We’ve often said that photographs are bad in logos. We explore that “carved in stone” concept with a real estate logo that’s literally carved in stone..

photograph-logo-signDesigners often talk, a great lengths, why a logo design has to be simple, some going as far to say it’s a “carved in stone” kinda rule. While I agree in principle with that basic premise, it’s a rule that we’ve been guilty of breaking, on numerous occasions (in our defense, we always make sure if an illustrative logo treatment is appropriate, according to future plans for the design). Was out for an early motorcycle ride this morning and stumbled across a classic example of why this ‘simple is better’ is the rule, rather than the exception (pardon the photograph quality, but it was overcast and the pics were taken with my handy-dandy iPhone).

Different applications. Different results.

magnolia-photograph-logoTake a look at the sign above. It’s a big one (actually, identical billboards have been placed in about four locations, to grab eyeballs from every traffic direction.) The logo in the middle is for the real estate development featured. Uses either a photograph or a photo-realistic representation of a magnolia as the central theme, accented with torn photo edges and drop shadow. Nothing terribly wrong with the logo itself. It’s nicely designed, probably looks smashing on glossy business cards, textured letterheads and highly-varnished presentation folders given out to prospective home buyers. Has a nice vibe, presents a decent upscale image (needed with the price of houses these days) and is an example that most designers wouldn’t mind having in their portfolio. So what’s the issue? Well, that logo was ONLY designed with print (or web) use in mind. When it comes to other applications, the logo presents some very real problems. photo-in-a-logo-graniteAt every entrance, the real estate development features huge granite structures (speaking of “carved in stone”) that are emblazoned with the same magnolia logo. Or a not-so-reasonable facsimile thereof. This time, the design doesn’t look so good. In fact, it has reproduced horribly and looks like a bad clip art logo, pinched from the library of some shopping mall ‘custom’ embroidery hat store. To be honest, the photo doesn’t do justice to how bad it actually looks. The stone version of the logo has lost the upscale vibe of the original entirely, even though I’m sure these granite monoliths cost an absolute fortune to produce. I’m also sure the manufacturers did what they could with the original logo as presented.

Design cross-purposes.

Neither the designer, or the people carving the logo into the granite were incompetent, and both are probably very skilled at their individual craft. It’s all speculation, but I imagine the designer probably wasn’t aware that the logo was going to show up on multiple granite slabs, almost 20 feet high, on every road that entered the estate. And the monument manufacturer simply wasn’t able to covert the complex photo-detail of the original into his/her medium. Trouble is, the difference between the two applications is profound (enough that I’d blog about it anyway.)

Plan for future use. Avoid using photographs.

If we can take something out of this, it would be to avoid using photographs (or other extremely realistic) depictions in any logo design project. Another would be that it’s critical to know beforehand how a logo is planned to be used. We try to extract that information before starting ANY project at the shop, lest we corner a design’s use somewhere down the road. Trouble is, many businesses in start-up have absolutely NO idea how their logo will be used in future days. Here, I’ll make that bigger to drive it home:

“Many businesses in start-up have absolutely NO idea how their logo usage will be used in future days.”

If that’s the case, it’s best to keep it simple.