Can good design overcome bad behavior?
By Al Davis, VP of Creative Services at CRT/tanaka
As part of branding projects we often have to create a new logo. The client will pronounce the things they would like the logo to portray, which usually reads as a list of positive attributes such as; trustworthy, forward thinking, intelligent, strong, and so on. And although there are some bits of knowledge to pick up from such information, it is essentially missing where the true meaning of logos are derived.
Let’s look at some logos, what the client/designer hoped to represent, and what meanings they conjure up now.
The swastika is an ancient religious symbol of luck and prosperity. Its name comes from the Sanskrit “svasti,” meaning well-being. Unfortunately, one client’s actions have wrapped this geometric shape with a different message that renders further usage prohibitive.
“Designed in a green and yellow sunflower pattern, the logo represents energy in its many forms.” The symbol itself speaks to the environment and sunny days, however the company’s actions have turned the mark into a symbol synonymous with carelessness, irresponsibility, and not so sunny days for people and planet.
“So we tried to develop a new logo that would reflect the dynamic company Enron has become. It will be recognized as the logo of a company leading the energy industry into the next century, into the next millennium.” Kenneth Lay, chairman of Enron. Later to be rechristened the “crooked E,” it now represents the standard for corporate fraud and corruption. Whoops. (Still a beautifully executed design)
“The ellipse outline indicates the company’s global expansion and the stylized, slanted ‘H’ is symbolic of two people (customer and company) shaking hands.” The Hyundai Motor Company began to manufacture models with its own technology in 1988 and the cars were often perceived as unreliable and undrivable due to their build quality.” A dedication to changing its manufacturing and improving the end product has resulted in a complete turnaround for what the very same logo represents today. “Hyundai Motor Co., … won its second North American Car of the Year award in four years…” to add to a long list of other achievements.
And one of my all time favorites that few may recognize:
Lucas: This is the logo of Lucas Electronics, who today states they are “a leading force in the automotive marketplace, delivering premium quality products throughout the world.” Could be.
I became familiar with Lucas products while working as a mechanic on Triumph and Norton motorcycles in the 1960s, or thereabouts. Lucas had supplied all the electrical components for these bikes for years, and the quality of the components gave rise to an entire new tagline developed by the end-user: “Lucas. The Prince of Darkness.”
A few other monickers that were stuck on the name Lucas: Get home before dark; The patent holder for the short circuit; Inventor of the self-dimming headlamp; and lastly (although there are plenty more), one that unfortunately didn’t come to fruition: If Lucas made guns, wars would not start.
When all these logos were first developed I’m sure the client requested many of the same qualities that people ask for today. But that’s not how a logo works. Paul Rand (one of the century’s greatest designers) states in Design, Form and Chaos, “A logo derives meaning from the quality of the thing it symbolizes, not the other way around. A logo is less important than the product it signifies; what it represents is more important than what it looks like.”
Indeed. Good design cannot overcome bad behavior.