I’ve been involved in any number of logo projects, and all too often the designs submitted are predictable and prosaic. At best, the logo designer understands enough about the business to build some aspect of the firm’s identity or product into the logo. At worst, the logo is nothing more than a name in a fancy font with a swoosh or geometric element to make it look “designed.” Sometimes, though, logo designers are clever enough to build messages into the logo that aren’t apparent and may not be consciously processed by most viewers.
A post at the Graphic Design Blog, 25 logos with hidden messages, shows off many designs that incorporate hidden, or not so hidden but still clever, messages. (Note: that blog has vanished from the web, but here’s an alternative post.) The Yoga Australia logo, for example, incorporates the map of Australia subtly into the shape formed by the girl’s leg and arm. The Big Ten, which actually constitutes eleven teams, managed to work in an “11” into their logo without diminishing their traditional name.
One of the all-time best known logos with a hidden element is that of Federal Express. The Fedex logo hides an arrow between the “E” and “x,” presumably intended to communicate speed, forward motion, etc.
Many of the examples among the 25 illustrated aren’t really subliminal or hidden. Rather, they just do a really nice job of melding multiple elements of a business into a single very clever design. The Piano Forest logo, for example, does a brilliant job of expressing the name of the firm by combining tree images with a piano keyboard. Most viewers will get this immediately, and the logo will make the name of the company easier to remember. That’s great branding, even if the message isn’t hidden. By comparison, the Fedex logo is a standout (from a subliminal standpoint) as relatively few viewers will spot the arrow on first viewing.
But does incorporating a very subtle design element in a logo make sense? Why not just make it obvious to everyone? I think in some cases, obvious might be perfectly fine and even desirable. At other times, though, adding a major element might detract from the main logo. A giant “11” in the Big Ten logo might be confusing and distracting. Research has shown that our brains process subtle information without our conscious awareness, and in some logo designs less may be more.
One interesting way to definitively answer the subliminal logo question would be with a neuromarketing study. Would brain scans show subjects viewing a logo with a hidden message react differently than when they viewed an almost identical logo without it? To my knowledge, no such study has been done.
View all of the clever logos here. Do you have a favorite logo with a message that isn’t immediately apparent? If readers identify some that didn’t make the other list, I’ll display them in a subsequent post.