What 5 famous logos teach us about design

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. But these five images are worth millions… of dollars.

In today’s crowded digital and physical marketplace, a strong logo is like a brand’s signature—it’s a key way to set a company apart or identify a brand. But designing one that “feels right” can be a challenge, as even Google found out back in September when designers and consumers showed up to criticize its visual updates.

But some logos stand the test of time and form a unique part of a company’s history. A few factors can make all the difference, as illustrated by these five well-known logos.

  1. Personality: Coca-Cola

From ice-skating polar bears to hippies singing in a field, Coca-Cola has a very clear personality. Although it’s done much to update its brand with hip stars and upbeat associations, it remains a classic. And that’s exactly what this scripted “wordmark” evokes. It’s not formal or stuffy, but it makes you think of wholesome soda shops and 50s-era nostalgia, even though its iconic logo was designed all the way back in 1887.

  1. Symbolism: Microsoft

In 2012, Microsoft capitalized on its most recognizable product for its new logo design. The new logo modified the previous lettering and added the iconic colored squares.

The new symbol is colorful and easily recognizable as an avatar on small screens, a key factor in modern logo design. Symbols and words must be visible and identifiable regardless of the screen they’re viewed on, whether it’s a 72-inch high-definition television or a 4-inch phone screen.

Now that many companies use their logo as an avatar on social media, it’s even more important to have clear, seamless designs that are instantly recognizable—perhaps part of the motive behind Google’s sans-serif shift.

  1. Simplicity: Apple.

Apple_2003_logoOver the years, Apple’s logo changed from the rainbow-hued apple of the 80s to a much simpler image as the company’s brand became more streamlined. The symbol reflects the name, not the product, but it’s easily identified (the reason a bite was taken out of the apple was to differentiate the image from a cherry) and makes you think of the company’s name using a symbol alone.

  1. Competition: Ford

Part of the purpose of a logo is to differentiate a brand from its competitors. Ford does this by appealing to the same classic ethos Coca-Cola does. Where many of its competitors have gone the symbolic or single-letter route, Ford differentiates itself every time the logo is printed and conjures up images of tradition, stability, and quality. The icon is also in the shape of an oval to accommodate the “Ford” name, which differentiates it from the round logos of car companies like BMW and Volkswagon.

  1. Patience: Nike

200px-Logo_NIKESometimes, it simply takes time for a logo to take hold. When Nike’s logo was designed for $35 by a design student named Carolyn Davidson in 1971, the company’s founder was ambivalent. Today, it’s one of the most recognizable symbols in the world. The company even removed its name, preferring to let the “swoosh” speak for itself.

Of course, it helps that it was well designed. The swoosh implies motion, which makes it perfect for a sports-shoe company, and it is simple enough to almost have predicted the modern preference for unfussy branding. Sometimes, it just takes a little time for good design to be recognized—and with time, a mark comes to be accepted. Try to design for the long term and not jump ship when the next trend comes along.

If these logos tell us anything, it’s that good design can weather changes in pop culture, design trends, and even technology. Will yours make the list?

Learn to think like a designer

Image via Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0
Image via Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0

Designers of all stripes—software designers, graphic designers, and even interior designers—have a unique way of thinking that can solve a whole host of business and marketing problems. It’s more of a process than a business plan, but it creates an environment that fosters creative solutions, innovative ideas, and the opportunity to learn and grow from mistakes. How can you empower your team using design thinking? Consider planning your next project using the following steps.

Big-Picture Planning

Most design thinking processes start with the big picture. What do we have? What do we need? What steps can we take to get there? These steps can go by many different names, but they usually include things like customer/audience research, leveraging available assets, and planning out the whole process from the beginning, paying careful attention to detail.

Design thinking is emphatically human-centered, so it relies on a thorough understanding of the people the product will serve. What are their needs? What are their pain points? How can this product or idea simplify their lives? How can we make their jobs or lives more interactive and engaging? By keeping the intended audience front and center throughout the process, design thinking provides built-in values that streamline decision making. If it doesn’t benefit the end user, it doesn’t get included. Period.

At this stage, it’s also vital to take stock of the assets and limitations you and your team have to work with. This includes manpower, funding, timeline, and specific requests from your client or team. Design thinking is meant to be holistic, balancing the needs of the business, team members, and clients throughout the process, creating a supportive environment that promotes teamwork and motivation. Making this list now also allows for better decision-making later on.

Brainstorming

Once the process is laid out, it’s time to start generating solutions. This can happen in several formal sessions or informally over a longer period of time and usually involves a fair amount of research, interdisciplinary teams, discussions, and focus groups, and prototyping of the most promising options. Many teams also incorporate “refresher” activities into this phase of the process that boost creativity and prevent burnout. This can include attending conferences, participating in enrichment projects like visits to art galleries or film showings, and anything else that feeds creativity and introduces new ideas into the mix. This keeps people’s minds fresh, sharp, and engaged during the most creative part of the process.

In order to generate the broadest variety of options, it is vital to make space for brainstorming and to use it exclusively for idea generation, not idea critique. This protected space promotes new ideas, encourages lateral thinking, and enables creative solutions by making team members feel free to propose unique or even radical solutions without fear of criticism. If you’re working on your own, separate brainstorming from critique to give you the space to explore all possibilities.

Once a list of ideas has been researched and generated, prototypes can be built based on the most promising ideas and evaluated by focus groups and interdisciplinary teams. This step highlights potential issues both on the user/client side and in the production process. If multiple teams will be involved in the implementation of the product (like marketing and tech support, for instance), it’s important to ask for insights from representatives from all of them to red flag any potential issues.

At the same time, when making the final decisions, guiding principles should remain focused on solving problems for end users. This means prioritizing aspects like functionality, aesthetics, experience, and simplicity, even if it requires a little more work in development (within the limitations of available resources).

Launch

The final stage of the process sees the production and implementation of the product. But it doesn’t stop there! Design thinking is iterative, so this part of the process involves collecting user feedback and refining the product as well as taking any lessons learned into account for the next project. This can also be a good time to review all the ideas generated during brainstorming and seeing whether any of them should be applied to other problems before restarting the process.

A “post-mortem” with the design team can also be helpful in order to review any mistakes or difficulties and resolve any outstanding issues before the next project begins.

This structure may be a little different from what your team is used to, so it’s OK to implement it slowly. But if you need an injection of creative ideas, start by focusing on the needs of users and making space for brainstorming, and you’ll quickly begin to see the benefits of design thinking.

Beyond Data Visualization: Using Interactivity to Engage Your Audience

"Building Blocks," by Chris Jordan, is an art piece that uses scale to depict the annual number of highschool dropouts in the US.
“Building Blocks,” by Chris Jordan, is an art piece that uses alphabet blocks to depict the annual number of highschool dropouts in the US (click for the full image).

Numbers and statistics are a vital part of any modern data-driven business—or personal life. But unfortunately, simply shouting numbers from the rooftop doesn’t tend to change peoples’ minds.

There are too many alternative stories and interpretations (not to mention distractions) competing for an audience’s attention to allow one little piece of information to reshape a worldview.

There are lots of ways to overcome the problem of distraction: using engaging visuals and good design, finding a catchy “hook,” and answering an interesting question are all good places to start.

But once you’ve figured out how to overcome the distractions that may prevent your viewers from thinking about your data, it’s time to go deeper and find ways to connect with your audience. If they feel a connection with your data, they’ll be much more likely to integrate it into their thinking.

Theater of the Mind

The human mind is extremely powerful. It can impose structure, stories, and patterns on seemingly unconnected things, resulting in new insights. If your data supports a conclusion your audience already believes, you’re in luck!

The brain’s natural systems will sort the data into its rightful place. But if your audience is predisposed to disagree with your data, the brain will work overtime to resolve this “cognitive dissonance”—usually by dismissing the new, uncomfortable information.

It’s important to ease your audience in if you’re proposing a new or controversial idea. Letting your audience connect the dots themselves is an easy way to engage their pattern-finding specialties, so that the brain’s power works for you.

If you seem to be having trouble “getting through” with your data, especially if you’re pretty sure it has a clear message, invite your audience to participate in the interpretation of your data using things like interactivity, guesswork, the five senses, and rewards for engagement.

Interactivity

Scroll Down

See the “scroll down” instruction at the bottom? Click to visit the site and see what happens!

Interactivity is much more than a buzzword. It’s a way to involve viewers in the story, letting them fill in the pieces and take ownership of the information. Data on its own can feel preachy or high-handed, but if you let your audience tell the story and then suggest ways to fill in the gaps, they will be much more willing to process the information.

Good forms of interactivity make the user feel in control.

This site, which proposes “an alternative view of London,” tells the viewer to “scroll down,” which seems like a simple, common request. But in this case, scrolling triggers animations, drawings, and photos instead of a simple “page down,” and this surprising response to a common action piques viewer interest because their actions had a clear, interesting impact on what they saw on the screen.

Interactive presentations like the Gapminder World graph accomplish the same thing by encouraging viewers to ask and answer their own questions by comparing axes, making the audience feel in control.

Guesswork

If you really want your viewers to think about a problem, ask them to guess what the data will look like before you give it to them. Suddenly, they have a vested interest in an abstract problem, because they want to know how close they got to the “right” answer.

As this New York Times article illustrated, guesswork can be a good, friendly way to invite your audience to reconsider their assumptions, especially if many people make the same mistakes.

Encourage your audience to brainstorm reasons they might have missed the mark together, rather than telling them the answer right away. People are much more willing to listen to ideas they came up with themselves!

Speak to the Senses

If your data will be viewed on a computer, it’s easier than ever to engage viewer senses. Sound (make sure it’s optional!), movement (especially animation and video), and even engagement through touch are all possible using today’s technology.

Birds

This art piece depicts the number of birds killed by agricultural products every day in the United States. It zooms out on the website to show the scale of the problem (click to view the full image).

If you have a chance to put together a presentation in the real world, the options are endless. You can play with scale to make a big impact as in the artwork by Chris Jordan, or have viewers physically participate in a display.

Reward Engagement

Whatever route you take to increase engagement, remember that if you want repeat visits, you need to reward that engagement.

Every click, every scroll of the mouse wheel, every action taken by the viewer should correspond to a clear and obvious reward—more information, an interesting sound byte, or an unexpected animation.

How you tie it to your message is up to you!

5 Ways to Let Your Data Tell the Story

People love stories. It’s the way our brains are wired. That’s why anecdotes are such powerful tools of persuasion.

If I tell you a story about a friend who got mugged a few years ago in a big city, all the statistics in the world about how crime rates are falling probably won’t convince you it’s safe.

Personal experience matters more to our brains than numbers.

Data is about facts, not stories, and that often makes it seem boring (and, ironically, unconvincing). Our brains just aren’t very good at handling large amounts of data to evaluate things like risk. They need a narrative to hold all the pieces together.

If you want your data to be convincing, you have to let it tell a story. Of course, it’s important that the data guides the story and not the other way around.

But if you want the numbers to stick, you have to weave them into a framework that will anchor all the pieces together and make them persuasive.

Here are five places to start when you’re looking for the story in your data (examples from this post on creativebloq).

  1. Make a Comparison

1aClick to see the full infographic.

Isolated data is boring—it’s comparisons that tell the story. Are sales up compared to last month? Are there spiders on planet earth than people? Put the comparison front-and-center if you want it to stand out, whether you’re preparing a slide deck, a presentation, or an infographic.

Comparisons also help people engage because most people already have an opinion. Setting up a comparison brings peoples’ existing opinions into play and invites them to take a position and then see if it’s backed up by the data.

  1. Encourage Curiosity

Data is beginning to answer questions we never even used to ask. Questions are a natural hook for people’s attention and feed into existing stories by offering additional information.

Think about all the questions wearables have started making people ask. What is my heartrate when I’m running rather than sitting? How many steps am I taking each day?

1bFitbit started this infographic with an interesting question—at least, interesting to fitness buffs.

Encourage questioning before you get to the answer, and explain why the question matters if it’s one people may not have considered before.

Pique their curiosity before explaining the answer, because once you’ve got people thinking and wondering, the data will start to make sense before you’ve even presented a single number.

  1. Draw Conclusions

1cWhich format is better for web and which for print? If you read to the end, this infographic spells it out.

Don’t make viewers hunt for your point. Conclusions should emerge naturally from the data, but they should also be clearly present. Data is only as useful as the conclusions we draw from it.

You don’t have to hit your audience over the head with it, but if the data strongly lends itself to a point of view (our current policy isn’t working; there’s a big opportunity emerging in a new sector; we are headed for catastrophe), say it!

1dMake sure the conclusion follows the data, but don’t be afraid to draw that conclusion!

  1. Track the History

Showing changes over time can be a powerful way to organize your data and allow for breakthrough insights. It puts information in context and tells a linear story, the same way we experience everyday life.

It’s an easy narrative structure for people to grasp.

1eThis chart is a bit complicated, but it follows an easily-deciphered logical structure and guides the viewer through the map using elegant lines.

  1. Find the Missing Piece (or Bring the Pieces Together)

1fThis infographic puts all the pieces together when it comes to energy efficiency.

If your data fills a gap in existing knowledge, it’s like putting the last puzzle piece in place—a very satisfying feeling. Set the stage with the existing data, and then show the missing component.

Explain why that piece of information was so difficult to obtain. Alternatively, for complicated topics, break them down into easily-digestible pieces that bring individual pieces into a cohesive whole.

Whatever your data, finding engaging ways to turn it into a story will make it more memorable, easily digestible, and even more convincing.