The Anatomy of a Logo

Logos are tricky things. From the point of view of the designer they bring a whole truckload of challenges. Even if the designer does his job right and does the due diligence that he should bring to every project, the logo can be the single most important and still remain the toughest job he may do for his client.

The logo appears on every piece of the client’s communications, from business cards, to letterhead, website, any advertising or collateral pieces, in other words, everywhere.

At the heart of the challenge is the fact that, done right, the logo should be able to encapsulate who the client is, how it should be perceived and what it does and offers. It should also be able to convey key intangibles. We’ll get to that in a minute.

In thinking about which logo to use for this essay, I sat down to think about many of the logos I’ve either designed or have been deeply involved in the strategic design and I realized that my own was probably the best one to show for a few reasons (I’ve assembled a few others here). Probably the most important reason is that, for me, like most other designers, my own logo was the toughest to do. It took several years of foot dragging to get rid of the old one and actually force myself to create the logo we’ll be talking about below.

There are several elements at play here. First of all we should look at the logo as a complete piece, then we’ll get into the nitty gritty of why the different elements are there and look the way they do.

I wanted to do something that had a combination of computer generated clean perfection and the roughness of the human element. This became important to me because, as time went on and graphics software and the computer became more and more ubiquitous, design started becoming too slick and coldly inhuman. Though we are able to create things that would’ve been impossible just a few years ago, to me, there feels like something’s missing. There needs to be a rough edge, an imperfection, some texture to make it approachable and, ultimately, understandable.

Everyone has influences and inspiration. Here are some of mine.

stickley morris chair and ottomanWe’ve all seen “Craftsman” or “Mission” furniture. What many people don’t know about it is that it was part of a larger movement in design and architecture. The Arts & Crafts movement is generally considered to have been started in England during the 1860s by a man named William Morris. At that time while Victorian designers and architects were caught in a frenzied quest for more and more ornamentation, Morris saw the need for usefulness and simplicity. Ultimately the Arts & Crafts movement was exemplified by the dictum “form follows function”. The simplicity beauty and simplicity of the Morris Chair as interpreted by Gustav Stickley speaks for itself. Later on, Frank Lloyd Wright would use the Prairie variant of Arts & Crafts as a starting point before going places no other architect had been before and possibly since. When I saw my first Craftsman furniture it hit me like a ton of bricks and the more I found out about it, the more it made me want the form of my work to follow its function.

alesandr rodchenko stampRussian Constructivist artist Aleksandr Rodchenko hit me in the same way. He’s probably best known for his Soviet Propaganda posters from the early days of the Soviet Union. Think heroic workers on tractors in reds and yellows and blacks with great big headlines in a cyrillic variant of Futura Bold Italic. His posters transcended language and created a visual style that would permeate every aspect of his society for decades. Rodchenko was a true Renaissance man and man of the future, creating everything from propaganda to news kiosks and working as an editorial photographer. His work is timeless and exciting.

I learned my love of typography and my impatience with bad communication starting at a very young age. My father Allan Hayes is a long time ad man, a published author of art and history books and a sometime educator on advertising. Back in the age before electricity, his job title was art director but I’ve never really been able to figure out if he’s an art director who writes copy or vice versa. He prefers “ad maker” I suspect. I’ve taken classes from him and worked with him for several years and I’m still learning from him every day.

Now to the logo.

mark hayes design logo large

The perfect square, cross and circle along with the small type that says “Design” along the bottom are clearly an example of Mac based design, using professional tools.

I like red, I always have, but that’s not why I chose it for the logo. Here’s where we get into those pesky intangibles. The red square here is based on a piece of graphic design that Frank Lloyd Wright did for the midway in the Chicago World’s Fair (the White City). He described it as being inspired by poppies in the field where he grew up. The circle and cross are taken from the registration mark that printers use to line up printing plates. Since my first love was print and I’m still working heavily in that medium, I wanted to have a visual element in the design that reflected old school, wet ink printing.

Next we see the rough type that says “Mark Hayes”. This is where we get into the rough and imperfect “human element”. The type itself came from an old typewriter that I triple struck the letters to get a strong impression. Then, using old school Xerography, I blew up the characters and filled in voids and generally made them big and high contrast. I then scanned them into Photoshop, keeping the bouncy baseline and slightly canted letters that were part of the way the old typewriter struck the keys in the first place. From that point, it was a matter of assembling the letters and tightening them up to a point that they made sense visually. The gray color is based on a Pantone spot color, Warm Gray 11 that compliments the red well and has a warmth that just felt right.

Finally, the word “Design” is in the same color red as the square on top in order to tie the logo together and sandwich the rough lettering in the middle between clean elements. The size is de-emphasized because the logo already screams design, it isn’t necessary to beat someone over the head with it.


Some logo samples


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