Marks of Excellence book cover logos
Marks of Excellence book cover detail

Phaidon is releasing a revised and expanded edition of Per Mollerup’s 1997 book Marks of Excellence. Steven Heller took the opportunity to ask Per a few questions for The Atlantic. Here’s an excerpt.

“…is Microsoft’s logo ‘excellent’ because the design is impeccable, or because consumers recognize it in an instant? Is Harrods’ script ‘excellent’ because it is old, or for aesthetic reasons? Is Chiquita Banana ‘excellent’ because it deploys a dancing banana and we find her cute? And is Ray-Ban ‘excellent’ because of all the fashion advertising buzz that has built its rep?”
— Steven Heller

“Well-designed logos are the work of the designers. Successful logos imply the company’s use of the logo. A mediocre logo in terms of design quality can be used to good effect through a great mix of consistency and variation. The Coca-Cola logo is not, and never was, an outstanding design. However, it has been used with great ingenuity.”
— Per Mollerup

Read the full piece here: Do good logos need to actually, you know, look good?

Via @johnsonbanks.


This is a great observation and the precise difference in branding and logo design. I like logo design, but would much rather work for multiple years implementing and adapting a brand as it grows to meet a client’s needs (whatever they evolve to become). Coke is a great example of an ever adapting brand.

Not to speak for Mollerup …

The Coca-Cola logo was (when created) common. Meaning, it was stylized in a turn-of-the-century script like every other product for sale at the time. So as a trade-mark … it wasn’t unique, memorable, differentiating, or powerful in any of the commonly scrutinized designy ways. The beauty of it, to me (and perhaps Mollerup as well), is that they made it iconic by getting it on anything and everything they could and aside from cleaning it up … kept with it. Color, shape, abundant frequency and so on. So while most all the other turn-of-the-century script logos evolved to other ‘modern’ looks (Pepsi for example) … Coke didn’t. So with the brand implementation (the largest in world history?) the logo became unique, memorable, powerful, etc. …

That’s my take.

It is all in the eye of the beholder. A crappy logo if marketed right will become well known, even if everyone hates it, they will still remember it for being ugly.

True, Stephen, but the Coca-Cola script was updated (I don’t know how many times) but for quite a while now, it’s been a beautifully drawn script, while it retains the quirky flourishes that make it unique. Coke has also been smart about broadening its identity, using the colloquial name, and an entirely different look for it. Pepsi, IMHO, has thrashed around, it’s logo becoming increasingly lame with each iteration.

The Microsoft logo is not a good logo at all. Ask people what the Microsoft Corporation does and no one can actually tell you. Hmmm what do they do exactly?

An operating system that is as old as a dinosaur?
What do they do?

Please reply by only looking at their logo.

I think the question that needs to be asked, especially with Coca-Cola and nearly every major corporation, is “Why?” Why update your identity in the first place? If marketing is enough to create and sustain your image as a reliable, innovative company providing a solid product/service, why should you need to update or refine your identity?

I’m beginning to think this is the rule: As competition within an industry increases, the necessity of “good looking” identities increases. Art has a way of enabling interest – that doesn’t matter as much if you’re the only business in town, or the first company or two in a brand new industry. Microsoft and Coca-Cola did not need the most aesthetically pleasing logos at first; their primary focus can very well be marketing their new products and ideas. With only one or two bits of competition, it could very well just be the content of their products/services that gets them the bulk of their public image/revenue.

If Coca-Cola was starting as a company tomorrow, with all the varying brands of soda and similar products on the market, do you think they would accept having a logo that is similar to any other generic product on the market and just try to market better than everyone else? It almost sounds like a waste of money. I’m not denying that good marketing can work alone sometimes, but a good looking logo brings certainty in the face of uncertainty – when tough competition exists, a logo that is aesthetically pleasing garners more interest than that which is tossed together carelessly.

Good looking logos matter in context, essentially.

Company success doesn’t play a factor in simple aesthetics. A beautiful logo for a failing business will still be a beautiful logo, and a terrible logo for a successful business will still be a terrible logo.

As for Microsoft, there’s a difference between a logo and just writing the company name in italic. Of course it’s instantly recognizable, it’s literally spelt out for you.

Rich, a couple of thoughts on your post:
A terrible logo for a successful business will be seen as being a successful logo to some degree, at least. The new ebay logo has some defenders, as does the current Pepsi logo, for instance. But those logos will likely change within five years…
The Microsoft logo is, IMO, less instantly recognizable, than for instance, Apple’s or IBMs logo. (If the process of recognition in less than a second were measurable, that is.) It would be slowed by that split second by all the other images of Helvetica Bold Italic medium length words that create similar connections in our brains. On the other hand, it does have that little graphic tweak that creates a hyphen between Micro and soft. That does provide a tiny bit of separation between the logo and all those other Helvetica Bold Italic medium length words.

Good point, John. I agree with you that in terms of split seconds and purely the amount of information the brain has to take in, things like the apple logo are quicker to recognize than words. I think ebay and pepsi are just going through a trend, sure ebay’s old logo was somewhat childish but it had personality darn it.

Personally I just feel that if a logo needs to utilize the company name in it’s design, it’s failed to an extent. However maybe it takes a good deal of years in the public eye before the business feels it’s recognizable enough to do away with the words.

Rich, I agree that ebay and pepsi are just going through a trend (and it almost happened to Gap a year or so ago), but LOGOS SHOULDN’T BE ABOUT TRENDS. A logo is a bit like your name. It’s your identity. Trends are about your clothes or haircut.
There are plenty of situations where a full name logo is appropriate, with oe without an accompanying symbol. When it’s without a symbol, the design of the name needs to be original and unique, not simply a typeset rendering.

Definitely grounds for further thought. I look to the Ford logo with it’s now Iconic script in the oval. There MUST have been many occasions when they felt pressure to ‘upgrade’ it. Sure, it suffered few variations in the early years, but since the late twenties it’s been pretty much the same. While the Ford logo is the product of the same ‘script’ style logos that gave rise to Coca-Cola, I suppose it’s evidence that if you can craft a logo that does not rely too heavily on current graphical trends it can weather the ages and become iconic. Remember the old coloured stripe version of the Apple Logo? I’d like to say I much prefer it now but something tells me that back in the day when we were all sitting in front of our Commodore 64s we would have loved it as much then as we do now.

Des McKenzie
Bluering Creative

I disagree. The Coca-Cola logo is one of the most memorable and iconic logos in the history of advertising.

I guess longevity is the real crucial point. And it seems that aesthetic reasons do not concern it so much.

Some logos stand up better, louder, taller, tougher among others, not because they are really cool, and neither because more money has been spent to make them more popular, but because they are the result of a great mixture of readability and recognizability, and in many cases, they have been designed to be more suitable to their own field of pubblicity.

I think these elements make people perceive the brand, feel it and remember it among the competitors’ ones.

To say, I did a “truck test” last weekend. I went to Munchen to have many litres of beer at the Oktoberfest, and the logo which has won my personal travelling pastime on the higway has been FERCAM. Is it awesome? I wouldn’t say that. But it’s huge, and perfectly designed to become a unique travelling truck-wordmark.

There were a lot of other logos on a lot of trucks, and many times they were quite interesting. But FERCAM will last I guess.

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