After listening to Roman Mars’ podcast on flag design, I realized how many other design problems can be solved by following (at least loosely) the five basic principles of flag design. The principles are:
1) Keep it simple. The flag should be so simple that a child can draw it from memory.
2) Use meaningful symbolism. The flag’s images, colors, or patterns should relate to what it symbolizes.
3) Use 2-3 colors from the standard color set.
4) Don’t use lettering or seals. Never use writing of any kind.
5) Be distinctive (or be related).
Now obviously, these rules don’t work for all design problems. However, when it comes to the process of designing a logo, most of them do. Let’s work through them one by one:
1) A logo should be simple. Mars mentioned how a flag needs to work both on a large scale and a small scale due to both the different vantage points of viewers and the various uses of flag paraphernalia. The same can be said when it comes to logos – they need to work on both a large and miniscule scale due to their many uses (i.e. business cards, signs, banners, envelopes, and so on). Keeping a logo design simple lends itself nicely to said logo working well at all sizes, within reason. In terms of a child being able to draw it from memory – I think there might be a little wiggle room there. I like to think a logo could be at least a little more complicated than a flag (especially if it utilizes both typography and symbolism), thus if a child can’t draw it from memory I’m fairly certain that’s not necessarily the sign of a bad logo.
2) Logos should certainly use meaningful symbolism. Everything – the colors, the typeface (if type is utilized), the form, the placement of said type and form – should have a reason behind it. A logo is the identity from which all other brand elements stem, so if it doesn’t have a strong and meaningful connection to whatever is being branded, there’s a problem.
3) Although I’m not certain it’s a set-in-stone rule, I do believe that logos should use only 2-3 colors. Since a logo always needs to work in black, relying on too many colors in a logo could quickly make its use in black and white complicated or even render the logo unrecognizable. Using 2-3 colors is an easy way to make sure your logo remains simple, adaptable, and distinguishable.
4) This is where flag design and logo design differ. Logos can and do utilize text. However, this is where keeping it simple comes in once again. Your company logo doesn’t need to include the entire company philosophy underneath its name. Save the less-than-vital information for other branding materials.
5) Be distinctive (or be related) is another rule that fits with both flag and logo design. Since logos are what corporations, businesses, individuals, events, and the like use to identify themselves, they need be unique and able to set the company/business/individual/event/etc. apart from the others in their field. However, the logo also needs to ring a bell with viewers. It needs to be related to whatever it’s branding and oftentimes somewhat related to the logos of others in its field in order to be recognized for what it is.
Roman Mars hit home the idea that flags are extremely important by using the example of the Chicago flag. The Chicago flag is absolutely everywhere – it’s adaptable and remix-able, used on anything from coffee cups to pins to t-shirts. it’s a distinct symbol of Chicago pride, deeply embedded in the civic imagery of the city. The flag is a banner under which people can rally to face important things. Mars even goes so far as to say, “It’s not just that people love Chicago and therefore love the flag, people love Chicago more because the flag is so cool.” And isn’t this exactly how we want people to feel about our logos? We want our logo to be so good, so “cool,” that it’s seen everywhere, used everywhere and plastered on everything. We want it to be simple, yet so impactful that it becomes more than just a logo. No matter what our logo represents, whether it be company or a conference, we want it to become a symbol under which people can rally. And these aforementioned rules can help us get there.
In my work this week, creating thumbnail sketches for an exhibition design conference logo, I hope to keep these rules in mind. Carrying with me a newfound confidence that logo designs are extremely important, I will strive to combine simplicity, innovation, and symbolism to make a mark from which my conference brand can grow.