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As a design educator, I wanted to share some insight on the fundamentals of logo design and how important refinement is to the design process at-large, using a recent example that has had its share of criticism to-date: Joe Biden's campaign logo. (By the way, this blog is not political commentary— just all about design!)
(Note: the above version is not associated with his campaign— it is a composite illustration of his existing logo over the Gestalt edit version from this blog; as are all of the other samples/diagrams I created— for informational purposes, created for this blog only.)
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Concept, form, and color theory, are basic design principles that must seamlessly coexist to create a succinct logo unit.
Creating a logo that is unique is not an easy task. Designers must brainstorm—find inspiration, research, create lists, thumbnail, curate mood boards— to help garner original ideas.
While I appreciate the ease of 'Googling', Pinterest and idea boards alike, I prefer to implement more organic, old-school, hard copy methods to help spearhead original ideas; and, I often institute this process, sometimes to the dismay of my students, because this takes time—a Google search is quicker, but can often lead to mundane or unoriginal ideas.
However, this logo is for a political race, and unless you were not born or hiding under a rock in the 2000s, everyone knows what President Obama’s was, and all the other political candidates logos for that matter, thanks to the web.
So when I read comments about the ‘wave-lines’ of Obama’s “O” logo from 2008, resembling Biden’s “E” in his logo, I could see how one could make the correlation. However, I do not believe that was intentional, especially knowing this would be worldwide iconic. Instead, I believe it was purely a product of trying to create simple form. I mean, how many ways can you derive flag lines in a unique manner—especially since the three strokes of the 'E' were a natural visual option to infer this; again, logo design is not an easy task.
This is the main design principle that spearheaded this post—the nuance of form. Especially since there have been numerous comments regarding the letterforms “JOE” reading as “JO”, and I fully agree with this assessment.
So how do you resolve this? Let’s start with a review of form…
Basic form can be dot, shapes, lines, type— what these elements are correlate with concept derivation; how to arrange the elements correlate with layout via "Gestalt Design Theory"; again all must seamlessly coexist in logo design.
What is Gestalt Design Theory?…
Gestalt Theory means that the sum of the whole is greater than the individual components. (source)
Components of Gestalt include: repetition, proximity, similarity, anomaly, closure, continuance, and figure/ground. Color theory—using minimal color palette in logo design (2, no more than 3 colors) should also be considered. Not all Gestalt theories must be achieved in every logo design, but from my experience, a minimum two should be attempted; and the more, a better opportunity to be considered “successful”.
While the logo does institute Gestalt “Similarity”, this principle should have been further refined to alleviate the “soft” Visual Hierarchy inclusion of the “E” letterform. (Note: I used the circle logo for this blog, but the other -"BIDEN" option- these comments could also be applied to that version since it has the same 'E' form.)
(Left: Existing logo / Right: my version via Gestalt Edits).
In Gestalt design theory, “Similarity” states that “things which share visual characteristics such as shape, size, color, texture, value or orientation will be seen as belonging together.” This design principle is important in logo design because it has a direct correlation with another basic design principle “Visual Hierarchy” (the order of importance of type and form in a visual unit).
So by refining Gestalt “Similarity’ of the existing strokes this would assist in helping the letters read as one unit. How to accomplish?… This would encompass slightly increasing the thickness of the “E” lines to match the thickness of the “JO” strokes. Please note that this adjustment is incremental, very slight—logo design is not just about the big-broad-bold-idea; while creating a solid idea will help streamline your message, successful logo design is also about detail, and helping the viewer read what it needs to. So, with the increase of these strokes, it helps “JOE” instead of “JO”.
(Below, diagram of increasing thickness of 'E')
While the existing logo circle enclosure does also use “Similarity”—that thickness is the same as the “JO” letterforms; and unfortunately it further reduces the visual hierarchy of the “E”. To assist, reducing the thickness of the circle enclosure to the similar thickness of the 2020 stroke would emphasize his name. The overall logo still is unified, but the clarity of the letterforms is now the most prominent.
(Below, diagram of increasing thickness of 'circle enclosure')
In addition, the layout of the existing logo is centered within the negative space of the circle; but, with the refinement of Similarity, and the new overall thickness of the strokes, both “JOE” and “2020” must be realigned to balance the negative space of the logo unit. (Tip: negative space is a key design principle in every design project; the absence of color or form plays a direct role in overall Visual Hierarchy.)
What Joe Biden’s logo does successfully is it implements a minimal color palette (2 colors—navy, red; and white which is not ink, instead negative space because of the circle enclosure); this is not only important for technical reproduction purposes as a 2 color PMS (Pantone Ink) breakdown is often the norm so logos could be reproduced consistently no matter what professional printer is contracted to print the collateral—conceptually, the color represents Democracy, as well as his Party; and the USA/flag.
While I do love the graphic quality and conceptual reference to America, of navy blue, red, white; I created two alternate examples of how Color and “Figure/Ground” Gestalt could further alter Visual Hierarchy.
The knockout white/light blue version on dark blue background further emphasizes the letterforms (they are viewed first because of foreground/background color theory principles)—this version is still a succinct visual unit. However, the integration of the light blue slightly infers Democratic Party over USA. Also, with the red 2020 over navy, those complementary colors have the same intensity and thus make 2020 hard to discern; now changing the tint of the red would be an option, but that would also change meaning. Overall, I believe the current white background version is the best for readability (which is really the most important consideration in logo design) and wanted to show these examples as a reminder of how subtle changes in color can affect hierarchy of any logo.
Overall, while I commend the designers who created Biden’s logo—it is a unique, immediately recognizable, contemporary icon—as an educator I would be remiss if I didn’t comment on how important incremental logo refinements are.
Everyone who is tasked at designed a logo should be aware of the value of concept, color and most importantly the nuance of form, and how small edits via Gestalt Theory, especially “Similarity”, can assist in the clarity of graphic design logos and symbols.
(For educational purposes only; all original logos copyright with owner(s)
For Christina Galbiati’s art/Illustration site click here.