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Paul Rand’s stature as one of the twentieth century’s leading designers is incontestable. For a half-century, his pioneering work in the field of advertising design and typography exerted a profound influence on the design profession. He almost single-handedly transformed “commercial art” from a practice that catered to the lowest common denominator of taste to one that could assert its place among the other fine arts. During his career, he created some of the most memorable logos of the twentieth century, including those for the American Broadcasting Company and the IBM Corporation.
But what made his logos so memorable? In his recently re-published books, Design, Form, and Chaos and From Lascaux to Brooklyn, Paul Rand explores the common themes in his work and breaks down the most minute details of some of his greatest logos. Breaking down one such logo that he created in 1991, that of the Okasan Securities Company, reveals six effective techniques.
1. Make a Letter Meaningful
The circle does a lot for the logo. It serves as a focal point and a target. The circle, along with the OK held within it, provide reminders of the first letters of the company’s name. It also provides a connection to Okasan’s original logo, which was a circle within a circle. However remote, this connection helps ease the brand transition and makes the new logo feel more like a logical extension of the original than a discarding of the past.
2. Invite Participation
Turning the OK symbol 90 degrees changes it from commonplace to interesting. The shift requires the reader to do engage with the logo, even if just for a moment, and adds the satisfaction of discovery once they realize that the shift occurred.
3. Provide Contrast
By simply contrasting the roundness of the circle with the straight lines of the OK symbol, the two elements establish a dialogue with each other. They both profit off the differences of the other. The circle seems rounder, the OK more jagged. In short, to show off the aesthetic qualities of one figure, one approach is to counter those features with their opposite in another figure.
4. Easy to Draw = Easy to Remember
The feature that makes this logo easy to draw is also what makes it stick in your head—simplicity. It can easily be divided into two distinct parts, the circle and the OK, and the relationship between those parts is clear. This logo is so clear, in fact, that it can be drawn after only viewing it fleetingly. This is also thanks to the contrast as mentioned earlier.
5. Evoke Images
The OK symbol evokes agreement and approval, as well as good cheer and happiness. It is an approachable, likable expression. Turned on its side, it also takes on anthropomorphic qualities, looking akin to a stick figure and making it a far better memory aid than initials alone would be.
6. Focus on Readability
The company name is treated as an organic part of the design, and dividing it in two not only adds to uniqueness, it divides the word into incredibly easy-to-read 3-letter halves.