Why is strategy important when designing a logo? How can you use strategy as part of your design process? In this episode Branding expert and thought leader Marty Neumeier answers these questions, as well as explaining in detail how to test a trademark design before releasing it to the public.
Marty is the Director of Transformation at Liquid Agency, and the author of some of the very best books on branding and design including; Brand Gap, Zag and Brand Flip.
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Ian Paget: Guys we are back for season two of the Logo Geek Podcast. Season one was a fantastic experience. I know when I started it, I was actually pretty nervous and I know I’ve grown in confidence, so I hope to continue to do this and I’ve had so much fantastic feedback. So thanks to everyone that’s been part of that and to everyone also joined the Facebook community that’s been thriving.
So this is the first episode of ten episodes that will be released weekly for the next couple of months and they’re designed to educate and inspire you on the topic of logo design. So this week I’m really excited to be chatting with one of my favourite authors, Marty Neumeier, who’s the man behind some incredible books including Brand Gap, Zag, and Brand Flip, just to name a few. And what I love about these books is that they’ve been stream lined. These books are pretty thin and they’re designed to be read in just a couple of hours. And that just means that every single page is jam packed full of value. I’ve learned so much from Marty’s books and I highly recommend that you get a copy of all of them. Because if you haven’t done already, I guarantee that you’ll learn a hell of a lot and you’ll be inspired.
So Marty’s the Director of Transformation at Liquid Agency and is a thought leader lecturing all over the world. When he’s not lecturing or writing, he’s facilitating inspirational workshops called Providing Consulting Services to companies the likes of Apple, Google, Microsoft, Skype, and Twitter, which is incredible. You guys are in for a treat. In this episode we talk about the importance of strategy and then we deep dive into how to test the logo, which is a topic that I haven’t actually read anything about and I found this fascinating, so I hope you guys will, too. So let’s get into this interview. I introduce you to Marty Neumeier.
Marty Neumeier: You know when you’re in design school or art school or wherever you learn your craft, if you’re a designer, you hear people talking about concept, right? And students who have concept behind their work, they get sort of more appreciation, right? Oh, that’s a great concept or this guys really works with concept. And I’ve always sort of leaned towards that myself. It’s like if you don’t have an organising principle behind your work, it’s probably not going to be very clear and simple, unified, and so forth. So I was always kind of leaning in that direction. But after working in design for maybe five or ten years, I started to realise that there are lot of great designers out there in terms of styling and aesthetics divorced from any sort of strategy, but just beautiful work. And I’m probably never going to be the best at that. I can compete, but I can’t ever claim that I’m going to do the most beautiful work.
And then I started thinking does it even matter if your work is the most beautiful and over the years I found out no, for most audiences, unless your audience is a sophisticated, not just a normal, but a sophisticated design audience, you’re pretty much getting away a lot of these aesthetics that you think are beautiful and are beautiful. So it’s the wrong direction to work in. I’m all for gorgeous work, don’t get me wrong. I always try for it myself. But what really matters is whether you’re getting the job done, whatever that job is, and the job, when you peel back all the layers, is a business goal of some sort. So if you’re not really clear on what the business goal of your work is, you’re going to fail a lot of the time, even if you do beautiful work or interesting work or awarding winning work.
So what I found out after a while is that this idea of concept is good, but in design, the concept, if you’re working for a client, the concept is really a strategy. It’s like if I do it this way, I can expect the audience to react in that way. And if you can’t clarify that to yourself, then you can’t talk to your client about it and you can’t get sign off on it, except in some other way. You can always brow beat a client into getting them to do something or whine and stomp or walk or something, or just take whatever they say and go, “okay, that’s what they want. But if you really want your work to be focused and in your control and effective out of the world, then you’ve got to start thinking about strategy.
And that’s not something I was taught in art school. I went to Arts Center in Los Angeles and it was a pretty practical school, but they just didn’t go into business at all. And so anybody who went to these sorts of schools are sort of in their own little world of this priesthood of design where we all know what’s good, but the outside world doesn’t seem to appreciate us. And the reason it doesn’t is because we aren’t actually speaking to the outside with our work. And that takes maturity and more knowledge than we’re taught in school and so forth, and if we’re all just looking at what other designers are doing, and appreciating them and hanging out with the, it kind of skews our view of what is good in design. We’re just sort of adopting this religion of design without contributing to it or trying to change it or trying to do anything better. We’re just trying to be the best in what we’ve already seen. See what I mean? It becomes this sort of self perpetuating cycle.
Ian Paget: This is very much the reason why I was keen to discuss the role of strategy and logo design with you as a lot of the online communities, there’s quite a few designers, mostly the younger ones, who design almost solely based on cosmetics and then they ask for feedback from a wider community. So in these instances there’s generally a lack of context and understanding of the business goals or anything. So it’s hard to actually give them proper feedback. So my hope with this episode with you is that it will inspire them to start to look at design in a different way and to start to factor in strategy into their work. So basically be a better designer.
So my next question for you is what steps would you recommend designers take when working on logo designs to factor in strategy?
Marty Neumeier: Well I want to be practical with your audience and say that not every trademark assignment is worth putting this much effort into it if you’re not being paid enough for it. So thing you can do is build this system that I’m going to describe to you. You can build it in and charge for that, make sure that’s part of the price, or you can just use it when it looks like the money’s going to be there. But I kind of recommend that if you build this into your way of working, that can kind of separate you from the other designers and give you a leg up with clients when you describe how you’re different. What you’re doing is more objective than what other designers are likely to. Because that’s just a widespread frustration of clients just seems to just do what they want to do and insist that they’re correct.
And so it’s all about chemistry. If I like the designer, I’ll say okay. But I I’m skeptical, I’ll probably default and I’ll probably default to my own sense of what’s good and if I’m a client, probably my sense of what’s good in logos is not very state of the art. So what you need to do is really be a little more thorough. And I learned this over the years, just by trial and error, and borrowing from other fields, but the first thing that I like to do is research the competition. So you can do this pretty easily by just asking your clients who their top competitors are. What are the companies you often compete with that your customers have to decide among a certain set of choices. What are those choices and who do you admire? Who do you compete with? Who do you hate because they’re always stealing your customers or your clients?
Ask those kind of questions and come with a list of competitors and grab their logos, however bad they are, it doesn’t matter. We know we’re good. Grab them and put them on a sheet and label them. And then kind of have a little paragraph or a sentence about each one that describes what makes them different and compelling in the category. This is covered really well in my book Zag. So the concept of that book is when everybody zigs, zag. You can’t win in a competitive game, million business, unless you’re different. You have to be different in a compelling way. So I guarantee that every company that successful has a difference, even if they’re not conscious of it. So you just have to figure what that is.
And you also have to do the same thing for the company that you are designing for. So their logo should be up there and a little sentence should be under that one saying how they’re different and compelling. And the way to get to this is to fill in the blanks of this very simple sentence: this brand is the only, blank, that blanks. So fill in those two blanks. So you could be talking about a company or product or whatever, but this item this organisation, this product, is the only something. The something could be … Let’s use Harley Davidson, the motorcycle company. The only motorcycle, and the second blank, makes you feel like a modern cowboy, or whatever you think it is that makes them different. Do that for every one of the businesses. And you can just go online and find out what they say about themselves and just translate them into that very simple thing that where they’re only-ness is, the thing that makes them different and better.
And then look at their logos next to that and see if there’s any relationship at all. And often there isn’t. And those usually aren’t very good logos. Other times you can say, oh, I can see where this logo would support that differentiation. In any case, you want your company’s logo, the one you’re designing, to be based either on only-ness, this is what makes us special, or the purpose of the company, the sort of vision. I think purpose is a better word. The purpose that makes them do this instead of any of the millions of things they could be doing. They’re doing this company because they believe in it, they want to change the world in a certain way. So you look at that and you try to draw from that some inspiration for what the logo should be.
This is where the art is. I can’t tell you how to do that. There’s no linear method, but I think if you’re trademark does not reflect those important essential, you’d say the soul of the company, then it’s not going to resonate with the client and you’re not going to be able to sell it very easily except as it really looks cool or I love it. In our studio, we love it. That’s the last thing anybody wants to hear. You need to have some reasons behind it. so I think start out by doing some research. Now how long does that take? Probably it would take me no more than a day, one person a day to figure all that stuff out. So that’s in the ballpark.
And then you start sketching and you sketch just like you normally would. You do all kinds of stuff, but you keep checking back to that only-ness or to the vision of the company and look at the competition. And what you’re looking for when you’re looking at the competition is, ideally, your trademark should look pretty different from all the other ones. It shouldn’t be like an also ran. It shouldn’t be like well, in this industry, they all have a swoosh, so we need a swoosh. It shouldn’t be like that at all. It should come straight out of the essence of the brand.
So fool around with that, do 50, 80, 100 little doodles and so you get some ideas about that and then you start working those up and you do your normal thing. And then you get it down to lets say six or seven ideas. Show those to the client and don’t defend any of them. Just show them. And ask lots of questions. If they ask you why did you do it, you’ll have an answer because you’ve been thinking about this from a strategic standpoint. But just let them react to it. And ask them, if it’s possible to get them to like any of these in the first round, you say, “Give me your top two. And we’ll take those top two and we’ll refine those a bit more and we’ll test those with members of your potential audience or your clients or a combination of potential customers and real customers.” And they’ll say, “I really like this one and I really like that.”
And you may look at that and go boy, that isn’t the one I would pick, but you don’t say that. Just say, “Okay. I’d like to draw your attention to number four here. I know it’s not one that you like and maybe you hate it, I don’t know. But we just had a hunch, but we’re looking at this from a different perspective. We have a hunch that maybe this one could be the one.” So you get your dog in the race, basically, that way. And you tell them it doesn’t matter because we’re going to test all these because what we think in this room doesn’t matter nearly as much as what customers think. You do want customers, right? Yeah, so we want customers. So we’re going to test this with customers and have them read back to us what they think this company’s about. And I don’t think I’ve ever had a client say, “No, we don’t want to test this, we just want to go with the one we want.” They all want to know. They all want to know what other people think.
So you’re going to provide that and that’s not a big deal. And you can get paid for it. In fact it’s the best money your client will ever spend. So you finish up three logos that are fairly good, they’re not totally refined because you’re not going to kill yourself on it until you find out which one wins, and you put those into a PDF deck or something and you get a list of customers from the client, they’ll figure it out, and you ask them to give you a representative cross section, not all the same kind of customer. Some potential customers, some good customers, some bad customers, whatever. Really you want at least 20/25. The more you do the more credibility it has, but I think if you even have 20 responses to these logos, you will have enough to talk about with the client; plenty to talk about.
Okay, so you come up with this deck and you have one logo per page and you call up someone on the list who has agreed by email to read you their opinion. And of course they’ll say, “Well I’m not an expert.” And you’ll say, “No, that’s fine, we don’t want experts, we want customers. And we’d just love your opinion and thank you for your time.” You call them up and you show them these logos one by one, pretty quickly, and you say, “Okay, you saw these really quickly. Which one of these caught your interest?” So this is really a dumb question. It’s not going to matter too much, but it gives you a starting point.which one caught your interest is probably the one that looked coolest or looked like something they’ve already seen and liked or looked professional. It’s not going to give you the answer you want, but you never know.
So they say, well, I like number one. Number one really caught my eye. You say, “Okay. So looking at number one, what do you think about that company? What do you think it’s like? What do you think they’re trying to do in the world? What’s their difference?” “Oh, well, I think they’re really big on service. I think service. It screams service to me.” Or whatever they say. You say, “Okay, well what is it about this that says service?” “I don’t know. It’s friendly, it’s round looking, it looks happy.” They’ll just read you back a bunch of things. You take notes of all this stuff or you record it. Or, better yet, have the client sitting next to you and listening to the whole thing. I actually find that really helpful. So there’s no translation, they’re just sitting there watching you do all this stuff, if you can get them to spend the time. Otherwise you just take notes or record it and let them listen to it.
So you ask that question. Okay, what do you think this company does? And then they say, actually, it’s not about service. That’s not their difference. Their difference is the product quality is like amazing. It’s way beyond. Oh, product quality. Yeah, so knowing that, which one do you think expresses that difference the best? Well number three then, absolutely. That says quality to me right away. And then you might ask some other questions like, if it’s a product, you say well how much do you think you pay for a product that had this logo on it? Compared to the competition? Well, I think I’d pay more for that. And that’s what we’re really looking for is that looks like premium to me. Unless the product is a discount product and then you want to here it looks like this would be the cheapest one and probably a really good value. So you’re looking for those kind of answers.
You’re not looking for which one do you like? That’s the worst question you can ask of anybody about a logo or any kind of design. And I know we all like to ask that because we’re looking for that affirmation. Please tell me you like it. Please tell me you appreciate all the work I just did on this. But you can’t do that when you’re selling to clients. You have to be really practical and look at it always from the customer’s point of view. And if you’re always trying to do that and you’re proving as you go, what is the client going to say? I don’t care what the customers think, I like number one. They’re not. They’re really not. So the worst thing to come out of this is customers love logo number three and client loves number one and they just seem like they’re torn. And then you go back to the drawing board and maybe you ask for more money. You say well, we saw the problem for customers so this is more work. There’s going to be an upcharge for this.
So anything you can do along these lines to bring some objectivity to it is great for selling, it makes the value of your work bigger, higher, better, and also you learn things about what design is that you’re not going to learn from other designers or from art school. You’re just not. And so this is building your special repertoire of knowledge about what works in the real world. And I think you’ll find, if you’re like me and you pay a lot of attention to what other designers are doing, you find that we don’t know what we’re doing. We’re always over shooting our audience, we’re always giving them something they can’t appreciate instead of getting something they really get and then giving them whatever we want on top of that. So it could be that we just want to do beautiful work and we know it’s not necessary for this particular job, but we’re going to give it to you because its’ who we are and it’s our reputation in our industry and so forth.
And that’s great, but that’s not what’s going to make this work in the marketplace sometimes. It just depends. Beauty in the long term always wins out, but in the short term people don’t even notice the difference. And I can give you plenty of examples to show you how little actual people that aren’t designers can see in a piece of design.
Ian Paget: There’s very little books or information out there on testing other than actually what’s in your book Zag, so this is fascinating for me. So I have a few further questions. You mentioned asking 20 people was a good number to ask. How do you go about finding these people? Do you ask the client for a list or do you find 20 general people who fit within the target audience?
Marty Neumeier: Well, you can do the work for them if they’re just too busy and you charge for that. You hire someone or you just have someone on your staff do all that research. Because that’s a bit of work. You have to find the people, get their permission, or get them to agree to be part of this test. And you don’t want to make it really formal or scary. You certainly don’t want to pay them. What you should do is give them a gift afterwards, but you shouldn’t say we want to pay you for your opinion. It should be, we just really would appreciate your opinion on this. We value your opinion as a customer or potential customer and you just have our undying gratitude. And then you give them the gift afterwards. That will make everything good. And it can be a little gift. It’s not necessarily money, just a little something you send. The client pays for that of course.
So yeah, the client should give you the list. Then someone has to go through that list and get people to agree to it. It could be on the client side, it could be you doing it for them, it could be a person you freelance or you hire to set it all up so you can get those on the same day, let’s say, or within a reasonable amount of time. And then you can ask the client, “Do you want to be there during these conversations? Or do you want me just to encapsulate it for you and give you the executive overview?” But get them to agree that this is the level that they want to be involved. Now I find in a lot of my testing, clients want to be right there, at least the ones who have some money and they’re spending good money for this. They’ll send somebody to be there. And it just makes it really easily because you do this testing, you turn off the computer, you look at each other and you go, “Well, what do you think?” And the client will say, “It’s obvious, number three.”
And as far as numbers of test, numbers of things to test, I’ve found that two works really great if you can get it down to two. And in the case of where the client picks two that you don’t like and you have another one that you really, really, really want to see if it’s good, you put that in. It makes the testing a bit harder for people, the respondents, to sort through three. Two is really easy for them. It’s kind of like when you go to the optometrist to test your eyes and they put this thing over your eyes and they put in little lenses that either improve the sharpness of the type you’re looking at or they make it worse and they say, “Okay which is clearer; A or B or 1 or 2?” They keep switching those out because that’s the easiest way to get people to compare is just compare two things.
So two is best, three is okay, more than that is a lot to ask from anybody so I wouldn’t go there. You can always do more than one test. You can pit the best one of this three against the best one of the other three and do two separate ones, but always keep it simple for the respondent otherwise they get lost. And it’s not about which one’s best or which one gets the most points, it’s about the feedback you get from people because what you’re listening for is what they’re seeing, what they’re getting from it, that you didn’t know when you were designing it, you know what I mean? This is how you learn a lot about people and what they can see.
So now I’m going to circle back and give you an example of how little people see when they’re looking at stuff. So I used to do a lot of packaging in one phase of my career and our specialty was software packaging, when they used to sell software in stores and you could only but it in a box and so someone had to design those boxes and we kind of took over that industry and we were the number one go to for software packaging. And we always tested every package in a store with real customers who were actually shopping in that category .we’d hang around and wait for people to wait for people to be looking at the category. There’d be a mock up of a box, a prototype, sitting on a shelf and we’d go up to people and ask their opinion.
And I was working with Kodak back when they were still a viable company and they were getting into software, which they really should have done and they didn’t so they went out of business. But they were starting to and we had some ideas for software package and the only thing they couldn’t sign off on was the typography for the name of the product down at the bottom of the front of the box, okay? So a big name that we see from 20 feet away and I think it was Colour Sense. Colour Sense was the name of the product. So they wanted us to test that in several locations to see if we got the right typeface. So that’s the kind of problem that we designers love, right? I mean, type was that important that a company’s willing to pa for getting it just right.
So I said, okay, so the best way to do this is let’s just start really basic. Let’s just have one version of the box that has Helvetic Bold and another version of the box that has Times Roman, right? So we’ve got old style, we’ve got sans serif and we’ll just see which general area we should be looking at and then we’ll go and we’ll refine the typeface, we’ll get a really good one that’s a really good old style or really good sans serif typeface.
And so that’s what we did. We took those into the store and we would have people look at these and they’d be side by side, the exact same box, just with different type for the name of the product. And we’d say take a look at these and tell me which one speaks to you. And they would look at number one, number two, look back and forth, they’re the same. Everyone said the same thing. There’s no difference. Okay, well look at the name of the product. And they’d put their glasses on and look at each one. No, it’s the same. Look at the style of the lettering on each one. And there’d be a pause and they would say, “oh, this one has little feet on it.’ This was before people had fonts and everything, but I’m just telling you as an example. They couldn’t see it, it wasn’t important. To them the name was all that was important, the letters, the word, that’s all that counted.
So all this effort we put into these little things, the beauty of the typeface, absolutely correct choice, in this instance, with this audience, the general audience, did not matter at all. It’s not even part of their consideration for buying the product. They’re trying to choose a product. If it’s a logo, they’re trying to choose a company or they’re trying to feel good about a company. So these are the things they’re thinking about, not about the exact typeface. So you’re kind of off the hook about that. If you like the type you’re working with, it’s going to be fine with them. What they’re looking for is something much different. And how do you learn about those differences in customers? You learn by testing over and over again with lots of different ideas until you start to see how different a non-designer looks at design.
Ian Paget: I’m really curious because at the beginning of the conversation you made it quite clear that when the money isn’t there, you don’t necessarily do this, so I’m really curious to know from you what can be done in those instances where there are smaller budgets? Because the audience for this podcast can be quite varied. They can be people that are starting out and they might have clients and you have a couple of hundred pounds to spend and it might be you get some agency owners that might be listening as well. So the audience does vary. So for those that do have those smaller budgets, from your perspective, when the money isn’t there, what can we do? Because obviously I always want to do a good job and I know everyone listening to this also wants to do a good job and they know that strategy is important. Is there anything … What would you do in the instance where there is a smaller budget? Is there anything that we can do to kind of factor in strategy in some way?
Marty Neumeier: Well sure. You can ask those questions of the client or ask them of yourself about the client. What is their only-ness, you know? They’re the only somebody that does something. And what’s their vision for the world? Or what’s their vision for customers? That’s a great place to start. Nobody asks that question. What do you want your customers to become as a result of working with you or buying your product? What’s this tribe? That’s the other way to look at it. What tribe are you trying to create? Customers tend to group in tribes. Going back to Harley Davidson, that’s a tribe. That’s a really strong tribe. They have rules and everything about how to behave and how to behave badly. So find out that. Spend an hour on that, thinking about that. Talk to the client about it. Just really steep yourselves in what makes this company different and special.
Take a look at the logo, the competition’s logo, that doesn’t take that much time. Look at all of them. And try to figure out how you’re going to fit into this in a way that makes it seem like you’re in the same category as they are, but you’re different in a special way. You don’t want to seem like you’re an oil company if you’re a print shop or something. So there’s just a look to each category that you have to kind of pay attention to. It doesn’t mean you have to fit in with it or align with it, but know what it is. Then you can decide, well, we want ours to not even look anything like those other logos because it’s not, the company’s not and we want to make that statement. But often it’ll be like no, it kind of has to look like the industry, but within that realm of what that industry’s logos look like, ours is going to be different or better in some way.
Better is probably not the right word to give you because better doesn’t usually win, different usually wins. Better is free, just give that away. People don’t know better. They don’t know design. So it’s more like how are you signaling to customers that this product, this choice, is different and it looks like it could be better for this kind of customer. So think about the vision of the company, the only-ness, the tribe that they’re building, what are the people like? What other things do they like? What other products, logos, companies are they likely to fall in love with so that you can give them something that they’ll relate to. And all that’s something you can do without being scientific; it’s just putting your head in the right frame. So I would do that.
And one more thing I would say is if you ever want to get to a stage where you can charge more for logos, start doing this testing thing, build that in, give it away free, and get a portfolio of successful logos built on this so that you can start charging more and just say, “See these logos? They were done with testing. You want testing? Of course you do.” And eventually you’ll say, “We don’t do anything without testing. That’s what makes us different and that’s why you know it’s going to work in the market place. We’re not guessing here.” You see how that sounds to a client?
Ian Paget: Yeah, I really love the whole testing side of it because that example that you said earlier about the client likes these two, you like this one, but at the end of the day neither of you actually know what the real situation is.
Marty Neumeier: No, you’re really just…
Ian Paget: Not until you actually start testing it that you see. And like I said I haven’t actually been able to find much information about testing logos or branding other than what is in your Zag book, so it’s really fascinating.
Marty Neumeier: I’m the only one that does this. Why? I don’t know. Because there are companies that do a lot of testing of logos and stuff and TV commercials and ad campaigns, but they’re just not designers. They test for things like … You don’t even know what to do with the information they bring back. It just doesn’t make any sense to you. So what you want is feedback that can influence how you’re designing it. You have to understand, from your point of view, what they’re saying so that you can do something with it. So you can’t just have a third party company test something and give you these, because it’s just going to lead you in the wrong direction. You’ll maybe follow the advice you’re getting from the testing and it’ll just be awful, terrible logo, you know? So keep control of it.
Ian Paget: I’m just thinking of a cheaper option, would it work if you were to collect the feedback using online surveys such as Survey Monkey?
Marty Neumeier: You know, I don’t because you’ll get sort of stock answers that you won’t be able to interpret. So let me go a little bit further with this. When you get an answer, when you say, “Okay, what do you think this company does?” “Oh, I think they sell shoes online. That’s what I think.” “Oh, well, actually no, they customize shoes. They have stores. Sometimes they do it online, you can get it online, but they make custom shoes.” “Oh, I didn’t know that.” You can probe, okay? You’re like a detective. You’re asking questions. You keep asking. You never defend the work. You never say, “No, you don’t understand. What I was trying to say with this logo.” You never say that. You just keep asking like they’re the most interesting person in the world, and they are in that moment. Tell me what you’re getting from this? Did you notice how the letter E here is curved in a sort of unusual way? Does that mean anything to you? Did you notice that? You can ask all kinds of questions. And one answer leads to another question.
So if you’re doing that on Survey Monkey, you’re going to get these very stiff answers and maybe you can do that to prove something to a client, but I think it’s more valuable for you as a designer to be hearing these things and to adjust your view of customers and learn sort of rich information about customers that you can keep using your whole career and get paid for it by the client because eventually if you get good at this, you’ll be charging $20,000, $50,000 for a logo, if you get a whole company that’s aligned behind this idea of great logos. That’s the price range that the big companies pay. And even up into $100,000, $200,000 if it’s a huge company. But let’s not even bother about that. I’ve never gotten that much money. But I have in my career I’ve gotten plenty of times where I was paid between $10 and $30,000 just for a logo. But only when I got reputation for it and I could do it this well. This is a lifelong pursuit.
Ian Paget: Well I think each time that you’re actually testing something, you’re learning from that information as well, so what you actually, after several years of doing this, what you do actually put out is probably going to actually be right from the outset. So I find that fascinating, testing. I need to try that myself.
Marty Neumeier: Yeah, I recommend it. I think you get better at it. I think what you do is you get humble you start to think of how could I be thinking of this wrong? And I don’t know if that ever goes away. I’m always thinking about things wrong. I think the first thing I ever do in any assignment is do something wrong. I’m convinced. If I go to a hotel and I find my room, 400, 418, and I go in. When I come out in the morning, I’ll always turn the wrong way and the elevator’s the other way. I don’t know why. That’s just me. I do everything wrong to begin with. So I’m just going to assume that in everything I do from now on that I’m wrong, I don’t know how, but I’m going to find out. I have plenty more ideas if that one doesn’t work. I don’t turn right, it must be left.
And I think maybe other designers have the same feeling like you’re designing something and you’re putting one thing in the upper right hand corner and you put something else in the lower hand corner and it has this dynamic diagonal quality and then you realize it really should be the other way around. That thing should be over there and that thing … You just had it swapped left for right. Those are the kinds of things you find out all the time and so it pays not to just believe your own press clippings. Just really be humble, try different things, see if it works. Just keep your mind open for as much as possible for as long as possible. Keep your work in a liquid state a little bit longer than you might want to.
And I’m not sure this is good advice for everybody to keep things in a liquid state because there are some people that can’t finish things. Those people don’t have a problem, they need to learn how to finish things. But if you’re the kind of person that likes to just barrel ahead and get your way and get this thing done, get a sign off, then maybe you need to also cultivate this ability to keep an open mind as you’re working and always think that maybe a little something could be changed. Something could be better. I need to find out how I’m doing. And then maybe I go back to it. See what I mean? So everybody has a different-
Ian Paget: Okay, I want to change the topic slightly. So we recently had the F1 logo released and the company simply published a video announcing their new logo and there was very little context or any explanation as to the reason for the change. Because of that, there was quite a lot of negative backlash to the logo, which is something that is fairly common with any logo change, but with the F1 logo, it was quite negative. So I’m curious to know from you, what would you say is the best way to announce a new logo to the general public?
Marty Neumeier: You know I always think of identities as not being a news item for people, for customers. It’s news for the company and certainly news for the designer and it’s great to say, “This is the new us.” And it just really feels great to do that. But it seems a little self-referential, a little bit inward looking, like is it really about that? Is the brand really about what people think of the logo? Is that it? I think what you do is you use the logo, you put it on things, and you just put it out there and then you explain it to people who care separately. But you don’t make that the focus of the change to a brand. Because it raises a lot of questions, like why do you care so much about this and what does it have to do with me, the customer? Now I have to learn another symbol that I didn’t have to before. Why are you doing this to me kind of thing.
Now if there’s a story behind the change, then you have to tell that story. But you shouldn’t tell it just with a logo and just say, “We have a new logo because we’re really different.” You prove it in other ways. Not just with a symbol, you prove it with the real stuff. Here are the things we are doing that is different. And oh, by the way, here’s how we’re symbolising it from now on. This is the new logo. You see that a lot, people like splashy logos. I think Uber did and their new logo is unintelligible. Why do that? It’s really about what the customer gets from this company and the logo isn’t what they’re buying. So Apple would never, for example, say, “This is our new logo. Look at the change we made to it.” They just never would. Even Steve Jobs wouldn’t do that. He would just, put it there.. this is it.” So that’s my feeling about that. And there may be exceptions.
Ian Paget: You’re totally right and I understand. It makes sense why when companies do make a big deal out of it, it does cause so much upset.
Marty Neumeier: So I think when you do change something about a beloved brand, like change the logo, people are going to be upset, some people are, just because you changed it and they liked it. So you have to explain it. But it shouldn’t be front and centre. It should just be there for people who want, “What’s with the new logo?” They Google that and then there’s a little article that explains why they did it, maybe a little story about the designers, and maybe the admission that not everyone’s going to like it but we think over time you’ll appreciate that this is actually a better fit. Let’s just keep an open mind and we’ll see.” Or just direct their attention to all the cool things you’re doing as a company. That would be the best thing, just say we think this is a better representation of what we’re doing. And in time all these things work out. So that’s the thing you have to understand about logos.
Paul Rand, the great Paul Rand, who designed the IBM logo and many others, not CVS, but a few other great ones, always said that what makes a great logo is the company. If the company’s great, the logo looks great to all the customers. Even if it’s badly designed, it’ll look great. There’s very little that a designer can do to change someone’s mind about a company if it’s not really there. It has to be there. So I thought that was, for a guy that wasn’t very humble, that was a very humble thing to say and probably really true. And by the same token, if you change a logo and you get a lot of upset people, that goes away too and eventually if the company’s good, they like the new logo. So there are plenty of advantages to having a perfect, great logo. But it’s not everything. It’s a piece. It’s an important piece. It’s a symbol of a lot of other things and you have to align your symbol with what’s actually going on and show the company in its Sunday best, really. And not everyone can do that. It’s a great skill to have. But let’s not overplay it.
Ian Paget: Okay, so I have one more question for you; if you could just give one logo design tip to the audience, what would that be?
Marty Neumeier: I think like strive from the most simple expression you can while you’re working on it. It may not call for something simple. But when you strive for simplicity, especially with a log where it actually pays off really well, you can see if you’re lying or not, you know? It’s really simple. You can see like is this really what we want to say? Is this who we are? The more complicated you make, the more room there is to hide behind it, right? And as it starts to approach something like a seal or an illustration or something, it starts to become something else. Logos have to be usable in lots of forms, so I typically would do a logo that has a very simple quality, like a very flat, two dimensional quality for when something has to be printed very small. But most logos aren’t printed anymore, they can be three dimensional, they can be avatars that move. They can do a lot of stuff. And the one logo could do all that if it’s just rendered in different forms, and I think that’s fun.
And the other thing is that a logo doesn’t have to be one logo. A company could have five different versions of the logo and as long as it says the same thing, that could be a solution, right? And you see that from time to time. But I always start with simplicity. If it doesn’t work in its simplest form, maybe it’s just not right. You can always make it more detailed later, but I just think the old way is the best. Sketch it, do it really simple, and if it’s not killing it at that stage of simplicity, making it more complex or three dimensional is not going to do a lot for it.
Ian Paget: That’s great final words of wisdom. Marty thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate it and I’m sure the listeners will do, too. So thank you so much for your time.
Marty Neumeier: Thank you.