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How To Prepare Your Logo For Responsive Design Systems

The modern logo has to work harder than ever before. In the past, a company logo was perhaps intended simply for a shop sign and printed in local newspaper adverts. Today’s logos have to work with a growing plethora of smart devices with varying screen sizes and resolutions, displaying responsive websites.

Often logos end up suffering within responsive website design1. Many have not been designed with responsive frameworks and variable sizes in mind, and are just resized to fit whatever available space has been provided for them or not.

However, there are brands that do well within the responsive web space. These are brands that have been designed carefully and with consideration as to how they will display within changing formats. The very best logos are simple and flexible, with varying formats and layout options so that when a site is optimized for a device, the brand is also optimized to the space allocated for it.

In this article we will see why simple, flexible and versatile logo design has become so important. Industry-leading, born-in-the-cloud brands such as Twitter, Facebook, Spotify and Google are refining and simplifying their brands owing to responsive web design and the growing impact of the mobile device market2. We can consider their solutions when thinking about our own brands, and how to optimize our logos to thrive within responsive web design3.

Further Reading on SmashingMag: Link

A Simple Fact Link

The human brain remembers simple forms far more easily than complex ones. One of the most common factors that separates a good logo from a bad logo is the element of simplicity. Quality, memorable, successful brands are always simple.

This concept is nothing new and was known long before responsive web design started pushing the envelope of simplicity. Look at Apple’s first attempt at a logo from 1976, designed by an engineer, Ron Wayne. As creative as it was (especially for an engineer) it was too complex and unsurprisingly it was replaced just a year later.

Apple Computers Logos

Apple Computer logos.

Steve Jobs commissioned professional graphic designer Rob Janoff to design something simple, memorable and modern. The colours may have varied but this basic shape has remained unchanged for over 30 years and has become one of the most iconic and recognizable logos in history. The simplicity of this design allows it to work well at any size on practically anything. Perfect for responsive web design, despite being made decades prior to the availability of such technology.

However, Apple’s original branding mistake is a common recurring issue for most businesses. Small startup companies typically have a limited budget. To avoid costs they mistakenly turn to the wrong person for a logo, someone who is not a professional logo designer. Someone who feels compelled to add things to create something.

Simple and Complex Logo Examples

Complex and simple logo examples.

Consider the Great Lakes Golf logo above on the left. Somebody spent a lot of time adding things to that design. The result is quite busy and it’s not going to scale down well at all; whereas the Skype logo on the right is simple, clean and memorable. It will work on anything and is scalable to small areas on mobile devices.

Logos Viewed on Mobile Devices

Logos viewed on mobile devices.

At full width you can identify the ball sport elements on the Great Lakes Golf logo. But scale down 50% and it’s barely readable. On the right, the Skype logo scales down beautifully. And if space gets too small, the Skype brand is flexible enough to drop the wordmark altogether.

This simple comparison shows how simple, clean and versatile design wins over more complex arrangements. The Great Lakes Golf logo probably suited its original intention just fine. However, in the context of a responsive website, the inability to scale cleanly becomes very apparent.

The Tech Industry Response Link

Facebook Link

Web-savvy brands are simplifying their logos to suit responsive mobile web design. Facebook removed the faint blue line from the bottom of its icon’s ‘f’ in 2013. And in July 2015 it simplified its wordmark by removing the ascender on the lowercase ‘a’, swapping it out for a simpler, more rounded version.

Overall, the other letters have also been slimmed and refined. The changes might seem insignificant but the reasoning is not. Facebook is changing its brand as a direct response to viewing on mobile devices.

responsive logos

Facebook old and new logos.

“This is actually a huge change and it’s much more than the ‘a’. It’s driven by mobile.”

– Howard Belk, co-chief executive and chief creative officer of branding firm Siegel+Gale.

Spotify Link

Back in 2006 the original Spotify logo was a mix of playful type with small wave elements that would get lost when it was scaled down. It was redesigned and simplified in 2013 to the black type and the green icon we are all familiar with. It has now been refined further to a single flat green colour. There has been some confusion expressed over the change with some asking why Spotify fixed what wasn’t broken. However, the change is part of a larger branding update for Spotify and it’s fairly obvious the driving factor is the search for further flexibility within mobile web spaces.

Spotify Logo Changes

Spotify logo changes.

“Because the system is so flexible it can go anywhere Spotify goes from screens, to print, to environments and interactive experiences. We pressure tested the system with tiny mobile ads on tiny mobile screens.”

– Leland Maschmeyer, creative director at New York design firm, Collins.

Google Link

Another case in point is Google. While I was writing this article, Google unveiled its latest logo update, their simplest yet. The Google logo has been evolving to new levels of simplicity since it first graced our browsers in the 90s.

Google Logo Changes in the early days

Google logo changes in the early days.

In recent years it would have quickly become apparent that their thin, serif type was not going to scale nicely within responsive web design. So, like other tech brands, they’ve simplified to a sans serif typeface with a flat design8 and a friendly and distinctive ‘G’ icon.

Google Logo changes recently

Google logo changes recently.

“Once upon a time, Google was one destination that you reached from one device: a desktop PC. These days, people interact with Google products across many different platforms, apps and devices…

Today we’re introducing a new logo and identity family that reflects this reality and shows you when the Google magic is working for you, even on the tiniest screens.”

– Posted on the official Google Blog by Tamar Yehoshua, VP, Product Management.

No Words Link

When Prince changed his name to a symbol in 1993 most of us thought he was nuts. But perhaps he was ahead of his time.

Prince photo and logo

Prince photo and logo.

An increasing number of companies are refining the simplicity of their logo, moving towards a flat, simple symbol design with no wordmark at all.

Logos for Twitter, Nike, Apple, Starbucks and Pinterest

Logos for Twitter, Nike, Apple, Starbucks and Pinterest.

Remember the bubble type and bird illustration that used to make up the Twitter logo? Over time, Twitter refined the logo, removing unnecessary detail; now it is just a very simplified version of the bird. No lower case ‘t’ icon, no twitter word-mark, just the bird logo.

Twitter logo changes

Twitter logo changes.

“Twitter is the bird, the bird is Twitter. There’s no longer a need for text, bubbled typefaces, or a lowercase ‘t’ to represent Twitter.”

– Creative director Doug Bowman

Of course, these are all well-known brands that can get away with reducing their logos to only a simple icon. Not everyone can or should do this. However, this is another example of the effect responsive web design is having on brands. Certainly, using an icon graphic as part of an identity increases the flexibility of the brand for use on mobile devices.

Moving Forward Link

Does this mean all logos are going to end up as simple flat icons or flat sans serif typefaces? I don’t think so. However, there is little denying the influence responsive web design is having on branding and it will be interesting to see how far this goes.

The historically sacred view that a company’s logo is a rigid form that must never change is giving way to a new kind of branding freedom, where logos respond and vary. From horizontal formats to vertically stacked, from wordmarks to simple icons, even changing colours to suit dark and light screen backgrounds.

One might argue that looking at the branding direction of the tech industry isn’t relevant to, say, a law firm or a restaurant. However, all industries are going to eventually end up within responsive web design one way or another and become affected by the rise of mobile devices. Some companies may wonder why this doesn’t seem to work as well for their brand as it does for Twitter or Pinterest.

Those who understand the design principle of simplicity and embrace this flexible approach to their branding will respond best within this new medium. At the very least, how a brand appears when scaled down on a mobile device will become a staple test for any logo designer or branding project.

Logo designers ought to help educate clients to embrace this new flexible approach, where logos can be optimized within responsive web design while maintaining brand consistency. Otherwise we will witness more web builders taking it on themselves to alter a problematic logo on the fly to suit their individual project. Not an ideal solution for anyone.

Keep an eye out for our upcoming practical how-to guide on responsive logo design.

(da, ml, og, il)

Footnotes Link

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Jon is the Creative Director at Activate Design; a graphic design and web development agency based in New Zealand. He is involved in a wide variety of design projects with a particular interest in branding.

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    The examples, the Twitter one specifically, indicate a poorly researched article. Neither of those first two bird illustrations were ever Twitter logos, and the third example was never a lockup they used.

    (The first illustration is Twitter client Twitterrific’s icon, smashed next to twitter’s second wordmark.)

    • 3

      The second bird was an iteration that was used according to Twitter history, first one is a mash up but there were lots of those around until Twitter tightened up their branding.

  3. 5

    Bad Article. No informations how to optimize Logos

    • 6

      Probs should’ve read this part: “Keep an eye out for our upcoming practical how-to guide on responsive logo design.”

    • 7

      Plus all of the examples of how big companies have optimized their logos over the years (Google, Spotify, Twitter).

  4. 8

    Nice article..

  5. 9

    No shortcuts.

    The facebook example shows best that there is no shortcut to a simple logo. You can’t start with a simple flat icon, because it looks cheap. If you come up with something like the facebook logo, everybody will think you created it with Word.

    So you have to start with a more memorable icon and may reduce it’s complexity when you become better known. Of course you still have to solve the responsive problem. Maybe using a simple logo for small screens, but adding details as soon as the viewport allows it.

  6. 10

    val_berger (twitter)

    April 15, 2016 12:08 pm

    In general this article is about logodesign in general.
    Logos should always be resizable. In some cases like the facebook typo it’s more specific about responsive design, but 90% of the cases here apply just to plain logodesign guidelines.

  7. 11

    Missing this link in the article:

    This is how the big companies do it, please learn from it.

  8. 12

    what a shallow article, i was expecting to read about responsive logos and best practices for it, not this, so disappointing!!

    • 13

      Ha ha ‘this is a bad article because its not about the thing that I want it to be about’

  9. 14

    Labeed Assidmi

    April 19, 2016 1:57 pm

    The article was fine and most of the information was interesting and easy yo digest.

    What’s with all these “hate” comments?

  10. 15

    LogoWhistle Sankar

    April 21, 2016 10:20 am

    Good article! Discussing the latest trends and problems with logo design process.

    The responsive logo design process increases the designer’s time, however it opens several creative challenges. Designer must have an eye on a small applicable size to various sizes of logo design usage. If designer has good knowledge in logo design responsiveness, they can educate the client with many different options and narrow down their selection process.

    In my opinion, logo design must be changed often based on the circumstances.

  11. 16

    Mango Web Design

    April 21, 2016 9:19 pm

    It’s kind of scary that you included comments about Prince after reading today’s headlines…


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