbara Simon

    I like his view on things. But I don’t agree with the fact that you don’t need a designer. The difficulty in creating a good logo is bringing it down to the simple basics and having an IDEA behind it, which is relevant for the product. The rest is connecting it with an attitude/image and an emotional value/USP. That’s the real work (brand/marketing) and in the end, determines in the public eye if it’s a good or bad logo on account of established brand values.

  8. I always expect that people of Michael Beirut’s stature have access to more profound material to account for their success than is expressed in this interview. Perhaps Malcolm Gladwell is on the money concerning talent, time and place in his book Outliers. That, or it is Mr Beirut’s charisma that is more deserving of attention than how he speaks of logos.

    Otherwise, it may well be that Chris Bowden has not been sensitive enough to Michael’s answers. Perhaps the nature of his questions conspired to undermine the possibility of uncovering more substantial insights.

    What is that rubbish about authority over kerning in the comments on Brand New?! Most comments on Brand New appear to be from over-eager and inexperienced designers, who have, perhaps, ironically, been misled by the likes of Michael Beirut and other similar design-oriented public figures.

    As soon as someone dealing in symbols resorts to truth to validate their position a lightweight philosophical process is revealed. Philosophy should never dominate a creative process but meaningful propositions do require at least a basic grasp of philosophy. Truth-dependent propositions are easily eroded. There is no ‘truth about logos’, there are only ever opinions about logos.

    Surely Pentagram doesn’t still deal in logos?! Paula Scher also insists on talking about logos. This may be in order to retain a populist appeal for an increasingly design-literate audience and/or their clients haven’t woken up to the limits of design and the importance of brand consulting (of which graphic design is only a part). Perhaps then, it should come as no surprise that Michael has to deal with cynical corporate clients. I expect that his clients are also confused about the role of design in business. It seems that Pentagram is indeed a design consultancy and not a strategic brand consultancy. Without a strategy a brand isn’t worth much. And, in case Pentagram and their clients haven’t noticed, design is not enough anymore.

    It is not how a logo is used that carries weight. A logo (the primary brand mark) cues the substance of a brand experience. This ‘substance’ is normally the story of a brand. A brand’s story is normally the reason a brand exists, which usually means a definition of the brand’s main purpose in the world.

    In my view it is a wasted effort to talk of brands in terms of logos. And, also, a wasted effort to design logos. Logos aren’t worth much. The relationship to the reason a brand exists is usually obscured by focusing on a single brand mark. Besides forming a name, a brandmark on its own is unlikely ever to contain enough of a reason to exist.

    Anyone may be able to design a logo but not everyone can create meaningfully directed brand marks that articulate and add value to meaningfully directed brand experiences.

    A.

  9. Paul

    I think it is all important. A good logo and appropriate well designed applications of the logo. It all has to work in harmony.

    I remember Apple Computers old logo and it would look awful in application today. So I would say a good logo is an important part of the total identity.

    Also to create a simple, truly effective memorable logo is not an easy process. You can’t point to the Target logo and say…oh wow thats simple. Anyone can do that. Simple solutions often come about after much work.

  10. miles

    nicely put Andrew.

  11. It is true that anyone can design a logo. But in my opinion designing a beautiful / successful logo takes great skill usually born out of years of practice. It is like anything else we humans create. Some things are well crafted and timeless, but most are amateurish and fade away. Of course there is truth to “it’s not the actual logo but how it is used”. But I choose to see it as part of the foundation that is laid in a brands development.

    I vividly remember identity assignments in design school. We all struggled to create exquisitely crafted forms. Almost all of us failed. After years of practice I feel that I have created a few marks that successfully capture the often elusive DNA of the client. And, for me it is one of the more satisfying challenges in graphic design.

    Anecdotally we’ve had a few clients come to us over the last two years with logos they picked up cheap on-line at places like 99 designs. They have been badly crafted, lacking in any conceptual foundation and just plain ugly. Makes one question if logo design is really “not that hard to do”.

  12. “Anyone may be able to design a logo but not everyone can create meaningfully directed brand marks that articulate and add value to meaningfully directed brand experiences.”

    I agree, Andrew.

    Erik, glad to know clients are seeing the value in what you can offer and having their cheap designs overhauled. I hope everything’s been great over there. Do pass on my regards to Julio.

  13. We have also seen clients (some were large companies) come to us after using some cheap online logo service. They paid $500 over and over again and got nothing they could use. Basically, money down the drain for them. Now this might be ok for some small town dentist but for real clients with real products or services in the real world, they need strategic thinking and viable solutions.

    Eventually they realized they needed a real designer to give them what they needed and could use in the marketplace to compete effectively.

    This comment on anyone being able to design a logo is like saying anyone can write a great novel because they can type.

  1. uberVU - social comments - Apr 8th, 2010


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