The Science of Logo Design
Illustration by John Hersey

ARMMed and dangerous


From:

The Science of Logo Design

with William Lidwell

Video: ARMMed and dangerous

What makes a logo good? Many people believe that a good logo is simply a graphical mark that looks interesting and professionally produced. In fact, many sites on the internet offer generic logos produced by talented graphic designers. Their claim is that all you need to do is add your brand name to their generic log and you're all set.

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Watch the Online Video Course The Science of Logo Design
45m 3s Beginner Apr 30, 2014

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Logo design requires artistry, but did you know your logos can also benefit from science? William Lidwell introduces the whys behind well-known guidelines and even debunks a few outdated design myths along the way. He reviews the 4 principles that make a logo ARMM'd for use: attention, response, meaning, and memory. Use these tips to bring scientific rigor to your logos and start designing on evidence, not industry hearsay.

This course was created and produced by William Lidwell. We're honored to host this training in our library.

Subject:
Design
Author:
William Lidwell

ARMMed and dangerous

What makes a logo good? Many people believe that a good logo is simply a graphical mark that looks interesting and professionally produced. In fact, many sites on the internet offer generic logos produced by talented graphic designers. Their claim is that all you need to do is add your brand name to their generic log and you're all set. Many also believe that logos of successful companies that have been around a long time, like Coca-Cola and General Motors, are good by virtue of the fact that the brands have been around a long time.

But in this course, we've learned that both of these beliefs are incorrect. When we look through the lens of the Science of Logo Design, that is, what makes logos work in our brains according to research and experiment? A good logo is defined by the degree to which it accomplishes four cognitive events in the minds of viewers, and that is the ARMM model. To recap, ARMM is an acronym. The A is for attention.

A good logo grabs attention. The R is for response. A good logo elicits an appropriate emotional response for the brand. The first M is for meaning. A good logo expresses multiple meanings that align with the brand. The second M is for memory. A good logo is memorable. Logos that achieve all four cognitive events are good. Logos that do not, are not good. No matter how credible or interesting or well produced a logo may appear, and no matter how long a logo has been around, or how successful its brand may be.

If it does not achieve these four cognitive events, it is not a good logo. Brands can be, and often are, successful despite a bad logo especially when the companies and their logos pre-date the age of mass communication, computers, and the internet. So, let's conclude this series by looking at a couple of examples that are good according to the ARMM model. The American Airlines logo. It grabs attention through novelty, bright contrasting colors, and partially obscured stimuli.

The hidden eagle body, the missing half of the A, the missing plane, and so on. It sets an emotional tone of dominance, authority, credibility, and action through the use of sharp angles, verticality, and asymmetry. All of which align well to the brand. It expresses multiple meanings by making the logo propositionally dense. With the minimum number of surface propositions, the logo conveys numerous deep propositions, including an eagle, a wing, a plane, flight, the letter A for American, red white and blue for America, and so on.

And it is memorable. It's uniqueness leverages the Von Restorff Effect, the hint of an A is a mnemonic device for American Airlines. And both the wing and the eagle are concrete which leverages the concreteness effect. In all four categories, the American Airlines logo gets high marks in the ARMM model. If you want an example of a great logo, this is it. Let's look at one more the World wildlife fund logo it grabs attention through novelty, baby face features and partially obscured stimuli.

It sets an emotional tone of submissiveness, collaboration, honesty, and stability through the use of round, curvy shapes and general symmetry. The logo has basically one surface proposition, a giant panda. In two or three deep propositions. A giant panda, endangered species, and maybe a teddy bear. With just one surface proposition, the logo only needs one deep proposition to achieve the minimum score of one. And it has a least that, and probably more.

Finally it is memorable. It leverages the Von Restorff effect in a giant panda is very concrete, leveraging the concreteness effect. Like the American Airlines logo. The World Wildlife Fund logo gets high marks in all four categories of ARMM. From a logo design perspective, it's a classic. In the first lecture, I made the claim that you can get everything else right about a logo design. You can make it pretty, simple, timeless, and scalable but if it doesn't get high marks across the ARMM categories, it wont be effective.

I also said that all you need to know at a strategic level is ARMM. The rest is just details. Now you know why these claims are true. A logos success or failure hinges on how it impacts our attention, emotions, intellect and memory. There is no getting around this fact. And the way we understand how logos impact these things, is science. The applied science of perception, cognition and memory.

Through the application of the Science of Logo Design, we ensure that the logos we design will be successful and raise the bar for the field. You now have the knowledge you need to design great logos and evaluate the quality of existing logos. Consider yourself armed and dangerous. Now go design something great.

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