There are good logos and there are bad logos—who can tell the difference between the two? Per Mollerup, an economist whose Scandinavian visual communications firms Designlab specializes in corporate identities, had made his own mark doing just that. For more than a decade and a half now, he has sifted through the mass of vintage and novel trademarks to distinguish stellar design from a badly rendered mark, compiling the results in a hefty tome, Marks of Excellence: The History and Taxonomy of Trademarks (Phaidon Press). First published in 1997, the go-to guide for logo makers and their clients has undergone a handsome revision, featuring a staggering 500 new marks, for publication next month. Glancing through its pages raises the question of not merely what makes good or bad logos, but of how much logos matter at all—the eternal question of whether design and branding really affects a company's bottom line.
Mollerup develops corporate identities for a living, so he has a stake in the field's reputation, but the book offers a fairly even-handed analysis of historic and contemporary visual marketing efforts. He told me he began this project because he wanted to understand more about what is today known as the "branding phenomenon" that his own company was contributing to, adding "I did not get that understanding from existing books." When he began in the mid '80s "we did not talk about branding with our clients. They looked at branding with deep disbelief ... Today there is a much wider understanding and acceptance of branding."