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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 William Lidwell introduces the whys behind well-known guidelines and even debunks a few outdated design myths along the way.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.
The second goal of a logo is to trigger the right emotional response. That is why response is the second cognitive event in the ARMM model. The R is for Response. Once a stimulus gets our attention. Our brains evaluate, and form an emotional response to that stimulus within a couple of seconds. Well before we have time to consciously think about it. This almost instantaneous response is not a sophisticated or nuanced emotional evaluation.
It is the kind of quick and dirty assessment evolved for survival. Basically, we seek only to determine whether the stimulus is aggressive dominant or friendly submissive. So in order to design a logo that triggers the right emotional response, we need to make sure the basic shapes and typeface used align with the emotional tone of the brand. So what kinds of stimuli are perceived as aggressive versus friendly? Aggressive stimuli include angular shapes such as triangles, vertical lines, and asymmetry in the elements.
These shapes and attributes signal dominance, authority, boldness, and action. Friendly stimuli include round, curvy shapes, horizontal lines, and symmetry in the elements. These shapes signal submissiveness, collaboration, honesty, and stability. Let's look at a few examples of aggressive, dominant logos. The Mitsubishi Motors logo is a visual translation of the Japanese word, Mitsubishi. Mistu meaning three and Bishi meaning diamond.
Three diamonds. From an emotional response point of view; however, all that matters is the arrangement of the three angular shapes in the form of a triangle. This sets a very strong dominant emotional tone and because the triangle is symmetrical this dominance is associated with stability. Similarly the Adidas logo uses three angled strips to form a mountain peak setting the same strong dominant emotional tone. However, here the angled stripes and subtle asymmetry of the peak imply motion.
And note how they increase in height from left to right, implying ascent. A logotype version of the same effect can be seen with the angular letters in the EA logo. Note that by simply slanting the E forward to match the angle of the A, the logo type achieves an aggressive posture. In this Hewlett Packard logo exploration, the hp initialism was also placed at a forward angle to give it an aggressive posture, but then it was made even more aggressive by removing all of the horizontal lines, leaving four vertical lines.
The exploratory goal was minimalism, but the extreme verticality, combined with its aggressive posture made this a very aggressive dominant logo. Too aggressive for a consumer electronics company. HP was right not to adopt it. And finally, the classic NIKE Swoosh; also known as the curvy check mark. The curve in the logo gives it a degree of friendliness, but the primary emotional tone is set by its strong asymmetry and it's sharp points.
Conveying motion and dominance. All of these logos signal dominance, authority, boldness, and action through their angularity, verticality, and asymmetry. Now, let's look at some examples of friendly, submissive logos. In the United Wat logo, all elements are round and curvy. The fingers, the back of the hand, the person standing, and the concentric circles at the top. All signaling friendliness, welcoming, and trust.
Just what you would expect from a United Way logo. The GE logo has always interested me. The round logo, roundly scripted initials, and art nouveau interior scrolls, all signal friendliness and submission. The interior scrolls do hint at motion, but the overall emotional tone of the logo is one of calm instability. It is a distinctive graphical mark but I'm not sure how well it aligns with the emotional tone of the GE brand.
The Toyota logo signals approachability and friendliness with its three ellipses, two of which form the T for Toyota. Their symmetrical configuration also conveys stability which aligns nicely with their reputation for quality. The Starbucks logo is a favorite of mine. A nice round logo filled lots of nice curvy shapes and elements. It sets a perfect coffeehouse emotional tone. Calm, friendly and inviting. Similarly the logo fo Southwest Airlines is a heart.
A nice curvy shape circumscribed by a circle with horizontal lines forming wings on both sides. Heart signals friendliness both in it's form and its symbolism. The roundiness and symmetry of the logo signal trust and approachability, and the prominent horizontal wing lines signal calm and stability. A logo that aligns perfectly to Southwest's brand values. And finally, the Disney logo type. Consisting of a swirly round handwritten script that is both inviting and playful.
And of course, the sometimes used Mickey logo. You can't get much friendlier than three big circles. All of these logos signal friendliness, submissiveness, honesty and stability. Through round, curvy shapes, horizontal lines, and symmetry. So what about the all too common square or rectangular shapes in logos? Generally speaking, squares and rectangles are emotionally neutral.
That is, any emotional response will be generated by what's in the square logo, its typography or through color but not by its shape. Examples of emotionally neutral logos include Facebook, 3M, Gap, and GM. One significant implication of the ARMM model is that emotionally neutral logos are considered deficient. That is, logos that fail to elicit inappropriate emotional response are lacking.
The resulting guideline is that square and rectangular shapes should generally be avoided in logo design. And diffused, other elements in the logo that need to be strong enough to set the emotional tone. So let's summarize. The second goal of a logo is to trigger an appropriate emotional response. That is why response is the second cognitive event in the R model. The R is for response. How do we make a logo trigger the right response. If we want to set a tone of dominance, authority, boldness or motion, we use angular shapes, vertical lines and asymmetry.
If we want to set a tone of friendliness, submissiveness, honesty or stability, we use round, curvy shapes. Horizontal lines, and symmetry. And remember, a good logo sets an emotional tone. Therefore, emotionally neutral shapes, like squares and rectangles, should generally be avoided in logo design.
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