Standing out or fitting in: Where should your logo be?
Have you ever noticed how many health and social services organization’s logos use hands and humanoid forms? How many social justice organizations use hand-drawn elements in their visual identities? Or how many environmental organizations use a globe or the color green?
If you are contemplating giving your organization a new logo, should you go with the flow? Or forge your own path?
Before you set off exploring new logo designs, begin your process by researching and discussing industry standards and tropes. Understanding what’s out there, what’s been done, and what your audiences may have come to expect of your specific sector can help you narrow down the range of exploration required to home in on the best solution.
One great benefit of fitting in is that well-established tropes can be a shortcut to communicating the type of work you do. Nodding to some of the well-tread conventions can help your audiences understand what you do more quickly. Even subtle cues in color or typography will likely foster these associations on a subconscious level. For example, if you are branding an LGBTQ rights organization, using the color pink could be a quick shortcut. When Big Duck branded Health Equity International, an organization dedicated to providing essential health services to people in Haiti, we used a medical cross symbol within their logo to quickly let their audiences know the realm of work they are committed to. Because this symbol is internationally recognized, the logo can be easily interpreted anywhere in the world.
Building on these expectations can be less costly than going outside of the box because you’ll have less work to do to educate your audiences than you might by establishing something entirely unexpected. Bucking all the trends may require more impressions and exposure before your audiences catch on to what you do. Sticking with familiar elements can make it easier to understand your meaning fast, especially if your marketing budget is limited (and whose isn’t?).
Finally, if you are a highly collaborative organization and often share spaces with your peers, you’ll want to be mindful of how your logo looks alongside others. Without disappearing amongst them, make sure your logo doesn’t clash with its neighbors.
On the other hand, when so many organizations have similar missions, a unique mark can help you get noticed and differentiate you from your peers. An unexpected visual solution can help with the work of establishing you for having a unique vision or as having an unexpected personality. As an example, a medical research organization might choose a rounded typeface or use lowercase letters to express a friendlier tone in an otherwise very serious and corporate landscape. When Big Duck branded Keshet, we developed a secondary palette that nodded to the LGBTQ rainbow flag, but in an unexpected way. Defying visual conventions can speak to an audience who might be drawn to your unique positioning.
If you have a cutting edge mission and personality combined with resources that afford you the ability to get noticed by the public through more comprehensive marketing than most, you may be in a better position to reinvent the wheel. A good example of this is charity: water, which has a unique operations fundraising pipeline and a substantial in-house creative team. Instead of relying on imagery that includes explicit water references or the color blue, charity: water’s bright yellow water jug logo really stands out.
The happy middle
Rather than going all in on standing out from the crowd with your logo or relying on every visual cliché in the book, it is often best to find a solution somewhere in between. The most successful solutions tend to capitalize on your audience’s pre-formed understanding of visual cues by borrowing some tropes, while innovating on others to differentiate from the crowd. For example, you might borrow a recognizable symbolic form but change the expected typographic styles—or borrow an identifiable color, while establishing a more surprising symbol. Most importantly, take a good look around you before you begin in order to make an informed decision about the right direction for your organization.