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Business logo design has long been debated, but standards and consumer responses to logos are ever changing. While there are some basic principles that have always (and probably will always) apply, such as the need for a logo to be memorable, there are some keys to effectiveness that many business owners overlook.

These days, it’s possible for even small business owners and solopreneurs to create their own logos with the help of a logo maker or similar tool. You don’t necessarily have to spend thousands of dollars hiring a graphic designer or millions of dollars working with a top marketing firm (as some major corporations notoriously have). However, to be effective, entrepreneurs still need to understand the latest standards in logo design.

So what is the latest research on the science of logos? And what does this say about the current state of business and marketing?

The Latest Research

Let’s dive into one of the latest and most comprehensive reviews on the effectiveness of logos, which covers six different studies and analyzes nearly 600 different logos to determine which factors make customers more likely to buy a product.

There are many different factors that could conceivably make a logo “better,” and some of them should be obvious even to someone unfamiliar with basic marketing principles. For example, simple logos tend to perform better than more complex logos, at least to an extent. They’re much easier to remember and easier to replicate. They’re also easier on the eyes. If a logo has too many elements competing for attention, nobody will have a clear idea what it’s really trying to represent.

Another hypothetical value of a logo is its ability to stand out from the competition. There are lots of competitors vying for attention against your company, so if your logo looks too much like theirs or if it doesn’t “pop,” nobody’s going to notice it.
But this study found that one of the most important factors for a logo’s success commonly goes unnoticed: its descriptiveness. A descriptive logo is a logo whose design says something about the company, or says something about the industry in which it operates. In other words, you can look at the logo and get an idea about what the company is or what it does.

It’s easiest to understand this idea with examples. The Burger King logo features the words “Burger King” in red between two yellow bun-like shapes; this conveys the idea of a burger, on top of including the word “burger” in the logo. There’s no question about what type of food you’re going to find at this establishment. Compare that to the logo for McDonald’s, which is a pair of “golden arches” emulating the shape of the capital letter M. It suggests the name of the restaurant, but doesn’t tell you much about what that restaurant offers. You might not even know it’s a restaurant if you didn’t have the preexisting cultural knowledge.

This applies to far more than just restaurant logos, however. For example, the logo for the New York Islanders, a hockey team, includes a hockey stick and a puck, as well as the words “NY Islanders.” Again, you get lots of descriptive content here, and context for what the logo is supposed to represent. Compare that to the logo for the Minnesota Wild, which has no words—just an image of a setting sun over trees and a river. It’s a pretty and recognizable logo, but it’s not descriptive.

Why Descriptiveness Is So Important

So why is descriptiveness such an important factor, above all others, for determining a logo’s rate of success?

There are four main reasons:

  • Brand authenticity. Brands with descriptive logos are seen as more “authentic” than brands with minimalistic logos, or logos that are hard to parse.
  • Favorable consumer evaluations. People subjectively rate both logos and companies more favorably when they feature a descriptive logo. There are probably a variety of reasons for this.
  • Consumer willingness to buy. As you might expect from the statements above, customers are more willing to buy from brands that have descriptive logos.
  • Net sales. As a bottom-line result, companies with descriptive logos tend to have higher net sales than their counterparts, as a general rule.

Descriptiveness is therefore one of the most important qualities you can include in your logo design. There are some limitations, of course. For starters, not all brands will experience the benefits of a descriptive logo equally; established, familiar brands will benefit less from a descriptive logo than a new brand that has yet to be established. Still, if you need to design a logo for your new business, descriptiveness should be one of your top priorities.

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