What’s in a logo?
Among the most searched keywords related to the word “logo” are free logo design and logo maker app. This indicates many people think creating such a crucial brand component can be easy or quick.
Somewhere along the way, many got the idea that learning “how to design a logo” could be a matter of simply entering the phrase in a Google search bar. It appears great logo design is so effective it causes onlookers to mistake it as effortless.
The impression you get from these top phrases is people still think of a company logo as something you put on business cards. Another phrase is tshirt design, an added indication users view a business logo as ornamental rather than fundamental.
However, after the top 10 search keywords, there’s some deeper thought. Phrases like custom logo design and brand guidelines enter the picture. There’s also website design and graphic design. Together, these phrases show some Googlers know how much expertise and work logo design requires. They understand a logo is core to brand identity. Shirts and other items are not.
Apparel and merchandise change, but a new logo design only comes with a new or updated identity. Speaking of identity, it’s the first week of February and in the United States this means full-blown undivided attention to the Super Bowl. It’s become a very significant part of American culture. But how did we get here?
Legendary logos that form part of strong brand identity are made from certain priorities, processes and properties. Let’s study NFL history to learn what these are.
How the Super Bowl Became a Brand
The NFL logo has only changed twice in almost 60 years. And by changed, we really mean tweaked. Minor updates just made it more streamlined. This reflects solid brand identity.
The Super Bowl is a different story. Back in 1967, around 50 million people in the U.S. watched the Super Bowl, but that was it. It was not the mammoth event it is today. Before Michael Jackson performed in 1993, not a lot of people paid attention to the half time show. It was mostly names you don’t know and college marching bands. Some shows were so awful people changed channels.
Diehard football fans were in it for the jaw-dropping touchdowns and near-impossible comebacks. But Jackson’s performance was the tipping point in the game’s mainstream appeal. The NFL continued to invest in A-list celebrities for the show, as well as the national anthem performer at the beginning of the game.
The number of viewers has doubled since 1967. In 2015 the Super Bowl made history as the highest watched TV program in the U.S. As the event grew in popularity, it became one of the top calendar days for consumer spending. Every year consumers spend more on TVs, sports apparel and party food.
The unrivaled viewership means companies are willing to pay more than $5 million for a 30-second ad spot. They compete to be the most talked about on Monday morning. The ads are great lessons in marketing and professors make watching them an assignment.
The Super Bowl is now the most valuable sports event brand in the world. It’s unlikely the NFL would have predicted this from the start, which may be one reason they created a different Super Bowl logo every year. It wasn’t a brand, so it didn’t need a strong symbol of identity.
The Great Debate
Everyone’s got an opinion. One of the strongest comes from the designer of the 2004 Super Bowl logo, Todd Radom.
The current logo debuted in 2011; Radom feels previous logos with no similarities better represented the event because the Super Bowl represents a specific place and time. He contends the new logo design goes to the opposite extreme. The uniformity and “sterile” design lacks vivid colors evoking personal passions and pageantry.
The top ranked Super Bowl logos are those that incorporate the most iconic elements of the host city. Among them are the ’94 Georgia peach, native tribal patterns representative of Arizona in ’96, the Mardi Gras colors in ’97 and ’99’s visual representation of Miami’s art deco architecture. Super Bowl XXXVI took place six months after the 9/11 attacks. The NFL changed their original plans for the logo to make it a patriotic symbol of national unity.
Radom isn’t the only one who feels the new Super Bowl logo design is lacking. An article from Wired says it “looks like it was mass manufactured, like an injection molded trinket.” The writer’s father had a jacket from Super Bowl XXXII and “it was not a great piece of design. But 17 years later, I can still remember what it looks like.”
Logo Design Priorities
This debate begs the question: is it more important for a brand to be uniform or memorable? A quick survey around the MOSAIC offices revealed no one could recall the current Super Bowl logo. They each had to find it on Google before they could pick a side in the debate.
Historians posit Egyptian glyphs came before Mesopotamian script. In Designing Brand Identity, a textbook by Alina Wheeler, a quotation reads: “Symbols are the fastest form of communication known to mankind.” The brain takes more time to process language, which means content is third in logo importance. However, a winning combination of shapes, colors and typography result in legendary logos.
People around the world recognize, understand and remember these one-letter logos:
- Adobe A
- Disney D
- Google G
- Facebook F
- Twitter T
- Lexus L
- McDonald’s M
- Netflix N
You probably had no difficulty seeing those letters in your mind as you read them.
Simply put, effective logos must be all the above: meaningful, uniform and memorable.
Another legendary G is the Green Bay Packers logo, which has remained almost unchanged since 1961. Lombardi specifically asked for a G in the shape of a football. College art student John Gordon drew it by hand, particularly difficult due to issues of symmetry, negative and positive space, etc. Gordon says, “To put the G on the football was a statement that the Green Bay Packers would dominate the game. That same year they began their domination.”
Logo Design Process
Although it seems most people hate it, the new Super Bowl logo design hits the bullseye when it comes to brand identity. No one person is more significant in football history than Vince Lombardi.
He led the Green Bay Packers to win the first two Super Bowls. They still hold the NFL record for league championships. This underscores the team identity as John Gordon described it when discussing the logo Lombardi conceptualized.
The whole country mourned Lombardi’s untimely death from cancer in 1970. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Ohio the following year. It was intuitive to name the trophy after him then. As the main visual representation of the Super Bowl, it was also intuitive to incorporate the trophy into a standard logo in 2010.
The press release read: “A sports event of this stature needed a consistent, iconic identity—a symbol that fans could immediately recognize, much like the Olympic rings. The Vince Lombardi trophy, bestowed on league champions each year, was the ideal inspiration for a lasting symbol.”
Now that the event has become its own brand, it is fitting for the logo to represent the sport and the league more than any one game.
What’s important to learn here is that effective logo design is almost never quick or easy.
Great logos are only one part of brand identity. This means creating a logo does not come first. According to Designing Brand Identity, design is the third phase of five in building brands. Companies shouldn’t attempt it before the intensive processes of conducting research and clarifying strategy.
Even then, the design stage can’t be rushed. “Designers examine hundreds of ideas before focusing on a final choice. After a final idea emerges, testing its viability begins yet another round of exploration.”
Logo Design Properties
The love of the game knows no bounds. It follows that certain sports companies are top of the line brands with expertly designed logos. Designing Brand Identity continues into the importance of typography:
“Typography is a core building block of an effective identity. Typography must support positioning strategy. The best logotypes are a result of thoughtful typographic exploration. Each typographic decision is driven by visual and performance considerations, as well as by what the typography itself communicates.”
“Type is magical. It not only communicates a word’s information, but it conveys a subliminal message.” —Erik Spiekermann
The NFL’s official font, Endzone, is original and proprietary. Half of USA Today’s top 10 NFL team logos of all time feature typography as well. Sports apparel brands and even sports cars have some of the best logos in history. The ADIDAS brand guidelines specify the chosen font as an expression of their brand identity: “Roboto is the preferred ADIDAS brand typeface. Its clean, strong contemporary style accentuates the streamlined experience we deliver to our customers.”
Each year the first issue of Communication Arts Magazine is a celebration of typography. The award winners are best in class for visionary use of typography that pushes the boundaries of design. One award recipient in the Motion category created an original campaign for NIKE. In 2014 NIKE branding geniuses created a new holiday, Air Max Day.
The designers who worked with NIKE for Air Max Day 2017 said, “We took a reductionist approach with our typeface’s letterforms. By using geometries loosely based on Futura Extra Bold Condensed and executing them in a way that references the product’s iconic Air Max Bubble, we developed typography that’s flexible enough to live in both 2-D and 3-D.”
From Brand Identity to Fan Identity
The brands that stand the test of time are ones with identities like diamonds. They’re rock solid and unchanging, but serve as prisms that can cast any color of the light spectrum from any angle.
The NIKE brand will continue to be a never-ending fountain of creativity. Future marketing campaigns truly have no limit and can incorporate all brand touchpoints, both physical and digital. Loyal NIKE customers consistently make the brand their own. People from all cultures and all walks of life incorporate the athletic wear into their personal identities. You see the NIKE swoosh no matter where you are in the globe.
A newer brand that has gained fierce loyalty is Tesla. Case in point: Teslarati is a media company specifically created to cover all Tesla developments for Tesla owners.
The Tesla Brand Manual reads: “The Tesla Visual Identity [the Tesla T, the wordmark and the flag] is more than a badge or logo: it stands for who we are. It is a visual representation of our brand, our values and our commitment to be the best of the automotive and technology worlds.
“The relationship between each element of our visual identity has been carefully considered: the letters have been specially drawn… to create a unique, distinctive mark. The Tesla wordmark is the most common expression of the Tesla Visual Identity.”
Tesla’s brand identity and its sports car stand equal to legacy car manufacturers like Ferrari, Lamborghini and Porsche. It would feel just as natural to see the Tesla badge on the back of a racecar-style jacket as any of the luxury classics. There are no boundaries for sports teams, sports apparel and even sports cars with strong brand identities. Investing in a brand fans will identify with pays a return of passionate brand ambassadors.
Bringing It All Together
Though the industry calls it designing, we think of ourselves as brand partners because building identity is more like architecture. It takes a collective of expert professionals working with synergy across a suite of capabilities. MOSAIC shapes our clients’ identities because we take the time to do so.
The NFL, NIKE, Tesla and other sporting greats invested what was necessary to create something new. They provide distinct, genuine value that instills borderline obsession in their followings. And our passion is to help you do the same. From designing visual elements to original use of typography to going bold with promotional apparel, we are excited to bring brands to life. If you’re ready to start working on your brand, contact us today.