Have you ever tried to explain why certain food is delicious or why a song is so memorable and catchy?

Sometimes, it’s just easier to step back and appreciate the fantastic finished article for what it is.

But regardless of what we’re admiring, greatness is often the result of many compatible and refined elements coming together to shape something truly spectacular.

A treble-winning football team doesn’t secure that kind of success without every player being on top of their game and complementing each other’s strengths. Similarly, a film is more likely to bag an Academy Award if it has an original, inspiring story acted out by well-directed talent.

It’s the same with an iconic brand logo. There’s no tried-and-tested formula for greatness, but these are some of the more common ingredients of truly outstanding brand logos.

One of the key elements of so many iconic brand logos is simplicity.

Some of the best logos follow the ‘elevator pitch’ approach, laying out an organisation’s core functions or ethos at a glance. With such little time to play with during an elevator pitch, it’s impossible to delve into the details, so the most effective course of action is to cover the basics.

That’s possibly why the WWF adopted the graphic of a panda. It instantly depicts the organisation as wildlife conservationists without exploring the ins and outs of how it goes about protecting the planet’s most endangered species.

Other iconic logos tell you even less. For example, how do the golden arches of McDonalds say ‘fast food’? What’s sporty about the Nike swoosh? What says ‘cars’ about Ford’s blue oval?

It’s no coincidence that those examples claimed the top three spots in a recent run-down of the most iconic brands of all time.

Keeping it simple facilitates immediacy amongst the target audience, achieving presence and telling a story in a mere glimpse.

We’re going to contradict ourselves a tad here: sometimes, a great logo tells you a lot about a company.

Look at the much-missed Toys R Us. It has bright colours and a playful font, while the letters are different sizes and off kilter to each other. The reverse ‘R’ might seem a bit cringy by today’s standards but somehow it’s the cherry on the cake.

Similarly, Burger King puts its meatslabs front and centre, with the name seemingly representing a burger patty, sandwiched in a bun. It couldn’t be further away from the comparatively reticent yellow M of its rival.

So great logos can tell you everything and nothing – what did we say about there being no set formula?

How often do you see globally recognised brands changing their logo? It does happen – there have been no fewer than 14 iterations of Lego’s logo since 1934 – but any changes tend to be minor and very uncommon, like with Starbucks.

That’s why the most memorable and renowned logos tend to stay away from current trends and resist the urge to go with the here-and-now.

One graphic designer proved this point by reimagining some of the most famous logos using the trendiest design traits of today and the results were surprisingly bland.

Every company looked the same with little to no distinction from the other. Case in point: next time you’re in a hip part of town, compare the logos of independent cafes or barbers; we reckon you’ll agree they’re heart-breakingly samey.

An iconic brand will work well no matter where it appears: a shop front, a letterhead, an email signature, on a mug, plastered on the side of a plane.

A well-considered logo can be used anywhere, in any size without having its impact or recognisability diluted.

Competition exists in every sector and chances are any company you name has a direct rival fighting for the same customers.

So a distinct logo can help a brand stand out from the crowd, but so often, many organisations opt for the safe and simple approach, adhering to the industry hallmarks and falling in line with what’s already out there.

Of course, this minimises the risk of a logo bearing an unfortunate resemblance to something or being altered for similar comedy effect, but it’d be a dull world if every brand logo didn’t try something different.

Recent research from 4imprint found that more than half of all consumers are prepared to fork out extra cash for a well-known brand – find out more on Britain’s brand snobbery here.




“The 50 Most Iconic Brand Logos of All Time.” complex.com. 7.3.13

“Evolution of the LEGO logo”. logodesignlove.com.