If the whole point of branding is to help your business stand out from the competition, why do so many companies choose logos that look the same?
A design colleague of mine recently made a comment that perfectly illustrates the problem with generic brand identity design:
“I’ve been attempting to watch a US TV series which happens to feature about 6 nearly-identical young men. They’re all tall, muscular, dark haired, aged 17-25. I cannot tell them apart. In a revelatory scene a young man appears on camera and is shown to be a murderer. I still don’t know who the murderer is. And this is why generic design is terrible.”
What is generic design? They’re overused concepts — indistinctive and cliché. If it can be made with or mistaken for clip art, chances are it’s generic. (I “made” the following logos using free clip art in under 5 minutes total.)
Why businesses choose generic logo designs
There’s a reason why something becomes cliché — it works. A tooth means dental, roofs mean real estate, human forms in a circle mean people helping each other and that’s what non-profits do and so on… There’s little chance that customers won’t immediately understand what the company does.
Businesses choose logos like this because they want to be relevant in their industry, these symbols are safe and familiar.
Good logos often employ safe and familiar symbols with an original twist. This way, you have the best of both worlds — relevant, but a little different from what everybody else is doing.
Great logos are innovative as well as relevant. Maybe a little scary. Great branding should feel a little uncomfortable, because it means you’re setting yourself apart from the safety and comfort of what everyone else is doing.
The wrong logo makes branding more difficult
A logo is not your brand. I’ve been in more than one argument with other designers on this point, but that just shows their lack of understanding about what branding means and their motivation to sell more logo designs.
You can have a generic logo and have a very successful brand. You can have a beautiful logo and fail, or have legions of customers who despise you. Your brand is largely defined by the experiences of your customer.
But a logo is a symbol of your brand. It embodies who you are and your promise to customers about what they can expect to feel when they work with you. A logo is the cornerstone of your brand identity; branding is a larger matter (its job is to back up that promise and deliver).
If your logo is indistinguishable from your competition, if it doesn’t help your customers remember you — “meh” or “which one are you again?” — that just means you’ll have to work that much harder in your branding efforts
How to get a great logo
It all starts with you becoming clear about your brand. And trust me, most people don’t start there — they start by thinking about colors they like and fonts they prefer. But doing the mental work of getting clear about what makes you you — the heart and soul of what makes you different — will help a designer create a logo that will embody that uniqueness.