Suddenly, flat design is all the rage. From Microsoft to Apple, the “new” flat style is taking over screens everywhere, and our buttons and apps have never looked smoother. Of course, companies are now also in a mad race to make their logos flatter than the next guy’s.
Beyond the trend, there are several legitimate reasons for this. Simplicity removes distraction and communicates quicker — perfect for the online engagement frenzy and especially the mobile world of the smartphone. Things are just more easily decipherable with pared down visuals, and their smaller file sizes also satisfy our ever-increasing need for speed.
But one of the most compelling reasons for the change is that skeuomorphism is out — that is, we no longer feel the need to pretend that new media should somehow copy and replicate the look and feel of the tools and objects that came before. Digital folders on our computer screens no longer need to look like the paper folders in our file cabinets (do we still use those?), and navigation tabs on websites no longer need to look like the things that stick up from those paper folders. Just as we ditched Naugahyde in the ’70s, skeuomorphism was fun while it lasted — it served its purpose but it’s no longer necessary.
It seems like just yesterday that we were all scurrying to make every design look as 3-dimensional, shiny and “real-looking” as possible, with several drop shadows thrown in for good measure. Making things look like real-life objects was a handy style-bridge between yesterday and today, helping us familiarize ourselves with the cold new world of pixels. But we’ve been living in the digital age for a while now, and we don’t need that security blanket anymore. A digital world requires its own visual language, not a second hand copy of things that came before.
I love flat design and am happy that things have progressed to the point where simple forms, beautiful layouts, and typography can once again rule the day in visual communications. Trends are cyclical by nature, but what matters most is not the style — but rather, is it good and does it work?
Flat design can be wonderful but it is very difficult to do well — it takes “real” designers and illustrators to pull it off. Minimalism is deceptively simple and unfortunately, we see a lot of bad flat design because of it. As flat design’s inherent simplicity offers no place to hide, it will now be easier to separate “those who can” from “those who can’t.” All those tacky stylistic renderings and cheap “special effects,” layered upon ugly layer, did a fine job of concealing a lack of real design skill — but Halloween is over and the mask needed to come off eventually.
The key now is to make flat design and the return to minimalism as clever and interesting as anything more elaborate — boring, empty design won’t spark anyone to action and is the risk taken with less capable hands.
So… bring on the flat — no more 3-D buttons that feel like we can push them, no more leatherette backgrounds (why do we call them “wallpapers” anyway?) and no more spherical balls when a plain circle will suffice.
It’s time to move past all the unnecessary adornment and the land of bells and whistles — to embrace our present by looking to the past. Flat design is not a trend, it’s a reawakening.
The return to the visual was inevitable, really. Modern media demands it.
Communication as pictograms means we have come full circle — a return to a day when images provide the best way to satisfy the insatiable “need to know” while on the fly. We don’t catch our info while fleeing from woolly mammoths anymore. Instead, our big, hairy, audacious stressor is modern culture itself.
Words are important, but pictures say so much more when skimming the social streams and checking in with the myriad of digital devices at our fingertips. Coupled with the need to “tell a story” in order to engage and capture the imagination of our audiences, you can see why the visual has risen to such prominence in today’s business communications, digital platforms and overall marketing efforts.
“90% of information transmitted to the brain is visual, and visuals are processed 60,000X faster in the brain than text.” ~ Source: 3M
More than ever, communications need to be crisp and clear — quickly and effectively repurposing themselves across an almost infinite array of media and digital devices, all with different screen sizes and technical requirements — changing on an almost daily basis. Even getting just a few words working in all these different contexts can be a challenge, but a simple visual or icon will work for them all.
Restroom symbols are what they are because "ya gotta go when ya gotta go” and nothing will get you where you gotta go quicker. Same with modern media.
Yet, with all this simplification of ideas down to visuals, are we compromising depth of understanding for practical convenience? Are we forever stuck in a type of Plato's cave where all we ever see are shadows rather than true meaning? Can we stop for just a second and contemplate this notion? Please?
Thoughts as visuals. Every social media redesign makes the pictures bigger. Every logo redesign seems to bring us closer to the purity of a basic circle, square or triangle. It is part of the natural progression from complexity to simplicity. Our modern culture demands it, our overloaded brains require it, and science proves it.
You can choose to resist this reality or accept it, but you can’t deny that our world has changed and our communications have changed with it. We interact with content differently now. Or is it really just a return to the way things used to be?
If you don’t adapt and move your communications strategy towards the visual, you run the real risk of going unnoticed and unheard. You and your business will basically be rendered invisible.
The choice is yours. Fight or flight.
Photo of cave drawing from the Lascauex Cave, France.
We believe a big key to winning in today’s business world is a smart, integrated approach to marketing and communications. In order to make an impression in these busy, distracted times, design can be the differentiator. Sure, your image will be leaps ahead of the others — but your messages will also be fine-tuned and cohesive; your communications will be clear and user-friendly; but most importantly, they will be powerfully integrated together!
re:DESIGN is excited to share a few exciting projects that we believe do just that, as well as earning us three awards in a national design competition, The American Graphic Design Awards sponsored by Graphic Design USA.
What is re:DESIGN?
re:DESIGN is a boutique agency that specializes in strategic design, branding, social media, and communications — bringing standout design to our clients so their businesses rise above the competition.
We excel at helping companies and professionals achieve special things through smart strategies and sharp, award-winning design that gets noticed while delivering a clear, convincing message. From custom logos to comprehensive branding and cohesive communications strategies, re:DESIGN reenergizes businesses by creating integrated programs throughout all of today’s media touchpoints: from digital to print to experiential.
What are the American Graphic Design Awards?
The American Graphic Design Awards is the biggest and broadest of the three national design competitions sponsored by Graphic Design USA for nearly five decades. It honors outstanding creative work of all kinds and across all media, and is open to advertising agencies, graphic design firms, corporations, institutions, publishers and more. There were more than 8,000 entries and of these, only a highly selective 15% are recognized as winners with an Awards Certificate of Excellence.
We are proud to share a little peak into these three unique award-winning projects, representing three completely different types of projects and media: logo/branding design, website/mobile design and an exquisitely designed print brochure.
Logo/Branding — My Book Club
This is a classic example of a logo that is deceptively simple yet complex in its execution. The witty design effectively sums up the brand at a quick glance, conveying its personality — and all through the use of type. It was designed to work as well online as it does offline, and even at the smallest of sizes.
“Your logo symbolizes all that is your company, product, service or event. It is also the ‘handshake’ for when you can’t be there in person, so it is vital for a business to get the logo right from the very beginning.” ~ Paul Biedermann
, 12 Most Essential Ingredients for an Exceptional Logo
Website/Mobile — The Dorsey Group
A comprehensive redesign of a corporate web and mobile presence that was also bound up with a brand refresh that infused energy and new life into this company. With smart, strategic design and focused attention to detail, the site is engaging and easy to navigate while the custom mobile landing pages offer easy access while on-the-go.
QR codes were also utilized, linking print communications to these other digital communications, creating a cohesive, integrated brand experience no matter the touch point: viewing a website at work, checking a mobile device at a conference, or reading a print piece at home.
Print — McGraw-Hill Construction Outlook
This is a flagship publication for this business and the most highly respected economic forecast in the construction industry which includes detailed analysis, market research and industry trends. This exquisitely designed and printed communication is a valued resource that analysts and industry professionals depend on for timely information every year, culminating in an annual conference in Washington D.C.
Distilling complex information down into engaging, user-friendly experiences that communicate clearly and powerfully is something we excel at. re:DESIGN is proud to have consistently won awards for this report’s design and communications excellence, year after year for over a decade.Looking ahead
While it is an honor to receive such accolades, we are not ones to rest on our laurels — it’s literally back to the virtual drawing board as we continue looking forward. These are exciting times, but we believe the key is not to focus only on digital, social media, or any other flavor of the month — but rather to bring them all together in a powerful, integrated way that surrounds your particular market at every touch point, including print.
To our online community as well as our families and friends: thank you for the support — you are appreciated. We are excited for the future and all that it brings for re:DESIGN! What can we do for you?Read the Press Release Like us on Facebook!
Take a look at more of the logos we’ve designed
And here are more of our branding and websites
All images copyright © 2012 Paul Biedermann, re:DESIGN.
What is a personal brand
It is you. Your story. This intimate story is portrayed via an overall message that weaves throughout your communications and social media platforms.
Just as major consumer brands have well-known, universally recognized images, individuals can have them too. But more than just a mere surface image, it is important to have a deeper story
too. This serves as the backbone for all you are about, who you are and why you do what you do. How successful you are in telling your story will determine how deeply it resonates with your audience and will ultimately determine the success of your brand. When you are first learning about social media, you are usually unaware that you are creating an online persona for yourself with each post, status update and tweet. It is all experimental at this point as you learn how to navigate the various mediums.
The essential element in creating your personal brand is to be authentic
. ee cummings said, “it takes courage to grow up and be who you are.” Don’t copy someone else’s style: be yourself! Being an imitation of the most fabulous thing imaginable is still just an imitation, and people catch on to this behavior very quickly. Consider your avatar to be your logo: keep it fresh and real.Be outstanding
Each person has unique qualities and gifts
that make them special. Find yours and amplify them. If you are hesitant about what image you are projecting, find interesting blogs or links to share that fit within your strategy and build up your confidence as you go. Pay attention to what people “like” or retweet; figure out where you are connecting with your followers and build on that. Above all, please be interesting! You may start with a little kindling and end up with a big bonfire if you create the proper base.Consistency is key
If your goal is to be viewed as a professional
, this needs to be seen across the board throughout all of your social media efforts. The language that you use is the currency and relevancy to your message. Make wise choices and remember that the internet is permanent. Linking your social media channels together makes it seamless for a follower to travel from your Twitter bio or other social media page over to your blog. This does not mean that you should show all your tweets on LinkedIn and tweet your Facebook statuses. A separate, similar message is fine — no need to be redundant.
Your personal brand will evolve over time but you start projecting your brand from your very first tweet or post. You might not think you have a personal brand yet, but you do. Consider what this might be and polish it up if necessary. It is not just your avatar but all your interactions woven together to create a personal story: your personal brand
. Make it a good one!
Many brands are caterpillars
, lounging and crawling along without a clear message and without direction. But realizing this is just the first step to progress, next comes the cocoon stage
in which dreams begin to be shaped into something palpable — a dynamic brand that commands attention.
The planning phase sets the stage for your brand, supporting its evolution into a butterfly. Once your brand’s core message is in place and your unique story is defined; once you determine exactly whom you want to engage and what you want to accomplish: it’s time to spread those wings and fly!
Many brands fall short and fail to execute properly. Don’t skimp on these final steps — refine your image and turn it into a dynamic brand force! A carefully-executed, smart design will polish your brand and give your message the professionalism and oomph it needs to make one clear, powerful statement. A well-crafted brand takes everything you are and distills it into one succinct, compelling message that is packaged in a way that slices right through today’s busy, noisy world.
Consistently used throughout all of your media touch points, both online and offline, your fully-evolved brand will speak with the same, unified voice no matter where it appears. The hard work of your brand evolution pays off in its authenticity, it’s clarity of message, its focused strategy and its intelligent design that is both appropriate for your audience and packs a punch.
But remember: your brand cannot forego visual impact! So much more than trite decoration, it is what delivers your message and gets your brand noticed. Strategy and message alone won’t cut it — a strong brand will unify both for an effective, integrated program in both traditional and new media.
Just like the most wonderful of butterflies, your brand needs to soar and captivate its audience. The wind beneath its wings is your carefully crafted brand message that comes only from determining who you truly are and what you really want.
Design built upon strategy: the secret sauce to becoming a beautiful butterfly and for realizing your full business potential. Now fly!
Once your brand has passed the caterpillar stage
of being stuck and it’s not sure of the best way forward, it is time for some serious evolution! This begins by defining your core values.
Take the time to assess, evaluate and examine the unique elements of your brand that will transform it into a beautiful butterfly. There is no rushing and skipping the cocoon phase. Think and reflect — what makes you and your business special? Try to go beyond the obvious to get to “a new obvious”. Ask others what they think and listen to what they have to say. The answers may surprise and even enlighten you.
Perhaps using self-evaluation tools will help get to the root of who you are and what you do. No doubt, this is not always an easy process. We become so used to who we think we are and what we think we do, that it can be difficult to see past these preconceived notions. But soar beyond the obvious you must, because that is where the sizzle is that will set your brand apart from the rest.
Shape a dream into a reality by defining clear goals. After allowing the proper time for self-reflection and determining the best, unique you, make sure that your goals are realistic and sustainable. Be clear and defined. Don’t let things just happen anymore and don’t be fuzzy — that’s for caterpillars! Let the spark and sizzle of your ideas inspire and invigorate your brand. Take charge now and make it happen!
Honing your core values and unique story into a sharp, clear, concise message will take you to that next level of brand evolution and growth. No more waiting on a branch searching for that next leaf to eat! Plan your metamorphosis into a dynamic brand by:•
Defining your core values•
Finessing a dream•
Creating your message
Next? Become a butterfly
Image courtesy of borman818 licensed via Creative Commons.
Attention spans are short. Do you know how long your brand has to hit your target audience? You have only a few seconds to make your first impression. “The addictive nature of web browsing can leave you with an attention span of nine seconds — the same as a goldfish,” said the BBC
in this article.
“Even if a brand could reach everyone, it still can’t break through most of the time. People simply shut out a message by fast-forwarding or clicking to the next one”, says Sally Hogshead in her book “Fascinate”. Can you and your brand break through the short attention span of the people you are trying to reach?
Roger Ebert wrote a brilliant post on “The quest for frisson”
, which is the French word for “a brief intense reaction, usually a feeling of excitement, recognition or terror”. This translates into online behavior as the need to “Like,” Plus One and Tweet away — searching for the next buzz.
It may be a challenge to capture your audience at warp speed but it is not impossible. To give yourself half a chance, your brand must be targeted and effective. In order for brands to be successful, they must be:
Run-of-the-mill won’t cut it. Get rid of those old hand-me-downs and get stylish already! Remember: image is everything. Frumps need not apply.
Get to the point and shed those extra words. There is no room for verbose fluff, and nobody will read that dense text anyway. So, make sure your most important points are seen loud and clear! Bonus points for making them memorable.
People recognize quality when they see it. Even if only subliminal, high quality is recognized and rewarded. Don’t be mediocre — strive to be the best!
Brands must present a cohesive message and image, so each time somebody experiences the brand it correlates to the larger whole. The all too-frequent alternative is a disjointed, fractured image that fights itself. There is no difference between a brand with mixed messages and a competitor’s message — they both fight your own brand in the exact same way! There is no room for confusion in branding.
So, what is your brand's message? Can you summarize it in eight to nine seconds or are you missing the mark?
Image of dartboard courtesy of raspberreh and licensed via Creative Commons.
Your logo symbolizes all that is your company, product, service or event. It is also the “handshake” for when you can’t be there in person, so it is vital for a business to get the logo right from the very beginning. Conversely, if done incorrectly, it will be a poor reflection on you and your business for a long time to come.
Take advantage of this exciting opportunity to breathe life and energy into your business, providing something tangible for people to rally behind. And for Pete’s sake, don’t let your niece or nephew “do your logo” unless they have the proper training and professional background. Countless brand identities have been compromised and otherwise good businesses relegated to the lowly rank of amateur status, simply because their logos looked like Sally or Joey whipped them up in five minutes on their iPod Touches. Hire a pro.
I hope the following list helps you understand all the things that need to be considered when designing a logo. It is much better to be prepared from the outset, rather than caught off-guard later in the game, with deadlines looming and business opportunities hanging in the balance.
Simple is anything but simple to do. Taking a complex set of business objectives and distilling them down into one simple symbol or logotype that encapsulates everything a particular business is about, while still accomplishing the eleven things that follow, is anything but simple.2. Unique and memorable
We have all heard there are no new ideas, just a re-hashing of the old ones. However, a first-rate designer will find a way to give your logo a new twist that makes it compelling, triggering a positive association with your business every time it is seen.3. Don’t be trendy
It is important for logos to be current, but that doesn’t mean trendy. Things that follow the latest gimmicks and hottest trends get old really quick. Shoot for quality design that will stand the test of time — I am sure your business plans to be around for awhile, so your business image should follow suit!4. On target
No matter how attractive or memorable a logo is, it won’t mean much if it doesn’t satisfy the business and brand objectives determined at the outset (you did take the time to do this before beginning number 1, didn’t you?). As your business identity continually reinforces your brand, it should also be emphasizing the right things.5. Work cross-media
Logos need to work both online and in print. Experienced designers account for this in the earliest stages and design accordingly. This needs to be addressed when producing final art files, as well. Depending on the particular circumstances, it may also need to work for things such as embroidery, engraving, etching, embossing, etc. These may even require alternate logo versions to be created but not all logos are that easily adaptable.6. Hold up at all sizes
Logos need to look good when scaled up to the largest billboard or when reduced to fit the slimmest of pens. There is nothing worse than a logo that reveals its imperfections when giant or looks like a squished bug when small. And here’s one little tip: be sure your logo is designed in vector format (if you don’t know what this is, skip immediately to number 12!).7. Effective in full-color and one-color
There will be occasions when a logo still needs to look great when there isn’t the luxury of using multiple colors and costly inks. From low cost promotional items to fancier items such as crystal awards, metal plaques, and embossing on special papers, one-color art is required that will exploit these special manufacturing processes to the fullest.8. Ease of use
A logo that even a professional designer has trouble using is not a good logo. Nor does it help if the usage guidelines are complex and difficult to understand. In fact, it practically guarantees that the logo will appear incorrectly more often than not, thereby fragmenting the brand.9. Mass appeal
While I believe strongly that there is good design and bad design, logos can be very subjective and what appeals to one person may not appeal to someone else. In fact, many people seem to enjoy shooting down logos as some new kind of blood sport.
A quality logo, charged with functioning effectively in the world of commerce, should appeal to more people than not, leaving a positive impression that drives business.10. Fit the big picture
A logo, no matter how good, is only one component of any comprehensive branding program. It should fit seamlessly with the overall design strategy, ideally forming the foundation of a cohesive program that speaks with one, powerful voice. In the best of situations, the logo provides the visual impetus from which everything else is derived.11. On budget
Whether you are a fledgling startup or a huge mega-brand, there is a designer or agency that fits your needs. An expert designer will partner with clients to arrive at the best solution, while working within the available resources determined at the outset.12. Hire a professional
To ensure that the 11 steps articulated above are taken into full consideration, work with a professional designer or agency. A professional will partner with you to create the right logo for you and your business. It will save time, headaches and money in the long run, and be one of the most important investments
your business can make. Designers and branding experts enjoy seeing their clients succeed as much as the clients themselves — pick one you trust and see the results for yourself!
If accomplishing all this in one logo seems a bit like standing on your head, chewing gum and rubbing your tummy all at the same time, it is. Only more difficult.
Logos are widely misunderstood and their simplicity can deceive one into thinking they are easy to do. But if you look at the list above, I think you will see that a good logo which may look simple on the outside, is anything but simple on the inside. In fact, most designers consider logos to be among the most difficult of assignments.
So, what has your experience been with logos? Are you happy with yours and has it been effective for your business? Is there anything you would have done differently?
This post first appeared on the best list site on the web, 12 Most.
Featured image courtesy of Paul Biedermann, re:DESIGN.
There certainly seems to be a lot of interest in logos these days! As evidenced by Pepsi, GAP, Starbucks and others — people love to shoot down logos.
I find this phenomenon fascinating. I always thought logos, as important and visible as they are, were mostly ignored by the public at large. Vying and wrestling for our attention, they are just there, in all their crass glory — contributing to so much of the visual clutter we see every day. People generally tend to program themselves to tune out distractions — as a kind of coping mechanism.
It’s no secret that social media has given voice to the legions of people looking to express themselves. But where is this passion for logos coming from? Is it new or has it always been there? We know how much brands can mean to people, but logos? Has our capitalistic society so consumed our consciousness that we are now “one” with our consumerism, and logos really are like old buddies?
Or is it something else? Is it simply a herd mentality that mobilizes and propels us to start throwing darts? It’s all in good fun, right? Logos are easy targets — simple, little defenseless visuals that they are. If we know and relate to a brand, perhaps we feel it’s our god-given right to criticize. After all, it’s our hard-earned dollars that made them who they are, right?
I’m guilty too
When it comes to logos, I’m as critical as anyone. With the GAP debacle, I was right in the thick of it and spewing my opinions. As a professional designer/creative director, there were real concerns — not just about the logo per se, but also about the process itself and how a major corporation was going about its rebranding while devaluing the design profession.
Recently, Starbucks has also raised passionate discussions about their plans for a logo change. Again, the comments have been overwhelmingly negative and harsh.
But I find something here very telling: with Starbucks, those in the professions of design and branding seem much more measured in their criticisms. The broader public, though, seems just as angry and snarky as they were of GAP. It’s open season on logos again — no distinction is made between the two experiences although both are somewhat different. I have witnessed this same behavior on several of my own logo projects over the years.
Pros and cons(umers)
As professionals, we tend to be analytical in our assessments — exploring the rationales behind the solutions; paying attention to the overall objectives and strategies. But for casual observers, the reaction is just a natural response. They either like it or they don’t. Are these the opinions then, that are “more real” in a way? Aren’t these the same people who will be reacting in the marketplace and making purchasing decisions? They certainly won’t be giving logos very much thought when buying their jeans and Grande Lattes.
Do the experts really know something more?
I think what it comes down to is this: When a logo and new identity program is rolled-out, it is usually done in a strategically deliberate fashion — planned just as carefully as the design phase. Logos usually aren’t just foisted on the public who are then asked what they think. At least that’s not how it used to happen.
Recently though, and partially enabled by Facebook and Twitter, some companies seem compelled to let the cat out of the bag early, before the logo has been given a proper introduction. Surely, companies know this will invite criticism, especially in this climate of logo-bashing. Maybe all they want is early buzz, even if it’s negative. They probably see no harm in crowdsourcing opinions in order to head off any problems early on. But does this in itself invite problems? At the very least, it is likely to produce inaccurate feedback.
Give change a chance
Whatever the case may be, it is clear that people have fun shooting down logos. But if people were given the opportunity to let them breathe, the result might be different. People don’t like change, so abruptly foisting a new logo on someone cold welcomes a negative reaction.
It is common for logos to grow on people with time. As they gain familiarity, good logos fit naturally with the rest of the branding strategy and then all the rest starts to make sense, propelling the brand to new successes. When executed well, the change is noticed but not obtrusive. Hopefully, it’s never off-putting.
Many companies, especially larger ones, are notorious for possessing insecurities, particularly around identity change time. They like to test the waters. Understood. They also like publicity.
But perhaps these branding changes would meet with less resistance if companies stopped jumping the gun. And for those who just like taking aim at logos, maybe they’d be a little less trigger-happy if the poor little things were given more room to live.