Design with personality, culture, and history

weathered texturePhoto via china.sixty4.

When approaching the design of a new logo, it’s easy to be intimidated by the blank canvas of the whole thing. A company or business has invested their time and money in you, and your client is expecting something unique, creative, and personal that will produce the “thumb print” of the business. Simplifying the process and narrowing your focus is essential with creative briefs and when sketching, but there are three factors that will go a long way toward determining the success of your design. Ask yourself, does this logo design truly express the 1. personality, 2. culture, and 3. history of your client’s business?

— noun. 1. the visible aspect of one’s character as it impresses others

The visual personality, or attitude, of a logo can be the same as in any human and reflect a number of different moods and traits. There are logos that are fun, angry, happy, calm, energetic, flirty, geeky, smart, etc. A logo must capture the right personality of its owner. This also plays a major role in branding, and is why its good to establish a brand archetype(s) for each project before any sketching begins.

Line weight, colour, shape, and typefaces are the major things that I use to influence a logo’s personality. A small change to either of those can drastically alter the mood of a design.

— noun 1. the quality in a person or society that arises from a concern for what is regarded as excellent in arts, letters, manners, scholarly pursuits, etc.

It sometimes helps me to think of a brand as its own country. Like many countries of the world, any given brand will have its own unique values, traditions, language, and beliefs. If personality defines “who they are” then culture could define “how they do it.”

When representing ones culture I use colour, patterns, style (hand-drawn, illustrative, emblem, etc.) and other symbols to reflect individuality. Each can be a powerful trait to any brandmark design.

— noun1. the branch of knowledge dealing with past events

History is usually the easiest of the three to represent, yet also the most varied from project to project. For a company that has been around a long time, has an established identity and some equity in their logo, all they may need is an update of sorts to their current mark. For a new design, it becomes harder. I recommend finding a story about how the business came to be, something about the owner, or perhaps the area in which they are located. Everyone has a story to tell and if it can come through in their identity, that’s a beautiful thing.

The typeface, brand story, and previous logos can be major factors in your representation of history.

Overlapping importance

There is some overlap between each of these three factors. History and culture help shape the personality. History and personality define the culture. Personality and culture stem from history. They are all intertwined, each with its own separate importance. Picture each factor as a slice of pie. The pie isn’t complete if one slice is missing.

Let’s look at an example of these factors put to good use, and one that misses the mark.

BMW logo

BMW is known for building cars that look just as their logo suggest: Clean, simple, stylish, etc. my favorite part of the logo is their history representation. BMW originally made airplane engines in the early 20th century. The white and blue in the logo could represent one of two things; a white propeller spinning with a blue sky behind it, or the Bavarian flag, which is made of a blue and white checkered pattern.

McDonalds logo

There’s no doubt McDonald’s has one of the most recognizable logos in the world, and for a company as large and successful as them they need nothing more. But let’s try to look at it as if we are seeing it for the first time, knowing only the basic information you would have in a design brief: they’re an American hamburger fast food restaurant targeting mostly children and young adults. You have to love the friendly, warm smile-like quality of the arches, so the personality is there. Now, is it just me, or is there a total lack of visual culture and history here? To me, this mark would have been just as good for any other business with an “innocent” or “caregiver” brand archetype.

The “personality, culture, and history” philosophy can also be applied to typography. So on your next project keep your client’s business personality, culture, and history in mind. If you can represent all three, you’ll be on your way to providing a very strong identity.

Brandon Moore is a graphic designer based in Orlando, Florida. He designs, blogs, and tweets, and recently graduated from Full Sail University.

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