What Makes a Logo Clever?
To explain what I mean by “clever” logo design, let’s take a look at a typical logo, (i.e. one that isn’t clever).
The logo above is a nice piece of work. The colors are perfect, the lettering is masculine, the overall feel is athletic and the glossy effect works well. It’s everything that it needs to be.
However, my favorite type of logo design is that which takes the assignment one step further. Rather than just making something attractive, these designers look at the design process with a pinch of added intelligence and a perspective that skewed enough to see things differently than the rest of the world.
These types of logos make you smile at the brilliance of both the idea and the execution and have several layers of meaning that can hit you in waves. Some are amazing in their obviousness to all who see them and some find excellence in hidden secrets.
I’ve broken down this collection into three categories: visual double entendres (two things in one), word and character art, and ambigrams. Ambigrams definitely also fall into the word art category but I wanted to give them special recognition because they’re so difficult to pull off effectively (if you don’t believe me, try to make one!).
Visual Double Entendres
If you stare straight at the bird’s feet for a second, a stunningly clear lion’s face emerges. Brilliant design!
I love this one. There’s a sort of ribbon theme that makes both a face and the continent of Africa.
Simply beautiful use of negative space. The golfer and his swing double as a soldier’s face.
A tent and a pencil.
A pepper and a horn.
Green here is symbolized by a tree and labs is represented by the brain. That’s a sharp looking tree brain!
Another pencil idea very similar to the one above. This one is a parachute and a pencil.
A tongue and a leaf. A little creepy but a great idea!
The letter “G” and a guitar. Simple but effective.
This is definitely one of my favorites. The couch has cleverly been crafted to also be a face with a mustache. Excellent work!
The dog’s ears are leaves. Sometimes subtle is better.
The open envelope creates a house shape.
The open book makes a tent. Not my favorite but it makes for a good visual read.
This one makes me laugh. Australia has been turned into a pig’s snout!
The city skyline doubles as a row of cell phones.
I love that the shape of the hills genuinely matches the shape that cards make when you peak at them while they lie face down on the table.
This one goes on and on. The matches come together to make a heart. There are two of them (they match). Fire represents passion. etc. etc.
Ideas are often represented by lightbulbs. Turning the phrase “think tank” into a lightbulb tank was genius.
This one is an excellent piece of art. The rocket blasting off and leaving smoke trails clearly makes a guitar shape.
This one is simple but so incredibly effective. It looks like both a suitcase and a folded dress shirt with a tie. The latter really emphasizes the “suit” aspect and therefore represents professionalism.
Another really subtle double entendre. The hands on the clock make an airplane.
The buildings in the city skyline are all arrows pointing upward.
The white picket fence is a perfect picture of country life, here it’s been turned into a toothbrush to symbolize dentistry.
Another excellent use of negative space. The hand pushing a button makes the shape of a bottle. Notice how the fingers of the fist create the liquid in the bottle.
It’s amazing how little had to be added to make a pencil appear (just a triangle!). Some logo designers really have a gift for simple touches that change everything.
It definitely looks like both a mountain and a pile of spices.
Not only does the round shape of the golf ball reflect that of the moon, the little dips look like craters! A great visual simile.
The logo says everything it needs to. Scales are a clear representation of law and justice and the bowls have been turned into boats to represent the maritime aspect.
This idea seems a little obvious but I’m sure it took a lot of tweaking to get to this point.
The sort of abstract skyline design is a cliche for community and has been transformed into a familiar hand gesture.
Another one of my favorites. The carrot has been beautifully crafted to make a rocket ship.
The car’s headlights make it look like a big nerd with glasses. Yet another example of the use of subtlety in wit.
The film strips have been hung to mirror the shape of a group of bananas.
The negative space in the tip of the old style fountain pen has been turned into a spoon.
This is definitely not the best logo in the world, but the whole lightbulb spark plug idea is pretty clever.
Word and Symbol Art
The word fish has been crafted into the form of a fish. What more could you want in a logo?
A few simple typographic characters that perfectly represent the word below.
Coding is all about characters so it was perfect to build the fish out of typography.
The equality symbol has been slightly modified so that the bottom is shorter than the top; a perfect statement of inequality.
The quote has been simply turned on its side and it looks remarkably like a gas pump.
The symbol for infinity has been altered to look like pair of mischievous eyes.
If you’re at all familiar with music theory you know that an octave has eight notes (hence “oct”). Here the “o” and “c” have been stacked to make an eight.
The impressive part here is how naturally the word seems to make a face. It’s an excellent designer that makes complex ideas look effortless.
The two has been pushed over to look like an “n.” Since the word is “twins,” hiding a two in the logo was a great decision.
This one you have to stare at for a second to really appreciate. All the letters are upside down. The “w” is an “m”, the “d” is a “p”, etc.
The obvious solution was to make a spoon and a fork illustration. However, putting the ampersand in represents an extra step in the thought process that makes the idea really unique.
At first glance this logo says “brella.” Can you spot the other two letters?
In case you’ve never heard of them before, ambigrams are words or phrases that you can spin around 180 degrees and still read them. They often require quite a bit of work and thought in order to make them easily readable.
That sort of Old English look is definitely one of the styles you see the most with ambigrams. Notice how the “e” and “o” have been heavily transformed but still read well in the context of the word as a whole.
It’s not easy to create an “e” that still looks like an “e” when you spin it around. Well done.
This one feels like an ambigram, but as one astute commenter pointed out, it actually isn’t. The beginning “e” and ending “a” are the same, but the letters in between don’t work when flipped. Nice illusion regardless!
I hope the collection above isn’t just another “list post” but instead is a healthy dose of inspiration that encourages you to put a little thought into your logo creation process. When appropriate, consider how you can infuse something unique and witty to make the logo that much better.
Leave a link below and tell us your favorites. Also point us to any logos that match this style that you’ve seen on the web.