How we Design Recognition into Every Logo

There are really two different ways you can take the word “recognition” in the context of design. Either you want to be recognized, “Hey, I’ve seen that logo before!”, or you want to be recognized “Hey, this business is a key player in the F&B industry.”

In our second example, your logo isn’t really going to be the key driver. Recognition, awards, and accolades are all going to come from a direct result of running the fantastic business that you do. 

A well designed logo in this instance may help legitimize the claims because it looks professional and reflects the quality of your business. But, it will not initiate this kind of recognition straight out of the gates.

So let’s look at the first type of recognition. The one where design will have the bigger impact. The type of recognition we get from the Cartem’s Donuterie logo, the “Oh, there’s a Cartem’s here now…maybe I’ll just take a look…” kind of recognition.

The thing is, recognition in this sense, is the primary reason for having a logo in the first place. It’s the first box to check when designing one. It’s like buying a pair of shoes to protect your feet. They all do it.

With shoes, some are better than others depending on your activity. Aqua shoes are great for water where steel toed boots would be terrible. Those same boots made for the construction site do you no favours where cleats are meant for the field.

A logo works just the same way. Each and every one of them needs to be designed to fit the business and its demographic. The more effective logo is designed specifically for the court or field they are playing in. But regardless of the niche, recognition is the sole (see what I did there?) of your logo.

Shoes without soles are socks. Logos without recognition are a lot like doodles. So how do we create a logo that isn’t a doodled up floppy sock?

Here are a couple of ways.

If your logo looks like another business’, especially in the same industry or city, you will become lost. When we’re all wearing the same ugly Christmas sweater does it cease to be ugly?

Two, when a logo is too complex and tries to convey too many ideas we tend to forget it. Try to picture the Mona Lisa. Now try to picture the Sistine Chapel. Which one can you remember the most detail of?

Ample research and due diligence should steer you pretty clear of the first recognition pitfall. It may tempting to follow someone’s lead when they’ve garnered some success out of their logo. It is human nature to follow social proof. We want to recreate the same success that others have by following the same steps they did. Resist that urge, distinction will serve you much better long term. The social proof here is actually that unique, tailored logos work, not that the specific graphic did.

Pitfall two has more to do with memorability than recognizability. There is a subtle difference. Both the Mona Lisa and Sistine Chapel are some of the most recognized paintings on the planet. When you see them, you know it. Picturing them in your head is a completely different story.

Simple is the name of the game in logo design. Distilling complex ideas and purpose into a simple symbol is our greatest challenge as designers. It isn’t easy but it is necessary.

Do you remember when we all had tower computers and wires coming out the wazoo? Then along came the iMac that tucked it all away and fit it into a cute little friendly aquamarine bubble—that was no easy feat for the engineers and designers. It was, however, necessary and was what fueled the complete reboot of Apple.

When creating a memorable, but simple logo we like to employ both literal and lateral thinking. Let’s create some context to explain what that means.

You’ve got a pie shop that specializes in lemon and key lime pies. You’re calling it Meringue Au Tang. The target market are ages 25–35 and up (because let’s face it, teenagers aren’t buying full pies very often—those darn kids).

Literal thinking would give us ideas that directly translate what the business does. Images of meringues, pies, pie servers, lemons, and limes come to mind.

Lateral thinking would give us ideas off to the side of what we are thinking about. Pies are round. What other things are round? When you cut a piece of pie out you are left with a Pac-Man. That’s an interesting idea. Pac-Man is yellow, and so are lemons.

Now, you could stop there and have Pac-Man chomping away at the logo text, or you could try to go further. It’s when we take obvious ideas and twist them that we end up with the most memorable logos.

Take the expected and give it something a little unexpected. The Apple logo has a bite out of it when it didn’t have to. It’s just enough visual interest for us to remember it.

Let’s take Pac-Man a little further. Why don’t we literally just make him like a lemon. Afterall, he is yellow. Come to think of it, lemons, when they are sliced, have the same triangle segments that would make a great Pac-Man. We could make a Pac-Man out of a lemon slice.

A quick look around online and you realize we’re not the first to arrive at this idea. That doesn’t mean it is dead in the water. Most examples are photographic and not related to the pie business. It’s still very workable.

Or we could jump back laterally. 

Maybe the logo could be a round lemon slice with a pie crust and a few crumbs with a piece taken out. Goodbye Pac-Man.

You see how we moved both literally and laterally to end up with an idea that now seems obvious? You know you’ve hit the nail on the head when your result seems dead simple and obvious and yet wasn’t initially. I did a quick search for “Lemon Pie Logo” in Google Images, not a one like the idea we just came up with.

At this point you would be ready to execute on the concept assuming it met all of your other criteria. We wrote on that last month here: Logo Execution: Putting It All Together.

Today we learned that the purpose of a logo is recognition and that it needs to achieve more than that to be successful. Recognition as a goal should be a given for a well designed logo.

Who you are attracting and how the logo makes them feel and act towards your brand are the bigger questions you should be asking. Infusing your design with the answers to these will boost a logo’s memorability and recognition.

December 5, 2016
Posted on 
Author photo in a circle
Kyle Lincoln

Kyle is a logo crafter, avid reader, and writer. His experience expands across a wide spectrum of clients such as Nandos, Shaw Business, and Destination Canada. Growing up, it didn’t take him long to go from doodles to design. Kyle’s previous work in identities for conferences and events left him longing for something more enduring. He’s got a vested interest in helping businesses thrive and an eye for brand incongruences. In Vancouver he can be found scoping out his client’s location and/or the nearest gelateria and is always up to discuss your project or favourite flavour.

There are really two different ways you can take the word “recognition” in the context of design. Either you want to be recognized, “Hey, I’ve seen that logo before!”, or you want to be recognized “Hey, this business is a key player in the F&B industry.”

In our second example, your logo isn’t really going to be the key driver. Recognition, awards, and accolades are all going to come from a direct result of running the fantastic business that you do. 

A well designed logo in this instance may help legitimize the claims because it looks professional and reflects the quality of your business. But, it will not initiate this kind of recognition straight out of the gates.

So let’s look at the first type of recognition. The one where design will have the bigger impact. The type of recognition we get from the Cartem’s Donuterie logo, the “Oh, there’s a Cartem’s here now…maybe I’ll just take a look…” kind of recognition.

The thing is, recognition in this sense, is the primary reason for having a logo in the first place. It’s the first box to check when designing one. It’s like buying a pair of shoes to protect your feet. They all do it.

With shoes, some are better than others depending on your activity. Aqua shoes are great for water where steel toed boots would be terrible. Those same boots made for the construction site do you no favours where cleats are meant for the field.

A logo works just the same way. Each and every one of them needs to be designed to fit the business and its demographic. The more effective logo is designed specifically for the court or field they are playing in. But regardless of the niche, recognition is the sole (see what I did there?) of your logo.

Shoes without soles are socks. Logos without recognition are a lot like doodles. So how do we create a logo that isn’t a doodled up floppy sock?

Here are a couple of ways.

If your logo looks like another business’, especially in the same industry or city, you will become lost. When we’re all wearing the same ugly Christmas sweater does it cease to be ugly?

Two, when a logo is too complex and tries to convey too many ideas we tend to forget it. Try to picture the Mona Lisa. Now try to picture the Sistine Chapel. Which one can you remember the most detail of?

Ample research and due diligence should steer you pretty clear of the first recognition pitfall. It may tempting to follow someone’s lead when they’ve garnered some success out of their logo. It is human nature to follow social proof. We want to recreate the same success that others have by following the same steps they did. Resist that urge, distinction will serve you much better long term. The social proof here is actually that unique, tailored logos work, not that the specific graphic did.

Pitfall two has more to do with memorability than recognizability. There is a subtle difference. Both the Mona Lisa and Sistine Chapel are some of the most recognized paintings on the planet. When you see them, you know it. Picturing them in your head is a completely different story.

Simple is the name of the game in logo design. Distilling complex ideas and purpose into a simple symbol is our greatest challenge as designers. It isn’t easy but it is necessary.

Do you remember when we all had tower computers and wires coming out the wazoo? Then along came the iMac that tucked it all away and fit it into a cute little friendly aquamarine bubble—that was no easy feat for the engineers and designers. It was, however, necessary and was what fueled the complete reboot of Apple.

When creating a memorable, but simple logo we like to employ both literal and lateral thinking. Let’s create some context to explain what that means.

You’ve got a pie shop that specializes in lemon and key lime pies. You’re calling it Meringue Au Tang. The target market are ages 25–35 and up (because let’s face it, teenagers aren’t buying full pies very often—those darn kids).

Literal thinking would give us ideas that directly translate what the business does. Images of meringues, pies, pie servers, lemons, and limes come to mind.

Lateral thinking would give us ideas off to the side of what we are thinking about. Pies are round. What other things are round? When you cut a piece of pie out you are left with a Pac-Man. That’s an interesting idea. Pac-Man is yellow, and so are lemons.

Now, you could stop there and have Pac-Man chomping away at the logo text, or you could try to go further. It’s when we take obvious ideas and twist them that we end up with the most memorable logos.

Take the expected and give it something a little unexpected. The Apple logo has a bite out of it when it didn’t have to. It’s just enough visual interest for us to remember it.

Let’s take Pac-Man a little further. Why don’t we literally just make him like a lemon. Afterall, he is yellow. Come to think of it, lemons, when they are sliced, have the same triangle segments that would make a great Pac-Man. We could make a Pac-Man out of a lemon slice.

A quick look around online and you realize we’re not the first to arrive at this idea. That doesn’t mean it is dead in the water. Most examples are photographic and not related to the pie business. It’s still very workable.

Or we could jump back laterally. 

Maybe the logo could be a round lemon slice with a pie crust and a few crumbs with a piece taken out. Goodbye Pac-Man.

You see how we moved both literally and laterally to end up with an idea that now seems obvious? You know you’ve hit the nail on the head when your result seems dead simple and obvious and yet wasn’t initially. I did a quick search for “Lemon Pie Logo” in Google Images, not a one like the idea we just came up with.

At this point you would be ready to execute on the concept assuming it met all of your other criteria. We wrote on that last month here: Logo Execution: Putting It All Together.

Today we learned that the purpose of a logo is recognition and that it needs to achieve more than that to be successful. Recognition as a goal should be a given for a well designed logo.

Who you are attracting and how the logo makes them feel and act towards your brand are the bigger questions you should be asking. Infusing your design with the answers to these will boost a logo’s memorability and recognition.

December 5, 2016
Posted on 
Author photo in a circle
Kyle Lincoln

Kyle is a logo crafter, avid reader, and writer. His experience expands across a wide spectrum of clients such as Nandos, Shaw Business, and Destination Canada. Growing up, it didn’t take him long to go from doodles to design. Kyle’s previous work in identities for conferences and events left him longing for something more enduring. He’s got a vested interest in helping businesses thrive and an eye for brand incongruences. In Vancouver he can be found scoping out his client’s location and/or the nearest gelateria and is always up to discuss your project or favourite flavour.

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