How is it that simple icons like a swoosh or an apple have become such powerful brand images? Obviously, Nike and Apple did not become multi-billion dollar brands overnight; they had to work to build their images. I have no doubt that Apple would not be as successful as they are today had they stuck with their original logo design from 1976. The dramatic pencil-sketch did not fit the clean, innovative brand it was to represent. The point here is not how hilarious the old logo may or may not be, but rather how simplicity and focus are at the foundation of virtually every successful logo.
comparison of Apple logo designs
Simplicity in logo design is absolutely essential to a strong and lasting image. Unfortunately, many designers these days are pumping out radical new logo designs sporting gradients, drop shadows, textures and overly complicated designs in an effort to stand out (note all Olympic logos as of late). It is true that originality is harder and harder to achieve in a world with millions of competing designers and logos, yet the designs that achieve simplicity in new and interesting ways are destined to be the iconic images of tomorrow.

Lets look at the ways in which a simple design can benefit a client:


In the 21st century, a logo is bound to exist across a variety of media; on a business card, on a website, in a magazine, maybe even the newspaper. This means your logo will appear in a multitude of sizes in both color and black and white. It is a good idea to complete a logo design in black and white before color is introduced in order to make sure the logo does not rely on color or effect in order to be successful. At Metropolis, we also test the logo at various sizes for legibility. It may look great on screen, but nothing more than a smudge when reduced small on a business card.


It is much easier to recall simple imagery, so why would you want to complicate the face of your company? Picture the McDonald’s logo. I bet you can see the curves and the bright shade of yellow exactly as they exist in real life. Now picture the logo design for the American media giant MGM… Having trouble? I bet you have seen it hundreds of times, it might be at the beginning of your favorite movie, but its complicated imagery and details make it nearly impossible to conjure up from memory.


Ideally, a logo would say something about what a company stands for, or what they do, in a simple, smart way. A good logo helps describe the company with color, typography or elegant iconography. Even if your brand is all about energy or movement or complexity, a clean and simple mark can still be successful. Many companies, like Facebook, Crate & Barrel and Barney’s, use nothing but type in their marks, yet each seems to describe their respective companies differently. The Facebook type is more digital, or technical, the Crate & Barrel more conservative, and the Barney’s more classical and sophisticated. More often than not, an attempt to explain a brand through the logo ends up complicating the design and confusing the viewer.
comparison of facebook crate and barrel barneys new york logo designs
Most people are uncertain as to what makes a logo successful. A designer’s job is to not only create something with visual appeal, but to help the client understand why the design was created the way it was and how it will benefit the company. Designing a logo is the ultimate exercise in problem solving. There are infinite answers, but the one that works best will make noise without having to yell.