Saturday, July 15, 2006

The Philosophy of Logo Design

Apple, VW, McDonalds, Nike, Shell
Why are these among the best, most recognizable logos in the world? Put simply: They can be burned on to the butt of a cow.

While "branding" has come to mean a large-scale marketing philosophy, let's not forget where the word "brand" comes from. One of the things that makes these logos so powerful is that they are simple without being simplistic; even tiny and without color, they are easy to identify.

Apple, VW, McDonalds, Nike, Shell
In the larger sense, branding is an attempt to garner an emotional response to one's products and/or services. This may include specific color schemes, design styles, advertising focus, research and development, even hiring practices. The success of a company is determined by how well they empathize and interact with their market, which is an extremely complex and long-term process. I just want to get that out of the way because this is not an article about branding in the larger sense. This is an article about the logo.

It would be hard to argue that a company's success is determined by how well their logo is designed, that simply isn't the case. It is the case, however, that quite nearly every successful company has a well designed and often iconic logo.*

Humble Beginnings

Levi'sLogo-centric branding is actually an extremely new phenomenon. Some of our most beloved logos were introduced years after the companies were founded. The Rolex Watch Co. was in business for more than a decade before they registered the now-famous crown. Almost 30 years after he started making shoes, Adi Dassler added 3 stripes to the design, but it took another 22 years for adidas to give us the Trefoil. Levi's distinctive red tab made its first appearance 63 years after Levi Strauss and David Jacobs patented their unique design for making pants.

These days, of course, the process works in reverse. A logo is typically the first concrete evidence that a company even exists. Most entrepreneurs have a plan for their business cards before they have a plan for their business. Something about having a logo makes a business plan feel official (even if, as it happens so often, it is doomed to fail). The logo has become such a ubiquitous necessity that entire companies devote themselves almost exclusively to turning out thousands of logos every month.

So, since we can no longer take the time to learn our market before conceptualizing a logo and since the world is already flooded with symbolic imagery, how does one decide on a logo that actually stands out in the market?

I have no idea. Remember, your branding philosophy will determine how successful you are, not your logo. However, there are some extremely important principles to remember when you decide on the face of your company.

The Great Misconception

The generally believed first-rule of logo design is that your logo should represent your company. If you are a plumber, you should try to incorporate pipes or water. If you make yachts, use the outline of a boat. A DJ should use a record. Are you in the sports industry? Make your logo look fast.

This idea is almost totally wrong. What does a bunny have to do with naked women? What can I learn about a car company when I see a stylized bowtie? What does a peacock say about a television station? Nothing. Nothing. And nothing. Your marketing strategy, not your logo, will define your business. If you are doing it right, your market will make the association no matter what your logo looks like.† It simply has to feel right.

Lazy 15This is one of the most hard-to-accept design doctrines, probably because it seems so counter-intuitive. The point is to create an iconic image that people will associate to your larger message. Going back to my original example, what does a rotated "15" have to do with herding cattle? Nothing. But when would-be cattle rustlers see that symbol, they understand, "This cow belongs to the Lazy 15 Ranch and if you steal it you will be shot by John Thomas." That is branding at it's finest.

BPSome companies, in fact, have completely changed their corporate image by deliberately using a design that defies conventional wisdom. Of the myriad companies who have tried re-branding campaigns in recent years, perhaps none have been as successful as BP. In 2000, BP radically changed its logo from the decades-old green shield to a completely new sunburst design (affectionately referred to as the "helios" mark). Aside from being unrepresentative of a company who's focus had been petroleum for nearly 100 years, the flowery design looks more like something one would expect from an organization like Greenpeace.‡ The new logo was introduced as BP changed its marketing focus toward its more environmentally friendly energy policies. BP understood this simple principle: your logo should represent your message, not send it.


Perhaps there is no better way to illustrate this principle than through the wordmark. Since it is nothing more than the company's name, having the wordmark send any kind of specific message is difficult. In time, this will only strengthen its associative power. Your marketing message (not the logo's look) will be exclusively responsible people's emotional reaction to your company.

Here is a frequently used illustration of the wordmark's effectiveness. These are six world famous companies:

Disney - Miller - Panasonic
Coca-Cola - Ford - Spalding

On their own, there is nothing to distinguish one from the other. However, displayed like this:

Disney, Miller, Panasonic, Coca-Cola, Ford, Spalding
...each company comes to life. I'm willing to bet you didn't even read the names of all six companies until you saw their logos. Never underestimate the power of the wordmark. I admit, burning a cow with an intricately created "Coca-Cola" brand would be downright cruel, but that sad image doesn't diminish from the strength of that particular logo. When designed correctly (i.e. not simply typing the company name in an existing font, but creating a unique font in an appropriate style), the wordmark can be an impressive image.

Get a Designer

Which brings us to our last principle: Get a designer. The most oft-neglected step, especially for small, start-up, or local companies. Whether because of money constraints, time limitations, or simply an aversion to the creative indistry, too many companies shortchange their own image. Many decide to design their own logo, some will farm out the design to one of the aforementioned logo companies, and others will rely on someone under- (and in some cases un-) qualified to design a logo at all. Like any other part of a business, graphic design is best left to a specialist.

Take your time when deciding on a logo. Insist on several drafts with various examples. Have fun with it and allow your designer some creative leniency. You're going to be burning this image on a lot of cow butts, it may as well be professionally created.

Breaking the "Rules"

Finally, it would be naive to think that every great logo is able to be turned into a hot-iron brand. In fact, some of the best logos are far too intricate. These logos are based on a more traditional "Coat of Arms" design. Generally, coat-of-arms logos denote more class than symbol logos. They are much more elaborate and sometimes more colorful than their symbolic counterparts, but can generate the same types of emotional response.

Whatever final product you end up with, remember to treat your logo with near-parental care. Ideas drive marketing campaigns. Don't expect your logo to sell itself and certainly don't expect your logo to generate business all by itself. Build it a home, give it some room to grow, and surround it with positive influences. Slowly (very slowly) your logo may just begin to stand on its own. If you're lucky, your logo will come to symbolize not just your specific company, but your actual business philosophy.

Take one more look at those original logos and think about their humble beginnings. Apple, Volkswagen, McDonalds, Nike, Shell. Without thier long-term branding campaigns, those images mean nothing. What does an apple have to do with computers? How could a stylized "M" possibly make me hungry? And what is that silly orange shape, anyway? Now, however, they stand tall and proud. Those silly, unrelated shapes perfectly embody a grand message without saying a single word.

I'm going to get a burger.


*Not every major company has a good logo. Notable exceptions might include Berkshire Hathaway or Group 1 Automotive, both Fortune 500 companies – though it should be noted that neither company actually use their own logo to advertise their business or perform their services. MySpace is another wildly successful company with a remedial logo, though I suspect a design team at News Corp. is hard at work redesigning, modernizing, and web2.0-izing the original.

†Though almost all major companies have avoided product-specific imagery within their logos, there are also notable exceptions to this rule including Burger King, the NBA, and New Line Cinema.

‡It's interesting to note that BP and Greenpeace have recently set aside some of their differences to actually work together on some issues. Regardless of where you stand politically or how you feel about either organization, this may be the greatest evidence that BP's re-branding has been a massive success.

One final note. If you are happy with your logo and need information on branding, I would direct you to The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding. This may not be the best book on branding ever written (maybe it is?), but it contains essential information that many small companies (and even a lot of large companies) completely neglect. I highly recommend it.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

A Guide to OS X Software for Switchers

I HAVE YET TO SEE a Switcher's Guide that actually focuses on the Switcher. Most seem more concerned with listing a few personal favorite programs or touting some of the wonderful features of OS X itself. My goal is to simply outline those applications that are not only the most useful, but have direct bearing on the life of those who have recently made the jump from Windows. I will also include links to several Mac-friendly websites as well a few extremely helpful keystrokes.

If you have recently switched, let me say welcome to the world of Mac. I hope this list will help you discover the inner workings of your new machine. If you're planning on a switch, I hope this article will be a useful informational resource. If you are a long-time user, please feel free to comment below to add your own favorite applications.

Let's start with the basics. These first few are already on your computer.

System PreferencesSystem Preferences
(In Your Applications Folder)
That's right, I said System Preferences. Most of us Mac users are so familiar with System Preferences that we simply neglect to mention it. Over the next year, you will tweak, configure, and adjust your settings until your computer is uniquely you. You will immediately change things like your Desktop & Screen Saver, but eventually you'll take advantage of more detailed settings like Network and Sharing. There are even add-ons (some of which I will mention below) that will add additional features. Put simply, nothing will be more beneficial to your switching process than familiarizing yourself with your System Preferences.

Activity MonitorActivity Monitor
(In Your Utilities Folder)
There is no better way to see what's going on. So helpful, in fact, that I keep one click away at all times. I started making it a habit back when I only had 256 MB of RAM, but would be trying to simultaneously run Photoshop, Illustrator, Dreamweaver, and Safari (still my favorite browser, but what a memory hog!). More than being interesting to watch which programs are eating away at your resources, you can also force-quit any program that is giving you fits or that you are simply not using. Pay attention and you'll see some programs and even some badly written widgets draining your CPU.

Disk UtilityDisk Utility
(In Your Utilities Folder)
Windows users are so used to spending the time fixing their computer that the lack of disk-fixing utilities on a Mac can be a little frustrating. (This is usually where you would read a diatribe on how stable Apple computers are and how much Windows sucks. Well, that's dumb and I'm not going to do it.) Disk Utility to the rescue. As your computer gets older, you'll probably "Repair Disk Permissions" a few times and may even have to "Repair Disk." In any case, this is the basic disk-fixum program. There are more complete programs out there, but you'll find those in time.

(In Your Utilities Folder)
That's right, boys and girls, OS X is a UNIX-based operating system. "What?!?," you say. "Why haven't I heard this before?" I know, I know, it's a shock. Well, this one might be a duh, but it's important to point out. If, after making the switch, you find yourself missing the command-prompt, don't forget that it's always accessible through the Terminal.

Now on to the downloads...

Stuffit ExpanderStuffit Expander, FREE (Deluxe Version $29.99)
This should probably be your first download. You will have learned this the hard way if you've already switched. For years, .sit has been the file-compression of choice for a huge amount of companies who write software for the Mac. I don't actually know why. Personally, I prefer .zip to .sit and would much rather see a .dmg file than either. But that doesn't change the fact that someday soon, you're going to download a .sit and have no way to open it.

Flip4MacFlip4Mac FREE
The only way to watch WMV files online. I don't mean that figuratively. I mean, this really is the only way to watch WMV files online. Since Microsoft has officially stopped updating Media Player for the Mac, this Quicktime plugin has now become a necessity. Unfortunately, as of the writing of this article, the Universal version that will work with an Intel Mac is still in beta testing, which means you can't get it unless you, ahem, know somebody.

AdiumAdium FREE (Please Donate)
This is one of my favorite programs and is certainly one of my most used. Adium is an instant messaging application. Unlike iChat, Adium supports AIM, ICQ, Jabber, Google Talk, Yahoo!, Gadu Gadu, and more. It's also skinable and customizable - there are literally hundreds of add-ons available and more are added every day. Here are a couple of my favorite to get you started: Here and Here.
Alternatives: Proteus, Fire, Psi (Jabber only)

AcquisitionAcquisition FREE with Limited Restrictions (Single User $17.99, Family Pack $25.99)
A must. The best P2P program written for the Mac and probably the best P2P program on Earth. You can see the features for yourself on the website, but of particular note is the insanely well done iTunes integration and support for BitTorrent files. Best of all, no spam, spyware, or generally annoying behavior so prevalent in P2P programs.
Alternatives: Poisoned, iSwipe

PagesPages $79 (Includes Keynote - Free 30 Day Trial)
This may seem like a shameless plug for Apple, but I assure you it is not. To be honest, I didn't want to use Pages. I'd been using Microsoft Word for so many years that learning a new program just seemed like a waste of time (unlike many, I see nothing morally wrong with using Microsoft products). One day, on a whim, I tried Pages on a new project. I was hooked within minutes. I cannot stress enough how much better this program is designed than Word. My wife had a similar experience and it took no time at all to wean ourselves almost entirely of Office (we have no need for spreadsheets in my house). If you want to experience Apple software design at its best, use Pages. Trust me.

TransmitTransmit $29.95 (Free to Use With Restrictions)
Hands down, the best FTP program ever designed by anyone. Period. I don't know what else to say. Worth every penny.
Alternatives: Fetch, Cyberduck

Making OS X even easier to use...

CornerClickCornerClick FREE (Please Donate)
I don't know how I got along before CornerClick. Simply put, CornerClick allows you to assign specific commands to each corner of the screen. For example, if I command-click my lower right corner, Acquisition starts up, but if I right click down there, Transmit starts up. I can shift-click my lower left corner to start a batch-upload. With Corner Click, the Dock becomes an afterthought. It's one of those add-ons that is so well designed, it makes you wonder why Apple didn't build it directly into OS X to begin with.

TextpanderTextpander (now TextExpander) FREE... er... I mean $29.95

I couldn't work without Textpander. It automatically pastes snippets of text when you enter certain keystrokes. It's totally customizable and lives up in the menu bar. I use it constantly when writing in HTML, which requires a lot of mundane retyping. Textpander used to be free (actually, "Donationware"), but was recently bought by who are now charging $30. So I continue to use the now unsupported Textpander (I like the old icon better anyway).

JumpcutJumpcut FREE
Jumpcut is an active history of your clipboard. It saves the last several copied items and lives in the menu bar. Jumpcut comes in extremely handy, especially if you copy and paste a lot of text. It should be noted that Quicksilver (below) can accomplish the same thing, but it does so with more keystrokes.

QuicksilverQuicksilver FREE
The best and most beautiful program that is totally impossible to describe. At first, it acts like a simple (albeit gorgeous) launcher program. But Quicksilver is much more than that. It is designed to make everything you do easier and more fluid. It is also highly addictive. I highly recommend it.

Text Editors... Since those of us who use text editors, especially for programming, have such wildly different tastes, I will include details for some of the major editors available...

TextMateTextMate €39 (30 Day Trial)
By far my favorite text editor. In fact, I'm writing this entry in TextMate right now. TextMate is designed with multi-file projects in mind, but is clean and streamlined enough to work on a single file.

SubEthaEditSubEthaEdit $35 (30 Day Trial)
Probably the smartest editor in the list. While SubEthaEdit can be used as a simple text editor, it is made specifically for collaborative projects. Several people can work simultaneously on the same file without interrupting workflow for any individual user. It's genius. If I were a collaborative programmer, I would probably use this app exclusively.

TextWranglerTextWrangler FREE
The ugliest of the bunch, but don't let that fool you. TextWrangler is so insanely filled with options and features that it constantly impresses. This is probably the most widely used full-featured text editor for the Mac. I used it exclusively until fell in love with TextMate. And free is the best price possible.

SmultronSmultron FREE (Please Donate)
My favorite free text editor, mostly because it has the best icon on the planet. I keep this one handy because it supports tabs (several files open in a single window). It's small, opens quickly, and doesn't require a lot of system resources to run. I love it.

Just for fun...

This was literally the first thing I installed when we bought our new computer. UNO changes the look and feel of OS X so that every program looks "Aqua." Since some programs are "Brushed Metal," and some are "Aqua," UNO comes to the rescue by unifying all of them. I even went so far as to add the UNO theme to Adium.

M-Beat FREE ($10 for a License)
While still yet to be released as a Universal Binary, there just isn't a better companion for iTunes. Use single keystrokes to Play/Pause, display info and album cover when the song changes, completely customize the menu bar display, and more. Several other programs can accomplish any one of these features (SizzlingKeys, hotTunes, Synergy, etc.), but M-Beat is the prettiest, smallest, and easiest to use.


In the comments below, Fernando Lucas points us to Menuet. After using it briefly, I may be a convert. It's $12.95, so M-Beat is still a great free alternative, but Menuet seems to be the real deal. I'll test it for a few days and may edit the article accordingly - which will mean adding Growl as well (which I should probably do anyway). Anyway, thanks Fernando!

CandyBarCandyBar $12.95 (Free Trial)
Now that you have the most beautiful operating system, you might as well start having fun with it. CandyBar lets you change almost any icon you can find and supports iContainers, which can change system icons universally. Currently, I've replaced all of my default icons with the beautiful Agua series created by David Lanham.

PixadexPixadex $18.95 (Free Trial)
The perfect companion to CandyBar, Pixadex is to icons what iTunes is to music. When you start collecting those icons from all over the internet, you better have a way to organize them.

I couldn't survive without these Widgets...

RADMovieTimesRADMovieTimes FREE
Exactly what the Dashboard is designed to do. This little widget grabs the movie listings and times from every theatre near you. This is so much easier than looking it up in the Newspaper or calling and waiting through a recording.

TV TrackerTV Tracker FREE
A TV Guide at your finger tips. We use this widget constantly. You have total freedom to choose which channels are displayed so you aren't bothered by what's happening on the Gameshow Network, because, really, who cares?

NotePadNotePad $7.95 (Free 10 Day Trial)
One of the few widgets that actually cost, this thing is indispensable. It is designed better than most notepad applications, but since it lives on the Dashboard, it stays out of the way and automatically saves your notes.

And finally...

ParallelsParallels $49.99 (Free Trial)
Last, but most certainly not least, I give you Parallels. If there is a Windows program that you simply must have, this is your answer. Parallels is a virtual desktop for the Mac that can run Windows applications. Between this and Boot Camp (which is free, though a bit more clunky), you really have no more excuses. Get out there and get yourself a Mac!


This is by no means a complete list of every program you will need as you start your journey into your Mac, nor will you likely use each and every one of these apps. This isn't even a complete list of the programs I use most. No, this is a stepping stone. Enjoy your new computer and explore for yourself. You will find your own favorite applications in no time.

As promised, here are a few must-know keystrokes (please remember that your "Apple" key is actually called a "Command" key):

Switch Programs: command+Tab (hold command, click Tab to cycle)
Send to Trash: command+backspace (called the "delete" key)
Force Quit: command+option+Esc (basically the same as alt+ctrl+del)
Screen Capture: command+control+shift+4 (sends to the clipboard)
Screen Capture (Whole Screen): command+control+shift+3 (sends to the clipboard)
Bullet Character "•": option+8

And a list of wonderful Mac-centric websites:

Mac OS X Hints
Cool OS X Apps
Dashboard Widgets

I hope this helps. Have fun.


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