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Design Concept of Trademarks and Logotypes
FHK Henrion writes for a special issue of Idea, published in 1979
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This is an article from European Trademarks & Logotypes, a special issue of Idea magazine, written by FHK Henrion and published in 1979.
As we were one of the first, if not the first design office in this country to plan and carry out corporate design and corporate communication programmes, we have naturally been responsible for many trademarks and/or logotypes on our many assignments both in this country and in Europe.
Our first symbol was probably designed in 1949 for the Bowater Corporation- large group of paper and cardboard manufacturers-who had acquired or merged with a large number of companies in the same field. Our solution at this time was the design of a symbol which was a combination of a bow and water, thus creating a visual analogue of the name. This design has been used over the last thirty years to identify the stationery. the product and the transport of the Group.
During those thirty years, there has been a proliferation of symbols. national and international. Most of them had similar briefs. Thus, any large and multinational company would not like a symbol which alludes or represents their activities or their products as diversification seems to have become an economic necessity for all large corporations. For instance, a tobacco company which has just taken over food manufacturers and cosmetics, must be rather embarrassed with its tobacco leaves symbol as it is no longer informing but positively misleading. For these reasons, the specification is for the symbol which is simple. memorable, unique and preferably has connotations of innovation, progress, social understanding, quality and reliability. It is easy to understand that all corporations aspire to these aims and therefore look for symbols which are likely to have connotations of these qualities.
By definition, this means abstract and geometrical symbols. As a result, we have today any amount of trademarks, based on the circle, the square, the oblong or the triangle, the hexagon or any of the basic geometrical shapes. The result is, as in books on trademarks will show, that many symbols look alike, causing confusion, rather than clarity and distinction. For these reasons, and to show whom or what it represents, it is necessary to add a verbal reference so that we always have a symbol and a name. which means that in an area where the foremost aim is impact and simplicity, two elements are required rather than one.
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A good example of this predicament is the very design-conscious firm, Olivetti. They had established a well-known symbol which together with the firm's name, appeared on their products, their publications, their advertising and, in fact, all their visual manifestations. In order to improve their corporate communications, they decided they would be better served with a logotype without a symbol, so that they could operate with one identity element only instead of two. Of the two. obviously the name mattered more than the symbol, and, therefore, they decided to make a depth study how the word Olivetti could be designed in such a way so they could combine both qualities of information and sign in one
It might be perhaps useful to define the word 'logotype'. It is a unique way of writing a word which has a design quality of its own, which ideally is legally registerable. Ordinary letters of any alphabet are incapable of legal protection. Thus, the word "Coca Cola, written in the well-known manner for very many years, qualifies as does the 'W' of Westinghouse, or even Mobile with the special O* These considerations have contributed in the last few years to the fact that it seems new logotypes are more often created than new symbols. The accepted word for the science of signs and symbols, is called semiotics which prompted me a few years ago to write an article for the Penrose Annual on symbols entitled "Semiotics or Semi-Idiotics". Many other authors have written about this fact that the specification of an abstract symbol preferably with the attitudes mentioned above, must lead to similar, if not identical solutions.
We live in a period which suffers from too much visual noise-to borrow a word from the information theory. As a multiplicity of visual signs compete for our attention, all but the very simple and memorable have a chance of being noticed and remembered. Whether they are noticed, depends both on size and frequency of exposure as well as the visual and aesthetic and unique quality of the symbol itself.
Therefore, the validity even of a good symbol, depends on the context in which it is shown.
Obviously. the excellent British Rail symbol which appears on all railway stations and anything to do with railways, is seen mostly in anon-competitive or monopolistic situation.As it never happens that a number of competitive trains start from one station, unlike in an airport where any amount of different airlines with their symbol on the plane's tails compete for attention. In fact, most airlines offer the same type of plane at the same price in identical conditions to their prospective passenger. That is why the difference is one of image of which the visual part depends on colour symbol and typography, as the only differentiating features. The importance of the visual image is always greatest when identical goods or services are offered under similar conditions. This applies to oil and petrol firms, travel agents etc. Of late, store chains, supermarkets and shopping centres which tend to look increasingly alike, have found the importance of establishing a distinctive visual identity. The symbol or logotype are the starting points of corporate communications and their quality or lack of it can make or mar the whole operation. Good examples of this policy are JC Penny. Bloomingdale's in the US and the Seibu Departmental Stores in Japan to name but three. Although I feel that what I have said so far, is generally true and applicable it is worth noting that each symbol has its own problem situation which is specific and a solution can only be found by analysis and comprehension of its function, its objectives, its frequency of exposure and its way of exposure. This can be best explained by referring shortly to symbols and logotypes designed in our office, as we obviously know better how they came about, how they evolved and how they were used.
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Logo Histories’ Extra Issue unlocks opinion and insights lost to time, buried within the pages of rare out-of-print design books and magazines. Through this series, you'll come to understand the challenges and opportunities corporate identity designers of the past faced to help you better understand design practice of the present. For Logo Histories, click here.
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