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10 weird brand design myths and misconceptions

A look to some brand design myths, going from weird to reasonable

logo design myths and facts

There are many brand design myths. Sometimes they’re really weird and strange since simple observation will tell they aren’t real, when not a complete lie. Sometimes, they are misconceptions based on some incorrect interpretation of design theory.

Either way, it’s very important to identify what is a design myth, what is a misconception and what is a plain lie. And we’ll try to shed some light on the subject, hope it’s of help!

MYTH: Brand and Visual Identity Relationship

Many people (specially design students in early stages of the career, or hobbyists) swear that all brands must relate to the brand’s activity. And this is specially “true” when it comes to visual identity.

Brand and Visual Identity Relationship Truth:

While this may be true in some cases, it rarely happens in established brands. If I showed you a symbol of a bitten apple, would you say that symbol represents a technology company?

Think of all the brands you know, and you will easily see that this is not just a myth: simple observation shows that it is just a myth that has no base!

Logo Design Myths
Apple doesn’t sell apples, Mailchimp doesn’t train monkeys and NBC is not a zoo. How can this brand design myth even be a thing?

MYTH: A wordmark always needs a symbol

In its simplest form, this design myth says that a brand identity must include a symbol that complements the wordmark.

The Wordmark vs Symbol Facts:

Granted, this is a design myth. But at the same time it’s a bit relative. It’s necessary to study the brand needs, for which we need to create a brand strategy based in extensive research. That research will tell us what kind of visual identification we need for our brand.

In general, a visual identity may include a wordmark, a pictorial mark, a monogram, an emblem or whatever combination you may think of. But it doesn’t mean that a wordmark ALWAYS needs a symbol. Furthermore, wordmarks without pictorial marks are pretty common and are the logo by definition. See the 8 types of logo for more information on the subject.

The confusion comes from combined logos. However, even this is a myth. A good combined logo should work seamlessly when using any of its elements (wordmark, pictorial mark or combination of both). Therefore, even in combined logos a wordmark doesn’t ALWAYS need a symbol (or viceversa).

Brand Design Myths: Wordmarks don't need pictorial marks
As you can see, wordmark logos don’t necessarily need pictorial marks

MYTH: Every brand identity must be unique and original

There is a widespread belief that each brand must be unique and original. That we must make an effort to achieve that goal of originality and breaking of conventions at all costs.

There are no rules at all. A visual identity might be completely unique and ground-breaking, or it could be extremely conventional. And in both cases, it won’t matter much.

Brand Identity and Uniqueness: the naked truth

In fact, think about this: There are literally billions of logos and visual identities worldwide. Some of them are active, some are no longer active, some are just student exercises, some are just redesign proposals. In a hyperconnected world with the senses saturated by excess of information, the possibilities of creating something completely unique and original are almost nil. Somewhere, sometime, someone made that original logo, whether we know it or not.

logo design myth: originality
Hope you agree the sheer need for originality is just a branding myth…

MYTH: Typography must be altered

This is a very common design myth from designers for designers. It basically says that wordmarks must be manipulated by altering the typography in order to make it more unique.

The Typography Alteration Truth:

The rationale for this design myth is related to the uniqueness myth mentioned above, with a pinch of “real designers alter typography” (when they don’t create it altogether).

And altering the typography in a wordmark, or breaking calligraphic rules can be useful in some cases. However, it’s not strictly needed. And in some cases, it could prove to be problematic.

As usual, it will depend on proper research and user experience testing.

logo design myths: altered typography
Brand design myths: you really don’t need to modify typography. REALLY.

MYTH: Visual identity must be modern

Probably one of the most senseless of all these myths. And still a very common one: Every logo must be modern and contemporary.

The “modern logo” truth:

There is not much to say about this as it does not make much sense. Brands can look legitimately retro or vintage, or modern and hip. But according to any book on design theory, the best possible result is a visual identity that transcends through times, through decades or even centuries (if in doubt, ask Coca Cola)

design myths: Visual identity must be modern
Some people call them aged logos. Some people call them timeless logos

MYTH: Logos can’t have gradients

This is one of the few design myths on this page that has a technical justification. So we can include it in the misconceptions department, so to speak.

Simply put, the myth says “Logos can’t use gradients”. There’s no more than that.

The truth about logos with gradients

There’s a technical rationale for this misconception, and it comes from analog technologies and printing.

It is more difficult (and therefore more expensive) to reproduce logos with gradients in old technologies such as embroidery, screen printing, vinyl printing and the likes.

However, in the 21st century these technologies are far from being the most used. In more than 90% of cases we’ll design logos for use in some digital format. But also, any competent designer knows that a logo has different presentations, including one-ink versions.

Design Myths: Logos can't use gradients
Design Myths: Instagram gradient and solid version. Source: Instagram Brand Resources

The strange thing about the case is that logos with gradients started with the Internet in the 90s and then disappeared almost entirely in favor of flat design, to make a triumphant return in the last 4 or 5 years. It is really difficult to understand this design myth when the design of logos with gradients is something of every day and is one of the design trends that never dies.

branding myths: logos with gradients
Logos with gradients aren’t wrong. In fact, they’re quite common!

MYTH: All brands require a periodical rebranding

Another myth, or in all fairness, a misconception: All brands must undergo a rebranding process on a periodical basis.

The periodical rebranding facts

If you see a designer telling you need a design, just ask the reasons. If ti’s just because, that designer doesn’t know anything about branding. As a matter of fact, as much as we would love to work in the rebranding process of your brand, we may tell you what any decent design agency will tell you: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it

Rebranding or brand redesign is needed only when the visual identity has low quality or when we need it as part of a tactical brand strategy. If you want to know more about the possible reasons, please read our comprehensive article about rebranding process

rebranding design myths
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

MYTH: All logos must be dynamic

Just in case, let’s explain what this means. A dynamic logo (sometimes known as “responsive logo”) is a logo that adapts to the media where it’s displayed. So it is quite reasonable to think that every logo must be “dynamic” or designed to change shape.

dynamic or responsive logo example
Example of dynamic or responsive logo

The dynamic logo truth

Although it is reasonable and recommended in many cases, it is far from being a reality in 100% of cases, not even in 50%. In fact, dynamic or responsive logos are a fairly new logo trend, so the vast majority of brands do not have a dynamic logo and subsist without any noticeable issues.

In other words: we’ll only need to have a dynamic logo when the different media usage strictly requires sub-logos based on our visual identity system.

Therefore, this is just another design myth for now (although it may change in the future!)

logo design myths: teh need for a responsive logo
They don’t have a responsive version. And quite frankly, they don’t need it

MYTH: Brands must relate to their target audience.

According to some people, every brand must be related to the profile of the target audience. That is: to adapt to a target.

The branding and target relationship facts

This is a toughy. While undeniably a brand design myth, it’s a bit hard to explain why, when we’re used to believe this. Furthermore: most people thinks this is how branding is done!

So let’s see: Brands do not need to represent their target audience and / or their values.

On the contrary: a brand must conform to the profile of its owner (the organization, the business or the product).

Now, the confusion comes because all brands need to work and interact within a given audience or target. But that’s a secondary step that comes AFTER the brand exists. furthermore: the audience fluctuates and changes mood and values periodically. Sometimes at the request of a brand!

You can see an example below. Do you think Coca-Cola was a Nazi company or shared the nazi values and creed?

design myths: Nazi Coca Cola coaster
What do you think? Coca-Cola was a Nazi brand, or german people liked Coca Cola?

Another quick and very sensitive example: the notion of privacy. Privacy has always been a sensitive topic and a value dear to most people. And suddenly companies like Google, Facebook and the like said “we don’t care about your privacy, if you like your privacy don’t use our products” (just in case, the terms and conditions of both companies says something similar). And suddenly billions of people abandoned the notion of privacy as if it had never existed in their minds. In other words: people adjusted to the brand desires and needs, not otherwise.

branding myths: Brands and audience relationship
These brands don’t relate to any audience in particular. yet, many audiences relate to these brands

MYTH: Logos always must be simple and easily recognizable

According to many people, specially designers (although not necessarily brand designers), logos and visual identity in general always has to be simple, easily recognizable and minimalistic whenever possible.

The simple truth

This is one of the few design myths that has any merit. Basically, this is mostly true, only NOT ALWAYS. There is no rule stating that logos must be compulsory simple. And of course, there are countless examples that contradict this statement.

However, we recognize that in general terms simplicity is preferable to complexity. And this is not only due to the principles of branding, but there are also scientific considerations.

It is really very easy to measure cognitive biases and the different types of reactions to a complex brand when compared to a simple one. It is part of the user research that we carry out for each brand project, and we could say that simple logos and brand identities surpass complicated brand images in tests in almost 100% of cases (literally 100% of cases that we analyze, which does not mean that in the future there may be exceptions, therefore we say “almost”)

branding myths: logos can be simple or complex
Complex logos aren’t necessarily bad

Design Myths and Facts Conclusion

Any professional brand designer or branding agency knows that each brand is unique. And therefore, it has its own set of unique features and values that need to be communicated.

There are no “one size fits all” rule. It’s simply impossible. What works for a brand, may not work for another, and viceversa.

On top of this, any brand development process goes through a broad range of considerations: cultural, geographical, technical, user experience, timing and many more.

It’s not the same to create a brand that will use a lot of analogic techniques such as uniform embroidery or vynyl printing than to create a visual identity for a purely digital brand. It’s not the same to design a logo for a financial company than to create brand guidelines for a museum or for an art gallery.

The important thing is to recognize and embrace the values of the brand, highlighting them in order to create a better user experience. Once we recognize those values, the visual identity system will come in a more fluid way, which is also the most accurate.

In short: in brand design there are no granted formulas, only research on possibilities!

The Branding Blog