Why Common Logo ‘Mistakes’ are Often More Than They Seem

4 minute read

Many logos have apparent imperfections as has been pointed out time, and time again. While it may be funny, outrageous or downright annoying for some to see flaws in logos made for huge corporations, many tend to forgo the idea that symmetry and measurements are not most important aspects of a logo. I’ll be going through a few famous cases of so-called imperfect logos created by so-called lazy or bad designers.

Google Logo (2015 redesign)

Google’s 2015 logo design was met with much criticism about its apparent lack of symmetry or consistent angles. The above graphic compares the alternate fan “corrected” versions of the Google ‘G’, as you can probably see some of the edits make the logo look slightly off. This is because of the difference in two types of graphical balance. The first of which is pure symmetry, or following measurements like the golden ratio. This practice is referred to as metric balance and the issues that come with it can be seen with the awkward upper-right ‘G’ endpoint in the “Terminal trimmed to angle” rendition. In reality however many designs just don’t look good balanced metrically with equal distances and angles because of how our eyes interpret and adjust to images. Due to this known problem designers decided to balance their works optically.

A visual example of why overshoot is used in typography.A visual example of why overshoot is used in typography.

Tobias Frere-Jones writes about the practice of overshoot in type on his typography centric blog. In cases like this a few practices are often put in place to fix optical issues. Some of these include the use of slightly larger than line circles in order to correct for circles looking smaller than squares in diameter when, in-fact, they are the same. Overshoot has been around since the early ages of type.

Example of overshoot in an older (late 1880s) published work.Example of overshoot in an older (late 1880s) published work.

Current Starbucks LogoCurrent Starbucks Logo

This one is an example of an imperfect logo that is benefitted so much by its non-symmetrical form it goes unnoticed. To many the coffee chain’s logo is merely a perfectly symmetrical illustration, however there was a lot of thought that went into the design of the logo and the siren prominently featured in it. Starbucks aims to “Our mission: to inspire and nurture the human spirit ” according to their mission statement. The logo, in turn, needs to convey a similar feeling of the warmth and security (which makes the siren quite ironic).

Comparison by LippincottComparison by Lippincott

As pictured above by Lippincott in a design case study the eyes of the siren went through several revisions in order to come off as comforting. When designing the new Starbucks logo the designers ran into a problem. The team at Lippincott behind the logo quickly found the logo had an unsettling nature.

[The siren] just didn’t work–and they didn’t know why. She wasn’t beautiful; she was uncannily beautiful, a bit creepy, to be honest, giving you a funny feeling in your stomach like she was a shell of a person, like an alien or robot pretending to be a human

This description directly rivals the Starbucks mission statement and ruined the logo for many. The team came to the conclusion that they needed to “put some of that humanity back in” and also found that “the imperfection was important to making her really successful” as global creative director Connie Birdsall recounted. The final logo, pictured to the far right, has eyes that are slightly off as to show different shading on each side of the nose. This little discontinuity saved the Starbucks siren we’ve known for the last 26 years.

My last and most recent example is the logo for the Nintendo Switch, a game console released this past year whose announcement took place in late 2016. The logo of the switch looks slightly off balance with one of the circles being seemingly randomly aligned closer to the middle while the leftmost one is aligned towards the top. A quick explanation of this apparent random design choice is that the ‘Joy-con’ controllers of for the gaming system have their joy sticks in those precise configurations there is also a more detailed, design orientated approach to this choice. Second, when looking very closely one can notice that the Switch controller’s are actually not equally centered which as David Hellman pointed out is to visually balance the contrast between the outline and filled-in joy-con shapes. Below you can see the actual logo (left) compared with the uncorrected version that is truly centered (right).

Comparison between the ‘corrected’ (left) and true centered (right) Switch logos.Comparison between the ‘corrected’ (left) and true centered (right) Switch logos.

Conclusion

While the examples I showed today focused on logos the real draw from this is that there is no one correct way to do something. Some designers when just starting out, including myself, create a typeface or work in which everything looks a little off. This is usually because said designers create a guideline for letters that requires all widths be consistent and all circles or curves be uniform, but this is where the designer will hit a few bumps in the road and learn that the ‘golden ratio’ or other set guidelines may not always be a perfect method in designing type, logos or even user interfaces. All in all this is a brief reminder that sometimes you have to go with your gut. The grids and guides in Illustrator aren’t going to critique your design, people are.

Thanks for the read,

Siraj

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