Logos Analyzed and Sociologized

James I. Bowie, Ph.D., of Northern Arizona University’s department of sociology, has logos on the brain. He has just launched Emblemetric, a website that discusses his research into the trends in logos. From its About page: “Emblemetric reports on trends in logo design, using quantitative analysis of data from the United States Patent and Trademark Office.”

In a 2005 article for the AIGA Voice, Bowie explained how he came to specialize in the intersection of logo design and sociology:

As a sociologist who studies the behavior of organizations, I became interested in how companies went about adopting logos. How were the artistic and creative processes involved in designing a logo reconciled with the bureaucratic organizational context in which trademark-adoption took place?

It seemed that the rhetoric of the design and business worlds emphasized that logos should be unique and distinctive, and that they should allow the organization to differentiate itself from its competitors. Yet casual observation seemed to show that many logos, particularly those within the same industries, appeared similar to one another.

Using a scientific view, Bowie explains logos through simple data viz. His subjects include: How leaves have become prominent in logo design, and how color has become “an even more important aspect of logo design in today’s web-based world.” Here is one of his charts:

“Trendiness” of Color Use in US Logos

“Emblemetric offers custom research services to branding, identity, and graphic design specialists, as well as to organizations concerned with their graphic identity.” Contact Bowie at info@Emblemetric.com for more information.

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10 thoughts on “Logos Analyzed and Sociologized

  1. James Hutcheson

    While I agree with your final sentence [Charley], I also think that you are missing the point of previous comments.
    I wouldn’t call it griping, which suggests spoilt children wanting their own way. And it’s not about fun or pleasing oneself. It’s about the disregard for their expertise. Clients are not usually designers, and unless they ARE marketeers or experienced designers themselves, are probably less placed to decide what does actually work. They can and do have opinions, but ultimately isn’t it the job of the designers and marketing experts that support them in their role, some of whom have decades of experience in their fields, to deal with the design?
    OK, client’s may/do have an understanding of their target market, but the clients opinion, or particular liking for a certain colour or shape, can be purely subjective. So while it IS important to be in tune with the client, it is also important for the client to accept and respect the expertise that has been employed. As the famous idiom goes: “You don’t buy a dog and bark yourself”.
    Many logos are not received very well in the early stages of their inception, yet do go on to become very effective.
    If I want a wall built in my garden that has a 32˚ incline, that an architect or engineer tells me won’t work, then I would question, but ultimately accept their expert opinion. I think that most would.
    It always puzzles me that designers, creatives and marketing experts are not given the same respect in their expert opinions. As Roy said previously “Everyman and his dog think they can do it, experts everywhere!”.
    I mean no offence to anybody, I just see this a lot in the creative industry, and I have seen it steadily get worse over the past 25 years, and not just with logos and branding.
    Respect to all those who have expressed an opinion.

  2. Charley Nasta

    So, in other words, design would be so much more fun without those pesky clients? Really?
    I understand what you are griping about, particularly the point that the more people have to approve a design, the more homogenized it tends to get, but on the other hand I also believe that being in tune with your client is a valuable skill for a designer to nurture. Yes, you can still advocate for your choices (and you should always be prepared to defend them when queried) but that’s why they don’t call it “fine art.” It’s art with a budget, a deadline, and someone else to please besides yourself.

  3. Leon Buijs

    I couldn’t agree more with Roy. The best graphical work is made without micromanagement from clients. And this is extends to other professions. Give capable people some responsibility and they’ll surprise you with creative solutions and extra care.

  4. Roy Blimp

    Emblemetric logo is horrible… and many of the others in your samples are also quite ugly (soul-less). I think the problem today of creating a Logo is “the client” themself. Every man and his dog think they can do it, experts everywhere – and because they are the “payers” all designers have to “lean” to what the client wants. Very few Logos are created by “designers alone”. They all have to pass the “client test” and be approved (unfortunately!!!). One can easily pick the Logos that are “approved” by “committees”.

  5. Vast

    Honestly, I am so tired of recent trends, many of which are out-of-date by end of year. Designers need to be more thoughful and analytical. When designing for a client and thinking about using a typical trend in the work, don’t think “could I do it?”, but rather think “should I do it?”  Does it evoke the right emotion? Will it be relevant in 5 years?
    As others have said:  
    Great design is timeless 

  6. Les LaMotte

    Your research is very interesting… it shows clearly that in the early 90’s that as women pushed for rights that their colors where high in acceptance… that as gold was seen as a measure of wealth and then became an obsession its usage diminished. Orange the great – mediocre color… wildly alive and high. Brown the very non-dominatent layed back color is also high as we trend towards a non-leadership socialist political agenda. That Green… the color of money is high in a time when “Green” is up in popularity, but also when the “Green” of money is down in circulation. Blue the most acceptable color is on the rise as it give people a “high” as we deal with the distruction of our countries economic freedom and losses… a kind of a drug for everyone. The lipstick red is out altogether as it is indicator of high male sexuality, and everyone knows that the push for viagra that all men are suffering from lack of their masculinity. And as purple seems to be as dead that the overall normal sexuality has turned upside down for everything abnormal and wierd. There you go, art is still reflecting society and tells the real story as it reflects what is going on. If you need help in designing with color and the trends it indicates let me help you make it work for you as the unseen element of acceptance and pull that your organization, corporation or product needs to succeed successfully. 

  7. Barry Adamson

    Dear Emblemetric – Having read the five interesting articles on your Emblemetric website, I wondered what had led to your own ‘Logotype & Symbol’ logo? Obviously the 3 circles, 2 triangles and 3 squares are open to interpretation and no doubt, were data-driven. 
    Here are my candidates for what they represent:
    • Three people in a queue, one person does not have an unfurled umbrella, so he/she is wet
    • On the left are two ladies in Madonna bras and the ’empty’ man on the right has turned around to gawp at them
    • Three film cans (archaically representing movies) float above a double-triangle “fast-forward” symbol representing audio, which floats above three briefcases representing “suits” (account execs). In short, an ad agency.
    • It alludes to the assassination of Julius Caesar – two assassins with pointed daggers have stabbed Caesar in the back – the gap in his middle metaphorically represents that he no longer has a ‘body’ as he has bled out.
    I hope I have hit the nail on the head with one of my contenders. Cheers, Barry, Glasgow, UK

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