What Can We Learn From A Nameless Logo?

I came across this interesting project called “You Took My Name” by art and design collective Dorothy. The project is a series of paintings that strip famous logos back to their basic graphic forms. It’s amazing how recognizable all of the pieces are and it made me think about how familiar and powerful some branding actually is. Here’s a few samples from the Dorothy project, do you recognize them?

BurgerKing

Coke

Kodak

Levis

All images by Dorothy.

Logos can be roughly categorized into three areas:

  • Typographic logos which feature the name of the company or brand, for example Harrods and Calvin Klein.
  • Type and symbol logos which consist of some sort of symbol combined with the company name, for example Jaguar, Ferrari and Mercedes Benz.
  • Symbol only logos. These are the big boys of the branding world, so famous they don’t need a company name to be recognized, examples include Nike, Shell and Apple.

There is sometimes an assumption that typographic logos are easy to make, but the fact is, there is a lot of skill in choosing (or making) a suitable typeface to represent a brand. The most popular logos are the type and symbol logos as they cover all bases – a symbol which is aesthetically pleasing, recognizable and representing the company ideals, but with a reminder of the company name included. As mentioned above Symbol-only logos are generally used by very well established companies where there will be little doubt about who or what the company represents.

Having seen the Dorothy project, I think this could be an interesting project for any new logo designers to try out, with their own choice of famous logos. Break down an existing well-known logo into its most basic form and see if it is still recognizable. I find in my own class, when the students first start designing logos that there is a temptation to throw everything but the kitchen sink in, with gradients, warped text and bevels regularly appearing. Good design involves taking away elements until you’re finished rather than adding to try and make something look “designed”. Simplicity is an important mantra when it comes to logo design.

I decided to try the exercise myself with some fairly well known brands to see what happens when we take away the text and leave the basic shapes.

Harley

cat

Blockbuster

GE

NationalGeographic

NFL

In case you didn’t recognize them, they are the logos for Harley Davidson, CAT, Blockbuster, GE, National Geographic and NFL. You might find this a useful exercise for looking at how to simplify your own logo designs.

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  • Elliot Birch

    I got everyone except the cat one. But it is obvious now you named it :P

    • http://twitter.com/bingojackson Rhys Thomas

      Me too. I’m wearing Caterpillar boots too so thats a bit of a failure on my part.

  • http://twitter.com/dland Dave Land

    My son and I were noticing that most automotive logos fall into a surprisingly small number of “shape classes”:

     – Oval (Toyota, Subaru, Ford, Infiniti, Lexus, Scion, Kia, Land Rover, others)
    – Circle (VW, BMW, Mercedes, Nissan, Alfa-Romeo, Opel, Smart, Saab, Vauxhall, Lotus and Audi—sort of)
    – Triangle (Mitsubishi, Pontiac, Koenigsegg, Lancia [with a circle inside] and Lotus [inside a circle])
     – Rounded rectangles (Honda, Accura, Mazda—almost an oval)
     – Rectangles/Squares (Ferrari, Peugeot, Citroën, Renault, Sert)
    – “Shield” (Dodge, Lamborghini, Ferrari, Tesla, Porsche, Rover, Abarth)
    – “Coats of Arms” (Buick, Alfa-Romeo, Cadillac)
     – Animals (Jaguar, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Dodge, Peugeot, Abarth)
     – Wings (Aston Martin, Bentley, Mini, Chrysler, Morgan)
     – Distinctive (Chevy’s “bowtie” cross, Maserati’s trident, Chrysler’s star pentagon, Renault’s diamond)

    What was surprising is how alike many of the oval logos (along with the rounded rectangles) look: Lexus, Toyota, Mazda, Honda and Accura are all very similar in visual weight and styling. It seems that the most “distinctive” logos are Chevy and Mitsubishi. Maybe VW, too, although it kind of blends into the circle crowd a bit.

    • http://www.laughing-lion-design.com Jennifer Farley

      Great comment Dave and great exercise for you and your son, thank you. A lot of the car logos are indeed quite similar aren’t they? I think I like the animals set the best : )

  • http://twitter.com/PingDesigns David Pingleton

    Very interesting article. Amazing how some logos have become so well known that you recognize them without any text. Another powerful thing about some of these logo is that they’re recognized like this globally.

  • Marco Cervellin

    CAT logo is stunning!! I think is one of most powerful brands.

  • frith

    I think there is another aspect at play here – colour. These logos, and many others, have a single prominent colour scheme that is carefully managed to ensure the colour always looks the same regardless of media quite a challenge if you think about it).

    An interesting exercise might be to see how many companies one could identify by colour alone – I suspect it might be more than you expect. Conversely, if you change the colour on say the national geographic logo, would it look like a ‘wrong’ NG logo, or would it be completely unrecognisable I wonder?

    • Jamie

      i agree, if these had all been shown just in black, it would have been more difficult to recognise them

    • http://www.callnerds.com Nerds On Call

      I wonder how many logos you could identify if you used the same shapes as listed above, but you changed the color… So a blue coke logo???

  • http://www.facebook.com/chrome98 Wesley Knapp

    I’d like to see how recognizable they are in black & white.

  • http://twitter.com/jOTA676 José João Mendes

    Didn’t recognize Cat’s and neither the first one… what is it?

  • http://journalofidiocracy.blogspot.com/ Dave

    This is a wonderful demonstration of how powerful the peripheral route to persuasion is when well utilized.

    Great work!

  • Andrew P

    As an exercise for our marketing logos, we were asked to draw our logo from memory. I couldn’t get mine correctly (thought I really really like our logo).
    The point the instructor was making was “if you can’t remember it, how can you expect your client to”?
    Quite a valid point, especially when looking at the above logos, but I feel there is more to it than that.

  • http://profiles.google.com/herdi.sularko Herdi Sularko

    The power of Branding.. consistency branding such like as advertising, promos, etc. that catch our awareness (even a glimpse of looks) will be the winner of this “blindtext” contest.

    its not that they are simple, but our eye always catch those graphic in everyday goods, billboard, tv, ads, print, webs, and so on. So make those little elemen graphic become “strong” and we feel that those are giant in our mind.

  • http://www.callnerds.com Nerds on Call

    I think it’s amazing to watch the progression of a company logo. For example if you Google coca cola first logo. You will see some older versions of their logo, they weren’t always so identifiable…

  • http://www.geniusbusiness.com bryant jaquez

    GENIUS!!!!!!

  • http://twitter.com/NavyPerc George Langley

    Adbusters did something similar many moons ago. They took a photo looking down a major commercial street and removed the names from all of the signs, leaving just the outlines. Most were still completely recognizable – the double ovals of Tim Hortons stood out for me, being a coffee and donut addict! (Yes, their “old” logo – I did say “many moons ago”!)
    Their point was the shape’s instant recognition at any distance, compared to a flat rectangle along the front of a building. You’d see the shape and know exactly what they sold without having to actually read the sign.
    And to extrapolate – a good shape would be colour-neutral. The “Swoosh” in any colour vrs the triangle above? Sorry kitty!

  • http://www.elementary-agency.com/ Marketing Agency

    This is an excellent example of how seemingly benign images can have profound persuasive impact

  • Zackblackk

    As an exercise for our marketing logos, Every think looking really very awesome. I love this all marketing logos design.
    Complete kitches

  • http://ediy.co.nz/internet-marketing Internet Marketing

    The power of a logo! Even with the company names removed from their logos, you can still recognize these major brands

  • Anonymous

    this one is interesting! love the follow-up logos, but didn’t recognize Blockbuster since it’s more graphical than shapes.

  • http://www.increation.net/portfolio/kitchens Incarticles2011

    Wow I got all of them! 

  • http://www.increation.net/portfolio/kitchens contempoary kitchens

    It was too easy to guess them. 

  • Websofy

    It is easy to guess the right name of those logos which are very famous, you can see them almost everywhere, hoardings, Televisions, banners, posters. And these logos are simple so they are in mind of public. 
    well a good brain exercise to do while guessing about their right brand or company name.