Transparency in Logo Design

As strikes and protests crop up all over the western world, it’s hard not to question many of the systems we have become accustomed to. The world is in upheaval due to financial crises, recession, distrust of leaders, and more. Now is the perfect time to discuss honesty and integrity in the business that is logo design.


This topic came to mind recently as I saw some logos by Victor Hertz, a Swedish graphic designer. In his latest work, he presents logos that throw off all the good PR and public image of certain power brands. He re-creates logos that are raw and honest, and which truthfully communicate what the brand really represents: seeing into the soul of the brand without those rose tinted glasses.


For example, this design for Camel Cigarettes is quite stirring if a bit obvious:



This logo re-design for Facebook is very true, and it definitely made me smile (not all truths are necessarily bad):



There are of course more: McDonalds becomes McDiabetes, Absolut Vodka becomes Absolut Vomit and so on. The intention is clear – truth is hard to hear and quite often rather hard to sell. Is this why truth is generally avoided or stretched in advertising? Well, yes.


Hertz’ designs have reminded me of my love for Adbusters and the like. Thinking along these lines has also made me wonder if company logos were based on honest reflections of the company, would businesses finally take an honest look at their practices. This notion of re-creating logos based on truth and sincerity is quite intriguing.


If all logos were designed to honestly reflect a brand or company’s character and what it stands for, how would this change design, and indeed business?


Transparency would be disastrous for companies like Coca Cola and Nike, whereas it would likely have very little effect on the cigarette industry as the boxes already state quite clearly that smoking can cause cancer.


Untruthful advertising and dishonest PR are fuelled by logos. It starts with the branding and therefore it starts with the logo designer. But how do you create logos that are honest or as-honest-as-possible without sacrificing your business or client base?


What should be the design industry’s role in telling the stories of businesses?

This is a big question, and really could have several answers but what it comes down to is this: logo designers create the image that will represent the creature that is a company or brand.


Firstly, it’s important to note here that as a designer, you are not responsible for the ethics or morality of other people’s businesses. Likewise, excess vodka consumption will induce vomiting, but this does not mean the company lacks good values in what it produces. It simply means consumers of Absolut ought to drink a bit more responsibly.


Designers first and foremost must have integrity. You must know what you stand for and where your lines are. Do not cross them. Be aware of your limits and ensure you communicate them.


With this in mind it’s also very important to gain insight before accepting a client or job. Be sure you know what the company stands for. If it conflicts with your values, decide whether you should pass this particular job off to someone else or if the job in question will have value for you (your portfolio, experience, and CV). Assess whether you can justify working with a company you are uncertain of.


But of course, as a professional designer there must be a point when you knuckle down and do your job to the best of your ability. Once a contract has been agreed to, dedication to your craft must win out.


Every successful logo designer must focus on creating a great design first and foremost, one that is memorable, effective, and achieves the intended goals for the company. This is part of designer ethics.


Ideally the designer’s role in telling the stories of businesses should be to create a recognisable symbol for a company, and hopefully one that is universally recognisable (think Apple, or the Nike swoosh) and one that embodies the soul of the company. This isn’t always possible of course, but it would be a very interesting world indeed if logos were to more accurately represent the company they stood for.


I’d be very curious to see how the ethics of international businesses would change if logos told their stories in full.

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