The Simple Way To Design A Legendary Logo

by 24 11/28/2011

Let’s do a quick exercise.

Envision a logo.  Any logo you can imagine without seeing it. 

Now that you have your logo in mind let’s take a look at…

10 Legendary Logos

What makes a legendary logo? What characteristics cause one logo to stand out and be more memorable than another?

Often, the most effective logos are simple with very little detail or shading and use between one and three colors. According to a list of the most valuable brands in the world provided by Brand Finance, 22 out of 25 logos for the top 25 brands are between one and three colors, and all 25 of them are simple with very little detail or shading.

To demonstrate this further, let’s look at ten simple and legendary logos and compare the similarities among them.

Logo #1: Apple

Apple Logo Analysis

Apple maintains the gold standard when it comes to branding and product development. At one point this year, they were the highest valued company in the world and had more cash than the U.S. Federal government (although I’m not sure if that says more positively about Apple or negatively about the Federal government).

Apple prides themselves on a design-first philosophy. So much so that designers reported directly to Mr. Jobs before his passing. That’s how important design is to Apple.

So what kind of logo do they have?

Theirs is a one dimensional, one color apple with what looks like a bite taken out of it. Sometimes the logo includes a slight gradient (as pictured), but for the most part it’s simple, one color, and straightforward.

Does it fit the criteria of a simple and effective logo? Yes. Check the box for Apple.

Logo #2: Mercedes Benz

Mercedes Benz Logo Analysis

Mercedes Benz is one of the top luxury companies in the world and is rated as the second most valuable automobile brand, behind Toyota, according to the Brand Finance rankings.

What kind of logo is good enough for a prestigious luxury car manufacturer like Mercedes?

Their logo is an iconic circle with three lines drawn to the center. It consists of one color and uses simple shading to add a slight multi-dimensional effect.

Mercedes’ logo fits the criteria for an effective logo–simple and between one and three colors.

Logo #3: Coca-Cola

Coca Cola Logo Analysis

Coca-Cola distributes worldwide and has a logo that is recognized across every continent and in every country. This partly has to do with Coke’s ubiquitous appeal, and partly has to do with Coke’s effective branding.

Their logo is the company name in red (or white on a red background) with an appealing, cursive font. Of all the logos on this list, they use the fanciest font, but still keep the logo simple with one color and one dimension.

Once again, Coca Cola’s logo fits the criteria.

Logo #4: McDonalds

McDonalds Logo Analysis

McDonalds has served something like 100 billion burgers worldwide (or whatever the counter is up to now), and customers recognize their logo around the globe.

What does it look like? Kids can see and recognize the logo from a mile down the highway.

Two golden arches.  Simple and memorable.

Logo #5: Target

Target has a simple and effective logo.

It uses two colors–white and red–to create a brightly colored logo that is very memorable and recognizeable. It also uses a simple, three-ringed image of a target to add a pictorial element that ties directly to the brand.

Once again, Target’s logo provides an example of a legendary logo that is both simple and memorable.

Logo #6: Nike


Like Apple, Nike is known for its design-first philosophy.

Like Coca-Cola and McDonald’s, they also have one of the most recognized logos worldwide.

It’s a very simple, one dimensional, one color check mark known as the Nike Swoosh that comes in a variety of colors.

Other shoe brands have fancier logos, but none is better recognized than Nike.

Logo #7: Jordan Jumpman

Jordan Jumpman Logo Analysis

Early in Michael Jordan’s career, the Jumpman logo represented Jordan’s line of Nike shoes; near the end of his career, it became it’s own brand.

It’s the iconic image of Jordan soaring through the air, mimicking his dunk-contest-winning slam when he took off from the free throw line. It’s one dimensional, one color and a great example of a simple yet effective logo.

Logo #8: Dallas Cowboys

Dallas Cowboys Logo Analysis

The Dallas Cowboys are described as America’s team, and whether you’re a fan or not, it’s hard to argue that the Cowboys don’t have an excellent logo.

It’s the widely recognized white star with blue outlining on a silver helmet background. Compared to other NFL teams that have logos with more detail, like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Cowboys’ is more simple, more elegant, and more effective.

Logo #9: New York Yankees

New York Yankees Logo Analysis

The New York Yankees have the highest payroll in Major League Baseball. Unfortunately for them, that hasn’t translated into World Series success over the past couple of years.

Regardless, they have a huge fan base that proudly sports the iconic Yankees logo. It’s a one dimensional logo of the letter N placed over the letter Y.

As the highest valued Major League baseball team, you might think their logo would be detailed and complicated. Instead, they provide another great example of a simple logo being the most effective.

Logo #10: Texas Longhorns

Texas Longhorns Logo Analysis

The Texas Longhorns have the premier logo when it comes to college sports (disclaimer: I graduated from UT). Love them or hate them, college football fans recognizes the Texas Longhorn logo. It’s a solid-white (or burnt-orange), flat outline of a Longhorn steer with no details.

This is also a great example of a logo that could easily be more complicated. It could have eyes, ears, and a nose drawn in to make it more lifelike.

But would this help it to be more memorable and stand out more?

The answer is no. The Longhorn logo is effective because of its elegant simplicity.

How does your logo stack up?

What logo did you envision?  Is it your logo?  The logo of a mega brand?

How many colors is it?  Is it one-dimensional?  Is it simple?

Share your logo in the comments.

About 

Joseph Putnam is a copywriter and blogger who writes for startups like KISSmetrics, CrazyEgg, SlideShare, Wibiya, Conduit, Rejoiner, and more. He loves the science of marketing and conversion rate optimization.

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24 COMMENTS

Ramesh

A very predictable list. Though the logos are very memorable and creative, the reputation of the brands are rubbing off them. This post would have been more meaningful if logos of lesser known brands are scrutinized.

November 28, 2011 Reply

    Joseph Putnam

    Hi Ramesh, thanks for the feedback.

    The main point of this post is that if simple works for these legendary organizations, then it can probably work for other organizations as well.

    Thanks again!

    November 28, 2011 Reply

Russ Henneberry

@Ramesh — Thanks for the insight Ramesh! We will keep that in mind for future posts.

November 28, 2011 Reply

Samantha

Interesting read, but agree with the predictability (sans the Jordan Jumpman). The logos are memorable because they represent visionary leadership and organizational/economic clout. I’m a NYY fanatic and it’s my opinion that whatever logo the Yankee organization would put out to represent their promise and commitment (their brand) would instantly become recognizable. It may be interesting to learn how digital media is changing this landscape. I’d be interested to see where Google and eBay land in this mix.

November 28, 2011 Reply

    Russ Henneberry

    Great point Samantha! I don’t think the point is necessarily that the design of these logos is what makes them memorable. For me, Joseph is pointing out a common element amongst the logos of some legendary companies. Perhaps the lesson is that simple can be memorable.

    November 28, 2011 Reply

    Joseph Putnam

    Hi Samantha, what Russ pointed out is exactly the point: simple is quite often the most memorable. In my experience, designers can go crazy with a design trying to make it memorable, when, in the end, something simple and straight-forward would probably have done the job better. The Longhorns logo is a great example because it could easily be more complicated, but it definitely wouldn’t be as memorable.

    As far as Google and eBay, Google is one of the logos of a top 25 brand that has more than three colors (they use four), and eBay does the same. Both are simple, although I had to look up eBay to remember what it looked like.

    The main point is that simple logos often are the most memorable, which can be counterintuitive and is an important lesson to learn. If it works for these legendary companies, it can work for smaller companies as well.

    Thank you for your feedback. It’s great to know what everyone’s take on this. :)

    November 28, 2011 Reply

Samantha

I agree simple is effective, yet continue to question whether it is logo design or relationship/experience that makes the design memorable. I appreciate your perspective, but at the risk of sounding argumentative, is it memorable because of it’s simplicity, or its reach and relationship? I’d suggest it is the latter. The more marketers tap into human emotional connectors, the more memorable the experience (thus, the mark that captures the essence of that experience) will be. Perhaps that means simplicity of design, but the evidence is not conclusive enough for me, particularly given the marketing budgets of these organizations.

Your insights into how the digital world is embracing or shifting this paradigm would be a fascinating read. The use of color is particularly intriguing.

November 28, 2011 Reply

    Russ Henneberry

    Well put Samantha. As with most things, it is IMHO a bit of both. The entire experience with a company like this is simple. Everything from the logo to the products and the customer support is simple and memorable.

    Thanks for your thoughtful comment!

    November 28, 2011 Reply

      Joseph Putnam

      Hi Samantha,
      Thank you again for your comments, and you haven’t come off as argumentative at all. For anything like this, there are always two sides to the coin. On the one side, these companies have simple logos; on the other side, they are internationally known and widely recognized brands. So yes, people obviously recognize the logos, and it’s difficult to determine how much of that is related to the simplicity and how much is related to inherent brand recognition related to the size of the companies. I’m also not sure how something like that can be tested. :)
      My goal for this post was to identify a design trend I thought was interesting and provide food for design thought. Even if this is a useful design “rule,” there are always exceptions to every rule, and as an example, a boutique women’s clothing retailer may have a need for an elaborate logo design that a Fortune 500 company doesn’t have.
      Every case is different, and this post identifies one trend that can be helpful for designing logos.
      Thanks again for your comments. Discussion is always appreciated. :)

      November 29, 2011 Reply

Samantha

The goal of your post was noted and sincerely appreciated. I admire your willingness to discuss, thank you. What makes something memorable is difficult to measure, which is what makes the conversation rich. Memorable is in the eyes of the beholder – in the experience — which comes to us through our senses: sight, sound, touch. Therefore, the memorableness (I think I just invented a new word) is found somewhere in between, in both. Again, thanks for the graciousness in your responses.

November 29, 2011 Reply

Joseph Putnam

You’re welcome. :)

November 29, 2011 Reply

Ramesh

Thanks Russ & Joseph for taking time to respond. I run a design firm (www.niyati.com) and most logo brief starts with a ‘Nike kind of simple and powerful logo’! My experience is that more than the simplicity of the logo, the brand equity is what the clients are enamored with.

I just finished a long rationale mail to a client who wanted food elements on his online ordering website. Paypal doesn’t have money in their logo or Facebook doesn’t have friendship symbols were my justifications! :)

Talking of good-looking logos even iconic brands like Coca Cola or PricewaterhouseCoopers don’t have clean logos, but we still love them because of the affinity to the brands.

Keep up the good work!

November 30, 2011 Reply

    Russ Henneberry

    @Ramesh — Thanks for the insightful comment Ramesh!

    November 30, 2011 Reply

    Joseph Putnam

    Ramesh,

    That would be a nightmare to have a client wanting you to reproduce the Nike logo. It’s iconic and near irreproduceable. That totally makes sense that a client request like that would drive you crazy.
    Thanks again for the comments!

    December 1, 2011 Reply

Mike

Samantha likes to hear herself type.

December 6, 2011 Reply

noel

I would like to point out that while simple marks, as examined here, are more rooted in custom then in function. And this custom was largely created by the available printing technology and packaging of the day. A mark had to look good in black to be printed on brown or gray cardboard. And signage material had something to do with this too. Nike shoes became a must have because of the swoosh on the side. And there is only so much you can do with a shoe and a piece of leather. But, my point is that a mark does not have to be simple, one color, and flat anymore. The Apple logo you display here is a prefect example of that. However, the Apple mark can have a lot of different variations, as it has been a part of our visual language for a number of years.

December 6, 2011 Reply

Joseph Putnam

Did anyone come up with any logos before reading the entirety of the post? I’d love to know which logos stood out in everyone’s mind…

December 7, 2011 Reply

    Hannes

    Maybe it’s because it’s so “close to home” but the first logo that came to mind was the logo I had recently designed for my up-coming t-shirt webstore: http://h4nn.es/wBCMVa – Simple and clean :)

    January 4, 2012 Reply

zesd

interesting read, but I don’t think logos of American football teams stack up against the likes of the big boys.

I’m from England and if I saw the blue star or the bull horns, I wouldn’t be able to make any sort of cogent connection between the design and what brand it was representing.

Interestingly though, the NY monogram has been able to transcended this barrier, through what I can only assume is it’s synonymous associations with music and urban culture.

In my opinion for perfect examples of good simple logo design that stands the test of time, type “Saul Bass logos” into Google images and feast.

zesd

March 8, 2012 Reply

Pareto FP

That is a really good read. I’ve got to disagree with zesd, I love the American logos, especially the cowboys one, but that’s perhaps because it reminds of my trip to Dallas. As simple as the star logo is I think it really stands out.

I’d love to get some feedback on my companies logo:

April 17, 2012 Reply

Pareto FP

Here’s my logo :Pareto FP logo. I should have read the html notes below.

April 17, 2012 Reply

Richard Alford

It’s amazingly informative post . I really like the coca-cola logo design now it’s very famous design in the worldwide because of their concepts and ideas.

June 27, 2013 Reply

Simon

Thanks for this exciting post. It is well written and has some great content., very useful for me and for my designig course

September 26, 2013 Reply


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