The first two posts in this series identified what constitutes a significant trend (vs. a fad); how you go about exploring them; and how to make best use of them. In this final post of the series, I’m sharing what I see as the most significant longer-term trajectories or arcs in the trends that have shaped, and continue to shape, today’s logo designs; what they mean; where they’ve come from; and how they’ve evolved.
I’ve grouped these trends into larger macro categories. Even these trajectories have quite a bit of interrelationship and overlap, as you’ll see. I’ve also purposely not included logo example images, which may seem counterintuitive. However I want you to think about the underlying concepts, rather than getting tied up in specific executions. If you visit any online trend report after reviewing this list, you will most likely be able to recognize these macro trends in their more micro examples. (In fact, as a test, correlate these trajectories to Logo Lounge’s 2013 trend report categories after you’ve read this post.)
Nodes, dots, spokes, overlapping circles, mosaic patterns, woven elements, twined lines. Is this one really a surprise? I think most anyone can interpret this one as the impact of the internet, world economy/globalization, social media, and our desire to stay connected at all times (mobile) as well as the opposing force of wanting to move beyond our artificial technological connections to have real interactions with real human beings.
The names (dots, dashes, blobs, tesserae) will change, but this long-term trend will stick around for the near and not-so-near future.
Faddish? Hardly. Transparency has been an influencer even prior to the dotcom era. Lighter overlapping and blending colors; varying levels of opacity. Things partially revealed. Inside open to the outside. It’s really not a wonder that this has continued to be a focus post-dotcom and into the Great Recession.
The appeal of transparency reflects a desire for optimism, authenticity, and transparency in business, government, and relationships. It also reflects our renewed fascination with the natural world (think water, ice, clouds, filtered sunlight through leaves) and our concerns for global warming and sustainability.
Interestingly, oil, energy, transportation and other “hard” industries seem to be some of the most obsessed with transparency in brand identity design as they work to transform their public image. Sometimes it seems believable; sometimes not.
(3) Sum of Parts
This has always been a powerful tool, even thinking back to the emergence of corporate symbols over just business names and typography. This is where a mark or object is made up of multiple pieces or objects and where the whole has some meaning that’s greater than the sum of its parts. Or maybe the parts have additional meaning in their individuality than the total picture does together. This trend is evidencing in multiple explorations and directions right now in logo design (transparent leaves, anyone?)
What’s the goal here? Depends. It could be symbolizing individuals working to a common goal; demonstrating something at the “invisible” DNA/molecular level; a single organization with multiple audiences and messages; or just sheer volume and emphasis. Frequently this trend overlaps with the concepts of interaction and coming together, as well as social, friendly, etc. (See also Connectivity and Families and Variants.)
This is the long-trending arc of company logos following in the footsteps of mobile user interface (UI) and traditional operating system (OS) design. We’re talking logos that look like apps or buttons, including rounded cornered squares, glossy surfaces, icons, shadows, and reflections.
I say long-trending because we’ve actually seen this development’s early stages long before the current prevalence of smart phones and apps. It hearkens back much farther than Apple’s introduction of OS X, to Xerox PARC’s use of icons as a means of communication over line commands. Mobile has just grown the vernacular as we look at app buttons, speech bubbles (think IMs), badges, alerts, Google map pins, and other location-based symbolism.
The fascinating thing about this trend is not just its ubiquity and the desire of everyone to be associated with the convenience and connectivity of apps and mobile. For me, it’s more the impact of what this means for logo design and brand structure as a whole, as usage and needs change and the lines blur between logos, icons, buttons, and favicons (those tiny “logos” embedded in the URL field of your favorite websites.) For example when does your app icon or favicon become more your logo than the actual company logo itself?
As consumers move to more preference and usage of mobile over desktop computing, they are becoming more connected to the immediate and familiar. I’ve seen references to one study that showed people recognized Google’s app “logo” more as the company’s brand identity than the actual Google logo displayed on their website.
This has huge impact on brand identity and brand architecture for the future. Not the least of which is the impact on the standards-vetting of logos with minimum size and scaling experiments. We’re getting down to a few pixels by a few pixels for testing favicon potential. And their size typically prevents including any text. This is the new normal.
(5) Families and Variants
The trend towards appification means our already broad need for logo usage has an even broader spectrum of applications. This means the trend toward logo families and variants is as strong as ever. How do we accommodate all those different needs, optimize each, provide flexibility, and still maintain a strong backbone of cohesiveness and consistency?
Families and variants are nothing new to the experienced brand designer, but when given a new challenge, application, or requirement, you know creatives are going to get…well….creative. Even back when I was starting to do logo design in the 80s we were seeing designers wanting to “break the rules” of logo design’s traditional drive for structure by introducing variation or “controlled rebellion.” We saw logo families: The same logo, but applied in different but complementary colors. “Fixed” logotypes with variations of symbols. Fixed symbols and variations of type. We heard of “parents” and “siblings;” “sister” logos and “cousin” logos. All describing the architecture of their relationships and trying to show how far removed the acceptable variants were from the original.
Creative (rather than format) variation is typically most powerful in industries with inherent value in variation. For example, architecture, the arts, etc. And where the variants have inherent meaning. For example, a zoo with very distinctive and fixed logotype but where the symbol, rather than being a raucous mash-up of every animal imaginable, varies across application to show the diversity of animal life represented.
(6) Vibrancy and “Cleaner” Color
Fashionable and faddish color tends come and go on an annual basis, though it’s also based on longer term arcs. For good information on the latest fashionable color trends (impacting shorter term product lifecycles like fashion, paint, and home goods) the go-to is Pantone and their annual color forecasts.
Personally, I’ve always been stuck on what I call “transitional” color. I love color that completely changes based on its context and lighting. My first studio was painted a wonderfully mutable color that transitioned from a sunny, cheery, yellow-gold in the daytime to a moody, rich olive green at night. (Yum!)
I still tend to choose colors that can’t be described with a single color name. “No it’s not orange…it’s kind of a terra cotta, bricky color. More red than yellow, but definitely not an orangey-orange.” What? I knew I had a kindred spirit the day a client said she wanted her corporate color to be “a kind of gray blue color with some brown in it.” Sold!
While there’s still a lot of room for distinctiveness and personal preference in color choices, we’ve left a lot of the shocking primaries and double-hit fuscias of the dotcom era, but we still have (overall) a trend toward more vibrant and cleaner colors. Some of this can be chalked up to that desire for optimism, transparency, clarity, etc. and our fascination with sustainability and the vibrant colors of nature over the drab and subdued greens and browns we associated with “eco” only a decade ago.
As organic foods and dyes have shot to prominence, and printing and other fabrication techniques got beyond the dull and drab of recycled papers and uncoated stock without varnishes or finishes, our color sense has rebounded. It’s OK (and politically correct) to be colorful again. Today, that’s further amped by the “accessibility” of color. On-demand, full-color printing and the prevalence of digital over physical delivery has made full-color accessible to all.
Our increased interaction with online rather than physical design also means we want that saturated, vibrant, RGB color everywhere else, not just on our monitors. Even when it’s not physically possible in spot inks. Add to that advances in fidelity and resolution like Retina displays and you can only expect these trends to continue.
Less is more. Again. Thank god.
There’s a decided pendulum swing back toward simpler, cleaner logos. For many of us brand identity and logo designers, this is just representing a welcome arc back to what logo design was all about.
Current simplification trends that are being tracked include returns to: minimalism; monograms; logotypes; classic typography; simpler, iconographic or symbolic marks; clean geometries and angles; and black and white as a primary brand color scheme. Beyond efforts to stand out from the crowd of the busy and over-embellished logos of the last couple of decades, simplicity can be very meaningful. A simple logo can be seen as easy, direct, friendly, healthy, thrifty, or more natural, to name just a few.
For other reasons why this is such a significant trend to watch, see the related post, “Why are logos getting simpler and more minimalistic?”
What’s a Trend Worth to You?
The value of a trend is really about context and what it can contribute to, and communicate about, the meaning of the brand. While a company’s brand identity typically evolves over time, chasing short-term stylistic trends (fads) can be disruptive or downright detrimental. And they can even be ticking time bombs for the shelf-life of your logo and brand identity.
Consumer brands are expected to follow what’s fashionable and can afford to do this more frequently that the average business, which is one of the reasons that we see such frequent modifications and new directions from big national and global brands. But you need to keep in mind that they are planning for obsolescence and frequent evolution and reinvestment as a part of their business model. This may not be what you want to, or are able to, emulate.
A rebrand or a logo refinement represents an opportunity to change more than a graphic mark, but also to tell a new or better story. Ideally, you should be looking to the articulation of your brand to drive brand meaning and the logo concept. This ensures that your logo creative is built on a strong, meaningful foundation rather than a compendium of current design trends.
Having the strong articulation gives you the fuel for being creative, and recognizing and evaluating the right creative as it emerges. In addition to aligning all the strategy and creative, it also goes much farther than just a logo alone in driving the less design-focused, less “curated,” and more user-controlled environments of social media, PR, and word of mouth.
See Related Blog Posts:
Also in this series: