I hear this concern from some colleagues lately: whether there will be a point, not in a distant future, where we will stop seeing logos around us.
For this to happen, the idea of nations, religions, companies and other organisations would no longer be necessary in our society. Even in that rare scenario we would need a good brand identity in place just in case Aliens decided to visit us and see who we are.
Symbols are not a hindrance.
What lies underneath that concern is not whether logos will cease to exist, but whether symbols or marks —one of the elements that make a logo a logo— are going to be of any use in the near future, that somehow they are a hindrance and will end up being replaced by type and colour only. But just try to imagine for a second Apple without the apple, Nike without the swoosh, Volkswagen without the VW, Starbucks (Ugh) without the mermaid.
On the other hand, try to change a typeface-based logo for another typeface. Change the Marlboro typeface to Gotham, Disney to FF Mark, Yves Saint Laurent to… wait, they already did it and I can still hear Adolphe Cassandre turning in his grave. If logos are to rely on type only, it’d better be a distinctive typeface and not another geometric Sans-Serif for God’s sake. And certainly not Helvetica.
Fonts can be bland, but not neutral.
For me, the dangerously boring trend from big Tech and Fashion companies to switch from whatever logo they had to a bland Sans is to blame. It is what Thierry Brunfaut called Blanding. The reasons exposed by some of the brand consultancies and in-house design teams to throw decades of brand recognition to the bin are plain non-sense. Anyone with a fair amount of typographic knowledge knows that a Sans-Serif is not necessarily more legible and digital friendly than a Serif font.
The old discussion that Sans-Serifs such us Helvetica express modernism and neutralism is as dated as your great-grandmother’s oven. And although it is true that the great classic fonts keep being great in their own right and should always be revisited, the font design industry is healthier than ever in terms of production, variety and quality.
Dealing with new constrictions.
Today, logos need to express themselves through challenging digital and physical environments, but this is not new: as Erik Spiekermann once put it, dealing with constrictions is what design has always been about. It is precisely because of the use of icons on the iOS and Android Apps ecosystems that your company’s App will compete with those by using a symbol and not so much a wordmark.
We all agree that logos need to have a purpose, be flexible and adapt. If that involves revisiting the shapes and typefaces for them to look great at almost favicon sizes, so be it. In any case, this does not justify the trashing of its DNA just because that is what everyone else is doing. Look for any good logo compilation from the 50s or 60s and you will see they were made out of visual concrete and solid thinking, not of feathers and candy floss. It is not surprising how similar so many of the great new logos out there keep getting inspired by those in the past.
A brandless world.
It is a fact: there are too many companies, too many brands, too many cereals, too many fizzy drinks. Some companies have dared to go brandless, that is, not using a symbol. But they use type. And they use colour. And they have packaging. They are a brand. When decades ago Martin Margiela started his own fashion brand in Antwerp, he decided not to put his name on the label. Instead, he used a barely stitched label displaying the available sizes of a particular garment. This idea, as brilliant as it is, is what has defined his brand identity until today.
Redesigning the firelighter.
I believe there is another way to rebrand visual identities, and that is not always by changing the logo just because. If the symbol can be dropped off or reworked for a good reason, go on and explore it. If a typeface can be changed for a more suitable one, go for it. But do it acknowledging that establishing a tone of voice and new visual vocabulary takes years of creative and financial effort for any brand and this is not a simple change of dress. Having a new logo usually affects all the visual touch points around your brand and therefore the way the latter is perceived.
To me, any great logo has the potential to be the firelighter of any good visual communication. And while it is true that a brand is more than a logo, I cannot imagine a world without them.