Researchers found that minimalist logos are not effective and can have an adverse effect on the brand image. If that is the case, then why have brands gone the minimalist way? Have designers been wrong all this while? Have brands done more damage than repair? Let’s find out!
Painters Theo VanDoesberg and Piet Mondrian along with architect Gerrit Reitveld, spearheaded ‘The De Stijl’ movement. The De Stijl movement was the foundation of modern minimalist aesthetics and embraced the concept of abstract harmonic compositions and geometrics.
The concept of “ma”, which roughly means “the space between two objects”, is greatly applied in Japanese design aesthetics. The concept involves the use of intentional minimalism.
But, what really is minimalism?
The concept of minimalism
Minimalism is the art of using existing elements and simplicity to produce extraordinary pieces of arts. Minimalism also involves the maximum use of space.
Minimalism is a result of the modernist movement of the 1960s, which was influenced by the Bauhaus culture. Bauhaus culture rejected intricate and lavish compositions for more down-to-earth creations.
The Gestalt theory suggests that the mind tends to simplify complex objects and images and store them in the memory, which is why minimal creations are always a hit. Designers around the world have successfully incorporated minimalistic designs for a long time successfully. Simply put, minimalism uses the “less is more” concept to create great work of arts.
Information overload is what best describes the current times. Emails, popups, notifications and a lot of useless information have shortened the attention spans of users. Minimal logos are the best solution for a generation with such low attention span.
Rather than stuffing fonts, shapes and colors in a design, minimal logos avoid and cut any extras. Minimal logos use space and simplicity with winning color combinations. A flat logo is a prime example of a minimalist logo concept. Some of the most famous brands like Airbnb and Uber have successfully used minimal logo designs.
Sophisticated and eye- catchy, minimalist logos allow brands to keep themselves apart and ahead of the crowd. Modern businesses in the 1900’s used logos only to convey the company name. Companies did not invest much into branding since the concept was relatively new. As businesses grew, so did competition; companies began to understand the power of branding. The competition gave birth to well thought-out and great designed logos. Companies began to modernize their logos as they stepped into the 21st century. More and more brands adapted a minimal makeover to take their brand image to the next level. From Ford to Google and from FedEx to Apple all gave their brands the much needed minimal logos.
The Harvard Business Review
A research conducted by the Harvard Business Review found that minimalist logos are not authentic or likable. The team consisted of Jonathan Luffarelli, Assistant Professor of Marketing at Montpellier Business School in France, Mudra Mukesh, assistant Professor of Marketing at Westminster Business School in England, and Ammara Mahmood, Assistant Professor of Marketing at Lazaridis School of Business and Economics in Canada. The team of experts studied 597 logos to conclude that “descriptive” logos resonated more with consumers than their non-descriptive and abstract counterparts.
The study argues that descriptive logos are more successful because they generate the trust factor among consumers which abstract or minimal logos fail to do. The research found that descriptive logos allowed the consumers to know the kind of products or services a brand offered which increased their trust factor. So, if you are a brand who is just starting out, going through the research might help, but, again, there definitely are reasons why brands and designers have chosen minimalist designs for years.
Do logos really matter?
The study conducted by the Harvard Business Review found that logos are extremely crucial for a number of reasons. A good logo can be extremely useful for a business or a brand trying to move up the ladder. According to the research, “it can help pique the interest of consumers, differentiate brands from competitors, facilitate brand recognition, influence investors’ decisions, and convey what a brand is all about.” The research further states that a logo is a communication tool used almost everywhere and is seen by business associates and consumers.
The research also provides valuable insights on various other factors of logo designs. The study concludes that logos have a huge impact on brand performance and consumer behavior. Simplicity or complexity of a logo design plays an extremely important role in funding decisions by investors along with boosting brand equity.
Logos must inform consumers about the kind of business it is rather than something abstract, which would confuse potential buyers. In an interview Debbie Millman, brand consultant and host of Design Matters podcast, said, “Logos are symbols that are a collection of impressions about the brand and we’ve been doing this now for 10,000 years. We create a symbol to signify something else. And then we agree that that symbol means something.”
Objective of the research
The objective of the research conducted by the Harvard Business Review was to assist managers and designers to understand which logo fitted best for their brands. The aim of the research was to find whether descriptive or non-descriptive logos suited best for companies.
The research suggests that minimalist logos aren’t effective because they do not convey what the business does. Minimalist logos, according to the research, do not translate to making a brand more profitable.
Which logos are the best?
The research examined 597 logo designs and had over 2000 participants. The logos were mainly split into two categories: descriptive and non-descriptive. Descriptive logos are self-explanatory and provide basic insights into what the company does, non-descriptive logos, on the other hand, are abstract in nature and do not provide any insight on what the company does. The best example would be Burger King and McDonald’s logo. Both sell fast food but one let’s you know what the company does and the other does not.
The outline of a burger is clearly visible in Burger King’s logo. Consumers who are not familiar with the brand will instantly know what it does, makes and serves delicious burgers! However, one cannot say so in the case of Mac Donald’s. The company does not make any reference to fast food. Yes it is a fantastic brand and yes people all over the world know them and I personally love it! But consider this, if a new business goes for a non-descriptive logo, can it make connections with the consumers instantly?
The researchers found that 60% of the biggest companies use non-descriptive minimal logos as their emblem and only 40% use descriptive logos. Participants evaluated various company logos on their likability and authenticity. The participants gave descriptive logos higher points in every category. Based on the final results, the researchers concluded that non-descriptive minimalist logos are not authentic.
The participants found a non-descriptive logo untrustworthy even if they were given a description of what the brand does. However, big brands with non-descriptive minimalist logos, like McDonald’s, are not affected because they are blessed with a wider international consumer base. But, the story is completely different when it comes to unfamiliar brands. Since non-descriptive logos do not communicate what a business does, it is a good idea for an unfamiliar brand to use a descriptive logo.
Let us look at some reasons why non-descriptive and minimal logos fail according to the research:
- Fails to communicate what the brand does
- A Minimalist logo design appears less authentic
- Consumers fail to trust such brands
- Low investment from stakeholders
- Greater risk factor
- Poor brand image
- Minimalist logo designs fail to connect with consumers
Can minimal logos be descriptive?
With all due respect and credit to the Harvard Business Review research, minimal logos can be descriptive and connect instantly with consumers.
Facebook or Animal Planet logos are two of the best minimal descriptive logos.
What is a descriptive logo?
A visual symbol that includes text and various design elements to clearly communicate the kind of product or service a brand is marketing is a descriptive logo. The Animal Planet logo has the shape of an elephant with the bottom half in a semicircle. The design clearly depicts an animal and a planet along with texts suggesting the same thing as the symbol. The Animal Planet logo uses minimal elements to perfectly describe the kind of service it provides.
The question here is not really about whether minimalist logos are useful, but, whether a minimal logo can be descriptive; or better still, the question should be whether a business should go for a non-descriptive logo or a descriptive logo.
Several brands have modified their logos, in the recent years, to make it look more descriptive without changing the minimal aspect of their logos. However, surprisingly, many brands have chosen to go the other way by turning their logos into non-descriptive ones, such as Dunkin’ Donuts. Dunkin’s removed the word “donuts” and the coffee cup from the logo to make it non-descriptive.
We can, once and for all, close the debate by concluding minimal logos can be descriptive.
What companies can learn from the research
According to the research, if a brand or a business wants to create or modify a logo, it should include at least one indication of the business in text or visual design. The Harvard Business Review research further gives two examples of how a logo could convey the kind of business it does. The following are the two examples:
A coffee shop logo should contain a design that would immediately let the consumers know the kind of product it sells. The logo may include a coffee cup with steam rising from it. A bookstore logo must contain books so that consumers would immediately know what the business offers.
The research further indicates that non-descriptive logos fit best for businesses that have a negative impact on the mind. These logos are also perfect for companies handling different types of businesses under one name, such as Procter & Gamble.
The research concludes by stating that descriptive logos do not guarantee success, but underestimating the power of such logos could be a costly affair for businesses trying to move up the ladder.
Are minimalist logos not authentic?
The Harvard Business Review nowhere in its research directly suggests that minimal logos are not authentic, but, various other online sites reviewing the research have suggested that the research implies so.
The research mainly deals with descriptive and non-descriptive logos and how consumers felt about it. One may argue that many non-descriptive logos are minimal and therefore the research implies minimalistic logos as not authentic or likable.
The above argument does not hold any water since many descriptive logos are minimal and some of the greatest brands in the world have non-descriptive minimal logos, such as Apple!
While it is true that non-descriptive logos are seen as less authentic when compared to their descriptive counterparts, businesses with products and services that might have negative connotations, such as funerals and insect repellents, should stick to non-descriptive logos.
Non-descriptive minimal logos can be chic and modern. These logos may elevate your business and put your brand ahead in the competition. The question not really is which one is better over the other, but which one suits your business better.
Minimalist logos create maximum impact
Keeping the debate about minimal logos not being authentic enough aside, let us focus on how they have impacted the better half of the decade positively.
Logos used to be both complicated and complex; creators were proud of these logos and boasted about the inner meanings that the logos contained. However, times have changed. The ‘online generation’ seeks simplicity over complexity. With so much information overload, descriptive yet minimalist logos can do wonders for brands. It is no longer about intricate designs; it is about simplicity and leaving out the extras!
Brands are giving their logos a minimal makeover since it resonates very well with the current times. Minimalist logos are eye catchy, make a lasting impression and significant impact on the audience.
Let us look into various industries that can successfully use minimalist logos:
Photography is all about visuals and how well a moment has been captured. A minimalist photography logo with your speciality could do wonders.
Restaurant: A great looking mouth-watering logo can be created without the use of fancy designs. A minimalist logo will add a secret spice which will make your restaurant look chic and classy.
Spas create a relaxing atmosphere. Using a mindful logo could help customers understand the Zen-like qualities of your brand.
Fitness: A minimalist logo for your fitness brand would help your audience understand the seriousness with which you function. A minimal logo can give your fitness center a serious yet fun vibe.
Jewelry: A minimal logo for your jewelry store could add that spark you have been looking for. Not only a minimal logo set you aside from the crowd but also gives you an edge over the others.
Industries such as Lawn Care, Pet Center’s, Meat Shops and so many types of businesses can benefit from minimal logos.
Top 5 famous brands who have successfully used minimalistic logo
Minimalist logos can be as authentic as it gets. There is absolutely no denying the fact that famous brands have successfully used minimalist logos to take their businesses to the next levels. Let us now look into 5 such brands:
One of the most recognised brands in the world, Apple has indeed taken its logo seriously.
History: One of the big top five companies in the US along with Google, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft, Apple is involved with designing and developing computer software, electronics and online services. Apple was founded by Steve Jobs along with Steve Wozniak and Ronald Wayne. From its humble beginning in 1976, Apple has gone on to become the world’s largest technology company by revenue. Apple has, lately, committed itself in shifting to 100% clean and renewable energy and ending the use of coal. From iPads to iPhones and from HomePods to iTVs, Apple has tasted success like no other company.
Logo: Answering a question about why he chose the name Apple, Steve Jobs replied, “I love apples and like to eat them. But the main idea behind Apple is bringing simplicity to the public, with the most sophisticated way, and that’s it, nothing else. The fruit of creation, Apple. It was simple but strong.”
The first logo of Apple was anything but minimal. The old logo did not even have the “apple” as we see it today. Created by Ronald Wayne, the first logo depicted Isaac Newton sitting under an apple tree. The logo actually depicted the event of the apple falling which led to the discovery of gravity. The logo also included a quote from William Wordsworth, “Newton… a mind forever voyaging through strange seas of thought.”
After Steve Jobs returned as the new interim CEO of Apple in 1997, he axed the stripes from the logo and replaced it with a modern chromatic look. Though the logo has taken many sizes and colours, the overall shape of the logo has remained the same. The iconic minimal logo is something that every designer can learn from.
2. Louis Vuitton
Louis Vuitton logo is a prime example of a minimalist design taking the world by storm.
History: Louis Vuitton, the French fashion house was founded in 1854. The fashion giant was named the world’s most valuable luxury brand for six consecutive years from 2006 to 2012. An estimated worth of over US $19 billion, Louis Vuitton was the world’s 19th most valuable brand, according to a Milward Brown 2010 study. The fashion giant faces a serious challenge since it is also the world’s most counterfeited brand due to its brand value and image status. From Mikhail Gorbachev to Jennifer Lopez and from Madonna to Angelina Jolie all have been a part of its marketing campaigns.
Logo: one of the most recognizable logos in the world, LV’s logo is elegant and vivid at the same time. Designed in the mid 19th century, the Louis Vuitton logo has remained unchanged since. Though there have been some additions to the logo, the design has never changed. Hand-drawn in 1954, the minimalist logo features a straight “V” overlapping an italicized “L”. The iconic interlocked “L” and “V” always remind of the company’s founder, Louis Vuitton.
Louis Vuitton’s son, Georges Vuitton, launched the signature Monogram Canvas in 1896. The logo included the LV monogram along with using Japanese Mon designs. George made worldwide patents on it which eventually stopped the counterfeiting problem the brand was facing then with its trunks.
The black-and –white color scheme, used in the LV logo, is an example of how minimalist and elegant designs can have a powerful impact on its audience. The classic minimalist logo never stops amazing designers from around the world.
The iconic “swoosh” still amazes designers from all over the world.
History: The world’s largest supplier of athletic shoes and outfit, Nike is the most valuable brand in the sports business.
The company was founded in 1964 by Bill Bowerman and Phil Knight as Blue Ribbon Sports. However, the company was renamed as Nike on May 30, 1971. Named after the Greek goddess of victory, Nike has truly been victorious in terms of revenue, which was in excess of $29.6 billion in 2020 alone.
In a survey of climate-friendly companies by Clean Air-Cool Planet, Nike ranked among the top three companies.
Taking over from Adidas, Nike signed an 8-year deal with the NBA to become the official uniform supplier. In a first, Nike’s logo will appear in NBA jerseys.
Logo: The first thing you would notice about Nike is its fantastic logo. The minimalist logo is simple and forever modern! But, how did Nike achieve this fantastic looking logo? The story about how Nike got its logo is as fantastic as its logo!
Carolyn Davidson, the designer of the iconic swoosh, was only a college student who barely had the money to attend oil painting classes. One day Phil Knight, the co-founder of Nike, overheard Davidson discuss with her friends about her dreams of taking oil painting but couldn’t due to lack of money. Knight offered her $2 per hour for the logo. Carolyn Davidson received $35 for the iconic design!
The beauty of one of the most recognized logos in the world is its simplicity. The two curved lines ooze passion, aggression, victory and speed. The reason it blows a punch right on the face is due its minimal design. Like the Greek goddess of victory, the logo has sailed Nike to success.
Volkswagen logo: a simple minimalistic design that screams out loud.
History: Founded by the German Labour front in 1937, Volkswagen is well known for its iconic Beetle car.
The Hitler connection: An idea was born in 1933 when Hitler visited an auto show in Berlin. The idea was to build a superhighway along with affordable vehicle for people. As soon as Hitler became the leader of the country a year later, he started working on the “people’s car”. He invited Ferdinand Porsche to launch the production of “people’s car” or Volkswagen. The first car was the iconic Volkswagen Beetle.
Volkswagen held the fourth place in the most influential car of the 20th century category in the Car of the Century competition.
Logo: The first company logo was created during the launch of VW’s first series of cars. However, it is still unknown who the designer of the Volkswagen logo is. It is widely accepted that Franz Xaver, a Porsche employee, won an office competition for the logo design which was used as the company symbol. Martin Freyer, a German artist, claims that he had designed the logo. Another theory points at Nikolai Borg, a graphic designer, as the maker of the logo.
The first Volkswagen logo included the “V”and “W” along with a graphical representation of the swastika symbol. After the British defeated the Nazi, the black-and-white colours were inverted and all the extras from the design were removed. The original VW has remained intact and has become one of the most iconic symbols in the world.
The new Volkswagen logo celebrates its launch of electric cars. Highly sophisticated yet simple, the current logo of VW is truly minimal and futuristic.
The logo consists of two letters “V” and “W”: “Volks”, people and “Wagen”, vehicle. The “V” is placed above the “W” giving it a very masculine look but the circle gives it a fun touch along with the blue background to signify calmness. This amazing combination gives this minimal logo a classy touch.
MasterCard: A brand that can boast of having one of the most iconic logos on the planet.
History: An American multinational finance company, MasterCard’s primary business is to process payment between banks of merchants and the card-issuing banks of the purchasers who use MasterCard to make purchases. Known as ‘Master Charge’, the company was renamed as ‘MasterCard in 1979. The international bank was the first to use holograms for card security. MasterCard recently announced its support for cryptocurrencies. The bank will soon start supporting select cryptocurrencies. The bank has had its fair share of controversies; Bloomberg News, in 2018, reported that tech giant Google had paid huge sums to the international bank in return for its credit card users’ data.
Logo: What really makes this logo so special? Well, like most famous logos that have stood the test of time, the MasterCard logo is incredibly simple yet sophisticated.
Minimalistic and polished, the typeface does not have any special elements; it’s all about the clarity! However, one of the most distinct characters about the logo is its colour schemes. Red and orange in overlapping circles is what sets this iconic logo apart from the rest.
Evolution: MasterCard was launched by Interbank as ‘MasterCharge’ and had its initial “I” in the logo. The basic design remains the same to present day with a few changes.
“MasterCard” appeared for the first time in 1979 and has not changed a great deal since then. The company tried to redesign the logo in 2006 and is seen as an example of how huge brands like MasterCard can make such mistakes.
The recent MasterCard logo is a great example of a minimalist design. A single emblem with overlapping red and orange circles, the latest logo of the iconic bank has no additional details. The choice of colours shows it is a passionate, dynamic and a progressive company.
These companies go to show that it is really not about descriptive, no-descriptive , organic or minimal logos but about what suits you best. It is a good idea to experiment in the early days of business and come-up with a design you think would best convey what your business does to the audience.
The Harvard Business Review research showed that logos that were descriptive were also popular amongst the participants. Minimal logos, as I pointed earlier, can also be descriptive. In this faced paced era, minimal logos may be the best. Paul Rand, a graphic design legend, often said, “one quickly realizes that simplicity and geometry are the language of timelessness and universality.” A minimal logo fits into the ideas of the legendary graphic designer.
The following are the reasons why businesses should opt for minimalist logos:
Recognizable: Minimalist logos register very quickly in the brain since the design is extremely simple to look at. We already know by now that the brain tends to simplify structures or shapes to store them in the memory, minimal logos are tailor-made for the brain to easily store it. Designers use various color schemes and patterns to ensure that the logo is simple yet elegant to be easily picked by the brain. Standalone wordmarks are extremely powerful and can easily command attention. Instantly recognizable, the Netflix logo is a perfect example of a commanding standalone wordmark.
Extremely clear: One of the most interesting elements of a minimalist logo is its cleanliness. Our brains do not like clutter and tend to get confused when in tight space. Minimalist designs get rid of any extras and only use existing elements to create timeless pieces of art.
Spotify, the music streaming service providers’ symbol is an example of an extremely clear logo. The three curved lines in the Spotify logo signify sound waves. It is extremely clear what the consumer is in for. The YouTube logo too is a great example of an extremely clear descriptive minimal logo. A clutter free design is both attractive and breeds trust.
Versatile: Minimalist logos can be incredibly versatile since it can fit into different layouts and various sizes.
Logos need to live on different platforms such as business cards, billboards, letterheads, even T-shirts! Logos must have the same impression everywhere it is taken. Keeping all of these in mind, minimalistic logos appear practical. Reducing complexity definitely increases comprehension!
Let us consider the new Google logo. The new logo has the ability to connect with all the products and services they have to offer. The logo allows users to distinguish between all the Google products they have to offer.
Stronger associations: A single colour allows the brand to become more synonymous with it. Be it the YouTube red or the National Geographic yellow, these colours have truly become synonymous with the brand. The colours form extremely strong associations allowing the audience to quickly recall the brand.
A designer may have amazing creative bursts, but he must learn to control and direct how much of imagination should be put on paper. A complex logo will definitely be harder for the viewers to remember and associate with. A complex logo may be a great piece of art but it may fail to become a good logo.
Minimal logos definitely have been in trend and will be so for many years to come due to its likability and authenticity. Minimal logos very quickly build brand identity and helps build trust among the consumers.
Well, whatever be the case, you know your business best, so get the logo which you feel is the best.
Besides having grown up in the design Industry, Christiaan has advised some of the world’s largest companies on their branding & packaging designs. Has been the resident judge for design awards, and has spoken at numerous global design & marketing events. Christiaan founded the London office of the award-winning Cartils agency, and has founded the DesignBro.com platform.