Ugly and Bland Can Win the Race

As logo designers, we are trained to make things look good. Much of the creative process can sometimes appear as a struggle to maintain both the strategic and the aesthetic nature of the solution. As a group, we are opinionated and are often very quick to point out what we like and dislike. We have dozens of graphic design sites that thrive on the idea of praising pretty design, but does everything need to be pretty? Is the best solution always what is both traditionally believed to be ‘good design’, and the beautiful examples we go out of our way to praise?

I have (wrongly) in the past expressed concern at the initial meeting with a client about their hideous logo and the need to change it. I believe many clients have come to expect this from logo designers — we often want to change everything. There are however many examples of what can arguably be called ugly design that has done very well in creating a strong visual brand. Google Logo The example that comes to mind is the Google wordmark. The same typeface, rainbow color scheme, drop shadow and beveled look applied to any other entity would never make it as a logo of the day on the sites we frequent. Aesthetically, I find the wordmark horrible with its inclusion of many elements I would hesitate to put into any logo, let alone all of them into one. But wow, does it ever work. You can’t help but recognize the Google wordmark and the associated brand even at a quick glance or with only a portion of the wordmark showing. Sure, this can be credited in large part to the proliferation and exposure the wordmark has but it also works because it is in many ways ugly and different. People love the customized (and often unsightly) versions that appear for holidays and to commemorate events and are quick to Tweet and post about everyone.

Another example is the recently revealed Seattle’s Best Coffee rebrand. While not ugly, it is widely thought of as bland and weak. Ken Carbone asks in his recent Fast Company article Seattle’s Best Coffee Logo Is a Blend of the Bland if the application and integration of the identity are what will make the difference in the long term:

“And while I find the new logo bland, the true measure of its success will be the myriad of applications it gets applied to and how well they are integrated across all channels and markets. If done correctly, it could make Seattle’s Best Coffee a very well-known brand.”

So while we are trained in school to create the most aesthetically pleasing designs, we are (or should be) taught to look at long term goals, integration, growth and the value of a unique or less than beautiful design that has the potential to make a lasting impression. It may not always make the world a prettier place but it will sell more of what our clients are offering and that is in large part what we are hired to do. Google wordmark designed by Ruth Kedar, Seattle’s Best Coffee logo designed by Creature


  • David Ramirez says:
    May 29 at 10:06

    Very well said. What might appear to be ugly and bland may be a hot seller and a very memorable logo when strategic marketing is in place to promote the brand itself. I also agree that while “Google” has its drop shadow and bevels, which would not qualify as a properly designed logo, based on contemporary standards, it is beyond recognizable and memorable.

    I think that, perhaps on the whole, many users of such services aren’t looking at a logo mark with the same scrutiny as designers are. Ideas can bounce back and forth about what does/does not work in a logo mark that has been freshly created or remade.

    I think one of your main points, and possibly your thesis, stating : “As a group, we are opinionated and are often very quick to point out what we like and dislike.” sums it up very well.

    Thanks for sharing as I find this loosens up the rigidity some designers are often confined to when designing a mark.

  • Steve Zelle says:
    May 30 at 05:47

    Thanks very much David. I appreciate you taking the time to comment.

    As designers we certainly do scrutinize logos more than the audience they are intended to influence. I wonder how often the non designer says “I love that logo” in their lifetime. My guess is none and yet strong feelings are often formed between the audience and a logo.

  • Paul Galbraith says:
    Jun 2 at 07:50

    Great subject, something I’ve often thought about myself. I do believe the aesthetic of a logo is often judged in a manner that overlooks the purpose of the actual design. It’s very easy for our own view of what’s beautiful or not to cloud how successful we believe a logo to be. As designers we aim to find solutions that are also visually pleasing in most cases. So when we see logos that are not, we can’t help but dislike them for that reason. But how about the public in general, do they look at logos and judge them by their beauty, or do they just see the brands they represent?

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