The Science of Logo Design

with William Lidwell
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The Science of Logo Design
Video duration: 0s 45m 3s Beginner


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 William Lidwell introduces the whys behind well-known guidelines and even debunks a few outdated design myths along the way.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 ARMM model

- [Voiceover] If you have ever researched logo design, taken a course on it, or perhaps you have experience in designing logos yourself, you've no doubt run across guidelines like, "keep it simple," "make it timeless," and "it needs to work in black and white." But what you usually don't run across is the whys behind these guidelines, that is, the evidence that makes them so. And understanding the evidence is important because such guidelines are not only often oversimple, they're often just plain wrong.

For example, why is a simple logo better than a more complex logo? Well, it turns out, it isn't always better. There are many cases when complex logos outperformed simpler ones. Why is trying to make a logo timeless a good thing? You may be surprised to learn that it usually isn't. A timely, relevant logo will typically outperform more timeless designs, and then it can always be changed over time as needed. Why do logos need to work in black and white? The short answer: they don't.

Not anymore. There was a time when limitations in printing made this an important consideration, but today, it is largely an artificial constraint. The point is that when we blindly follow rules, without asking and understanding the whys, we never really get what's going on. That's why understanding the science of logo design is so powerful. It allows us to focus on what's important, to make better decisions, and to design based on evidence versus convention and hearsay.

So let's get to it. What makes a logo effective? To answer the question scientifically, we have to frame the response in terms of how our brains process logos. That is, we need to design for the brain. With this, we can see a logo is effective when it triggers the following four cognitive events in order. One: Attention. An effective logo grabs attention. It's a noisy world out there with a lot of things competing for people's attention.

If a logo isn't noticed, then everything else is moot. Two: Response. An effective logo elicits an appropriate emotional response. Generally, this simply means people like it at a gut level, without thinking about it. Three: Meaning. An effective logo expresses appropriate meanings. Logos represent brand values, so it's important that the meanings expressed align to those values.

Four: Memory. An effective logo is easily recognized and recalled. If people can't recognize or recall your logo, then any benefits will be short-lived, indeed. I call this the ARMM Model. ARMM is an acronym to help you remember these four cognitive events in their proper order. A for Attention, R for Response, M for Meaning, and another M for Memory.

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 won't be effective. Period. Correspondingly, how high a logo design scores across the ARMM categories gives you a good way to predict its effectiveness. So you can forget everything you've learned about what makes logos successful. All you need to know is ARMM.

The rest is just details.

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