Logos are more than just squiggles, symbols and words

It's about the promise of a higher plane of existence, argues logo designer Lora Starling
Lora Starling
Uluru or Ayers Rock

Logos are squiggles (as are the symbols and words that make them up), the Mona Lisa is a bit of paint on some material, and Uluru or Ayers Rock is a big stone in the middle of nowhere.

So, why are they so powerful? Why do they attract us so irresistibly?

Each holds an intangible but powerful ‘more’, something beyond their physical value, something that we, as humans, yearn for. Uluru has held a sacred presence recognised and honoured by the indigenous aborigines over thousands of years. Van Gogh’s Mona Lisa is visited by over 25,000 people daily, (that is a big percentage of the 30,000 or so that visit the Louvre and many dash in just to glimpse the painting itself). We are attracted to, and pay substantially more for, a branded item than an unknown piece. For example, compare Jimmy Choo’s crystal-encrusted shoes at over $1000, (more than $6000 for a fancier version) with Shein’s (not greatly dissimilar) crystal version at under $40.

It is the promise of something else that allows us to reach out of our mundane, everyday selves to something better, higher, and perhaps potentially unachievable. But if we make it, if, for a while, we touch it, then, and for a while, we feel better, elevated, sated.

If we have the means, we can join the tribe of art-savvy travellers and share with like-minded art enthusiasts when we are home. We may tell of our experiences of spiritual connection with the rock, and the journey to get there over hundreds of miles of desert and feel a certain one-upmanship with our peers. But not all of us have the money, time or desire to get our emotional hits in this way. Fortunately, we don’t need to journey far to experience feeling fabulous or deeply connected with our chosen tribe. Many businesses are eager to create that hit so we will be tempted to visit and buy from them. The art of branding, giving a set of chosen and desirable values to a product or service, and identifying these in a logo, has trained and tempted us so much that we respond with a glance at the logo like Pavlov’s dog to the bell. For a minute we align ourselves with our chosen celebrity if we buy the attached perfume or feel reassured our trainers, will, as intimated, increase our sporting achievements.

Without the logo, we could be hard pushed to recognise our favourite hamburger, our celebrity-endorsed sunglasses or our fashion sweatshirt. We may not even be tempted to buy them.

We feel and respond differently when we see certain logos. Brands create our dreams for us and fulfil them, identifying the solution in their logos. The message they deliver is powerful and reaches our psyche beyond the logic of our five senses.

When I design a logo, I don’t begin to think about the design until I am clear on the client’s vision for the future of the brand. With so many competing products, and once the legalities are cleared, it is vital to establish exactly what the brand stands for. Every brand has values attributed to it and these can be anything including, integrity, genuineness, quality, empathy, responsibility, teamwork, passion, and courage.

Only when this is decided, then every choice on the design of the logo, from the sweep of a curve on a symbol, be it animal or abstract, the hue and shade of a colour, one or more, to every single letter space, whether with serifs or not, will be considered and tested against these values. As we do this, we, as designers, are dripping that prescribed intention for success into each detail in every element.

When we finally deliver that logo, agreed, honed, detailed and applied, the receiver ‘gets’ it. Clients and customers are prompted to engage and buy so they can get their hit, the brand promise. The intention is embedded in the design; the intention is powerful, and it rules the world according to Oprah Winfrey. We see the logo and our neurons fire accordingly.

Our ancestors knew, and used, this intentional work with the power of symbols, colours and words – the elements that make a logo. Mandalas and Yantras are drawn to take the viewer to higher places of contemplation; the Egyptians used coloured oils to heal; and mantras such as Om Mani Padme Hum, from Buddhism, invoke feelings, in this case of compassion.

We love our symbols; we respond to the power of animals such as the lion used to identify England and the ING bank and we feel differently when we see a circle, as used by Volkswagen, or a square, as in the Microsoft symbol. We recognise BP as green and Texaco as red and our bodies respond differently to these colours; green calms us, and red can raise our blood pressure. Our brand mantras are treading an effective path, with phrases such as ‘I’m lovin’ it and ‘Let’s go places’ tempting us to new emotions.

Brands know the power inherent in their logo, apparent by their great lengths to protect them and the small fortunes spent making sure the design is perfectly aligned with their purpose. If they get it right, it works.

Saying logos are just squiggles is like saying the smell of jasmine on a summer’s night is just atoms on the move or a lover’s tenderness is just an emotion.

Lora is also the author of three books (The Logo Decoded, Identify Yourself and Future You), with a fourth in the publishing process.

Written by
Lora Starling
Logo designer
December 9, 2022
Written by
December 9, 2022