Logo Design Blog

Successful Logos Explained

If the role of the company logo is to represent the company in communicating important messages to recipients, shouldn’t that logo be credible? Most corporate logos are not credible. Nor are they planned and designed to be credible. Credibility-based logos criteria must be better understood within the design and business community.

University supervised research1 has demonstrated that successful logos – logos that work to help achieve company goals – are credibility-based. Called “power logos”, they project the company as being an expert in their business. They are also trustworthy and forward thinking. These are the three prongs of being credible. Designing a logo with these three prongs as criteria is what gives any company logo credibility and hence POWER to influence messages.

Company managers, large and small, can now assess the power of their logo. We know how effective credible people are, but now credibility principles apply to company logos. When a company speaks with its logo, it must be considered a credible source.

The company logo on a business card or letterhead will have logo identification good, bad or indifferent. Successful logos have power to help achieve company goals. Bad or indifferent logos may actually undermine company efforts. Most companies have bad or indifferent logos.

Where did credible logos get their start? This requirement stems from the teachings of my mentor late graphic design legend, Saul Bass, who is famous for his successful logos for AT&T, United Airlines, United Way, Rockwell International, Alcoa and Continental Airlines (during the period 1968 to 1989). If logos symbolize the company business, characterize particular company attributes and are contemporary they will have power, he would say.

It all goes back to Communication 101. There are three elements in the communication process:

  1. The source or sender of the message (the company).
  2. The message.
  3. The receiver (stakeholder, ie customers, employees, banks, suppliers etc.)

Many studies in interpersonal communication (people to people) conclude that if the source is competent, reliable, and forward thinking the message will be more readily accepted by the receiver. Competent, reliable and forward thinking make up the components of being credible in interpersonal communication.

For example, a computer wiz would be more influential on what mouse or software program to buy than, say, a chef. But a chef, on the other hand, would be more influential when it comes to the best curry to buy and where, or the latest cookbook. You wouldn’t go to the computer wiz for food-related suggestions, and you wouldn’t go to the chef for electronic-related suggestions. Well, in most cases.

In short, a person high in the dimensions of competent, reliable and forward thinking will be more credible, and, therefore, more influential. Again, these are the three prongs of being credible. Research has now demonstrated that a company high in dimensions of expert, trustworthy and forward thinking will be credible and, therefore, more influential. (Note the similarity of words.) This is because people relate to companies the same way they relate to people. These are brand-customer relationships.

How Does a Graphic Designer Create a Credibility-based Logo?

The first thing a designer does is symbolize the company business. This says the company is an expert in that business. Like the shoe repair shop with a sign hanging on the store front with a ‘boot’ or ‘shoe’ symbol together with the text ‘Joe’s Shoe Repair.’ The designer then makes the boot or shoe “contemporary” or ‘forward-thinking’ and Joe is almost there. Make it look trustworthy with traits that define the descriptive nature of the shoe repair shop such as ‘experienced,’ ‘professional’ and ‘friendly’ and Joe has a credible logo, a power logo.

Joe’s company name, ‘Joe’s Shoe Repair”‘is also credibility-based. ‘hoe Repair’ says Joe is an expert in that field. Joe lends his name “Joe” indicating that he will stand by his work, thereby being trustworthy. And, Joe is short for Joseph which is more streamlined, more forward thinking (maybe a stretch, but you get what I mean).

Successful logos are not an abstract concept any longer. They are credibility-based. This is their role in the greater role of a total credibility-based integrated marketing communication system, which makes a great company brand. The payoff is in loyal customers, high caliber employees, dedicated suppliers, understanding governmental bodies and great financial relations.

William L. Haig is the Chairman and CEO of Powerlogos Design. He is also the co-author of “The Power of Logos: How to Create Effective Company Logos”, NY: Wiley, 1997 (fifth printing.)

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