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

The Scribble, probably the best designers’ logo ever

April 28, 2011, 12:25 PM

Logos come in all shapes and sizes, some good, some bad, some real crap. Few of them can be called great. Creative Review recently took on the challenge of making a Top 20 logos issue. I know, making lists and top charts is a bit tricky (some would say even childish), as you can hardly compare apples and pears — but still, it’s fun to do and a good excuse to talk about some beautiful pieces of graphic design history. Their no. 1, the Woolmark logo is without doubt one of the best ever, a true gem, with an equally interesting story. The others are also great classic logos, like the Deutsche Bank’s, the British Rail’s, Michelin’s, V&A’s and many others.

Top branding and design companies rarely have ‘interesting’ logos. While some prefer to simply make use of classic typefaces like Modern No. 20 or Centennial (see Pentagram, Interbrand, Saffron or Landor), others write their name with whatever they can find in the kitchen. After all, making a logo for a company that does just that for a living is not an easy task — and we all know how we’re usually our own worst clients.

So how can a simple scribble be probably the best designers’ logo? Read on to find out.

While I didn’t expect for the Scribble (yes, that’s its name) to make the Creative Review list, it is not the least less great. Minale Tattersfield is one of the top British design companies, founded back in 1964 by Marcello Minale and Brian Tattersfield. I wrote a bit more about them in my review of the book, ‘Design: The World of Minale Tattersfield’.

Their logo is definitely a surprise. I remember mine when I first saw it, baffled by the sheer disregard of all the ‘rules’ that would make a good logo. A simple, random-looking scribble. I kept trying to find a meaning, like a hidden M, or maybe a dynamic arrangement of lines, leaning forward — but nothing made sense. If you just cover the company’s name and tell anybody that this is a logo, the most likely reaction will be ‘Are you kidding me?’. Ask most designers about it and they’ll come up right on the spot with at least ten valid reasons why the above logo is ‘wrong’.

So why is it so great?

Well, almost all great ideas start on paper. What’s the thing we all do, creative or not? We scribble. Right from the very first moment we can hold a pencil in our hand.We scribble before we can even write. So what better symbol for expressing the essence of ideas than a scribble? Here’s how they say it:

In 1964 we scribbled (literally) an idea for our logo onto a piece of paper and used it to launch our design and branding services to an unsuspecting world. We knew then that a great brand needed to have a powerful idea to attract attention and demonstrate clarity and purpose. We also knew that effective communication did not require huge budgets to achieve results. What was important was to get noticed and not to get lost among all the prevailing noise already out there. (In fact we were determined not to add to it).

Today, with the same spirit we still want to scribble down ideas, create great design and share our latest work, our views and insights and hopefully a touch of excellence and old fashioned expertise. We want to be part of the debate but more importantly highlight the opportunities that brands have in developing mid to long term loyalty by combining powerful ideas, great design and realisation.

There’s also a really interesting story about the Scribble and the D&AD pencil:

In 1962 Marcello Minale Snr and Brian Tattersfield (our founding partners) met at Y&R (Young and Rubicam). In 1963 they joined D&AD after winning their first D&AD award (a certificate). The following year Marcello Minale Snr and Brain Tattersfield decided to leave Y&K and start their own agency, appropriately called Minale Tattersfield. Their first commission was to create an identity for themselves (the Scribble) and shortly afterwards they volunteered to design a more prestigious award for D&AD. What they created was a beautiful ebony pencil box, which contained a pencil with silver lettering. It was a thing of beauty but too delicate, so in 1966 Lou Klein designed the more durable yellow pencil we have today.

There are three D&AD Pencils now, but the original one was MinTat's idea.

So it’s quite clear now why the MinTat (as they’re called in short) logo is brilliant. It represents the very essence of good design, the source and initial state of great ideas.

Ok, the concept is good, but what can you actually do with such a logo? Does it fax? Does it work in small sizes? Can you develop a visual language around it? Well, as you can see in MinTat’s book that I’ve mentioned above, they did find quite a lot of ways of playing around with it. Here’s the hardcover of the book, showing six interpretations of the logo, one for each chapter of the book:

And if you thought the logo is just some random sketch, think again:

Here are some other very interesting examples:

And, if you still need any more proof, here’s how the logo can easily overcome every designer’s nightmare, Christmas cards:

As an ending note, ever wondered why some of the great architects’ crappy sketches turn out to be such amazing buildings?

Zaha Hadid's sketch for the Phaeno Science Center.

Further reading & credits:
Minale Tattersfield’s blog (too bad their main blog’s RSS doesn’t work);
‘Favourite logos: our expert panel’ on the Creative Review blog;
‘Favourite logos: our expert panel, p.2’ on the Creative Review blog;
‘Favourite logos: looking past the obvious’ on the Creative Review blog;
Zaha Hadid’s Phaeno Science Center case study.

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Comments:

I think the Minale Tattersfield logo lives mostly through the ecosystem of its applications, which are the truly brilliant in their naive—yet witty—simplicity, while a logo like Woolmark lives through the performance of its own shape and craft. Different ways to achieve the (more or less) same goals.

Very well said — both are masterful logos, but each has its own way of working. The Woolmark is a work of art in itself, I’d say. You can put it next to any classic painting or sculpture without any problems.

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I don`t belive that a logo should be a work of art exept when it represents an art bussines, otherwise ir should be comprehensible, right to the subject and in the same time it should draw attention to itself… sometimes less does more….

[…] You can read more about their logo on my related blog post: The Scribble, probably the best designers’ logo ever. […]

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