Flat Designs and Flexible Marketing: How Simple, Web-First Logo Design Influences Product Decoration
Design aesthetics and trends are largely cyclical. What was once outdated becomes cool again. And then, in a little time, we move past it and go back to something that resembles an erstwhile trend of the past. On and on and on.
Looking at this from a fashion standpoint, you can see now that trends that were big in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s have sat dormant enough to feel fresh again. Boxier fits on T-shirts, bucket hats, fanny packs. These were unthinkable a few years back, but now they’re everywhere.
The same goes for artistic choices on logos and design. One thing that isn’t cyclical is the fact that designers need to take into account how logos look on computers and mobile platforms. That mobile-first strategy, coupled with the desire for simpler, neo-retro looks, has given way to simpler branding for big-name companies.
Burger King’s full rebrand is one example, and Bloomberg pointed out other recent simplified design choices like Warner Bros., Dunkin’, Pfizer, Volkswagen and more. These choices weren’t just to stay current or appease mobile designers. It was also a way to have more options on physical products and advertising.
— UnderConsideration (@ucllc) September 10, 2019
— Logo-Designer.co (@logodesigner_co) January 27, 2021
By simplifying a logo down to one or two colors and moving away from some of the 3-D design elements of the past, companies give themselves more flexibility when it comes to advertising and marketing.
Think about those McDonald’s golden arches ads for UK delivery or its minimal packaging design. Those didn’t even use the whole logo, but incorporated part of it as a motif that got the point across without much explanation. With more negative space, too, companies can play around with packaging to make something more memorable.
In short, the logo becomes part of the larger concept, rather than what Bloomberg describes as a “stamp” just slapped onto an ad or a product.
Here’s what a source from Nissan said about their simplified logo and how it can interact with an ad space:
“In certain digital and video applications the logo will actually ‘come alive’ as it shifts and pulsates against a variety of backgrounds, allowing the logo to reflect today’s ever-changing environment and the flexibility needed to remain exciting, relevant and intriguing.”
Decorators within the promotional products market have noticed this trend, too. It doesn’t mean that every logo needs to change, or that simple one-color imprints are going to be the norm from here on out. But, it’s worth keeping in mind that the more complex a logo, the more limits there are in decorating with it, especially on apparel.
“Most of the time you’re putting [a logo] on polyester fabric, it’s going to be a transfer more than it’s going to be a screen print,” said Bruce Jolesch, president and CEO of PXP Solutions.
This is because, especially when something is full of color, it’s just not practical to screen print that many colors.
“Just 10 days ago, someone sent me a 17-color design,” he said. “I kid you not. And it’s like, either the client or the art director, one of them is afraid to approach the other and say, ‘Do you need 17 colors?’”
Seventeen colors is doable, yes. But is it practical? Your clients can’t always have their logo presented in full 17-color. Think about the most recognizable brand logos in the world right now. You probably don’t even picture a color. The Nike swoosh. The adidas stripes. The Apple apple. Yes, some have proprietary color schemes, but they aren’t necessary to translate the logo.
“You should like the logo, and then we can figure out the best colors for it,” Jolesch said.
Beyond just apparel, using something simple or a factor of the logo as a motif throughout different products can create brand unity beyond a color scheme or even the company’s name.
“A really good example that I’ve seen would be Amazon,” said E-Xuan Chen, B2B marketing specialist at StickerYou. “They’ve got the smile as part of their logo. A lot of times we’ll see imagery that suggests the smile, but it will also say, like, a big thing we’ve been seeing is the Black Lives Matter movement with the Amazon logo for all of their internal staff. So, they don’t have to put ‘Amazon’ the word with that. They can just show the really minimalist logo and everyone just gets the message. I’ve definitely seen things like that come through that would only work with a minimalistic logo and not something super intricate.”
This goes back to the idea outlined in Bloomberg about “blending.” If a logo is more flexible—meaning it’s not a set stamp with three colors at all times and a 3-D design—it can work itself into designs and over top of any color scheme. This means easy customization for different events or holidays, incorporation onto sports teams' uniforms (without worrying that their color scheme doesn’t match your own) and more.
The cyclical nature of design means that these current iterations aren’t set in stone. They’ll change. In all likelihood, we’ll go back to more complex styles at some point. But the difference now, rather than the graphic design trends of previous decades, is that mobile and digital marketing isn’t going anywhere. No matter how much we want to evoke the complex aesthetics of 2002, it needs to be adapted in a way that feels current and works on a number of different platforms, not just print magazine ads or billboards.
The irony is that, as digital capabilities continue to grow and the promo industry frets about digital killing physical advertising, the development of web-first design actually pushed new abilities in physical design like signage, stickers and logo placement on physical products. The thing that some might have feared could kill an industry is actually pushing its creativity to new levels.
“I do think there’s something to say about web accessibility,” Chen said. “It’s just been a really big push. I don’t think it’s necessarily a trend, but I think it’s something for a lot of web designers to consider, now that everything is virtual. I think there will be an aspect of web-forward, accessibility-forward design when creating logos. Do I think they’ll always stay minimal? I don’t think so. I think we’ll eventually get to a point where having an intricate logo is back in style. I’m not sure if they will look the same as the logos we’ve seen in the past. I think they’ll be intricate in different ways, but still adhering to accessibility standards.”