In this Print Magazine article, Sagi Haviv of prolific branding studio Chermayeff & Geismar drops some knowledge on his firm’s approach to designing logos. Specifically, Haviv explains how they decide whether the principal form of each logo should be a wordmark—the name of the company rendered in a unique way—or a symbol—a trademark-ready icon:
Creating a symbol can be a great design exercise, but we try to be very disciplined about only developing a symbol when there is a compelling strategic reason to do so. This is because visual identities work through familiarity, so any new visual element has to be learned first in order to be established. Using a symbol as part of the logo means that there is an additional element that has to be learned. We find that people are generally willing to learn as little as possible.
Haviv then runs through several examples of wordmarks that Chermayeff & Geismar have developed for brands like Mobil, Barneys New York, Hearst, Showtime and more. There’s so much to learn in just these few paragraphs.
Haviv argues that wordmarks are much easier to trademark than symbols, especially at this point in the broader history of corporate iconography when countless companies have trademarked symbols of nearly every possible shape, size and color.
No matter how excited we are with a new symbol design, it still has to be tested by the trademark attorneys to make sure it is ownable. There is no more humbling moment for a designer than when we receive the fat spiral-bound reports with all the symbols similar to our designs, and we can see how many designers out there have already thought about the same exact thing that we thought was so original. Although our designs usually survive this process, it is nice every now and then to be able to skip the search.
As valuable as this advice is, it seems to overlook a fact of the contemporary branding environment that is very real for a huge number of today’s brands: they need to be represented by an app icon. Of course, you can squeeze a wordmark into an app icon, but if your company’s name is more than just a few characters, it can be a tough exercise.