Developing a logo is an interesting experience.  Recently several organisations have found that the internet provides a platform for dissenting voices to grow into active movements to oppose designs that they don’t like.

Gap, who some have suggested were really undertaking a publicity stunt, Starbucks and the Portland Timbers have all experienced an adverse reaction when plans of their changes came to light.

Recently, the Iranian Olympic Committee has said that they think the London 2012 logo is racist, spelling out the word Zion.  There are a number of reasons not to pay too much attention to this complaint:

  1. It doesn’t spell out Zion, it says 2012.
  2. If it did spell out anything in English it would be “Zo in”, since we read left to right and, with no hyphen, the second line should be taken as a new word.  Perhaps animal welfare groups should be boycotting the Olympics instead!
  3. If you want to say that a 2 looks like Z, is it reasonable to also claim it looks like an N?  So that would mean it spells out Zoin.

Choosing a new logo is hard.  I should know, I’ve just been through the process for my website (it should be appearing there in the near future).  It’s tempting to outsource responsibility for deciding what design to choose to other people; I could have asked my friends or conducted a poll with people who have signed up at my website.

But if I don’t know what conveys my brand, what perspective are other people expected to respond from?  They might tell me what they think looks nice, aesthetic taste is understood to be intrinsically personal.  They might tell what they think my brand is about and what conveys this to them. 

But this is my chance to communicate a little bit more about me.  If I already convey everything I want to, if the status quo is so important, why would I be creating a new logo at all?

One comment famously suggested the London 2012 Olympic logo looked like Lisa Simpson performing a sex act; lots of people agreed.  But they only agreed when one person said it and that comment was picked up by the media (at which point its humour and astute observation caused it to spread as only a meme can).  I don’t doubt that, had the designers had this pointed out to them, this design would never have seen the light of day.

However, just because, once it’s pointed out, you can see it, doesn’t mean it would ever occur to you to think along those lines independently.  Consequently, you could ask one million people for their views on the logo, but if you don’t ask the person who makes that specific association your research will be irrelevant (assuming the media find and propagate the comment subsequently).

It’s one thing to run a logo design past a fresh set of eyes, to check that you haven’t inadvertently conveyed something directly that is offensive to people who will see it, but it’s reckless to let a consensus market research opinion drive the representation of your brand.

I often think researching a logo is a little akin to asking someone to dress and behave a certain way when they go on a date with you: in theory it should make for a perfect evening, but the fact that someone is just playing back what you want isn’t a substitute for the genuine experience of two people being themselves and enjoying each other’s company.

So by all means run a design past a few pairs of eyes, and ideally have people from different cultures check you aren’t offending them inadvertently, but don’t suppose that other people can tell you how you should be.

For the record, I have always liked the 2012 logo, I never liked the Gap logo, I like the new Starbucks logo and the new Portland Timbers logo appears to me a substantial improvement.  But my view on these doesn’t matter.  And whilst I hope you like my new logo when it appears at my website, if you don’t, well, perhaps it was just never meant to be between us!

Philip Graves

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