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What's in a Logo?

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This post was originally published on the HS Bits Blog, which was active from 2008-2013.


It seems that Pepsi has revamped its logo.

I have to admit that this innovation passed me by, mainly because I don't drink soft drinks too often, and never drink Pepsi. But I should have been paying closer attention, if only because the unveiling of a new iteration of a highly-recognized brand logo is a great opportunity for discussing visual rhetoric with my students.

Fortunately, a friend sent me a link to this document today, so I can share it with you. If you can make it past the bizarrely pretentious, esoteric language, you will find what appears to be an intriguing example of the thinking that goes into logo design.

The document is ostensibly a leaked rationale for the development of the new logo, created by the designers, the Arnell Group, to pitch the new look to Pepsi. Whether in fact it's "the real thing" or not (sorry, Coca-Cola), it still contains some useful starter information about such design principles as the eye-pleasing proportionality of the Golden Ratio and the relationship between color and emotional response.

It also includes some rather dubious explanations of how the shapes in the new logo relate to both the magnetic fields of the earth and subconscious perception of facial expressions, among other things. (I was particularly amused by the "gravitational pull" the new Pepsi logo apparently exerts on shoppers in the grocery store. Really? People get paid to come up with these ideas? Where do I sign up?) Even if this sets you to giggling, as it did me, you can select bits and pieces to use in the classroom to illustrate how advertisers consider shape and color in order to attract attention and convey a message about their product.

The document also traces the evolution of the logo from its curlicued beginnings in the late 19th Century to its sleeker, more modern versions. Occasion and audience are key considerations in designing a logo, and students could have a good discussion speculating as to why different styles of text and label shapes might appeal to people with different stylistic sensibilities.

Ask students to examine decorative, industrial, graphic and artistic design aesthetics from various periods: the end of the Victorian era, the turn of the 19th to 20th centuries, the 1920s, 1930s, 1950s/early 60s, late 60s/early 70s, early 1990s, the pre-millennial 1998, and present day. Each of these periods is represented by a different logo; what does each logo say about the kinds of things people found decorative and therefore attractive throughout the ages? Discuss with the students how style and sensibilities change and thus require different rhetorical approaches.

Of course, you needn't limit yourself to Pepsi logos. Logos are all around us. The New York Times recently published this article about the Super Bowl logo, complete with handy-dandy lesson plan, also focusing on its evolution through time and the principles of design that go into its creation.

And if you'd like your students to focus not just on popular culture but also on how design principles affect the realm of public discourse, have them examine the logos created for the recent election campaigns: You can find plenty of information online about candidates' bumper stickers or posters.

Oh, and if you have Coca-Cola drinkers instead, try this site.