Great Logos And Why

By: Bill Haig

The company logo is probably the most important marketing tool on your business card or on your website. It gives your company a competitive advantage and will help you achieve company goals. This is not the role of just any logo. You must have a POWERLOGO.

This article tells you the eight criteria your POWERLOGO must have to be successful.

These criteria are based on the teachings of logo design legend, Saul Bass (AT&T, Rockwell International, United Way, Alcoa, Minolta, United Airlines, Continental Airlines circa 1968 -1982 among many others). Saul's teachings were refined in university-supervised research I conducted as part of an advanced degree in Communication* which later became the premise of my best-selling book.

  1. Logos must be credibility-based. This is essential. It is based on a simple principle: credibility persuasion. Just as credible people are more influential, so are company logos on the business card or letterhead. Many studies in people to people communication conclude that if a person as the source of the message is competent or knowledgeable as well as trustworthy, then the message will be more readily accepted by the receiver. The person is considered credible and more influential.

    The research I conducted several years ago supports my premise that if a company logo as the source of the message is also designed as competent, knowledgeable, or expert in its field of business as well as trustworthy, then the company's message will be more readily accepted by the receiver --- most often the customer. My study was the first ever to validate this premise and is the core of what we do at Powerlogos Design.

    Knowing "what" to put into the logo in the first place is 90 percent of the logo design job! Design is important. Content is more important.

  2. Logos must symbolize the company business to be credibility-based. Ok, how does a logo become credibility-based? It is easy to understand that when a computer wiz talks about the best compact to buy, he will be more influential on this subject than, say, a chef. And, if a chef talks about a new restaurant in town, he will be more influential on this subject than the computer wiz (well, in most cases).

    The person most "expert" on the subject will be more persuasive. This is how credibility persuasion works between people assuming both are trustworthy.

    How does this same principle apply to designing the company logo? The first thing a competent credibility-based logo designer does is symbolize the company business in the logo. Voila! This says that the company is an expert in that business. Like the shoe repair or key shops with their signs depicting their business. We know their business specialty. This is the key to a successful logo, but there is more.

  3. Logos must also be designed to communicate that the company is trustworthy. This gets a bit more tricky to understand, but here we go. Tom Housen of Housen Painting is a house painter. In the beginning process of creating this logo, we first symbolized "house painting," which is Tom's area of expertise. Here are examples of some of the steps we went through in the course of its development.

    But Tom also is known for his "quality work" and his "organized, efficient service." These are two highly important trustworthy traits. An ordinary "house painting" symbol was then creatively transformed to also communicate these trustworthy traits.

    This is where the expertise symbol couples with trustworthy traits to become a great, credibility-based logo

    All companies have different trustworthy traits. An airline might want to communicate "highly technological" and "efficient service." A public transportation system, "professional" and "friendly." An antique shop, "been around a long time" and "neighborly." A website designer, "cutting-edge knowledge" and "highly creative."

    And a bank, "stable."

    Other trustworthy attributes include: large, conservative, innovative, exciting, dynamic and traditional. They always support the company being expert in what it does. They are also a true statement about the company.

    A third prong of company credibility is forward thinking. This is a company which is innovative. Recent research indicates that this is a high enough attribute to be included with expert and trustworthy. Being innovative is accomplished when a designer makes the whole logo come alive with a contemporary motif.

    Besides Housen Painting, several examples of credibility-based logos are at the end of this paper.

  4. Logos must be planned. A great logo doesn't come out of thin air. It has a basis for being. Logos have content and they have design form. Content and design must work together to communicate what the logo is to "say." This requires a plan.

    Our planning process is based on substance. We want to know what content and what design form the logo is to "say" to be effective.

    Powerlogos Design first asks our clients to fill out a questionnaire. When we analyze the questionnaire what do we look for? We look for traits which make this client credible.

    This becomes the logo design strategy which we include in our Logo Planning Report. The report actually verbally describes the client's ideal logo, its content and design form. Our design team uses this plan as a guide to design client logos. We refer back to this plan when our final logo is presented for approval as a basis for judgment.

  5. Logos must use the symbol over (or beside on the left) the company name. There are three trademarking systems almost all logos fit into:

    There is the name only:

    There is the monogram:

    There is the symbol over the name:

    The first two trademarking systems limit the company in expressing its area of expertise and trustworthy attributes. The name and monogram trademarking systems are intended only to be just what they are: a name and a monogram - with little or no credibility traits. The more a designer takes the name or monogram and tries to add credibility traits, the less recognizable the name or monogram become.

    Only the symbol over the company name allows credibility communication to be effective. Further, the symbol over (or beside to the left of) the company name is the only trademarking system which communicates well on the Internet.

    Besides being credibility-based, the logo must also be bold, express authority, and be interesting --- in an instant! All this without losing the prime objective that the logo must be credibility-based. This is quite an undertaking for a graphic designer.

  6. Logos must communicate, communicate, communicate. Here are the most common mistakes:

    • Adding too much to the symbology so that the whole logo is confused and cluttered. Less is more. Often designers have to explain each detail in the logo. There should not have be an explanation that the “O” stands for the sun rising; the “wiggly lines” stand for “the lush landscape”; the “spaces between the wiggly lines” stand for the water flowing through the landscape; the “red” color stands for…etc.

      Everything in a logo must be simple and evident. A great logo needs no explanation.

    • Making the name font compete with the symbol. This is the font that is a design statement in and of itself. It is always complex. The name font should always be simple, supporting the symbology. The symbol carries the burden of communicating credibility. Not the name font.

    • Placing the company name within the symbol. The name and symbol must always be separated, with the symbol over or beside to the left of the name. Otherwise, the visual confusion is obvious. Many logos have the name curl around the symbol, causing the head and eye to follow each letter to read the whole name. We call this “visual gymnastics.”

  7. Logos must be very prominent in application. Frequency and consistency are the key points here.

    Frequency means that all areas of public contact must be utilized: Business cards. Stationery. Forms. Trucks and vehicles. Shop or office signs. Site signs. Employee caps, shirts and uniforms. Giveaways. Brochures. Advertisements. Proposal covers.

    Basic psychology tells us that the more frequent we experience something, the more likely we will remember it. And it should be the same, or consistent, each time.

    Consistency is the most common breakdown in logo application. Try this. Put up a "logo wall" somewhere in your office with all areas of current logo application. More often than not, this is normally a hodge-podge -- as either no one is responsible or implementation just happened without consideration as to the logo working as a brand communication system.

    The cure is to appoint a "Keeper of the Logo" with responsibility for applying the logo to all possible applications (frequency) and do it each time the same way (consistency). A Logo Design Implementation Guideline is often prepared to assist in this important requirement.

    The result is integrated brand promotion which gives the logo, as a key member of the overall brand, important equity and awareness.

    It also demonstrates the importance the company places on the management of resources. By managing the logo well, the company is often considered to be well managed in all areas.

    Feng Shui followers rejoice. Having consistency means having order and alignment, reducing clutter. Energy flows from a living, meaningful logo that perks up the senses when used frequently in ready reach and in your control. This is positive workflow within and outside your workspace.

  8. The logo symbol and name must work together. Logo symbology and the company name must both express credibility traits. The symbology is a "visual" expression of company credibility. The name is a "verbal" expression of company credibility. Names like Mail Boxes Etc., The Closet Factory, and United Parcel Service are all good descriptive of the company's expertise. They are therefore credible names.

    On the other hand, names like Cebit, Retrospex and Hebasco do not describe the company business, thus negating the opportunity to express their expertise in their respective fields. These names are also hard to remember.

    Trustworthy attributes can also be incorporated into a company's name. Names like Compaq for the personal computer is not only descriptive, but with the "q" at the end suggests "high technology." Zippy's Restaurants sound like a quick place to get a meal. Le Nouveau Riche Gourmand restaurant connotes something more formal. And better to check the wallet before going in.

    Company names should also have longevity, as they are what we recall as the company brand. If the credibility-based logos which express the brand image are in the symbology, then the name must support the symbology for the entire logo to be effective. (Already well-established names excepted.)
The following logos are credibility-based. A brief description tells why they are particularly great logos.

(Royal Guide Dogs Assn., Australia. Kato Purnall Partners Design)

Comment: This is an Australian company engaged in training guide dogs for the blind. What a creative logo! It expresses the company's expertise in a dramatic, simple logo form. Like many credibility-based logos, it conveys the company's trustworthy attributes too. I would trust them to provide me a guide dog fully trained and healthy. The contemporary form speaks of their cutting edge training techniques. The logo says this is a very professional company providing a special need. Anything less would be questionable.
(Access Referral Network. Powerlogos Design/Cygnus Advertising)

Comment: This company is one-stop website to locate professionals and needed information about them. Providing information through a single website portal is this company's field of expertise. This is the main symbolism. The company is also highly professional, cutting-edge, competent, efficient and provides quality information. The contemporary yet stable design motif non-verbally expresses these trustworthy traits. The logo is very strong with high impact. This is a must for companies on the internet.
(Errands Unlimited. Bud Linschoten Design)

Comment: The company name and design form symbolize its area of expertise. The whimsical execution of the form suggests that this is a fast service, friendly yet efficient company to do business with ---- three good trustworthy attributes for an errands company. The overall design style is contemporary.
(Mitch’s Landscaping. Gardner Design)

Comment: The grass blades form an “M” symbolizing the company’s expertise while personalizing the owner’s first name giving it a sense of trustworthiness that the owner stands behind his work. It is a forward-thinking, contemporary, cutting edge design --- no pun intended.
(Bergelectric Corp. The Weller Institute for the Cure of Design)

Comment: The company name and electric plug symbolize its area of expertise. The contemporary shape suggests the company is efficient and knows what it is doing, adding to its trustworthiness.

The following logos are not credibility-based.

Comment: Unlike the AT&T logo which is credibility-based as it communicates "world-wide communication", Verizon does not express its area of expertise, which is also worldwide communication. The "V" swoosh doesn't communicate anything except "V" as in "Victory" as one company executive explained. It is slightly trustworthy expressing "technology" and "efficiency". It is also slightly a contemporary design form. The AT&T logo is blue --- a good "technology" or "electronic" color while Verizon is red.
Comment: Avaya's slogan is "communication without boundaries". It is also in the communication business which is its area of expertise. This is not expressed. The company name does not help to understand the company business. It is also not trustworthy or contemporary looking.
Comment: This company is worldwide, but neither the name nor other symbologies express the company business, therefore lacking expertise. It is also a dated form looking "slow" and "sluggish" two trustworthy attributes which are probably not intended. It is also not contemporary.
Comment: This is a good company name with appropriate symbology expressing the company business and therefore giving the company expertise. It is also highly “likable” but lacks other dimensions of being trustworthy for a moving company such as “highly efficient”, “latest packing techniques”, or “on time”…. These attributes could have been expressed just by making the whole design contemporary --- which is also lacking.

About The Author

Dr. Haig has over forty years experience in logo design and recently obtained his PhD applying his logo knowledge to website credibility and online testing. He developed a unique online logo and home page testing methodology during three years of university supervised research.

How logo and home page credibility works in graphic design is further explained in several articles on his website, and Dr. Haig's book on credibility-based logo design, The Power of Logos: How to Create Effective Company Logos, NY: Wiley, 1997. Dr. Haig can be reached at or by phone at 808 922 4042 (Hawaii Time.)
Great Logos and Why