Also, in terms of their pure aesthetics, one thing you can say about any trademark is that they're judged as much by their associations. We tend to have good feelings about the World Wildlife Fund panda bear because we associate it with doing good. Likewise, with Apple, we associate it with quality products. Those marks become part of our fabric, of our everyday. And we do have an emotional attachment to that. But, if you took away the associations and looked at them purely from the point of view aesthetically, they have another kind of function. We don't tend to look at them in those terms. So it's kind of an interesting exercise to put them on a page and kind of remove them.
Even looking at the logos as they're laid out in your book, can we ever see them as just shapes?
Nope, it's very hard to actually disassociate. My argument would always be that they carry brand equity. The best ones are solid, candid, and memorable containers of good feelings we have about a company. Those are the ones that work.
I liked the idea of multiples; I didn't like the idea of actually producing one painting and selling it. I liked the idea of being much more present in the world and in the vernacular. So I was drawn to commercial art.
In truth, I got drawn to graphic design through a combination of two things. One was I love Tintin books. I didn't come from a reading family. After getting my comics, I realized that this character Tintin existed, I loved him, and for some reason I still do to this day.
Second, we had these letter-set catalogs—they're little lettering catalogs for transfers, specimen catalogs. It was the combination of those two things and my record collection. You know getting records which were heavily packaged—you get stickers, and posters. I thought this is great, I want to do that. I can't play the guitar, but I can maybe make the artwork.
How many logos are in the book?
I think about 1,300. It took six months of research. We were just trying to get as many quality marks as we could get.
The book mentions you couldn't use every symbol you found. Did you struggle with some companies?
That's true, because quite often they were registered trademarks. You can't separate out the symbol from the logo type, and the point of this book was to kind of try to take the words away, and to look at these purely in terms of the visual language.
The thing is that organizations are incredibly protective of their trademarks. Organizations don't really think too much about their mark on a day to day basis. But, for whatever reason, whether it's a merger or acquisition or change of name, or just a re-brand, when it comes to redoing your identity, it suddenly becomes an incredibly important part of their thinking. Suddenly it's like your signature is going to be changed, you realize just how much is wrapped up in that. When I do talks I always talk about the power of identity. If you were given the opportunity to give away A. either the secret formula or B. the actual rights to the brand, to the logotype, where do you think value is?
They acquire value. These things become these vessels which so much is poured into over time—there's a hell of a lot wrapped up in these things. They're quite mundane, they're part of our every day visual furniture, but take it away and whoof! That's why it's an interesting subject area.
Images: Courtesy of Laurence King Press