This is Michael Bierut. “I'm Michael Beirut. I'm a graphic designer.”
You might be familiar with his work, but interestingly he thinks that logos are just kind of overrated.
"I'm actually often very ambivalent about them." Let's back out a second. What is a logo?
Basically the face of a company. "Some are beloved. Some... the swastika is a logo and it's reviled. You know?"
They have to work at tiny sizes, and huge. There are three specific types.
First type is the WORDMARK. "The wordmark is the easiest one. And it's the one we're all the most familiar with.
I mean John Hancock's signature is kind of a word mark. It can look crisp clean and modern like the new Google logo looks.
Or it can look somehow that it has roots in a shared heritage the way the coca cola logo looks. You know?"
The second is PICTORAL. "Pictoral logos often function as a kind of rebus, you know.
It's a picture, and you savor what's in the picture, and it sort of is
identifying the name of the company. Sometimes directly like Target. Sometimes indirectly like LaCoste."
The third kind is kind of the holy grail. Abstract iconography.
"It's everyone's favorite kind of category because it just seems almost like magic, you know.
As a designer people come to me and they'll say I want something like the Nike swoosh.
They think that the Nike swoosh was the Nike Swoosh the day it was drawn. But it was nothing the day it was drawn."
The company that birthed nike commissioned a design student named Carolyn to draw some ideas.
And the Nike founders didn't really like them. "They sort of said awww let's use that one."
It wasn't like an overnight success. "And then they started putting it on the sides of shoes.
The shoes were good and then the genius of Nike's marketing apparatus made us further associate that product
not merely with performance athletic gear but with the very idea of athletic achievement itself.
And that's how over a long time a little mark means something big.
"That's exactly how religious symbols work.
It's obviously not just anything inherent in about these shapes, but it's about what those shapes
have come to represent in the minds of the people who are looking at them."
But there's a fourth type of logo that goes beyond these three types, and can use elements of each of them:
The Logo System. A graphical framework, that can have endless permutations.
The first gigantically popular example of the logo system would be MTV.
But google's daily “doodles” are another great example of the logo system – a familiar mark that can also point to other ideas and issues.
This approach all has to do with technological change.
"It used to be if a company was doing a logo there'd be this military operation by which it would be inscribed on all their equipment and on their airplanes and their retail facilities and gold pins and cufflinks would be made for the executive suite and put on spittoons in ashtrays, in the top of the skyscraper, and we say "dwell" on everyone's business card, right?
Nowadays none of that's as important as an email signature or your twitter avatar or the little thing that sits next to your URL.
Those things are much more ubiquitous and they can be changed at the drop of a hat.”
Bierut used this system approach for his Hillary Clinton logo.
"We wanted to have a mark reflect the electorate, and reflect the issues.
Those simple forms that comprise the H with the arrow in it are actually designed
to hold not just two colors say red and blue, but any colors you want."
The use of logo systems seems to be continually on the upswing now – probably because it allows the the brand using it to expand the conversation beyond it's own name.
"The logo really reminds people that's what our priority is today."
But at the end of the day, regardless of the shape, style or system, it might not matter what the logo is.
"It really is about thinking of these symbols as being empty vessels in a way,
and then you pour the meaning into them."
So what's this all add up to?
Basically, those fights people get in about new logos are pretty misguided.
"They think they're judging a diving competition, but actually all these organizations are in swimming competitions.
It's not what kind of splash you make when you hit the water. It's how long you can keep your head above that water."
Logos need to have a long life, not win points in a discussion.
12 years after the birth of the nike logo, Nike came back to that graphic design student Carolyn with a gift.
"A Nike ring with her own trademark on it, the swoosh." "Thank you very much it's beautiful."
And an undisclosed amount of Nike stock. "Wow." In 1973 when it was designed, her pay was $35.