Does this need a logo?

In our recent thrift-store-logo post, I advised Jayne to ask, before designing, does this store need a logo at all? In response was Pamela Dengate’s question: “What criteria determine the ‘need’ for a logo? For a business, store, company, band, etc., I have always thought it was a matter of branding, but your comments seem to indicate otherwise.”

When I think of a logo, I think most often of two kinds.

One is a signature, which is a distinctive way of writing your name and includes no additional marks . . .

The other is a cattle brand; it’s a simple, memorable image that identifies you in the herd. A classic example is Nike . . .

(Variations are military insignia and the family crest, which, historically, marked your presence at a gathering or coronation or battle.) . . .

Everything else falls into a large-but-vague morass of complex graphics and typefaces and colors and “target-audience” intentions that do a whole lot of nothing much. Some are well crafted, some are not, doesn’t matter. The net is zero.

One reason, perfectly valid, to have a logo is simply because you want one. It’s a means of personal expression. Online avatars are of this kind — unnecessary but kind of fun.

But do you need one? Ask, can the job be done without it?

In the case of Nike, absolutely not. Nike needs a logo. How many shoes and shirts and pieces of sports equipment does it mark? At a glance, it identifies a hundred million products to billions of people in every nation, culture, and language on earth. Could that happen without a logo? It could not.

Many companies are like Nike, especially those with many products and competitors and locations. Apple, Starbucks, Ford, on and on.

Campbell’s needs a logo to distinguish its soup from lookalikes on crowded shelves. Campbell’s logo is a signature.

And so on.

But our thrift store. There is only one. It’s in the neighborhood. It has a name. It won’t be confused with something else. It’s where you shop for second-hand bargains. Occasional shoppers know it as the thrift store. Veteran shoppers know it as the Restored Blessings thrift store, which is different from the Restore thrift store across town.

What purpose would a logo serve here?

I’d say none.

But here’s where the line blurs. You have to write the name on the store front, on the Web page, on the stationery, and everywhere else. The written name looks like something — blocky, swashy, funky, whatever. So what it looks like becomes, by default, the logo, assuming that you write it the same every time.

This kind of logo — a consistently applied way of writing your name — conveys an understated sense of organization and professionalism, a good thing no matter what the enterprise, and always appropriate.

Do you need more than that?

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39 Responses to Does this need a logo?

  1. amy says:

    I would say that in many cases a wordmark is enough. Most financial institutions carry only this type of branding, and as long as it’s consistent, it can mark its territory . . . not quite as much as a logo, but enough to give someone the idea that there is solidity to it.

  2. Keith says:

    John, as I commented on in the earlier discussion about the thrift store, I think most businesses benefit from having a visual logo over a signature logo . . . including this thrift store.

    A visual logo can help telegraph a promise or state of mind that’s integral to the brand: the Playboy bunny, re: lifestyle/mindset . . . the NBC peacock, re: multi-color in a then-b/w TV world.

    A signature logo for this thrift store would not be working as hard as a visual logo would be. A visual logo, done well, can communicate one or more things to targeted consumers about the business that a signature logo cannot. On a billboard. On stationery. On price tags. On t-shirts. As a visual shorthand equivalent to an elevator speech.

    I guess I just disagree that “understated” is the best approach to take for most small businesses selling themselves with limited financial resources.

    I would try to develop a logo that helps convey the purpose or attitude of the brand, to help create rapid sympatico with both prospective and repeat customers that helps promote sales.

    Signature-type logos require more (and more expensive) advertising around them to convey a brand message beyond “reserved,” “exclusive,” or what have you.

    I’m sure a business can succeed due to other factors using either approach. But I would think that marketplace acceptance can be achieved fastest and most affordably if one can create a visual logo that works its hardest to help telegraph the unique selling proposition and/or “mindset” of the brand.


  3. Phyllis says:

    Well, I’ll have to chime in that I think a logo is always a good idea. Sometimes it’s more necessary than others (as you explained), but I think it’s always good to have one. In the case of the thrift store, there may eventually be other thrift stores (causing confusion). Or this one may want to branch out but still make it clear that its stores belong together. But at any rate, I don’t think it even matters whether there’s a defined reason or not. A business should always have a logo, in my opinion, just like it should have a name. Even when the logo is just the name in a consistent typestyle, I can’t think of any downside to having the logo. But I can think of downsides to not having one. If nothing else, a logo makes a business look more polished and professional. Not having one looks lazy or unprofessional, in my opinion.

  4. dj says:

    There is another relevant element to the question. Reading speed and mental processing speed are not the same. A logo can add more information to what the reader picks up through graphic communication — it becomes a form of “speed reading” in which concepts, ideas, and associations are added to the message that the reader receives. For logos with a “read time” of under a second, we can sometimes pack in 10-20 seconds worth of message.

  5. Tom Semmes says:

    So, John, what you are saying is that the thrift store doesn’t need a logo (which is either a signature or a cattle brand, as you call it), but since the store needs a name, and it is better to be consistent with the look of the name (the typeface, the color, the space btw lettering, etc.), then the place needs a signature — i.e., a logo. I am confused.

    • Valerie Soares says:

      Haha, great observation! I’d like to know the answer to this myself . . .

    • John McWade says:

      Strictly speaking, anything, consistently applied, can serve as a logo or identifier. It can be a signed name, a drawn image, colors, a pattern. It can be a musical riff; think here of Intel (bum-bum-bum-bum), or Monday Night Football. Lady Gaga’s “logo” is that she never looks the same twice!

      In the case of the thrift store, I’m not saying that it doesn’t need a graphical logo but that I can’t think of a reason that it does. And the logo I’m referring to is something more elaborate than just writing its name consistently.

  6. Mary says:

    Thanks for this description. I belong to a grassroots, non-profit organization and manage the website. The group name is on the site in text with just a little tweaking. The board decided we also needed a logo, so we had a contest, and now we have a much more complex image. I don’t hate it, but I didn’t think it was necessary. Wish I’d had this clarification before.

    I often end up on design-by-committee projects. I’m going to remember this for help with keeping things simple.

  7. Rob says:

    I’m hardly an authority figure since I am still only a student, but I would say if the client really wants a logo, regardless if one is necessary or not, then a logo is what they are going to get. That said, in this case I would say that a wordmark would be more appropriate than a logo.

  8. Just to start a company in the neighborhood, a little store, it is enough to start, based on the economic situation, with the name the owner wants to use as the first address in his address field (maybe “Mr. Smith”) or his summary of the products he sell/offers with the region/street he does (maybe “Kingston Flower Shop”) — doesn’t matter if he will sell it with an online-store — he starts, and when he is successful with his products/service, he feels it necessary to have a unique logo next to his name. Both parts will win by this way — the designer and the store owner. But what I except is the start of a big company as a daughter company of a big business — they have to start professionally by the first step — but that’s not what we talk about ;-) Kind regards, and sorry if I have mistakes in my words :-/ love BA ;-)

  9. Neil Myers says:

    I agree with almost everything in your post — I especially like the discussion of how essential a logo is to a company like Nike. But two things stick out to me.

    First, the difference between a logo and a word mark doesn’t much matter for the topic at hand. Both are ways of infusing information about your brand into your company’s name. Whether that is a distinctive way of writing your name or a fancy logo, the effect is the same.

    Second, I think all companies need that infusion of brand. Or, slightly more restrictively, all companies who find themselves doing any sort of marketing — which is almost every company I have seen. While your thrift store may not be L.L. Bean, they still would need to attract both donations and customers, yes?

    With a logo, or a word mark, they can tell their prospects so much about who they are. Compare Apple’s logo with IBM’s. Which is the friendly consumer brand, and which is the “we mean business” brand? Without a logo or word mark, would that be possible to ascertain?

  10. I use a logo for something even more basic. Before the business plan gets written or the website gets created, I create a logo. It says, “This idea is REAL!” And then I tack it up on the bulletin board. And most of these “real ideas” fizzle out for all sorts of practical reasons.

    A logo is like a team uniform or a flag. It symbolizes something bigger. It makes ideas real. Sometimes the logo is just a name or signature. treated to a nice font and color palette.

    • John McWade says:

      Good example. My experience here was with a startup preparing for its first trade show; I was phoned the week before and asked to create a logo and a brochure. Both came out well and did a good job, the customer was thrilled, and the comment afterward was, “thank you for making us exist.” Which is exactly what graphic design does; it makes visible that which others can only think or feel or imagine.

    • Jayne says:

      Team uniforms. Interesting. So let’s say your company uses a photograph as its “logo”on their website, brochures, etc. What would they use when they want embroidered shirts or caps?

      • Anne says:

        Hopefully the photo is of something reasonably iconic — a simple image of, say, a distinctive building, an expressive face, or a closeup of a relevant object, in which case the iconic image can be converted to a silhouette for embroidery or silk screening.

  11. Bud Wood says:

    As you say, a logo is typically beneficial. That’s because a logo is both an identity mechanism and a means of communication. Regardless of size, an organization that interfaces with the public needs to communicate with that public and can efficiently do that by identifying itself.

    I even have a personal logo. It’s my initials (scrawled by me) in a yellow-orange circle. I suppose most creators do use a logo.

  12. Brand: A name, logo, slogan, and/or design scheme associated with a product or service. Interesting definition. I think I am going to jump on the branding bandwagon.

    When it comes to that, anything done consistently can suffice. As mentioned, a logo, a consistent design, a consistent signature, the same colors, etc. All can serve to make a company, product or individual stand out. So, does everyone and everything need a logo? No.

    But we do need to make sure that ourselves, our company and/or our products are consistent when it comes to branding. Visual recognition is extremely import — Picasso, Peter Max, Rembrandt — all recognizable styles and can be considered personal branding.

    • John Driscoll says:

      I think I disagree with “anything done consistently can suffice.”

      Maybe anything done WELL consistently can suffice.

      A GOOD design, a GOOD, well-thought-out, consistent signature, the same WELL CHOSEN colors that fit the company and message.

      A poorly designed logo applied consistently across marketing collateral doesn’t “stand out.” It makes the company look unprofessional — consistently.

  13. Steve Teare says:

    I was once asked by a bank to consult on a logo redesign. In the meeting, I asked them, “Why do you think you need a new logo?” The answer was that their marketing guy thought they should have one. I asked them if it was causing problems, or if they were losing business because of it.

    They concluded that the project really was unnecessary. There are times when we should save clients from themselves instead of preying on their anxiety.

    • Karen Bennett says:

      Good point, Steve. David Airey makes a similar point in his book, Logo Design Love: “Why does your audience need a new brand identity? In answering this question, your client is forced to articulate why a new identity design is necessary.” (p. 46) He goes on to give an example why it might not be.

  14. Rambo Tribble says:

    For better or worse, having a logo is associated in the public consciousness with legitimacy and professionalism. Tapping into that perception is probably relevant to a thrift store, particularly in regard to soliciting donations.

    • John McWade says:

      Rambo, I’d say this is true on one condition: that it be a good logo. By good I mean beautiful, simple, clear, memorable. So much of what passes for logo design is complex, dissonant, confusing, trite, cliché, goofy, banal and otherwise wrong that it does more harm than good.

  15. Karen says:

    The store needs to present its name consistently in all media. While it may not need a brand akin to the Nike swoosh, the store needs something. Back in the day we called them wordmarks — a simple, carefully considered typographic representation of the store name.

  16. Randy Martin says:

    You talk about a signature.
    A signature is recognizable but not necessarily the same every time.

    I like to think of it as a stamp.
    It’s the same way every time.
    And mostly, it’s the same size.
    Especially in collateral and identity pieces.

  17. Brian says:

    Especially in retail, a logo does more than identify the store and set it apart from competitors. It also “sets the tone” for the store’s personality, and lets customers know what to expect when they come in (or when the logo/brand/name draws them in).

    A store with its name in a black, sans-serif font on a white background screams generic, cheap, leftovers. A funky script with bright colors tells me the store carries upscale or vintage goods. Primary colors tells me they carry mainly kids’ goods.

    So it may not need a graphic representation, but a logo is critical, whether it is consistent font and color, or something more complex.

  18. Skip Savage says:

    Logos get asked to do a lot, especially by company leaders. Why do some executives want their products, services, features and benefits conveyed in the logo?

    (Do they seriously think people want to spend precious time decoding a logo, when they have more important, more interesting things to do?)

    In my experience, people care about what an organization can do for them. They’re not interested in clever metaphors or mission statements in graphic form (or any form, for that matter). They dislike corporate communications.

    No doubt, a recognized logo can denote quality, belonging, or trust. But the job is done in a split-second glance.

    Therefore, logos need to be simple and clear, which argues for beautiful type and color first. A symbolic shape is optional.

    Local businesses need little more, I feel, and I agree with John.

    Finally, when it comes to marketing, businesses need to pour their heart and soul into what they do. That’s the best marketing on earth.

  19. A wordmark is a logo. Most logos are wordmarks. So, even if they create it in Times New Roman, they will have a logo. The question becomes does that wordmark align with who that store really is?

    The main purpose of a logo isn’t for people to look at the logo, it’s the story behind the logo. Companies that do not know their own story miss an important step. Just because it’s the only thrift store now doesn’t mean it will be tomorrow. That’s a growing industry.


  20. Cathy says:

    Here are some arguments for the logo:

    First, you say there isn’t another thrift store around to confuse someone with it, “except” for the Restore thrift store. This demonstrates that they do need something to help differentiate themselves from the other one.

    Second, the long title itself calls for the need for a quick identifier; consider the Yellow Pages listing.

    Also, I recall that there was a request to emphasize the spirituality of the Restored Blessings thrift store. A simple, iconic cross could achieve this, and differentiate the business from other business. The spiritual emphasis could actually be a selling/marketing point.

    A final note, for creating a logo:

    First: There is no need to tell a whole story in the logo. Everyone won’t get it, and it’s not the purpose of a logo. The purpose is for a quick identifier . . . pick the most important element and simplify it as much as possible.

    Second: Be smart about who is making the final decisions for design. A committee of ten inexperienced logo designers will have ten inexperienced logo opinions. They can supply some good input, but an experienced logo designer should be forefront in making the final decision.

  21. I’ve worked for years with only four types of wordmark and logotypes to consider: written letters, modifed written letters, either of those with an ancillary device (a graphic), or a graphic only, the selection of which depends on role and requirement.

  22. Elmas says:

    A logo is a good way to differentiate yourself. But you have to ask first: differentiate from whom?

  23. James says:

    Although logos are a good idea in most cases, I agree with John that in some situations a logo isn’t really a priority.

    One of my design professors in college (many years ago) gave an example. He said to imagine two businesses — 1) a bank, and 2) a farmer selling eggs in front of his farmhouse. The bank has a professional logo and a sign made of marble. The farmer had no logo and a sign scrawled on cardboard.

    Although their design choices are polar opposites, they are both appropriate solutions.

    While this is obviously an extreme example, my professor used it to point out that design must be appropriate to the situation, and the designer must use common sense when evaluating the value of an identity system to a particular business.

  24. oeilgauche says:

    This is the same exact question I asked myself when I had to create my own identity: lettering or pictogram? After some thinking, I reached the same conclusion as you did: as long as I didn’t plan to brand products I should stick to lettering, as it is much more explicit, which makes it easier to build name recognition.

    However, if you also have to build an online presence, you have to go further: you have to create avatars for your social network, favicons for your website(s), maybe an icon for an app you’ll develop, and so on. For those, you need at least a “condensed” version of your signature that is still fairly legible and coherent with your identity. In this case, you may want to go with a pictogram from the get-go or have two versions of your logo. I went for the latter, as you can see if you browse my website, but I don’t know if there is an universal solution.

  25. jamila says:

    I think if you’re going to make the name the logo, make sure that the typeface, colors, and everything make the name outstanding and recognizable. If that’s going to become your logo, make the most of it. Also make sure it is far different looking than the Restored store across town.

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