Great look at the making of a logo

Many people, including clients, find it hard to understand the amount of work that goes into designing a logo. They just see the finished product, and the simpler that is, the easier in their mind it must have been to create. They didn’t see the dozens of hours that went into research and concept, the pages of sketches, the overly complex first rounds and the stripping away of detail to end up with a beautiful end result.

So I appreciated this quality video from Tátil Design de Ideias, creators of the corporate identity for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. It gives nice insight into the process and the teamwork required.

Unfortunately, not long after the Rio 2016 logo was revealed, it came under attack. Not for being a bad design, as the awful logo for London 2012 had been, but for possibly not being original. That’s a shame, because it’s very clear that this was completely original work.

Indeed, with so much stuff being produced around the world every single day, it’s almost impossible for any design to not be similar to some other design somewhere. I’ve discovered logos that looked remarkably similar to ones I had designed for my clients, sometimes years earlier. Since I work mostly with smaller companies that don’t get worldwide exposure, I’m pretty sure the others were NOT ripping off my designs. It’s just the nature of ending up in a similar place visually when you consider all the elements of the communication challenge — the thought process and narrowing down of ideas.

For example, my logo for Liberty Capital is surprisingly close to the visual identity for the US Post Office, but mine was designed a full six years earlier. I can say with great confidence that the post office branding team didn’t rip off my logo for a small mortgage company in Washington state. There are only so many ways to stylize an eagle head, so the process of using the symbol of an eagle to identify freedom and then stylizing the eagle can easily arrive at a similar result.

In the Case of Rio 2016, the claim was that the symbol was too close to that of Colorado-based Telluride Foundation. While I see some minor similarities, the comparison isn’t fair in my view. The idea of people celebrating arm-in-arm in a circle is nothing new. Here’s the Telluride logo:

What of the logo for Brazil’s 2004 Carnaval? It’s identical to the Telluride symbol in every detail, and therefore not merely inspired by the other. Yet before we renounce it as plagiarism (as some have already done), we should ask if the matching design is simply the result of using the same piece of clip art or one of those cheesy logo design computer programs with built-in artwork. We shouldn’t be too quick to accuse anyone of stealing! I couldn’t find out when the Telluride logo was created, so at this point I don’t know which came first. If you know, chime in below.

There have been additional attacks that the Rio 2016 logo was based on the Matisse painting “The Dancers,” and again I find that a bit silly. Even if the designers were partly inspired by that, who cares? Does that mean every logo designed in a circle was based on Vincent Van Gogh’s “Starry Starry Night”? If anything, the Telluride/Carnaval design is much closer to the Matisse painting than the Rio symbol.

Being inspired by an existing piece of art, architecture or other element isn’t an issue. People just love to complain. Yet it’s a reality of our modern world, and as brand designers we need to be prepared for the controversy that is likely to happen when someone, somewhere says your logo looks like something else.

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George Pytlik

George Pytlik has been involved in the advertising industry for over 30 years and designed his first website when the Internet was one year old. He was an internationally recognized speaker on advertising and branding and served on a number of communication committees at various times throughout his career, as well as writing a regular column for Marketing magazine.

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