Like many others, my childhood was spent watching a lot of Nickelodeon. Every Saturday morning I would wake up early (which for 7 year old me was maybe 9 AM) to catch the newest Spongebob episode. Afterwards, I would visit the Nickelodeon website, where I would play the cheap Spongebob games until it was time for lunch. It was 2008, and life was simple. As with any good company, Nickelodeon had a distinct and creative logo. The logo included the white “Nickelodeon” name that was centered in the middle of a splatter of orange slime. This was fitting, as Nickelodeon had, and still has, the running gag of slime. Overall, the logo worked well for the company, as it accurately portrayed the wacky and fun nature of the television network.
Fast forward to 2021, over a decade since the days of my Saturday morning cartoon binges. Nickelodeon as a company is still running strong, with plenty of new shows and high viewership ratings. However, when revisiting Nickelodeon, something seemed slightly off. When viewing the current website, the bright and colorful nature of Nickelodeon had seemed to fade, replaced by simple colors and designs. On top of this, the logo was a complete shell of its former self. Rather than the slime logo with the full Nickelodeon name, the logo was now just “Nick” in simple orange letters. I thought to myself “is this really what people wanted? Simplicity rather than extravagance and detail?.” As you look towards the transformations of logos from other companies over time, a distinct pattern seems to emerge. Companies from all industries have opted to trade in their previously detailed logos for simple, minimalist designs. So, the question remains: are these logos really more effective?
A simple google search will produce results from various sites (mostly business blogs) about why simple logo designs are better. One reason a business may use a simple logo is because it is easier for potential customers to remember and recall. A complex logo may turn off the interest of potential customers, while a simple logo grabs attention much easier. Simpler logos also tend to convey the main message of the logo more effectively. After all, when looking at a logo it is much easier to understand the company when there are minimal colors, shapes, lines, and other designs that may clutter around the company name. Another reason is that minimalist designs are more aesthetically pleasing. Minimalist logo designs strip a logo down to its core colors, shapes, and words, which many think makes the logo look cleaner. One particularly interesting reason I had found for keeping logos simple is the fact that it can restrict the business the company is in. For example, if your shoe company starts out with a shoe logo, it will eventually associate consumer perception of your company to shoes. Because of this, your company may have trouble branching out to other industries due to the logo’s association to a certain product.
Overall, keeping it simple seems like the way to go when designing a company logo, at least for new companies. But what about existing companies who have elected to change their previously complex logos to fit the minimalist trend? As it turns out, not everyone is happy with the shift to simplicity. A quick stroll through social media will show many people of all generations disappointed in trends towards corporate minimalism in logos. Some studies also confirm that many customers are not happy with this new trend. A recent study conducted in 2019 covering the topic was published in the Journal of Marketing Research. The study involved 2,000 participants and 597 logo designs, which were separated into descriptive and non-descriptive. Descriptive logos were ones whose imagery clearly defined what it does, while non-descriptive logos were those that were more abstract and minimal, where the purpose of the company was not clearly illustrated. Participants were then asked to score logos based on likeability, authenticity, etc. The descriptive logos scored higher, with participants claiming that companies whose logos were more descriptive (and less generic) seemed more trustworthy and likeable. Overall, more descriptive logos were shown to be able to win over customers more often than non-descriptive logos, and thus increase purchases.
However, through this same study, non-descriptive logos that belonged to well-known brands (such as the iconic McDonalds arches) still scored high. From this it can be concluded that iconic companies who started simple continue to be successful with their use of a minimalist logo. So now we still come back to the question: what about companies who made the transition from detailed to simple? As mentioned earlier, Nickelodeon is one of the many examples that comes to mind when discussing simplification of logos. Another recent example is FireFox, who in 2019 changed their browser logo to be much less detailed. Their overall logo, which encompasses the entire FireFox company and all their product offerings, has gotten rid of the Fox altogether. Another example comes from 2018, when Dunkin’ Donuts not only simplified their logo, but also changed their name entirely to simply “Dunkin’”.
Overall, there seems to be little evidence in favor of corporate logo simplification. Both studies and quick strolls through social media make it seem as that consumers prefer descriptive, colorful logos. However, many companies still have chosen to simplify. At first glance there seems to be little reason to do so, especially since there is little research that indicates doing so will generate more profit. My personal inference would be that these companies are trying to capture the simple and iconic imagery presented by companies such as Apple and McDonalds. It is easy to see why; one quick glance at a cartoon apple will make you think of the tech giant, and any assortment of red and yellow may make you think of McDonalds. The issue here is that these companies began simple and stayed simple. They built their reputation around simple and recognizable logos, while companies who are making the transition did not. Instead, companies like Dunkin’, Nickelodeon, and more grew under their detailed, colorful logos. It became synonymous with their image, and taking it away has disappointed many, including myself.
In my opinion, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. There are plenty of reasons to revamp your brand image, especially for failing companies who struggle to capture market share. However, there seems little reason to change iconic branding when it’s, well, already iconic. Nevertheless, corporate logo simplification is a trend that will likely continue well into the 2020s. Their success or failure is yet to be fully documented and researched. Until then, only time will tell if the trend continues, and what reaction companies will face because of it.