Logo Madness: Plagiarism, Personality and Simplicity

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The past fortnight has brought some boffo changes to the world of global logos and corporate identity systems. First, the 2020 Olympic committee decided to jettison their fairly distinctive logo for, well not being distinctive enough and subject to accusations of plagiarism. Then there were the rebranding efforts of two of the largest and most high profile organizations in country, Verizon and Google. As much as each is significant in its own right, they all present a lesson or two in modern branding.

Beginning with the Olympic logo, you have to feel some sympathy for the designer, assuming that nothing was actually plagiarized (and as of this writing no evidence has turned up that would support such a claim). As our design team points out, the would-have-been 2020 Olympic logo uses basic forms and shapes common across many visual systems. Given that it is impossible to check all logos, especially obscure ones from halfway around the planet, how much “blame” can really be leveled at the designer? Indeed, it gets at the heart of what constitutes originality. Take, for instance, the 1992 and the 2000 Olympic logos. They share a large number of elements—from color to form. Obviously the 2000 creator knew of the 1992 logo. Should we then also refer to the 2000 logo as a copy?

It seems that the question of what constitutes original work could become an even thornier issue in the coming years. This brings us to the next logo—Verizon. Verizon is just the latest of an endless parade of corporations “simplifying” their logos to make it as “clean” as possible. What this means in practice is that more and more corporate identities are so “simple” that they have become simplistic with little to no distinguishing elements, making them, as we argued last year, homogenous “little boxes on the hillside.” We look forward to the time when this simplicity-to-the-point-of-simplistic logo design trend runs its course, just as the trend of including swoosh-like forms to ride the coattails of Nike’s success did in the 1980s and 90s.

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Google’s new logo, while admittedly simple, has some color and personality. In fact, it’s so friendly we would have liked to have invited it over for a Labor Day BBQ, if Google weren’t an incorporeal entity, that is. We suspect that the disarming friendliness and approachability of the new Google logo is in fact a masterstroke as the search behemoth approaches total monopolistic domination with its current accelerating 67% desktop and 83% mobile search market share. And this brings us to the final lesson. While “simplicity” and “cleanliness” may look slick on the corner of a webpage, it’s the expression of a brand’s personality that should always be at the heart of a logo. Or, perhaps in Google’s case, the personality they want to project to the world. There is no cold, calculating simplicity for Google, what with their slanted “e” at the end. It’s sort of like the logo equivalent of a wink, even though the joke may be on us. They’ve got a personality so cute and cuddly that we would never be nervous about handing over our most sensitive personal data to them to unleash precisely targeted offers to buy more stuff that we will be powerless to resist. If we think of it in terms of economic stimulus vs. ensuing default, now that’s a brand friend we can trust.

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