Logo Lessons from a Lippincott Partner

Leading up to our LogoLounge Book 10 Call for Entries deadline February 28, we will be spotlighting members of the most eminent panel of jurors that we’ve ever had!

Su Mathews Hale

Su Mathews Hale is senior partner at Lippincott’s San Francisco office, where she heads up branding initiatives for clients such as Hyatt, Walmart, eBay, and Shutterstock. Prior to joining Lippincott more than 10 years ago, she was an associate partner at Pentagram in New York. Hale is currently president of the National AIGA.

We’re so pleased to have her on our panel of judges for this year’s LogoLounge competition. Here, she gives us some advice on creating effective and endearing identity programs.

Shutterstock Posters

When working on a large branding project, is the logo always the first thing to consider?

The logo is one of the considerations, but rarely the first. The most important thing to consider is the business strategy and to ensure that the creative vision aligns with where the company is headed. Things designers need to ask themselves, is what does the brand stand for? What’s happening in the company (growth, new products, broader customer base) that the design needs to accommodate for? Most successful companies get to a point where they need a visual facelift to stay modern and relevant, but even in those cases the logo redesign is second to the strategy of the company and changing needs of the customer.

Do you think there are certain elements/characteristics that make a logo successful?

Logos are probably the hardest thing to create or change. There’s heritage, there’s baggage, and they are extremely difficult to get “right.” It is also the first thing the outside world notices in a rebrand or launch of a new brand, and no matter how good the design is, people are always going to have an opinion.

In my experience, the best, most iconic logos have three things in common. The first is that they convey a simple idea that is easy for people to remember. The second is their ability, from a design standpoint, to serve as empty vessels that a company can pour meaning into. And third, there needs to be a hook that will remain timeless. If you look at Apple, Starbucks or Southwest Airlines, their logos have evolved with the company.  There are some core elements that remain consistent, but other elements that are introduced over time to keep the expression fresh and vital.

eBay Tablet

Is there a rule as to how many elements (characters, colors, typefaces, symbols, etc.) should be applied to a logo?

One of the best things about identity design is that there are no hard and fast rules. Our toolkit has never been more sophisticated than it is today, and it’s fun to see how brands are pairing the visual elements of color, type, pattern, and imagery with verbal and experiential elements. Given the diversity of what we’re designing for, instead of rules, designers should be thinking about how all the elements work together and their hierarchy across applications.

That said, too many ideas risk an overly complicated message. Which means the brand will be less memorable. I find the advice of Coco Chanel rings true for identity design as much as fashion — before you make something live, “look in the mirror and take one thing off.”

What do you think is the most enduring brand of the last century and why?

Anyone who knows me knows that one of my favorite logos is the interlocking C’s of Chanel. It was designed by Coco Chanel herself, and has remained unchanged ever since. That’s a pretty amazing feat, considering the overlapping C’s look as modern today as they did in the ‘20s when it was introduced.

What is the most important branding lesson you’ve learned in your career?

Years ago, Michael Bierut told me, “Don’t ever show something that you can’t live with. That’s the one the client will choose.” He couldn’t have been more right. It is a lesson that has stuck with me over the years, and one of the first I pass on to designers in my team.

Hyatt Brand

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