A bit of history
To understand why so many people think logos are important, we’ll need to go back in time. While crests, hieroglyphs, and insignia have been around for a very long time, modern logo design was born in the late 1800s. With businesses growing, mass production kicking off and the industrial revolution gaining steam, the way they would brand themselves evolved. All of this culminated in the creation of the Coca-Cola logo, which is widely seen as the first modern logo.
Today, almost everything has a logo — from national parks to construction companies. It’s a simple way to give your brand a personality that stands out from the thousands of other brands we are exposed to every day. They’re meant to make it easy for people to remember your brand.
But the times have changed. Sure, the core idea still holds true — when executed well, a logo is a good way to refer to a company — but in today’s digital landscape we should divert our attention to other things. Remember, as Daniel Kahneman taught us in 'Thinking, Fast and Slow': the largest part of our decisions are emotionally driven and made on a subconscious level.
A logo is a good way to refer to a company — but in today’s digital landscape we should divert our attention to other things.
The modern identity
When building a brand for the digital era, it’s key to realize the sheer amount of touchpoints with the customer. People will see your logo, yes, but there are many more places where they get to experience your brand — like in your app, on your website, or in a YouTube video. These are dynamic and sometimes interactive experiences, with loads of opportunities to show what your brand feels like.
Instead of just focusing on a logo, a modern identity should take into account many more things. For written content, there should be a fitting tone of voice and font family. For videos, you need to pick the right music and animation style. For a website, you’ll need to think of the UI, the UX, and the writing.
Building a holistic design system
When building a brand identity, it’s important to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Individually, ideas about a color palette and which fonts to use won’t be that useful — it’s only when you put them together in a holistic design system that they can truly build a brand.
At Vruchtvlees, we believe in creating modern, modular design systems for our clients. There are a couple of reasons for this.
First off, design systems are scalable. When you carefully construct an identity, you don’t want the company to outgrow it — ideally, they’d be able to use it for years to come. While the client might only have a single website today, they might have different apps and websites in the future. With a design system, this growth is easy to manage — through a set of abstracted rules about typography, colors, and more, the brand’s style can easily be adopted across different properties.
Second, design systems make it possible to think about your brand in a holistic way. How does your customer experience the brand, from when they first discover it to eventually making a purchase? Take for example a clothing brand that offers online shopping. A potential customer discovers their products on Instagram, from where they’re led to the webshop. They then make a purchase, and receive the delivery a couple of days later. Every step of the way looks and feels like a part of the brand’s universe — the photography on the Instagram page, the copy on the website, the colors on the box the product comes in.
Today, having a holistic design system for your brand isn’t just something that’s ‘nice to have’ — it’s vital if you want to stand out from the crowd. Because so much of today’s customer lifecycle is digital, defining elements like interface animations, sound design should also be an integral part of a holistic brand experience. And thinking about the entire end-to-end user experience, from marketing to consumption, is what’s at the heart of it.
By carefully tuning every element to fit the brand, defining how the brand looks, feels, and behaves, you can create something that leaves a lasting impression.
Beyond the brand
As you can see, the importance of a logo is clearly diminished in favor of a design system with many recognizable brand elements. However, some brands have even gone as far as to turn down the importance of their logo to near zero. The recent trend of unbranding has companies adopting bare-bones logos, often featuring simple, black, sans-serif lettering on a white background. This enables the business to lead attention away from the logo, and create a strong identity through other distinctive brand assets, like their tone of voice, mission statement, or even just the product itself.
In general, you can see that the story a brand wants to tell is shifting away from the way it looks, and more about the way it acts — what they’re doing instead of what they’re saying. Take for example Patagonia, the clothing company that is, in their own words, “in the business to save our home planet.” By using a significant cut of their revenue to fight against oil drilling and support nature conservation efforts, they want to do more than just sell T-shirts. This activist approach to their brand identity tells more of a story than a logo ever could — they walk the talk, turning their identity into a purpose-driven brand.
You could almost say you don’t need a logo anymore — the brand is already saying everything.