5 Cliché Logo Design Trends to Avoid

by on 20th January 2012 with 34 Comments

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Logos are one of the trickiest areas in the graphic design world. It takes almost zero talent to make a logo, virtually anyone can do it. However, making a good logo requires a lot of insight, artistic skill and patience.

Too often we see designers falling into the trap of rushing into a logo design project and coming up with ideas that are so overused that they’re downright cringe-worthy. Today we’re going to take a look at five logo trends that fit this description. Read on to see if any of your go-to techniques are on the list.

Who Cares About Being Unique?

Before we jump into some of the logo ideas that you might want to watch out for, let’s address the question of exactly why you should be aware of and perhaps avoid logo ideas that have become a cliché. The answer here cuts at the very core of why logos exist.

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From a branding perspective, a logo is in many ways the face of your company. When someone thinks about “Nike” as an entity, they immediately see that famous swoosh, the same could be said of a million other brands such as Coca-Cola and Apple. This isn’t just true for global mega-brands either, who could forget the “Monster” energy drink with its claw mark “M”?

The reason you remember these marks so vividly is that they’re unique, and companies will fight viciously to protect that. Any time someone gets anywhere near a simple apple icon, the Apple Inc. lawyers unleash their fury with significant monetary backing.

Destruction from Within

If so many companies are willing to invest so much into their brand’s unique identity, don’t you think they see it as an important part of their success? Sometimes though, the most dangerous threat in this area comes not from competitors or other brands, but from people actually working for the brand itself! These individuals have the power to completely destroy a long held visual legacy and cause mountains of bad press for companies. The people I’m referring to are of course designers.

The past couple of years have been filled with long established brands attempting visual updates only to receive so much negative feedback and public outcry that they are forced to retreat back to their original but newly appreciated identity.

“You owe it to your customers to provide rich, unique identities”

As a designer you wield an immense power over the public perception of a brand. You owe it to your customers to provide rich, unique identities that won’t be easily confused with 3,000 other similar attempts by other brands.

With these ideas in mind, let’s take a look at five logo trends that designers just can’t seem to get over.

Arc Over the Top

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I can’t tell you how many logos I’ve seen use some variant of this idea in the last ten years. In concept, the idea isn’t a bad one. The arc indicates progress, movement, soaring over the competition; it’s a great symbol. However, it’s so overused in nearly the same exact way that it’s almost impossible to incorporate something like this into a logo and hold onto any semblance of a unique identity.

When you’re tempted to use an arc that looks like the one above, try to think about how you can drastically change the visual translation of the ideas you’re trying to represent. Surely you can come up with a few other ways to represent progress. As designers, this is our job: tying complex concepts into attractive and relatable visuals, not simply repeating ideas that we’ve seen a million times.

Helvetica

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Listen, we’ve all done it so don’t bother denying it. At one time or another you’ve typed out a company name in Helvetica and thought “looks like a logo to me!” The problem here is that we completely lose sight of what a logo is all about, as I just ranted about in the opening paragraphs. Just because something is attractive doesn’t mean it makes a good logo. That’s an important concept so write it down in bold letters in your logo sketchbook.

Helvetica is a great typeface. I use it constantly and am certainly not in league with the anti-Helvetica crowd. Everything type lovers say about this typeface is true: it’s versatile and clean and works perfect as a blank slate that you can project ideas onto. However, without some major help, it can make for the most cliché logo imaginable. I’m not saying that you should never use Helvetica in a logo, just make sure that when you do, you have some really unique visuals to back it up.

I’ll keep reminding you of the Gap fiasco every time I can because it serves as an important lesson where a brand tried to “update” their iconic look with a fresh logo. The result was a disaster and led to weeks of public embarrassment (and oddly enough the positive result of everyone realizing they love the old logo).

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Not Just Helvetica

While we’re on the subject, keep in mind that this idea doesn’t only apply to Helvetica. There are plenty of other typefaces that are just as cliché or worse. I think the designer’s rule for using Papyrus should be somewhere along the lines of, “only use this if your computer has just two fonts and the other is Comic Sans.”

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Random Colored Dots

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This is an odd one that I’ve been seeing a lot of in logo galleries lately. It’s not particularly attractive or appealing and often reflects a lazy attempt to represent diversity. It’s sort of like a bad re-imagining of a Wonderbread bag.

Some designers get particularly creative and actually take the time to arrange the dots into a symmetrical pattern, but the result is often just as generic and uninspired:

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The meaning here is so vague that it’s lost. Further, you simply can’t get around the idea that you’ve seen this exact idea on a million other logos. It’s time to let the colored dots go. Rather than starting with some simple vector shapes in Illustrator, why not grab a pencil and spend a solid hour sketching out every idea that you can come up with? Trust me, at the end of the exercise you’ll realize that it was worth the time and effort.

Chat Bubble Logos

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Four out of every ten logos created for social media sites have chat bubbles in them. I just made up that statistic off the top of my head but there are days when I would swear it was true.

Once again, we have a concept that there is nothing inherently wrong with. A chat bubble is in many ways the perfect way to represent social media. Also, it’s a good thing when you land on a symbol that immediately relates your concept. However, as a unique brand identifier, it isn’t an easy element to leverage without a result that looks like everything else on the market.

Can you use chat bubbles in your logo? By all means. However, be sure to take the time to experiment with how you can take this overused symbol to a new place.

The Double Letter Overlap

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While the chat bubble is a fairly recent phenomenon that arose as a result of social media, this logo trend dates back several decades. In fact, for as long as their have been law firm logos, this idea has been going strong.

It can be used with almost any two capital letters but any time you have a double “L” you can bet good money that this idea is going to pop into your head. My advice: resist it with everything in you. It’s completely generic and is in fact the very first idea that countless non-designers would run to in this situation. Given that you do this for a living, I know you can come up with something a little better.

Notice a Theme?

Take a good look at the cliché logo ideas that we just went over. Notice anything similar about all of them? The answer is that they’re all super easy to replicate. The problem with many designers is not that they aren’t capable of coming up with great ideas, it’s that they’re too lazy and tend to run with the idea that’s quickest to bust out. Contrast this idea with something like the Starbucks logo:

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This is a really quirky logo that looks and feels truly unique. The custom illustration uses beautiful symmetry and repetition and the siren is anything but a cliché icon. Ripping off the logos above would take any designer ten minutes or less. Mimicking this idea is much more difficult. Admittedly, this isn’t always the case with strong logos, the Nike swoosh can readily be drawn by any twelve year old with a paint program.

However, the moral here is that any time you find yourself with the goal of making a strong brand icon that is completely own-able, try actually investing some solid time into your creation. The odds are that as you spend more time tweaking and refining your idea, the more unique it will become.

What Cliché Logo Ideas Have You Seen?

Now that you’ve seen my top five cliché logo trends, it’s time for you to join the conversation. In recent years, are there any logo ideas that you’ve seen seen that seem to get picked up and used over and over again?

Also be sure to let us know if you’re guilty of replicating any of the trends above. Don’t be ashamed, we’ve all come up with and even used horribly generic ideas so we might as well all laugh about it and learn from the comedy of the situation.

Comments & Discussion

34 Comments

Comments & Discussion

34 Comments

  1. Will take my part of the blame for spreading the colored dots trend. By the time I was doing that it really felt like something interesting… not anymore :) Thanks for this post, Joshua — really helps to sort out the things before diving into another logo design.

  2. Ethan says:

    Ouch. I’m to blame and have done most of these before.

    You’re right, we tend to make marks that “look good” but are not “unique”. I hope I can remember these principles when making logos in the future. Thank you kindly.

  3. miriam says:

    I propose to regard these trends when I had to work for free or get paid a pittance.
    I know this cliché and I customize my works only when it’s worth ;)

    p.s. sorry for my english

  4. Todd Sledzik says:

    I think the “arc” could have just been called ‘swooshs’ of any kind, depending on how you look at it. Regardless of the location, orientation, or what you call these; we’ve all played with one variation or another. But in many cases you end up standing back and saying, what the hell does this really convey? And in the cases where it might be actually be appropriate, you then run head-long into the issue of (un)originality.

  5. Robin Cannon says:

    Very interesting piece. It’s very clear that the failure in these logo trends is that they don’t provide any sense of uniqueness. Branding is all about identity, and making other people engaged with that identity.

    Successful companies are those with a strong sense of identity. That will tend to show through in their logos, because they’ll demand the logo really represents them.

    Same obviously holds true for rebranding. There definitely can be times when rebranding is a useful exercise, but a logo only needs to change if the new design is going to better represent the company. Updating a logo simply so that it “looks cooler” or “is more modern” is pointless.

  6. Thanks I get the repository

  7. abigail says:

    Admittedly, I’m not a designer so I’m not sure if this is a “cliche” or a “trend”, but I’m getting kind of sick of the two word logos that you separate by some sort of blocking (youtube for example). Of course that didn’t stop me from using that technique for our library logo http://libraryexample.files.wordpress.com/2012/01/librarylogo.jpg

  8. Mike says:

    It’s easy to make mistakes and bad designs but very difficult to make design that will get featured on leading design blogs and magazines as example. But this border between good and bad is very and you can easily cross it due to many aspects, for instance clients needs and taste.

  9. Prashant says:

    Nice Article.Although you missed the most cliched thought of using 0 and/or 1 in IT and Techie company’s logo,using Binary numeral system (ie representation of data in numeric values of 1 and 0) as the main concept.

  10. Matty says:

    One cliche logo treatment I always see is the type slanted forward with “speed motion lines”, like the way you used to show people running when you doodled as a kid.

  11. So true, but you haven’t touched on one important point we have to take on board: – the company that is paying for the logo often have their own ideas, and not being designers, do not realise that horrendous cliches they may be inflicting upon the poor designer!

  12. Audrey says:

    You forgot my favorite. The line in between regular weight type | and then bold type. Guilty!

  13. susan schwartz says:

    thank you, audrey: the thin/thick weight type logo
    with or without line is my personal #1 for been done to death.

  14. BMac says:

    I am sooooooo tired of seeing shinny ball logos. Shinny balls are as banal a swoosh people.

  15. Nicole says:

    I agree with Fizz Web Design – it’s not always the designer’s fault, which is maddening. But a lot of times it is. :) Very insightful and helpful little article.

  16. Coat of Arms says:

    Here’s a fun interview we did with our company’s logo designer, a very talented artist from Pittsburgh. It is less about the technical side of logo creation, but more about the artist and the thought process involved.

    http://coatofarmspost.com/articledetail17_ARecipeforaLogo.php

    Enjoy!

  17. Josh says:

    I am so tired of seeing the pointy man or swish man. You know the guy with no feet or hands. They are usually running or swimming etv. Look at cignas crappy logo. Wth is wi th logo contrsts too

  18. Corrina says:

    OMG this article had me madly checking the gallery area of my company website to check if there was gratuitous use of Helvetica, swooshy things and bouncy balls. Phew! not that much … ermmm it really is a partnership with the client. It can take a LOT of work to get the client over the line from going down the dreary done-before path to taking the risk on something unique. I’ve often presented really wonderful, quirky, interesting concepts only to have them turned down for some dull, generic swooshy, bouncy ball freakin thing they saw on 99 Designs or whatever.

  19. Alex Clark says:

    If you were to do a second edition of this article, I think the “puzzle piece of a different colour than the other puzzle pieces” should definitely make the cut.

    That one drives me nuts with just how uninspired the whole “missing piece” concept is, without even having to consider the design itself.

  20. I sketch out ideas for logos, trying out several variations to figure out the best amongst them.
    It does really help in getting a feel of what would work.
    It also takes less time to sketch it out than trying to work it out on photoshop.

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  25. takeitforgranite says:

    The Starbucks logo is not unique at all. Their symbol is actually an almost identical copy of one of the symbols for Helvetia (the female national personification of Switzerland, officially Confœderatio Helvetica, the “Helvetic Confederation”) The Starbucks logo is copied from a representation of Helvetia which can be found on a misericord in the Basler Münster Cathedral in Basel, Switzerland.

    • really? says:

      …and THIS is your reasoning that the SB logo is not unique? Sorry, but every design is inspired in some form or another and having never been to “the Basler Münster Cathedral in Basel, Switzerland” (as well [I assume] as a pretty huge percentage of people familiar with the SB logo) I can say it is a pretty unique logo – regardless of where the designer found their inspiration.

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  27. Kim1022 says:

    This article had me laughing out loud. But let’s not be too hard on the designers that have used these clichés–myself among them–They all worked at some point or another. When it comes to logo design, I always remember the immortal words of Paul Rand; “Design is simple, that’s why it’s so complicated.”

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