Food for thought‘[...] do not think that good design can make a poor product good, whether the product be a machine, a building, a promotional brochure or a business man. But [...] good design can materially help make a good product reach its full potential. In short, [...] good design is good business.’
Thomas J. Watson Jr., IBM CEO

Logo Design Love: A Guide to Creating Iconic Brand Identities — Book Review

January 21, 2011, 8:56 PM

“Anyone involved in creating visual identities, or wanting to learn how to go about it, will find this book invaluable.” — Tom Geismar, Chermayeff & Geismar.

Now, getting one of the greatest designers to write such a commending line about your book is no small thing. Even if just for this recommendation, David Airey‘s book is worth buying. However, praises can be biased, and great designers are usually kind and helpful (read Jessica Helfand’s beautiful article on “The Kindness of Strangers” and you’ll see what I mean — no, it’s not about Paul Rand, he’s the “angry” type).

But let’s get on with the review. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last three years or just found out about graphic design yesterday, David Airey is one of the most successful design bloggers around, writing two graphic design blogs, logodesignlove.com and davidairey.com (having more than 700,000 monthly page views). His newest, Identity Designed, is a site featuring work and inside stories from great design studios around the world (I can see a book version coming soon for this one as well). Logo Design Love started as a blog in January 2008, devoted to the design of logos and visual identities. Having become so successful, it eventually led to a book offer, as David wrote in Jan 2009.

Written with the noble intent of sharing everything he’s learned so far, David’s Logo Design Love book takes on explaining the process of creating “iconic brand identities”, but also touches other important parts of a designer’s career, like staying motivated, improving your communication skills, finding a balance and so on. There are three large sections (each with several chapters):

  1. The Importance of Brand Identity
  2. The Process of Design
  3. Keep the fires burning

The first section explains quite thoroughly why we need logos and visual identities, how they work and what are the traits of a great identity system. Each statement is supported by examples, from the classic FedEx logo to more recent ones, like this beautiful logo for the New Bedford Whaling Museum (by Malcolm Grear Designers):

Whitespace — always a beautiful and memorable solution.

or this superb logo for The Royal Parks, done by Moon Brand in 2006 1996 (unlucky guys, their work is subject to two mistakes in the book, the second being the Vision Capital logo on page 27, credited to designer Richard Moon, but done by Peter Dean):

One of the best british logos, for The Royal Parks (done by Moon Brand). Also notice the asymmetric pages.

The second section covers, as its name says, the process of design, depicting the key points in the development of a design project. David puts a lot of emphasis on the “thinking” part of our job, which is a great thing, considering that many young designers find out the hard way (or don’t at all) that good design is first about ideas and strategy, and only second about nice typefaces and symbols. In other words, design is an efficient business tool, not an artistic venture. Among the notable points touched in this section is the “Pricing design” chapter, very clear and well-written, proving to be of invaluable help, since most designers have a hard time figuring out what they should charge — of course, a true designer loves his job and would probably do it for free, but bills must be paid and those shiny Macs surely don’t grow on trees.

“It took me a few seconds to draw it, but it took me 34 years to learn how to draw it in a few seconds” — Paula Scher.

A quote to keep in mind when you’re making budgets. Clients are making an investment from which they’ll benefit for years — design is not a commodity, after all.

The book is worth only for this chapter alone: Pricing. Ok, for the eighth one as well: The art of conversation.

One very good practice explained by David is mind-mapping. I know, these bubbles look more like a manager’s thing, but trust me, they can generate quite some unexpected gems. Also, one thing that’s never nearly stated enough: the necessity of pen & paper. Even if you were born with a mouse in your hand, pen & paper sketching still makes a difference between good designers and simple mouse-pushers.

One thing to keep in mind: mind-mapping can bring some of the best, unexpected ideas.

An interesting thing to discuss: presenting your logos in black & white. Indeed, you don’t want one proposal losing to another just because the client likes red more than blue or vice-versa. Unfortunately, you can’t always do this, as most of the times you have to present bits of the applied identity as well, and black & white Photoshop mock-ups are not the most convincing. Still, the best way to design a logo is to start with black & white.

Black & white before colour — an ideal approach to presenting new logos.

The last chapter here is “The art of conversation”, another notable piece, as so few designers are capable of thoroughly explaining their work, let alone sell it to the client using business language, rationalising his creative decisions (even if some were based on his intuition). You should really keep in mind David’s advice: “Swallow that pride” — clients may not know much about design, but they’re rarely complete idiots, so you’d better listen well if you want to come up with a successful design solution.

The third section focuses on keeping yourself motivated. Design as a job (or calling, if you prefer) has its ups and downs, and you’ll often fall into the despair pit, thinking the clients don’t have any common sense, why didn’t I become a photographer (ahem, the ladies, it’s the ladies, I tell you…), but most of the times that you’re not good enough, that you don’t have great ideas and so on. And don’t forget boredom, another life-long enemy of creatives. Motivation and inspiration don’t come come easy, after all. One of the best advice here is to “step away from the computer”. Even Archimedes had his “Eureka” moment in the bathroom, remember?

Another favourite logo from the book: Fusion, by Jerry Kuiper. And a great advice: step away from your computer.

The last three chapters of the book contain 15 relevant questions & answers from David’s readers, 25 practical logo design tips and some very good design resources.

The book’s design is based on Hoefler & Frere Jones’ Gotham — the 2000′s Helvetica or the Obama typeface, if you want. The body text is 11 points in size, which, combined with Gotham’s large x-height makes the whole book feel somewhat big & American (but I’m guessing that’s where the book & blog are most successful, so it’s no bad thing). It also has a certain didactic feeling, which suits the simple, straight-to-the-point style of writing. The pages are asymmetrical, a modern approach in book design. Captions are elegantly placed on the generous left margin. All in all, it’s very easy to read, unlike other design books that tend to forget that words are just as important as looks.

FINAL WORDS

So, is this a good book? It sure is. Especially if you’re a student, a designer in your first three or four years of experience, or a client that wants to take a peek inside the creative process. It could also make a great gift for some of your clients. However, if you’re a more experienced designer, you won’t find anything you haven’t heard of yet, but it’s still a good reminder — we sure tend to forget the obvious from time to time, caught up in the daily deadline-rush. Hopefully, this book will convince some of the young designers that crowd-sourcing and pitching are a lose-lose deal, even if it’s not obvious from the beginning.

Finally, if I had to name one flaw, that would be the book’s title. It suggests a logo-centric approach to visual identity, which is obviously not valid in our age anymore, as brands like Aol or Swisscomm have proven. Logos are just the small tip of the iceberg, sometimes completely irrelevant for a strong and successful brand (take Virgin, for example). But I’m sure David already knows this and the title was kept for its brand awareness — Logo Design Love has become a brand, after all.

You should also read David’s Behind the scenes: Writing a design book. And of course, read his blog, Logo Design Love.

COLOPHON
The book is set in Gotham, with asymmetrical pages. Pictures are in full colour.

BOOK DETAILS
Title: Logo Design Love: A Guide to Creating Iconic Brand Identities
Author: David Airey
No. of pages: 216
Publisher: New Riders; 1 edition (20 Dec 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0321660765
ISBN-13: 978-0321660763

WHERE TO BUY
Amazon US (cheapest) or Amazon UK (fast shipping if you’re in EU). I’d recommend The Book Depository from UK for their fast, free delivery worldwide. You could also search for a used copy on Alibris.

THREE SIMILAR BOOKS
• “How to be a graphic designer without loosing your soul” by Adrian Shaughnessy;
• “Graphic Design: A User’s Manual” by Adrian Shaughnessy and Michael Bierut;
• “What Is Graphic Design?” by Quentin Newark.

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Comments:

David Airey‘s book is worth buying? Don’t think so. If I could I would ask my money back. :) (and I’m not an experienced designer)

If you didn’t find anything that you didn’t know in David’s book it means you know quite a lot — unfortunately, I know plenty designers with more than 5 or 10 years’ experience that don’t know (or disregard) half of what’s in the book. As I said, it’s not an ‘advanced’ or a ‘deep’ book on design, but had I had it when I was a student or during my first two jobs, it would’ve made quite a difference. And for $15, I think it’s worth the money :)

Thank you for reading and commenting.
Cheers!
Iancu

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It might be the fact that my expectations for this book were high.
I would like to read “an ‘advanced’ or a ‘deep’ book on design” can you recommend one? (or more?) :)
Cheers!

My previous book review was “Paul Rand: Conversations with students” — it’s quite small, but each page is a serious food for thought.

A more ‘advanced’ book is the first one I recommended on this review, “How to be a graphic designer without loosing your soul”, by Adrian Shaughnessy.

Best,
Iancu

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[...] Sincere apologies to the Moon Brand team, and much appreciation to London-based Romanian designer Iancu Barbărasă for his detailed book review. [...]

[...] Sincere apologies to the Moon Brand team, and much appreciation to London-based Romanian designer Iancu Barbărasă for his detailed book review. [...]

Thanks again, Iancul. Particularly for highlighting those errors. The first thing I did was to apologise to Richard and Peter at Moon Brand. Careless mistakes.

Daniel (TheNutz), have a look at Designing Brand Identity by Alina Wheeler. I just received a review copy from Wiley, and at a quick glance it looks very indepth.

My pleasure, David. Errors happen, especially when you’re working with a lot of information — I remember how many mistakes got away when the studio I worked for made the book with their own work, so I can imagine how hard it is when you have to keep track of several studios.

Cheers!
Iancu

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[...] my Anobii online library — ask me if you want more recommendations; — read my reviews of the LogoDesignLove book and other great books; — check out Designersandbooks — the favourite books of many great [...]

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