Walk down a city street and logos have a clear effect: Hundreds will wait outside a glass and concrete building to buy products stamped with little apples on them, travelers will stop to eat at a restaurant emblazoned with a large “M” even when local cuisine is nearby, and consumers will prefer one shirt over another because of a small flag insignia on the front. Top business logos communicate complex ideas in one glance: excellence, good prices, ethics, taste. Navigating any modern business district has become much easier with these markers; each of them is iconic, each of them communicates the same sentiment: “Shop here! We are the best!” Though their outward appearance might differ, top business logos share two design elements that distinguish them from amateur ones: rigid, professional fonts and unique, somewhat esoteric images.
Fonts enable a business to set a tone long before a customer walks through the door. For example, Hot Topic’s jagged script appeals to edgy, young patrons whereas Brooks Brothers’ elegant cursive lettering attracts an older, more established clientele. Surprisingly, most Fortune 500 companies prefer a simple, blocky, professional script with few frills and maximum legibility. By using rather plain fonts, these top companies garner respect: if 3M started using the same font as a kids’ toy store, it would not maintain its professional image for very long. As a result, suppliers and competitors would try to take advantage of the company, the overwhelmingly male customer base would leave, and the business would quickly fall into disarray. Even though professionalism is a key trait that enterprises try to project, this does not forbid them from incorporating iconic, somewhat whimsical images into their logo.
A creative logo seems counter to mainstream corporate philosophy: pictures do not sell products; a professional, bland, sterile logo does. No frills, just business. If this were truly the case, however, then images used by companies like Apple and Disney would be a terrible handicap; in reality, they are quite a boon (especially given their industries). Top business logos juxtapose stark, plain fonts with playful, sometimes cryptic pictures that seem irrelevant to the business in question. AT&T, for example, shows a globe with blue stripes next to its lettering. It has nothing to do with telephones and telegraphs, but it does make the logo more interesting visually and keeps a customer’s attention for that extra half-second needed for it to register as something other than visual noise. Quite simply, creative images stand out to customers and are more appealing than cold, austere lettering meant to impress other businessmen in a boardroom.
Top business logos are distinct from amateur ones because they can walk the fine line between playful and professional; too many small businesses stray in either direction and do not receive the benefits of being taken seriously yet grabbing attention. A customer could completely miss a serious logo because it blends in with nearby mom-and-pop shops while a silly logo could cause them to giggle or even scoff because it lacks professionalism and polish. Tapping into the top business formula is a benefit to any business, big or small, that wants to increase its market share, visibility, and profitability because it humanizes a company and projects a professional image.