About thirty years ago, three companies dreamed up logos that have become so powerful, I don’t even have to show you the images to get them to pop up in your head. A sneaker company paid a few hundred dollars for an abstract, upside down wave, a coffee company picked a half-naked mermaid (is there any other kind) that cost them nothing, and a computer company
picked [hired a PR firm that picked] a piece of fruit with a bite out of it.
What the images had in common: nothing. They range from abstract to woodcut to groovy. The art of picking a logo, even one for the Olympics, has almost nothing to do with taste or back story. A great logo doesn’t mean anything until the brand makes it worth something.
That’s why spending $800,000 for a logo is ridiculous. And it’s why you can’t (I don’t think I’m going out on a limb here) draw the logo of any Olympic games since 1898. The Olympics have trouble creating new logos of value because each Olympics already has an image that sticks with people… and that’s the image of the city where the games take place. Putting an abstract picture on top of something that already has a picture doesn’t work.
[and of course, the original Olympics logo meant nothing much when they started, but now provides a great shorthand to remind us of a whole bunch of attributes (youth, sportsmanship, spirit of the games, yadda yadda) that would be very hard to visualize without it.]
The iPod didn’t need a logo, where a pair of sneakers or a cup of coffee do.
If you’re given the task of finding a logo for an organization, your first task should be to try to get someone else to do it. If you fail at that, find an abstract image that is clean and simple and carries very little meaning–until your brand adds that meaning. It’s not a popularity contest. Or a job for a committee. It’s not something where you should run it by a focus group. It’s just a placeholder, a label waiting to earn some meaning.
Anyone want to join me for a cup of mermaid? No sugar in mine.