Patterns and shapes can be found everywhere. Various designs found in nature have inspired great artists from all ages to make timeless pieces of art whether it be painting, poetry or even music. Mother Nature has boundless and yet to discover designs hidden in her bosom. The prehistoric man carved the shapes he saw in nature on stones and in caves. As man evolved so did his artistic freedom, shapes and patterns came out of caves and on temple walls and streets. As man grew smarter, he realized he could use these shapes to deliver unspoken yet powerful messages. He inculcated those designs in his business to deliver messages that would attract people and hence the birth of LOGO!
What is a logo?
The word ‘logo’ has its root in the Greek word ‘logos’ and is a graphic symbol used to promote public recognition. From ancient seals and coin markings, to the more contemporary minimalistic and abstract designs, logos have travelled a long way. Logo designs come in various shapes and colors and each of these have different meanings. A logo can be artistic or formal, it could also be traditional or modern, depending on what a brand wants to convey.
Why is a logo important?
Logo is an essential component of a brand. It conveys unspoken messages that allow brands to establish its image. Logos go a long way in establishing brand identity and persona. Logos can do the following for the brand:
– Grab attention
– Make a strong first impression
– Part of brand identity
– Foster brand image
– Foster brand loyalty
The psychology of logo
Brands put in sleepless nights to design a logo that would perfectly convey unspoken messages to potential customers. Brands and designers know the psychological effects a logo has on customers. Various colors have varied effects on the human mind and so do shapes. When various colors and shapes are merged they trigger various emotions and effect on the mind therefore brands and designers very carefully merge the two to create something unique. It takes years of hard work and practice to create perfect logos that would stand the test of time.
Though logos can be varied, they all fall into one of the three categories:
- Ideograph logos are graphic symbols and do not contain any words or language. They mostly convey an idea or a message.
- Pictograph logos are simply pictorial representations of a physical object. They are often used in writing and graphic systems where the characters and the pictures match.
- Wordmark logo is a ‘text only’ form of logo where the brand’s name is highlighted. Some of the biggest brands have wordmarks as their logo.
Every brand is different and must be able to convey the difference through the logo it chooses. A designer understands how shapes can convey various meanings when used with various color schemes. It is imperative that the brand and the designer work closely to establish what the company wants to convey through its logo.
There are various shapes to choose from and each shape would have a different meaning. Round logos can depict playfulness when combined with various colors, sharp and angular logos can be intimidating and convey power and stability.
The various logo shapes with their meanings
Every line, every angle and every shape has meaning and when applied a certain way, they convey various messages. We will look at some of the shapes that logo makers use along with the meaning they convey.
Meaning: The circle is considered ‘original perfection’. Circle is associated with spiritual growth and self-realization or enlightenment. It represents totality and fulfilment. It also symbolizes cyclic movement. A universal symbol, the circle represents the infinite and the ultimate geometric symbol. Associated with the cycle of life, the circle is seen as beginning, end and yet another beginning!
How designers use it: The circle is considered to be the ultimate geometric shape. A highly symmetric form, every line in a circle forms a line of reflection. The circle also has rotational symmetry for every angle. Since the circle embodies all the attributes that attract people, it is highly favored by designers and brands.
Meaning: Anything that is close to nature is organic. Trees, animals, mountains and birds are all part of nature and therefore organic. Organic, in recent times, is also used to mean something which is healthy or is grown without the use of pesticides. Organic does not have any negative connotations and therefore highly favored by brands and designers.
How designers use it: Designers and brands use organic symbols as logos to convey powerful messages. An organic logo instantly captures the attention of customers since organic symbols seldom have any negative connotations. Anything which is close to nature or from a living thing can be used as a logo. Brands such as Animal Planet, John Deere and Tropicana all use organic logos.
Meaning: Spiral like the circle has deep spiritual meaning. While the circle represents continuity the spiral portrays the final realization. The outer spirals signify ego and the inner spirals, the inner soul or enlightenment. The spiral also signifies connectivity, change and development. The spiral is a special geometrical curve and unlike the circle, spirals are open curves.
How designers use it: Since it symbolizes connectivity, IT and telecom sectors use the spirals for their logo. Creative brands too use spirals for their logo because of the complexity of the design. From cyclones to galaxies all are spirals – seems Mother Nature has a special liking for spirals!
Meaning: The human mind is truly an amazing place. It tends to find meaning and purpose in the most mundane of things; however, shapes and formation in nature do have various effects on the human mind. Round edged objects tend to be softer, whereas sharp edged objects or lines portray strength. Sharp lines and angles can also depict movement.
How designers use it: Designers tend to use sharp lines and angles to portray movement. The Nike emblem is a prime example of a logo with sharp lines. The logo perfectly fits into the brand’s image since the company makes sporting gears. The Nike logo signifies movement with a powerful presence. The understanding of what a brand needs best to promote itself is what sets the best designers apart from the crowd.
Resolve, protection, safety and resilience is what angular lines and objects signify. Angles give purpose and a meaning. If a circle denotes beginning, end and a new beginning, then angles bring meaning between the beginning and the end. Angles bring purpose and direction. Angles breathe life in designs.
How designers use it: Angles are extremely important for designers. They are an important geometrical formation used in the study of Physics and mathematics. Designers use angles in creating animation and 3D art. Without angles creating animation would be impossible. Angular logos have a strong presence and give a sense of purpose.
Meaning: If circles and spirals have spiritual connotations then squares portray physical balance. Squares symbolize laws of nature; the four corners of the square hold reality in the middle. The square also represents balance and structure along with giving a sense of reliability and security. Designers and brands use square because it portrays a sense of protection.
How designers use it: Squares are all around us and yet it goes unnoticed. From rugs to windows and from square picture frames to cabinets, the list is endless. But, why do designers choose squares? The mind perceives squares to be protective and therefore most objects in our rooms are square. This is the same reason why big brands choose square shapes for their logos.
Meaning: Depending on their position, triangles could have two meanings. A masculine sign signifying stability and immense power when pointed upwards, while pointed downwards, the triangle signifies instability. Shrouded in mystery, the triangle also signifies mysticism and occult. Triangles also have deeper spiritual connotations as it portrays the union of body, mind and soul; the three points of the triangle.
How designers use it: Some of the most playful logos are made using the triangle. Triangle can be used in multiple ways to convey various meanings. An interesting geometric shape, triangles have been in use since ancient times. Consider the design of pyramids or some ancient temples, they all have triangles as their design. Some of the biggest companies in the finance sector have used triangles in their logo since they convey trust and strength.
Vertical and horizontal lines
Meaning: From ancient carvings in caves to modern brand logos, all have used horizontal and vertical lines to convey various messages. Vertical lines symbolize power with a strong base. Vertical lines also signify superiority over others. Horizontal lines have a calming effect on the mind. It also represents communication and patience. Horizontal lines are preferred by brands that want to convey movement and purpose.
How designers use it: Designers prefer vertical lines when a business wants to represent how they are superior and ahead in the race over others. They very well convey power and superiority. Horizontal lines on the other hand are grounded and also symbolize communication. Digital Africa is a prime example of a communications company using horizontal lines in their logo.
Cultural logo shapes
Meaning: Cultural logos are used to convey specific meanings. These kinds of logos generally convey an idea or an ideology of a particular culture or a society. Cultural logos or symbols could have spiritual or religious connotations. They could also represent traditions or certain set of values. Cultural logos generally play on an individual’s emotions or empathy.
How designers use it: Dating apps mostly use hearts in their logo, crosses on the other hand is used as a religious symbol. Cultural logos can be varied and convey many different messages. Animal rescues and non-profits are also seen using hearts and ribbons. Ribbons are also used to raise awareness about breast cancer. Designers and brands mostly use cultural symbols in their logos to raise a particular emotion.
Meaning: Abstract comes from a Latin word which means detached. Abstract form of art is detached from reality and comes to life in the mind of its creator. An abstract form of art could mean anything to anyone. The magic of abstract lies in the fact that it is unique and does not conform to any known form of art, whether traditional or modern.
How designers use it: Designers and brands use abstract logos or designs to convey messages in a unique style. These designs are eye-catchy and grab the attention of customers very easily. Abstract designs are tailor made according to the taste and preference of a company. Sometimes an abstract design is the best for a company to build its brand image.
Influenced by nature
Meaning: Designed influenced by nature are similar to organic designs and sometimes can be replaced by the other, however nature inspired go a step further in the sense that these designs include man-made things like paintings and ink droplets. Leaf, trees, mountains, animals, stars and galaxies all can be categorized under nature influenced designs.
How designers use it: Since nature influenced, like organic designs does not have negative connotations, designers and brands use it to attract customers to tell them that the product does not have any negative effects. Designers use nature influenced shapes in bio and eco-friendly brands or products. Complex systems of creative process can sometimes be depicted through nature influenced designs.
Geometric organic & abstract shapes
All possible shapes discussed above broadly fall under three main categories: organic abstract or geometric. Organic shapes are inspired by nature whereas abstract shapes come from the designer’s mind to convey powerful messages. Geometric shapes are the simplest and the most common shapes of all. Geometric shapes are squares, triangles, circles and their derivatives.
Psychologists have discovered that shapes have various effects on the mind. When mixed with various colors and patterns, shapes come to life and have a deep impact on the human mind. The Gestalt theory describes how shapes impact the human mind.
The gestalt theory
The fact that the whole of anything is greater than its components is what the Gestalt theory lays stress on. The word Gestalt is a German word which means to “put together”. In simpler words, the human brain organizes and simplifies even the most complex of designs. Even if random things are put together, the brain attempts to organize the elements and bring meaning to it as a whole. Designers use this theory to create brilliant logos combining various shapes and colors.
The theory can be summarized by the following:
- Focal point
- Common region
The golden ratio
A mathematical ratio and commonly found in nature, the Golden Ratio can be aesthetically pleasing to the eyes when applied in designs. Be it the Pyramids of Egypt or the paintings of Leonardo da Vinci, they have all been designed using the Golden Ratio. Modern designers too have successfully used the mathematical ratio in famous logos like Apple, Pepsi and Twitter. But, what really is the Golden Ratio?
Golden ratio: a designer’s delight
The Golden Ratio or the Divine Proportion is derived when a line is divided into two parts and the longer part (a) is divided by the smaller part (b) is equal to the sum (a+b/a), which is 1.618.
The 1.618 ratio or the Golden ratio can be found almost everywhere in nature. From a beautiful flower to spiral galaxies all have the ratio. The ratio when applied to designs, gives balanced yet beautiful patterns and compositions. Below are designs that follow the Golden Ratio:
In an article about the importance of a company logo published by BBC, in which Sagi Haviv, a partner at New York graphic design firm Chermayeff & Geismer & Haviv says, “It’s never love at first sight”, a good logo, a good trademark, gains meaning and power over time.”
The BBC further writes, “Martin Christie, of the London-based logo design firm Alchemist, says that simplicity is key. But he also cautions that firms shouldn’t rush into a decision.”
Food for thought
A logo on its own does not build a brand but it is one of the founding stones of a brand’s identity. A logo must correctly convey what a business is all about. The minds of the designer and the brand must merge to form something unique and timeless. Designing a logo is a continuous process and evolves over time. The phrase, Rome was not built in a day rightly defines what goes into the making of a logo. Time, patience, hard work and a lot of love is what a timeless piece of logo requires.
“The strongest logos tell simple stories.” – Sol Sender
Besides having grown up in the design Industry, Christiaan has advised some of the world’s largest companies on their branding & packaging designs. Has been the resident judge for design awards, and has spoken at numerous global design & marketing events. Christiaan founded the London office of the award-winning Cartils agency, and has founded the DesignBro.com platform.