What's in a Logo?
Logos and acronyms are a brand shorthand that links us instantly to the company or group they represent. Strong branding can turn a symbol into an icon.
Identity in business is crucial and a logo is your calling card. From font to color to detail, what a logo says about you is subliminal iconic identity.
Derived from the Greek, “logo” means “word.” But, nearly every major culture has used symbols for words. The Romans, Greeks and Native Americans, Chinese, Egyptians, Mayans and Babylonians all used symbols and pictographs to communicate their ideas and words. Today, we see this practice continued in the “favicon,” commonly a 16-by-16-pixel graphic in the URL that appears in our browser navigation bar.
The favicon was standardized in HTML 4.01 in 1999 by the World Wide Web Consortium. When browsers started supporting favicons, marketers jumped on the trend of reducing logos to one branding symbol to streamline their image.
We all know the iconic McDonald’s golden arches and the Nike “swoosh” logo. Nike’s logo is widely regarded as one of the greatest and most popular logos in history. Designed by Carolyn Davidson in 1971, the simple and fluid swoosh has come to embody success and extraordinary ability. Even the name Nike comes from a Greek goddess, and the logo bears a reference to her wing in its shape, promoting victory and winning as a strong representation for an athletic brand.
Pepsi, another notable example of brand recognition, subliminally promoting its product as the all-American drink. Its red, white and blue circle, waving like a flag, creates product loyalty and trust.
Logos in Surveying
There are iconic logos and unique branding stories in every profession, including the surveying/LiDAR profession. As attendees of SPAR can attest, every spring since its creation in 2003, SPAR has been an avid promoter to the world’s global marketplace for 3D technologies and, for the LiDAR industry, it has one of the most recognizable logos.
As a longtime attendee of SPAR events, I am often asked what does SPAR mean? Everyone looks for acronym identification in a logo, but SPAR has none. According to Denise Greaves, co-founder of SPAR with husband Tom, the creation of their logo was personal. “SPAR is a place. My mom has a cottage on an island in Maine, and I used to take the kids swimming at Spar Cove. When we were incorporating back in 2003, we had just spent some time in this area, and liked the name ‘Spar’, but ‘Cove’ sounded too placid – hence “point” was substituted for “cove” and we ran with that. The logo is really a cross between a charted curve for new technology adoption and a seagull, and was intended to have reference to both.”
As with Greaves, logo creation often stems from personal accounts, but there are other subliminal messages with color, fonts and directional graphics that evoke cultural, spiritual and even economic emotions. Global courier FedEx uses conscious perception and persuasiveness of its message in a logo with a nearly hidden arrow. The arrow in the negative space of the EX in the logo points in a forward direction. Amazon uses a more visible arrow in its logo pointing from the initial “a” to the “z” in its name, unconsciously imprinting into its online shopper’s mind that Amazon carries everything . . . from a to z.
The U.S. Institute of Building Documentation (USIBD) is a non-profit membership organization founded in 2011, understood from the beginning it was imperative to establish a professional and recognizable logo, which would serve as its brand icon.
The organization’s president, John Russo, turned to an online service called 99 Designs, which offers a crowd-sourced approach to rapidly develop graphical solutions such as logo design. Dozens of designers from around the world respond to the client’s design program and instructions. “It’s a great way to quickly develop a professional quality logo at a very affordable price,” Russo said.
“I wanted the icon to represent buildings and surveying. Surveying being a crucial element of building documentation,” Russo said. “A basic principle of surveying is triangulation, so one of the criteria for the logo was to incorporate three points.” The final design, a cube, was a figurative representation of a building. The corner of the cube, opening up to represent the organization welcoming new members. The concept of triangulation is illustrated in two fashions. The first being the three outer corner points where the cube opens up form a triangle, and the second being the three colors, one shown on each face of the cube. “Both the acronym ‘USIBD’ and the organization’s name were important to incorporate since the acronym is not intuitive, yet it is often the most used way to refer to the organization,” Russo said. Together they convey a full understanding of the name.
The overlapping Olympic rings were developed to show unity, but color was also used symbolically to represent colors appearing on the flags of the competing nations. The power of color psychology to enhance image branding is universally used. Red is known to promote a call to action. Orange conveys affordability. Yellow speaks of clarity. Green denotes nature. Blue, the most widely used color in business, implies honesty. Purple implies wealth. But, specialized colors can add to the overall cost when specialty CMYK (for print) and RGB gradients (for digital) are used. They also require care in keeping your logo uniform.
When Joe Paiva, president and CEO of GeoLearn, developed his logo for the company, which provides online continuing education courses for land surveyors, he knew he wanted the color green for earth and blue for trust. “Because we train for the geospatial world, I also wanted a relatable color to emphasize the word GEO,” Paiva said. GeoLearns’ favicon, often admittedly compared to the AT&T logo, was designed to symbolize a new dawn seeing things out of darkness from a secular object.
A logo must be appealing both vertically and horizontally as it will appear on a variety of printing and graphic placements, from business cards, brochures and embroidery to digital representations in social media. More designers are updating their logos taking into account animating the logo as a dynamic way of making it more visual. Some highly-recognized companies have adjusted or even dumped their identifiable logos. Verizon reduced its red check mark, Google changed its font, Microsoft Internet Explorer lost its swirl and Coors Light moved mountains in 2015. But many companies prefer to stay with the legacy logo and with some updated spin.
Founded in 1938 by C.S. Robinson, Robinson Aerial Surveys, Inc. wanted a logo symbolic of the company’s mission. By interconnecting both the name of the company and the silhouette of a plane, the logo sends a direct message to its clients of Robinson as a topographic mapper and photogrammetrist. Although the company has incorporated additional engineering services such as mechanical, electrical and plumbing design, as well as construction management services, the logo has been kept intact due to the powerful brand identity and effect it has created on the audience.
In 2012, Certainty 3D was building a marketing campaign around their new TopoDOT freeware for static and mobile planning software, TopoMISSION and TopoPLANNER. They were looking for a new identity removed from the small image of “real” systems approach for a more neutral position in the market. After extensive research and discussion with some clients on several new designs, President Ted Knaak says, “There was a 50-percent rejection rate from our little survey. It was too cartoonish and not serious enough. I thought the industry could use a little lightening up, but we stayed with a modified version of our original designs.”
In 2014, Architectural Resource Consultants (ARC) set out to update their branding from the original symbol created in 1997 by John Russo, the president and CEO. “Over the years we discovered it would be helpful to have some flexibility with how our logo was presented in various media. I wanted to illustrate the playful and creative side of our company’s culture, yet present it in a way that was professional and sophisticated,” Russo said. “We didn’t want to change our iconic red square, just reflect the added dimension in which the company had evolved. We illustrated the reflection as a polished glasslike surface, and introduced some bevels to project the added dimension.”
The ARC logo had always been represented in a landscape fashion. In many instances the company found it was difficult to present the logo horizontally yet maintain its readability, so the decision was made to develop a version for both landscape and portrait formats.
Fonts can brand your identity, however typeface can also add to the confusion if they are not CSS web safe. Web safe font families aid in search ability and dynamic editable text in browsers for both Windows and Mac. Generally, copyright law in the U.S. does not protect typefaces. However, some like Coca-Cola’s logo design (not unlike Leica GeoSystems) are protected as an artistic piece. The arrangement of the letters, use of space, organization, colors and other creative aspects of the design are taken into account, and the typeface is protected because it is the logo.
The Salina Seminar Series has a long history of providing continuing education opportunities for land surveyors, beginning in the mid-80s under the purview of the Salina Technical Institute. In 1997, the Kansas Society of Land Surveyors accepted responsibility for the seminar. Beginning with the 2011 seminar, the Salina Chapter of the Kansas Society of Land Surveyors took over the organization of the event and Conference Manager Evelyn Cable was looking for brand recognition in terms of a recognizable logo. According to Cable, as a non-profit with limited income, hiring a graphic artist to design a logo wasn’t an option. “I wanted a logo that would represent the three S’s of Salina Seminar Series and be memorable like the G of General Mills. After trying different combinations of S’s, I came across the capital S in the Cloister Black typeface, which is basically a double S, and I claimed it as our logo.”
“Our brand symbolizes everything we’re about as a company, taking our strengths and serving them up as a unified image. A brand is something our clients have come to know and trust.”
The Salina Seminar Series logo is one of the more distinctive and identifiable of survey association brandings. Over the years, the not-for-profit organization has grown and attracts an average of 285 land surveyors each year, offering up to 17 professional development hours through a variety of classes taught by experts in the land surveying profession.
In 2008, the survey-grade mobile mapping service providers of Terrametrix, LLC designed their logo. The “X” representing an intersection imprints a subliminal message that data exists beyond the intended area. The extended “T” subliminally mimics overheads like bridges and utilities in the transportation build environment. Its name represents “terra” (meaning ground) for surveying and “metrix,” which is a spin on a method of measuring. The use of traffic orange recalls safety in the work place. “More than anything else,” said Michael Frecks, president and CEO, “I wanted the logo to project safety in a work environment. That was the reason we started the company, to get land surveyors out of the red zone.”
To be memorable and have a lasting impact, logos must be identifiable, yet simplistic in design within graphic representation. They must state the purpose but still leave room for development. In a cognitive world, the bottom line: Communicate more with less. The mind remembers mental pictures more than any other senses.
“One of the most visible ways we can present and reinforce our image is through our brand. Our brand symbolizes everything we’re about as a company, taking our strengths and serving them up as a unified image. A brand is something our clients have come to know and trust,” says USIBD’s Russo. “It’s more than just a name, logo and a color scheme. It is our promise of quality and value. It’s a daily reminder of why our clients should do business with us. Our brand is a strategic asset, which builds familiarity, trust and relationships.”