The logos of the top 100 companies on the 2010 Fortune 500 list are more alike than you might think at first glance. In this post I hope to uncover a few elements that are common, illuminate certain groupings, and hopefully help you think about your logo in the context of your brand a little differently.
Disclaimer: Before I get started I should point out each of the below logos was pulled in an effort to capture the most standard version of the logo each company uses. I’m sure a few are off, but for the purposes of discussing principles of logo design these will suffice.
Logo design is mostly an art, but it is governed by practical rules that include proportion, scale, reproducibility, context, and other factors. Logo design also tends to reflect industry values. Consumer brands tend to have more stylized, iconic designs, whereas business-to-business or supply chain companies are less focused on this.
There are typically three classes of proportion when it comes to logo design – a square, a tall rectangle, and a wide rectangle. Most people avoid tall rectangular logos because they are difficult to incorporate into a wide variety of design applications, though in some limited circumstances they can work well. How do the top Fortune 500 companies see it? The majority, about seven out of ten, have opted to use the wide rectangle. The remaining use square designs. None use a vertical design as a primary application.
The graphs below speak fairly clearly for themselves: the Fortune 100 companies analyzed prefer blue (to include a few deep purples) followed by red and black. Of all the color choices three-fourths of the time one of those was chosen.
There are books written on the psychology of color discussing what emotion various hues evoke, but pressing on to the core of it this is what I think – blue is chosen because it is calming, and a preferred color by many. It is also lends itself well to various shades of itself. If you have a deep blue as your primary logo color you can use a 50% screen of the same and it works well.
This particular attribute cannot be said about the next most popular color, red. Screens of red are only used by a few, because a screen of red is pink. Red is chosen because it is bold and stands out well in signage. The sky is rarely red and often blue. Take a look at the companies that chose red as their primary color and think about the most important application for them, outdoor signage.
Black is chosen because it works well with just about any other color and is very clear. The most important aspect of a logo is to communicate your name. It is only art secondarily. I found it somewhat surprising how little green was used. I suspect that with the current green movement this will change over the coming years as new companies rise and old companies refresh their looks.
The perspective on color count couldn’t be clearer: don’t use more than one or two colors in your logo. A small number stray and use 3 (often a neutral such as black or gray is included in that) and the rest are clear outliers with 4 and 8 colors.
The reason for this is simple: cost and brand management. More colors cost more money to reproduce in many applications. I think the larger issue has to do with brands though. Most companies have multiple version of their logo, such as a monochrome version if their standard logo is two or three colors. But the more colors your logo has the more often you have to create style exceptions. The more colors a logo has the more difficult it is to include in designs because colors clash. When this happens designers often reach for an alternate (non-primary) version of the logo. Every time this occurs it is lost opportunity for brand reinforcement.
Simple logos reproduce more consistently at small and large scales than intricate ones.
A few things to keep in mind when designing a logo:
- Basics: Keep it simple
- Color: Don’t use more than three colors
- Proportions: Consider a horizontal rectangular shape, else a square
The Fortune 100 companies shown above aren’t successful because of their logos. In fact, a few of the logos are downright awful. But, most of them realize that a strong logo is foundational to a strong brand.