Some of the Best Logos Are Free

I was driving the other day where I live near Bradenton, Florida, when I noticed a sign by the side of the road: this nicely designed logo (upper left example). You just don’t see well-designed logos very often, and certainly not on signs. But there it was.

And so when I returned home, I looked it up and found that a women’s resource center (sorry, but I was ignorant here) is a community center where women can go to get assistance for all kinds of domestic circumstances, such as spousal abuse, sexual assault, legal assistance, health care, and even housing. I was impressed, on several different levels.

The fact that these centers exist attests to the generosity and concern of local communities to help women in need and offer support however they can, all for practically no money. Plus they provide for their own services to the community by offering education about their programs in meetings at schools and colleges and other municipal places, making their services known. That’s one reason I was impressed.

So I went online and did a search for other women’s resource centers around the country and their logos, on a hunch that maybe other centers’ logos were just as well-designed as this one in Bradenton. And I was mildly surprised to see that the vast majority of them have very nice logos. Well put together with clean lines and well thought out imagery.

But I think I was most impressed with the thought that these logos were done by good designers pro bono. That the designers were asked to do a design for this kind of service—and knowing the worth of them—more than probably decided to do them for nothing, just for the honor of being asked.

I personally have not done any pro bono work such as this, but I have done free work just for being asked, and I can say it evokes a certain pride in having done that. Here, in these logos pictured above, I can only imagine the kind of gratitude given on both sides of the transaction.

This points up something I’ve noticed over the years: that if given the opportunity to do a design for a worthy cause, the client will usually allow design freedom, within limits, and the designer‘s best work will show.

My first reaction to the top left example was the image of the “W” as a flower. Nicely thought out, and the Optima font goes well with it. I’ll give this one an “A”.

The top right example, for a center in Orlando, reminded me of something one of my college roommates would’ve put together. The image in the logo looks like three figures linked as in dance because it has that kind of built-in motion to it. But it’s clean and concise and reads well, even with the Gotham font that’s used, which gives it a slight generic feel. But it gets an “A-”.

The bottom left example, showing a much more casual approach, is for a center in Winona, Minnesota. The three letterforms—done on the sweet side of the color wheel—read OK (the “R” less so) are fairly well-done, but the accompanying type to the right feels a little off and too separated. This gets a “B-”.

The last example, done for a center in Greensboro, NC, is quite well-done and has a figure formed out of the well of the “O”, promoting a feeling of freedom. I like this one a lot, including the fine serif font which gives the design a real dignity. This gets an “A+”.

Fine work all around here.

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Evolution of a Logo

Readers: let me say that Hurricane Irma impacted us to a great deal down here in Florida. We were without power for almost a full week. Therefore, this is the first column after the hurricane.

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A logo, being the face of a company on paper, TV, and the Internet, would normally be something that should stand for a long time. But because times change, and the way some companies do business changes with the times, a company’s logo can and probably should change along with that new model.

Few companies can say they still do business the way they always did. Coca-Cola is one of the few whose core business did not change in over 100 years. They became diversified in their product line to be sure. But then of course the familiar logo had already become ensconced in the mind of millions before any of that tree grew new branches.

RadioShack (now without a space between the two words) has been around for 96 years and its logo has changed 14 times since its inception. (It was always called “Radio Shack” except for a few short years in the early ’70s when it was called “Allied Radio Shack”, a result of an acquisition.) In fact, it changed logo designs ten times since 1963.

Of course, RadioShack has been trying desperately to stay what it used to be back in the ’60s. Long a retail store where one could go to buy all things radio (who does that anymore?), they sold everything from TV antennas to small gadgets that only radio people or audiophiles could identify. They sold parts to make crystal radios and kits to make your own TV set.

But in always searching for new clientele—and never wanting to lose their older customers—they felt the need to ever look fresh by updating their logo time and again. But regardless, they’ve filed for bankruptcy more than once, also this year. And they’re still here along with their 15th logo.

I never did understand that off-center “R” inside the circle, their design from 1995. Perhaps they wanted to distinguish it from a ®, the standard registration mark. I don’t know. But this time around they kept it, using a Gotham font. It has a bland look, somewhat corporate in feel, and the colors they’ve chosen—that washed-out red and seal brown—have come under some criticism from all over. One critique I read referred to the brown choice as “shit” brown. Whatever. To me the color scheme looks like a committee compromise somewhere between Gap-ish and Pottery Barn. And that’s kind, coming from me.

The other logo highlighted this week is Spotify’s design, an update from it’s original incarnation. This music and video streaming service is only eight years old (eleven on paper) and it’s changed already.

Spotify was founded in Sweden and is still headquartered in Stockholm. The logo designers stated that the “sound waves” signify streaming, and that first design has a funky look to it with a bouncing “o” to accentuate the streaming action.

The new design keeps the streaming waves, but puts them in a separate space, a circle, and that allows an adaptation of it to be used as a logo for an app. I had always wondered just why the those waves appeared to be off-angle. But in looking at the original design, the angle is there, the waves looking as though they’re being transmitted to a satellite, which works very well in essence. So Spotify has cleaned up their design to look more contemporary.

RadioShack, on the other hand, hasn’t pulled it together yet after 96 years. And the off-center “R” still makes no sense to me.

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