MY FAVORITE LOGO
What’s my favorite logo, and why? That was the assignment. Seemed simple enough—until I tried to narrow it down to one absolute favorite. I felt a little like Meryl Streep’s character in the movie of Sophie’s Choice. There they were, lined up on my desktop—the London Underground, IBM, Westinghouse, Target, J+J, Chanel, and more—all crying, “Pick me, Mommy!” Gut-wrenching stuff.
Is it the logo or the brand?
That’s the thing about logos. The great ones make us feel something, instantly. Am I attached to the design of the logo or the brand itself? I don’t really know. A good logo becomes the brand; a great one, like Pan Am’s blue globe—designed in 1955 by the architect Edward Larrabee Barnes—lives on after the brand dies, and makes us mourn the loss. My favorites tend to be those that have become a part of our culture, the ones with staying power. Mess with a good logo, and I’ll go rabid. And it’s not just me. If you’re considering a redesign, you’d better be sure the reasons are deeply rooted in a sound business and marketing strategy or consumers will take it as a personal insult. The Gap learned that the hard way when they replaced their blue box logo with a pallid, crowd-sourced update. This was the stuff of news. “A despised symbol of corporate banality,” cried Vanity Fair. “A box of fail,” sneered a consumer in a blog aptly named Your Logo Makes Me Barf.
Consumers like myself become attached to our logos; they belong to us. I sat shiva for Paul Rand’s UPS logo when the company redesigned the shield. Was it nostalgia that made me weep, or the loss of a design that was timeless in its simplicity, while the replacement—an overproduced 3-D rendering—was dated before they finished printing the style guide? Rand’s lasted nearly 50 years. The new version? Meh. Long-standing brands, and their logos, speak to my American consumerist heart; as long as that logo continues to shine brightly, we continue to be a vital country. I know I’m getting emotional again, but how can you separate the symbol from the thing it represents? Even as I write this I’m still misty over the demise of Hostess Brands and with it, the polka-dotted Wonder Bread logo that has been a part of our lives for generations. Proof that my favorite choices are not always about design.
Having the confidence not to change
I don’t drink Coca-Cola, but I love that logo. It’s eternal and ubiquitous. It has both history and relevance, like the company itself. The leader in that beverage market, it’s never changed its logo, except to add the “Coke” iteration. Pepsi, on the other hand, has changed its logo and brand positioning countless times—and has remained number two. Is there something to that? I think so. When consumers smell fear, they lose confidence in you. Smart brands know when to stick with their logo and with the consumer attachment that comes with it. Like General Electric, another favorite of mine. The GE logo, designed by John Pierce Barnes a century ago, still feels fresh. That’s the hallmark of good conceptual design, sure, but the decision to keep using it is the real genius. Its link to the past engenders trust. And I only buy GE bulbs, so it must be working.
The common thread of my favorite logos is that they are as graphic as they are iconic—like the often ripped-off “I ♥ NY” logo by the legendary Milton Glaser, so much a part of our pop culture that people now say “I heart you.” Glaser got about five cents to design it for the New York State Tourist Board in 1977, but the payoff in mythic status? Priceless. What designer doesn’t aspire to that?
A great logo is recognizable even when thrown out of focus or taken out of context. Such is the case with Crate & Barrel. It’s a non-logo, really, just words set tightly in Helvetica, but the concept behind the design gives it teeth. Inspired by a trend begun in the 1970s of generic-label consumer products packaged in plain white wrappers with black block lettering, Crate & Barrel came up with its own stripped-down identity to convey affordable quality. The logo and packaging are perfection—deliciously stark yet beautiful—but it wasn’t until I saw their latest ad campaign, by TBWA/Chiat/Day Los Angeles, that I realized it was possibly the most brilliant logo of all time. The logo-as-hero campaign shows a series of words set in a familiar font on a white background, linked by an ampersand that never changes position—“Hostess & Mostest,” “Tumblers & Scotch,” “Friends & Giving.” Finally, the words “Crate” and “Barrel” fall into their rightful place around the ampersand. The campaign is inspired, but the logo is the reason. The first time I saw the ad, I knew before the payoff that it was for Crate & Barrel, because the logo is so powerful in its simplicity that it is unmistakable—even in proxy. That’s the stuff of greatness. I get teary just thinking about it.—LISA ANSELMO