I’ve made plenty mistakes as a freelance graphic designer. So I have listed the worst by way of advice to any others starting as freelancers.
Bad logo designs
As a logo designer I look at and analyse logos all around me. The reasoning behind decisions, the aesthetics, the ability to stand out, be memorable, convey a message, or a feeling, all fascinate me, and are an integral part of my work as a designer.
There are many aspects to a brand, as an outsider, I can’t possibly have knowledge of. I am also well aware we designers believe the importance of design to be too high sometimes. True of all specialists. I am aware I can be wrong. Something I don’t like, I think the public, or a business’s potential customers/partners wouldn’t like, turns out to be very successful. However my instincts are generally very good in this area.
Below are five bad logo designs I meet regularly, and an old ‘favourite’.
So here’s my top 5 bad logo designs (plus 1)
Number 1. BP Oil company
The BP logo
Whenever I see the BP logo, I think ‘Adobe Illustrator tutorial’ and it sets off my hay fever. Visually unattractive, jarring colours, and overly detailed. You can read BP’s explanation here. In addition, the lower case minimalist lettering doesn’t work. The typography carries no authority, and brings nothing to the design. Looks suspiciously like Minion Pro. Which is the the default font on Adobe Illustrator.
Web design has also given logo designers issues regarding the shape and amount of detail that a logo can carry. The logo area of a website is a very tight space, with a landscape composition. A quick look at the top left of BPs website shows the drawback of a logo as high as it is wide. It is just a very bad logo design.
Number 2. Masterchef. British world-wide franchised TV programme.
The Masterchef logo
It’s aesthetically pleasing, it’s one of the world’s most successful cooking programmes. However chefs do not cook with electric hobbs, they cook with gas. Which you will also see used on Masterchef. A nice design, a nice idea, but should not have gotten past the sketch version. You can read about the design here.
Number 3. Glasgow’s very own STV. (Scottish Television)
STV are Scotland’s commercial television channel, a part of ITV (who’s logo is exquisite). A combination of a play button and a section of the Scottish flag (St Andrews Cross).
The curves of the lettering, fighting the sharpness of the angles of the play button triangle make an unappealing design lacking in harmony.
The closeness of the end part of the ´v` to the edge of the play button/flag is jarring. Surprising it hasn’t been angled to match the angle of the background, or to feed out of the button the same way as the ‘t’ feeds in. All the distances between elements appear random, which again adds to the lack of harmony.
As Taggart would say, ´It’s murrrder!`(STV make/made Taggart).
I originally wrote this in 2014, and taking a look in 2018 to see if any were updated, and indeed STV’s is. There is a very good article here looking at design trends in logo design, and as it points out, during the preceding years there was a trend for simplification and flat design. STV however, have made theirs more complicated. Although presumably the curve of the additional light blue area, is to soften the sharpness of the play button, and mirror the curves of the typography.
The updated STV logo.
One of the reasons for not changing a logo can be expense. Not the design itself, but the implementation. So it’s odd here to have made a change, but not gone for a complete overhaul. The play button is also unnecessary. Yes we are in an on demand, online world. But there were play buttons on Betamax video recorders in 1979. There is also an inbuilt cross in the centre of the logo (on the ‘t’). Ripe for animation.
Number 4. Sonofon Danish telephone company.
Insipid colour, meaningless ugly shape, and the 3D effect is at best ‘a bad choice’.
In an update from 2014, they are now Telenor, and changed the name, kept the symbol, and the 3D effect. Still makes my eyes bleed.
Number 5. Gasprom. Russian oil and gas company
Another one that just doesn’t work. From it saying G Gazprom to the gas G symbol being exceptionally weak. It’s all over Champions League football now as a huge brand. A gigantic clunk goes off in my head whenever I see it.
And the 2018 update, no change.
For old time’s sake, The London Olympics logo.
There was only to be five in the list, but this one still makes me angry. Unforgivable. The terrible font, colours, shape, even the trademark symbol in ghastly italics. Is the font comic sans italic sharp?
2018 update. The few within the design industry that defended this, said it was the future, and ahead of it’s time. Low and behold we are now in the future, and it is every bit as terrible, as disgraceful, as shameful, as it was, the day it was unveiled. How did they get away with it?
As much as I love digital design, my Macs and creative software, it’s great now and again to go back to basics and create some hand-made design. I received an invite from The Storehouse restaurant, part of Adina Apartment Hotel, Amerika Plads, Nordhavn, Copenhagen to paint their blackboards.
When I made my living doing this in London in the nineties working on a brand new refurbishment was always special. Brand new blackboards, to go with a brilliantly designed restaurant with a modern Danish theme. It was great to add some ‘pixie dust’ to the final touches of the interior design. Others may prefer to refer to it as just ‘chalk dust’.
The joy of a blank canvas, ready to paint.
Bottom left-hand corner, I added a subtle detail from Édouard Manet’s The Absinthe Drinker, (see below) which can be found at the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen. This was a reference to the restaurant’s Danish style.
The original Manet painting the bottle was copied from. www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Absinthe_Drinker
You can see examples of my blackboard art from London in the nineties which also includes Manet.
If you are about to attend Gray’s School of Art for the first time, you probably ought to know, Gray’s School of Art is the best art college in the world – if you want it to be. Look at the building, look at the surroundings, look at the library, really what else do you need? On top of that, the most important reason it is the best art college in the world, is YOU are there.
Having been a student at Gray’s School of Art, Aberdeen in the late eighties, here is my advice for new students. I am well aware there will have been significant changes, but some elements will be similar to my time.
Enjoy the city of Aberdeen
The city of Aberdeen is a magnificent place. The granite buildings are beautiful, the people are nice, there’s mock chop suppers, and a wonderful football team. At Gray’s School of Art the building is a fantastic piece of architecture. The area of Garthdee is close to the centre of the city, and you are a couple of minutes from the beautiful Deeside countryside.
What to watch out for
Avoid at all costs any students with a whiny Central Belt accent constantly whinging about how much better everything in Glasgow is – in particular Glasgow School of Art. They are almost certainly just homesick, missing their Mum, and using a front of superiority to cover this up. Ideally there should be a toll at the Tay Bridge that stops these people getting that far North.
Ignore your tutors
Or listen to them, it’s up to you. Being a tutor at an art college is really not that hard a job. You take talent, you point them in the right direction, off they fly. The idea that at Edinburgh, St Martins, or anywhere else there are better art tutors with better qualifications, or better people skills is just academic elitism. Your perfect tutor maybe doesn’t exist. Your art comes from within. Listen, evaluate, go with your instincts.
Try not get chucked out at the end of second year. Like I did. It’s a long hard struggle without a degree to make it in design, but it’s not impossible. And if ever you come across former Gray’s School of Art head of Graphic Design Ian Cargill, say hi from me. You can read more about the supremely talented and gifted trio of Ian Cargill, Malcolm Brown and Professor Eric Spiller here.
You are welcome. I suppose an honorary degree is out of the question?
Fake it until you make it is a great piece of advice for designers. Or a slightly more accurate piece of advice that doesn’t scan quite as well, is Fake it until you become it. Act like you believe in yourself, act like you are a serious professional, act like this meeting or whatever is an every day occurrence, and eventually it will be. It also gives you something to concentrate on (the acting) rather than dealing with nerves or stress.
And once you have made it, sit back and watch everyone else faking it…
Here is a fascinating Ted Talk on the same subject. www.blog.ted.com/2013/12/13/fake-it-til-you-become-it-amy-cuddys-power-poses-visualized/
In logo design, a message doesn’t have to be obvious. In fact it could be years before you notice the message or never at all. This fantastic infographic from madebyoomph.co.uk looks at some great ones.
A splendid website and a very amusing article on failed logos at www.boredpanda.com/worst-logo-fails-ever/
From Bored Panda ‘This is an actual logo designed in 1973 for the Catholic Church’s Archdiocesan Youth Commission. It even won an award from the Art Directors Club of Los Angeles.’
I’m writing this fully six months after the London Olympics 2012. An Olympics which were highly successful, particularly from a British perspective, both in terms of organisation, sporting success and spectacle.
From the sheer genius of Sir Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony (above), the 2012 Olympics was a complete success. Then there’s the logo. Released a couple of years earlier to widespread derision. Not helped by the £400000 price tag.
Many of those attempting to defend the logo at the time of the release said it would grow on us. That it was visionary, we would ‘get it’ later. Well now we are in the future, let’s have another look.
It is atrocious. The colours, the font, the shapes. It had to be pointed out to me, the shapes represent 2012. Thank goodness the brand became the opening ceremony, the stadium and the athletes. Showing an excellent product can survive a terrible logo. But it must be truly exceptional.
When you are in a hole stop digging
I found this interview with the logo’s creators Wolff Olins on Wired magazine. www.wired.com/design/2012/08/olympic-design/.
‘Wolff Olins didn’t try to clamp the same exact image on everything. It’s a factor of their design that allows schisms — the logo, the colors, pretty much everything they created can be adapted or altered to fit the needs of different users.’
‘Schisms’? So different versions and variations of a logo subject to different needs. So, pretty much what every brand does with it’s logo then. Look for example at the variations used on Carlsberg or Coca-cola lorries, as opposed to their product packaging. Different environment, different solution, but within some shared rules. Although the more inconsistent the logo, the weakening of the brand, and shows a lack of confidence in the core logo. A clear sign Wolff Olins knew from the beginning, their logo didn’t work.
Dig dig dig dig
“The logotype emerged from what we called an energy grid,” says Wolff Olins chairman Brian Boylan. “Its shape comes from a grid which lies behind, and that grid in turn was used to create pattern which was used for the look of the games. If you look at the stadium itself, the color pattern for the seating is taken from this grid.”
Really!? Did you manage to say that with a straight face? The dreadful font, best described as ‘comic sans sharp’.
‘Pleasing the crowd wasn’t part of the goal, says Ije Nwokorie, Wolff Olins’ managing director.’
So, having been told by pretty much everyone they didn’t like the logo, they then claim that that was deliberate, like a particularly obnoxious spoilt child, that must always be right.
If only Wolff Olins were as good at design as they are at talking ‘branding bollocks’.
A Copenhagen based, freelance graphic designer, web designer and illustrator. Originally from Scotland with more than two decades experience in design and marketing.