How simple is too simple?

In response to our post, A little more Zen, Ed remarked: “Wow, all of this commentary over two or three elements in a ‘design.’ Is this [the Jobs’ book cover] even design? Seems a little too basic . . . I’d probably even be a bit hesitant in billing somebody for this.”

Dear readers, that is the biggest misconception EVER.

Whose logo is this? . . .

How long would it take to draw? Let’s say 10 seconds in InDesign to make the rectangle and 10 minutes to get the width just right. How much do you bill per hour? To make it easy, let’s say $90. By that reckoning, this is a $15 logo.

Not only that, but the yellow border is not the designer’s creation; it’s been the trademark of the client, National Geographic magazine, for a century.

Yet when he “designed” this rectangle in 2002, Tom Geismar (Chermayeff & Geismar) created one of the clearest, most identifiable, most portable images on the planet, meaning one that works beautifully in every venue regardless of size, resolution, or surrounding clutter.

That’s design.

How powerfully simple can you make your next logo?

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80 Responses to How simple is too simple?

  1. Ugh. John, hopefully you did not just say Nat Geo should be paying only $15 for this logo. Because then I would have to argue that the real cost of the logo is Tom’s entire career of observing and being able to identity those things that are core to an identity. Anyone can copy the logo in 10 minutes. It took Tom a lifetime to create it. It took a lifetime of design for Tom to know that the yellow border that was used on every cover (to set it apart from all the other magazines on the rack) had become the core identity of Nat Geo, not the other way around.

    Simple costs a ton in human capital. The simpler the design, the more expensive it should be. Anyone can do complicated. Simple is hard.

  2. So right . . . As a mature designer, sometimes I can come up with a simple solution that works beautifully for a design situation in a short time. It took over 30 years of experience to get here. Whether it takes an hour or 40 hours, a business card that leaves an impression everywhere it goes is worth a lot to a business. That card is a salesman working 24/7 for my client. How much does a great salesman get paid? One who makes a lasting impression on every client he meets? You tell me.

  3. Simple takes a long time to master. That’s why good logo design costs a lot. It takes many hours of research, thought, conception, execution, refinement. The designer needs to distill the brand’s essence down to its core.

    I keep removing until I can’t remove anymore, yet the logo stands on its own.

    That simple NG logo might have taken 60 hours or more. Or, the designer had been simplifying for so long that he had a gut feeling what would work. Intuition plays a big role in logo design. Almost like medicine, your doctor might have a gut feeling about what to do and then confirms it. Would you only offer to pay him for one hour’s work?

    It’s an art to figure out what needs to stay and what needs to go.


    • oeilgauche says:

      We share the same philosophy on design, and that’s why, when John says that this logo is a $15 job, it is obvious he is merely trying to provoke a reaction. Because to attain this level of abstraction while remaining meaningful, the designer must have spent countless days and weeks of experimentation and discussion. But when you’re finally there, you know that you’ve created something that matters and that will endure for along time. And it doesn’t happen often in a designer’s career, if at all.

  4. Faye Orr says:

    John, thank you so much for this short but powerful explanation of design. I am a designer at a small printing company. Every time I am employed to design a logo, I preface my work with the “simple” speech. Keeping a logo clean and simple: 1) makes the printing process much easier, which 2) makes the reproduction much less expensive for my client, but 3) also allows for more creative use of the image. But the number one reason for simple is just as you have explained. A clear, sharp, uncluttered image can and will be recalled by the human memory much quicker than an image which contains a smorgasbord of design elements that can be overwhelming.

  5. JanO says:

    The NatGeo logo is powerful despite its great simplicity. It is also linked to the magazine cover. Its color is distinctive. I can’t explain why something this simple is a “design” rather than a $15 rectangle . . . but it is.

    The Steve Jobs book, on the other hand, does not look “designed” to me. It looks trite . . . a $15 rectangle. I’ve seen that photo hundreds of times. It’s not powerful just because it is enlarged and dominant. I saw this same photo cleverly cropped around the right eyebrow, eye, nose, and cheek with the iconic eyeglasses lens. That extreme focus on the eye (and eyeglass lens) was powerful to me. It said something about Steve Jobs’ “vision,” especially with the stern cast of the eyebrow . . .

    I enjoy Design Talk and look forward to reading others’ opinions. I would really like to understand more about the NatGeo logo.

    • Nancy Sluss says:

      I hate to say so but . . .

      This logo has a lot of “retrospect” in it. We all grew up looking at the big, yellow box. Today if you gave anyone, even a magazine, a yellow box, they would throw it back at you and ride you out on a rail. I grew up from a baby listening to a deep man’s voice belting out the radio station’s identity at 6:00 every morning, until I was 21 and sent out to call on him to discuss his printing. I can’t tell you how weird it was to be listening in person to the voice that woke me up every morning. Had it not been for my childhood, I would have thought nothing of it. Corporate identity in reverse.

    • Joy says:

      I agree with JanO. The yellow rectangle and the book cover are in two completely different leagues. When you look at the NG logo, you just know it’s the “right” choice for that brand. Everything about it feels perfect.

      The book cover doesn’t feel like that to me. While there’s nothing wrong with it in principle, it doesn’t seem like it’s quite achieved the goal. Just because something is simple and clean doesn’t mean it’s right.

      Of course, comparing the book cover designer to the NG logo designer is like comparing a talented art student to Van Gogh. But the best way to learn is to study the work of those who have made it. Only practice makes perfect!

  6. Bill says:

    Great example. But I’m curious: Do we know how much Chermayeff & Geismar DID charge for this?

  7. James Conaghan says:

    Hello John,

    First off, I have a huge amount of respect for your opinion and your design concepts; I love simplicity in things and am often blown away by your approach. However, I felt I had to offer an alternate (perhaps layman’s) viewpoint on your rebuttal in respect to Ed S’s comment, “Is this even design?”

    I have always felt that if something needs to be explained, it hasn’t done its job. I think one of the greatest accolades a designer can receive is when someone says, “I get it.” Poets (and writers) who are overprotective of their work will often suggest that if their work creates a reaction, then it has done its job. Similarly, I have heard designers say the same thing. My humble opinion is that it’s often a case of the kind of thing you’ll like if you like that kind of thing. :-)

    So when you asked in the first instance, “Whose logo is this?” I didn’t get it. And for the sake of clarity, I had no idea whose it was. Yet when you put the words NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC next to the yellow rectangle, I got it. So, my question would be, is the yellow rectangle really such a great design if it doesn’t work in isolation?


    • Andy says:

      I think the majority of people (especially in National Geographic’s target audience) can, in fact, identify the mark in isolation. Just because one person or a few people don’t get it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t work in isolation. There’s always going to be someone who doesn’t get it.

    • John Driscoll says:

      I got it immediately without the words “National Geographic,” so maybe I’m just more familiar with the mark. I don’t know.

    • Lezley says:

      Got it before I even read the question!

    • Hans Magnus says:

      I believe the yellow rectangle even beats the Nike swoosh. That’s how well it works in isolation.

      • JR says:

        It’s true that it works, but how many people use/know of Nike compared to NG? I recognized it right away, but I used to subscribe to it.
        Did you see how they altered the rectangle for their kids magazine — it’s more kite shaped — I think that works, too.

        Check it out.

    • John McWade says:

      Hi James,

      Yes, it is great design.

      There’s really no such thing as a logo in isolation; a logo is all about association.

      By itself, for example, Nike’s swoosh is meaningless. Apple’s apple means nothing to those unfamiliar with the company. What are McDonald’s arches unless you know the burgers?

      Same with NatGeo. The moment you see the magazine’s iconic yellow border, you understand the logo. Once the association is made, it’s the logo’s job to stick, to stay in the mind. Simple images do this, and complex images do not.

      • Cathy says:

        I agree with John. Association is necessary, and repeated and consistent visual exposure creates this association. Repeated visuals made with commercials, advertising and signage help establish this association. And people not exposed to these visuals won’t connect it. The simpler the logo, the easier and quicker the association is made.

        Another good example is the Target red dot.

  8. David Kunkel says:

    The trick is not what you put into a logo, but what you leave out. When you’ve pared the identity of the company down to its mission statement, as expressed visually, that’s usually the solution. That’s why designing a new logo can be such a soul-searching process.

    I like this humorous take on the process by Diana Adams, the CEO/owner of Adams Consulting Group, Inc., in Atlanta, Georgia.

    Funny, but with a big element of truth: paring away the non-essentials is the key to successful logo design.

  9. Mark Haen says:

    I love this logo . . . of course, it gets a lot of press and we see it a lot, so it has grown on us.

  10. Steve says:

    This reminds me of a story I heard once. As it goes, Pablo Picasso was wandering through a market on Sunday morning. A woman in the crowd recognized him.

    “Mr. Picasso, it is an honour to meet you”, she said.

    “Would you please draw me just a little something on this piece of paper?” she asked as she offered a tattered piece of paper from her purse.

    He quickly drew a little something on the paper and handed back to the woman. She turned to walk away.

    Picasso shouted, “Where are you going? That will be 10,000 lira.”

    Surprised, the woman said, “But it only took you 30 seconds to draw.”

    Picasso responded, “Yes, but it took me 30 years to be able to draw that in 30 seconds.” The woman grudgingly paid and went on about her day.

    This story illustrates that our experience and skill has value, and it isn’t necessarily based on how long it takes us to do a job.

  11. Dave Johnson says:

    This reminds me of a segment on CBS’ Sunday Morning program. In an interview with the designer of the Polaroid “rainbow” logo, the host commented that the logo “was so simple.” The designer grinned and said, “Do you have any idea how difficult simple is?” That made me feel so much better, because I struggle every day to make things simple and beautiful.

    So, how do we justify charging for something that is simple? I’ve heard the Nike swoosh was created by a design student in Portland. The cost was $35. I’ve also heard the IBM logo cost $5,000. Who got the better value?

    I guess I’m adding more questions to the mix, but justifying the price of “simple” has always intrigued me.

  12. When someone comes up with, “It probably took you less than an hour to create this logo,” or “My grandson got a computer, and he could’ve done it. So why do you charge so much?” My favorite answer is: It might have taken me an hour, but it’s an hour plus many years of experience! Discussion closed :-)

  13. Cybil says:

    I’ve always found that simple is the best. If you can portray exactly who and what your company represents in a simple shape pulled from just the border of the magazine, such as with National Geographic, you become beyond iconic. That shape/image then becomes one and the same with the company. Take a look at the simplicity of the Steve Jobs’ book cover. The Apple logo is simplicity at its best, so what better way to portray the man behind the company with again keeping it simple and concise. The visual aspect of it says it all. It’s the same with any type of imagery. They become your visual words, symbolism to what you are saying. You see something, and it reminds you of something in relation. Chalkboard = teacher (even though they don’t use them anymore). Dollar sign = finance. Dice = Vegas. Crowns = kings/queens. Whatever they may be, the images become your words, and so it should be with your logo.

  14. Timothy says:

    The strength of the logo, it seems to me, is that it connects to the purpose and mission of National Geographic. It looks like a picture frame through which to view the world. While it’s just a box, it’s also a window to view the wonder of the earth and the people who live on it. Its efficacy is not just due to its simplicity, but also because it connects us — or even conjures for us — a significant aspect of what National Geographic is all about.

    The cover of Isaacson’s book I think conveys the idea that the man was “larger than life.” As such, it conveys much about the content and thrust of the work (although I’m only on chapter 7… but I’ve had an Apple product in my home since the Apple II+).

    But I do think it looks a little too much like a back cover instead of a front cover. Increasing the prominence of the title could have been a helpful move without diminishing the largeness of Steve Jobs or the clean, isolated feel that Apple is famous for.

  15. Anne Carmen says:

    “Simplicity will stand out, while complexity will get lost in the crowd,” says Kevin Barnett, and this is true for anything in our complex lives. We designers have to find “that something” that will make a brand stand out in the simplest and smartest form possible and then . . . convince our client that simple is better than crowded . . . which I think is where the drama starts! Most of the people think that the more elements you put into a design, the better it is going to be . . . the better it is going to be perceived and understood. I also think that simplicity is widely influenced by culture.

    And to end with another quotation that has influenced me throughout my design career, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” It is true for the National Geographic logo or the Nike logo.

  16. If time spent were the only consideration, a designer with 30 years of experience would earn less than a beginner. I was taught that the value of a design is in what it achieves for the client, but it appears this message has been lost in recent years. Should a designer charge $100 for a flyer that generates tens of thousands of dollars in sales for the client, because it took two hours to complete? A quick look at freelance graphic design sites reveals that too many designers think so. Clients on these sites buy into the misconception as well, describing their project as, “a simple job for someone who knows what they are doing.” Clients won’t respect our work or our experience until we value ourselves.

  17. Shirley Smith says:

    “Whoa” is right. There’s a lot of meaning in the placement of elements. I was inspired to become a graphic designer by some beautifully simple layouts . . . I thought to myself, “Hey, I could do that!” And then I found that simple and effective was pretty difficult to achieve. If it’s so easy, why can’t all electronics manufacturers replicate the seductive quality of Apple’s minimalist products?

  18. Holly says:

    Yes! Fantastic!

  19. Shane Wilson says:

    I have noticed that many if not all of the high-end logo designers put at least as much effort into presentation as they do into the logo design itself. You can see a good example of this here:

    I really believe this is the difference between getting $15 vs. $1,500 for your work. Would love to hear your thoughts on presentation!

    • John Driscoll says:

      The “ethnique” logo that you link to looks fantastic.

      Not because of how it’s presented, but because it’s a great-looking logo.

      If you take a lot of time in the presentation of a poorly designed logo, you still have a poorly designed logo.

  20. When the late illustrator Mark Kelley, whose work was brilliantly spontaneous, was confronted with this comment from an AD, “How can you charge such a high fee? After all, this might have taken you 10 minutes to produce.”

    His calm and confident reply was, “On the contrary, it’s taken me all my life.”

  21. Less truly is more. Removing the extraneous elements until you have the essence of what is the company, is the art and science of good logo design.

  22. Mike Barlow says:

    Was it Wolf Ollins who, when asked to consider the branding of Shell Oil Co., spent a weekend working on it and submitted his proposal and his fee?

    When asked how a mere weekend’s work could cost so much, he replied, “You’re not paying for my time, you are paying for my expertise.”

  23. Sherri says:

    That really drove home a point. I’ve recently been asked to design a logo, and I’ve been noodling over it for a week, with no acceptable results.

    I think it’s been just too busy. This is great!

  24. Len Williams says:

    Ah, yes, the old “that’s so simple I could have done it myself” argument. An artist is one who has the aesthetic sensitivity to create designs that are visually pleasing and that evoke emotional response. The exact placement of objects and type, the widths of lines, the choice of colors, the selection or creation of fonts that create a communication appropriate to the subject are the responsibilities of the artist. Mainly, an artist is a problem-solver. Once all the details have been worked out in a good design, it tends to look “obvious,” but this is only because the artist has tried and rejected many concepts in order to whittle the design down to its simplicities. In a world that is filled with affordable digital cameras, not everyone is a great photographer. The common denominator of good design is good communication of an idea.

  25. bshear says:

    Beautiful example. I love this. I love B&A.

  26. Julian Hough says:

    I think it’s difficult to compare logo design with time and money, since the time spent designing a logo, at least in my experience, is time spent creating concepts that don’t work, rather than what does work, and that seems to be the time issue.

    Sometimes a clear, simple look belies the effort involved in getting there. So, as simple as it looks, I bet that it took considerable time to agree on such a simple-looking mark.

    Of course, if Geismar hit on the yellow square in 15 minutes, and it’s billable per hour, then NatGeo got a great deal! By contrast, I worked on a healthcare program, and it had taken $100K to design the logo and identity by the time everyone had finished putting their hands on it.

    Probably best to charge a flat fee with clear constraints and hope you can work fast!


  27. Eliezer Militão says:

    Most of us know the story about the technician who was hired to fix a problem in a machine. After a minute studying the problem, he took a hammer and gave only a stroke on a specific pin and solved the problem.

    After that, he presented the bill: $1,000.

    The manager who hired that technician protested, asking him to present details and specific cost of each part of the job.

    The technician then wrote:
    Stroke on the pin: $1
    To know which pin to stroke: $999

    How simple is the job of each one?

  28. Jack Hadden says:

    My sentiments were the same as James Conaghan. Until I saw “National Geographic,” I didn’t know who’s it was. I actually liked Ed’s candor. Simplicity is typically the way to go, and the end result should rest with the humble acknowledgement that “it is simple.” Otherwise, our chests may swell because of imaginary sophistication and abstracts unknown to anyone.

  29. Trina says:

    In my opinion, the NG logo is as easy to recognize as the “C” in the Coca-Cola logo, but that may be because I have always subscribed to NG.

    I think the white space within the yellow border is the most important aspect of all because, for me at least, it represents all of the images and magazine covers NG is famous for. The yellow border is what makes me think of those iconic images, and therefore when I see it, even away from the magazine, I still visualize what could, would, or has been captured inside it.

  30. Judy says:

    Some time ago in a painting class, we were to paint a famous person. I chose Bill Cosby. For the background, I placed a certain swoosh. There was not a single person in class who didn’t know what that swoosh was. A unique but simple design is worth a great deal. And thank you for reminding us of that fact.


  31. TChuck says:

    Wow. I just received a logo project. Now I’m feeling really intimidated! How to marry the challenge of this simplicity with the demands of the client?

  32. Ray Mitchell says:

    And, BAM! So ends that school of thought.

    I thought the cover (and subject) were already overdone, however the concept of simplicity in design is important and can’t be overstated.

  33. Joan says:

    For me, this simple logo works because it relates to the printed version of the National Geographic magazine — it’s not just a yellow rectangle. Not sure this logo would have had as big an impact if they had started with something that didn’t have that reference. (There is implicit content underlying this simplicity, giving it complexity.)

  34. Douglas Reynolds says:

    Great story. Knew it was Nat Geo immediately. But was that from the strength of the logo or the magazine’s border that was a century old? In this case, it could be that this logo was never actually “designed.” Perhaps over coffee in 2002 the designer pointed at the magazine and suggested to the client, “Why not just make the logo this yellow border that you already have?” I tend to doubt it, though. Maybe he had the thought but waited a couple of weeks before presenting it as the product of hours and hours of reflection by a team of masters. As above — “knowing which pin to stroke” — and worth every penny.

    My favorite simple logo is that of Seattle’s Space Needle. Four brush strokes that were probably preceded by a thousand.

  35. nita says:

    While I immediately recognized the yellow rectangle as National Geographic’s logo, I have to say that I’m a bit confused as to the “design” aspects of this logo being “good design.”

    National Geographic has had a yellow border around its magazine since the first issue back in 1888. The color was different then, and has evolved into the intense yellow we see today, but it’s generally been the same for the last century.

    While I respect Geismar’s design aesthetic and his considerable talent, I don’t think it was a huge stretch to come up with this logo, which has been a key element of the cover design for over 120 years.

    In the case of National Geographic, the yellow border became iconic over time, just as the Coca-Cola script became iconic over time. Neither the yellow border nor the script are great “design” on their own; it’s just that they became synonymous with very successful products and therefore evoke an emotional response due to nostalgia, not necessarily design aesthetics.

  36. carl hardy says:

    So what is new?

    From the 1878 libel trial of John Ruskin as quoted in the on-line encyclopedia Wikipedia:

    (Attorney) Holker: “The labour of two days is that for which you ask two hundred guineas?”

    (Artist) Whistler: “No, I ask it for the knowledge I have gained in the work of a lifetime.”

    According to the Wikipedia piece, Whistler won the case, but the jury granted him only a farthing in recompense . . .


  37. Bari Tarmon says:

    I once gave a 60-second presentation at a business networking meeting by including the line, “You call that design? My six-year-old could have done that!” I then proceeded to give a quick list of what it took to design that logo in terms of research, assorted variations, and the final version . . . which turned out to be already in use by another entity in that trade. The final cost of that logo was a few million, which included some broadcasting equipment thrown in. In case you’re wondering what logo cost that much, look up the history of the NBC logo.

    The point was, and is, that as much as we try to educate clients on the importance of designing a logo (or anything else, for that matter), we’ll still get some who will look at you and say: “Really? You expect me to believe that it took you THAT much effort and time to come up with THIS?”

    There are probably a few clever retorts to such an exclamation; some would work better than others.

    I guess we just need to expect that there are those who won’t understand why good design is worth all the fuss and cost.

    Those are the ones to whom we just say, “Thank-you for your time,” and walk away.

  38. Chris Opsahl says:

    You missed the mark on the NG logo. The logo is instantly recognizable not because the designer “created one of the clearest, most identifiable, most portable images on the planet, meaning one that works beautifully in every venue regardless of size, resolution, or surrounding clutter.” It’s instantly recognizable because it’s simply the defining character of the magazine. That yellow border has been used on every issue for decades and decades. Absent of that, the logo really is a $15 rectangle.

  39. Yael Miller says:

    To truly harness the power of a super-simple logo, you need to focus on the whole branding aspect — in other words, execution. By itself, a minimal logo or symbol is not worth much at all, but when used in various contexts (or even more compellingly, over long periods of time consistently), it creates what we perceive as identity — and a strong identity at that.

  40. Yael Miller says:

    Just to be clear, I think that an overly simple logo can potentially be a detriment if a client can’t support a consistent voice over a wide enough range of branded touchpoints. In that case, a more visually complex or “ownable” logo might be a better solution. You’d need to evaluate each case on its own.

  41. Mushtaq says:

    Very interesting article.

    I was struck by Nita’s comment above:

    “Neither the yellow border nor the script are great “design” on their own; it’s just that they became synonymous with very successful products and therefore evoke an emotional response due to nostalgia, not necessarily design aesthetics.”

    This has now made me question what is “design” itself? Is it then solely to fulfill the end (marketing/sales) requirement, keeping the aesthetics subservient — as opposed to art, where the aesthetics are perhaps the sole reason for it?

    So then for our field of graphic design, it is always a compromise (which we’ve always known in the field, of course) — but my real question then is:

    How do we determine when the art in a design will be successful, versus the existing (nostalgic? familiar?) element of the design?

    Great discussion!

    • Cathy says:

      Interesting points by Mushtag and Nita.

      Perhaps the two thoughts are extreme ends; great, simple design stands on its own, verses design that can’t stand alone.

      In all actuality, the designer must first assess what elements represents the product best in simplest terms. The good designer needs to consider all of the existential elements of the product or company. And he must understand how line and color are perceived; he doesn’t just randomly sit down in an hour and create a design that will work. There is research involved. Was the yellow rectangle logo created before the magazine, or after the magazine? Who picked the color yellow? Why did they pick the color yellow?

      Good design aesthetics is not accomplished in a vacuum, nor is it effective in a vacuum.

  42. Paula Biles says:

    This discussion brings to mind two of my favorite quotes:

    • “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.” — Albert Einstein

    • “I would have written a shorter letter, but I didn’t have the time.” — attributed to Mark Twain

    Great points, John. Thanks.

  43. Nancy Sluss says:

    Don’t you think this guy was the first one to come up with, “If you want to sell a house, paint something in it yellow?”

  44. Robin says:

    It’s great that everyone agrees that simple is often best (I do, too), but I’d like to hear more discussion on what I see as the central issue — should a designer’s fee be in proportion to the time spent on a job?

    As a designer, I often feel uncomfortable billing a large fee for a quick job, and I think there’s a good reason for that discomfort. I sometimes feel that we designers live apart from the “real world.” People working in most professions draw on their career experience in their work, but the majority still bill based on time. If we feel our experience counts for something extra, then we should put up our hourly fees to whatever we think appropriate, but then bill for our time.

    Billing jobs on an arbitrary basis will only cost designers in the long run, as clients begin to realise that in a globalised world there is an emergent group of designers who don’t feel our sense of priviledge and are happy to charge for their work on the same basis as other industries.

    Let’s admit that being a designer is a great job compared to many of the others our fellow human beings work in, and we don’t need to place ourselves in a special category. We can just charge an transparent, honest fee for an honest day’s work.

    • Phyllis says:

      I’ve given a lot of thought to Robin’s point. I tend to think the same way. One of the reasons I work as an in-house designer is that I have no idea what I’d charge as a freelancer! Sometimes I can come up with good design ideas really fast; other times it takes me ages. But either way, I’d feel inclined to charge based on the actual time I spent on it. I don’t know if that’s the best answer or not, as it is clear many folks disagree. Confusing!

  45. Juliette says:

    Amazing how simple and how effective. The only other thing that surprises me here is that this is actually one of those rare instances I would want to click on a “Like” button somewhere, but there is none.

  46. Ryan Becker says:

    The point is that the logo encompasses the history of the magazine. Why would you apologize for taking that important aspect into account? The designer chose to incorporate that important distinguishing trait into the design, which reflects the meaning.

    Sure, if it was a brand-new magazine it might not mean anything, but remember that at one point Apple’s logo meant nothing to anyone but Steve Jobs, who was simply trying to pay homage to the Beatles. Now because of history, the Apple logo means something entirely different.

  47. Felipe says:

    Awesome like Nike logo that today use only the symbol. But the hard part is to create something simple and with a big concept.

  48. Dean says:

    Any criticism of the Nat Geo logo as being “simple” and “obvious” betrays a lack of understanding of the design process. This logo is an extreme example of how misleading it is to look only at what is left after that process has occurred.

    What it doesn’t show are the multitude of designs that were thrown out, let alone the concepts that could have been considered but were never pursued.

    In my opinion, good design is a reductive process . . . knowing what to leave out. Poor design is almost always poor because it’s too complex or too rushed and has not been thought though properly — when not enough time has been spent to distill the brief enough to find the truth of what is required.

    I am currently reading Michael Pollan’s, “The Omnivore’s Dilemma.” In it, there is a great quote from a farmer, but it applies as well to many other pursuits. The quote goes like this: “Ranching is a very simple business. The really hard part is keeping it simple”.

    I think that’s absolutely true for the design proces,s too.

    The Nat Geo logo is an extremely elegant and effective example of that process at work.

  49. Danish says:

    I wish my design clients could understand that . . .

  50. Rishi says:

    I believe that the most complex thing in the world is to keep it simple.

  51. Pamela Elliott says:

    I totally agree with John. Universally understood, distilled down to its pure essence and beautiful to look at. That’s what designers and artists strive for. Achieve that goal and you do not have to explain or clarify anything because everyone “gets it.”

  52. Volker Beckmann says:

    Let’s play devil’s advocate —

    We recognize the yellow NG logo because a logo builds visual equity with time and exposure. Fair enough.

    Yet, I’ve always said that a logo must work first in black & white — newspaper ads, photocopies, faxes (yup, we still use them!). Color comes second.

    So, how strong is the NG logo in b&w? It loses something, me thinks!

  53. G Lanata says:

    Coming from a user-interface design background, I’ve enjoyed reading this post. For interface design, we must make use of the brain’s natural ability to see simple shapes. Not only that, but through short-term memory perception then associate that simple shape and its given colours with past experiences in long-term memory. This is often used in good, user-interface design to guide the user through an application, and as I study into logo design more, the disciplines appear to cross over.

  54. Jeffrey M says:

    I love this logo! The awesomeness lies not only in its simplicity, but in its power of of near-immediate identification. Had NG been a new company founded in 2002 when Chermayeff & Geismar designed the mark, it would not carry 99% of its power. It honestly IS a beautiful logo, but I would say that’s only because of the influence and rich history of National Geographic magazine standing behind it.

    Ultra-simplicity does have its place in logo design (as this mark clearly demonstrates), but the effectiveness of that mark is sometimes equally influenced by the heritage of the company or product it represents.

  55. Jeffrey M says:

    . . . and one more thing, I believe Leonardo da Vinci said it best when he stated, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”

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  58. Kim says:

    Interesting discussion. While recently researching ideas for a logo project, I came across the following blog about the use of the “Golden Ratio” in contemporary logo design. Not surprisingly, NG, Apple, Pepsi, BP, and countless others utilize this mathematical formula that “some believe is the universal constant of design, creating a sense of balance, harmony and beauty in the design of all we find in nature.” Simple, right?

    Check it out:

  59. Sally says:

    Does that simple yellow rectangle achieve the desired response? If it connected you to National Geographic in any way, on any level, in any context, then the answer is “yes.” What’s that worth? Every bit of brand equity the logo has garnered for the company in the last decade.

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