The latest trends in logo design from Logo Lounge

Logo Lounge’s 2019 report reveals that zip tones, dots, wings and doors are all in vogue. Here Bill Gardner, Logo Lounge’s founder, discusses what it all means

Another year older, but the logo design industry shows no signs of old age. Like an unruly kid ripping through a stack of unopened presents, I eagerly dive into each annual report knowing an experience awaits. Sometimes it’s the gratification of what I’d hoped for, and the delightful surprise of unanticipated genius. Occasionally, it’s more analogous to underwear and socks, and I encounter the mundane or, rarely, the disappointing. Nevertheless, it’s evidence of industry vitality, and it’s all a gift.

So, first the good. This year’s trends continue to show curious and hardworking design prowess at work, moving us forward to greater heights. You’ll see in this year’s themes the continuation of themes past, with their own unique slant. Gradients continue to evolve in new and enlightening ways with designers embracing less traditional color curves like red straight into green or blue swerving right into orange. These tend to create an odd hued limbo zone between the complimentary colors but as more of the adjacent color shifts like orange to magenta to violet ala Instagram are taken, we continue to look for unclaimed gradient ownership.

Patterns within logos give a retro nod in contemporary settings and often in a black and white solution. As a way to build differentiation it’s as if designers have unearthed a trove of decaying Zipatone or Letratone graphic film. Big gritty dots and stripes and mezzotints are tempered with a few wood grains and cheesy brick patterns give adornment to burly marks that might have normally been filled with color. These logos seem to take on a throwback monotone look that’s antithetical to the high-chroma gradient trend.

Modern culture continues to shift the ways we interpret symbols and how we visually prioritize in context, setting topsy-turvy the relationship between identity and application. Greater credence has been given the attending visual vocabulary as texture, pattern, typography, photography and illustrative elements have shifted seats in the visual brand hierarchy. It’s becoming more common to see a brand driven by the supporting visual aesthetics, occasionally leaving the logo to call shotgun if it’s invited along for the ride at all.

Of course every ying has its yang, which poked up its head in the form of idea repetition, especially as new plug-ins, filters, effects and animation tools are taken for a test drive. There are a few too many animated orbiting rings of type, as an example. Each is beautifully crafted and well thought through but relying on the same foundational effect as a half dozen others makes it hard to build separation. It’s never wrongdoing to try new things, but the hope is that we still work with technology advances in our own unique ways to truly make our own mark.

Additionally, in an atmosphere that thrives on exploration, portfolios increasingly feature designer fancies to try out and mimic directions and techniques of their own volition. It’s reinforcement of the ever-important freedom to create, and the practice adds to designerly chops, yet I must admit it can throw off the ability to evaluate the true direction of paid work. Especially when this unpaid, extracurricular work finds itself straying too close to its inspiration for comfort.

Yet again, I’m compelled to remind that trends do not trendy make. Unlike fads, true trends won’t effervesce with cultural shifts but instead reach out in both directions to shake hands with identities from past and future. We keep leaving breadcrumbs so that we can draw from past genius while still carving a future path that will never look exactly like what’s left behind.

Make no mistake, the current ‘popular crowd’ of themes showed up again this year: drones, mushrooms, tikis, tacos, weight balls, hedgehogs, pelicans, snakes, waffles, needles, lightbulbs, three-eyed tigers, and vaping. Temporal but many still beautifully crafted, I’ll tip my hat to them though they will eventually pass by.

As always, I’m grateful to the LogoLounge community of more than 20,000 designers across the world who provide much of the fodder for these reports. At the time of this report, our site stands at more than 300,000 logos strong, allowing our members and us to continue to watch trends as they develop in real time. It’s a privilege to work by their side to prop up the craft that we love.

MORSE SHADE

Throwing shade on a designer’s work is as toothless as a heckler to a seasoned comedian. Show five logos and one gets picked. At best we have an 80% rejection rate. No doubt the seeds that make us so resilient and inventive. Tiring of the expected, this year our lot has crafted a new way to throw shade on their own work. That desire to eschew another field of gradient color for tone or a barrage of diminishing strokes to signal motion have given way to a concentric string of hyper-effective dots and dashes. Welcome a pleasant new way to break the visual tension of traditional shading while providing a pure vector solution.

Over the last several years, we’ve seen dots and dashes with rounded extremities mingling together to demonstrate the melding of diverse elements. Usually running concentric or parallel to each other and not merging or emerging from a solid field. By extruding these out of a field or bridging these elements together and extending them out of an object, designers are presenting the consumer with the dot-dot-dot invitation they need to complete the picture in their own mind. A couple of dots in the CoffeeSwap cup and I get it. So you drop out the tail end of the speedy rabbit. ‘Nuff said.

LOADED

If you’ve met the person that groans when food on their plate touches, you’ve met the individual that will wince at these marks. Not only have designers removed any pretense of separation of elements, they’ve flaunted this layering of graphic components and even doubled down here and there to cloudy results. The majority of these deliver an engaging message that avoids overload and cleverly invites scrutiny. The formula for most is to build a top high-contrast layer with clear information and load it on a subordinate graphic that completes the story.

Two layers is good. Three layers is manageable. Four layers is a complete wreck. If the background is not decipherable, the dominant top layer of information will still function. These are generally akin to badges with a mixture of illustration and typog- raphy, but less separated by a hierarchy of scale and more by contrast. As these examples indicate, the aesthetic can range from vintage nostalgia to farm fresh based on what you’re looking to dish up.

ORPHAN SHADOWS

Shadow as an element in logo design is critical in so many ways. I’ve created full chapters discussing how shadow came about as such an important component to designers. It foretells events or gives a sense of place. They can display aspirations or other yet-to-be-determined assets. They identify the direction of light and tell if you’re enlightened or if you are enlightening others. In a more literal sense, they can also show dimension and spatial relationships. Cross a vertical and a horizontal line and a bit of shadow defines who’s on top. Draft a flat tonal horse, and two of the legs may go a bit darker. Bet those are the back legs.

Occasionally, we as designers can be trapped by our own technique. If you missed it, you’re not alone. Each of these and many other marks of recent contain a shadow of such infinitesimal dimension that their inclusion seem out of place. Even where it does appear to provide critical separation as in the Trustpilot star, I’m left wondering if the effort is grand enough to function well when scaled down. Here’s a modest piece of advice. If it requires an effect, make sure it doesn’t require reading glasses to accompany.

ZIP TONE

An enthusiastic generation of designers are reinventing the wheel but with a whole new vengeance. In pre-digital years, any desire to lay stripes, dots, mezzotints, woodgrain or other exotic half-tones into an illustration first required a trip to your local commercial arts supply store. Sticky backed sheets of film under the names Zipatone or Letratone came in an endless array of effects that could be had for a paltry sum for application to your art. No surprise that vintage design books are rife with logos displaying some pretty spiffy gradients leaving designers curious about this alien technology.

Marks shown in this trend are retro channeling the ‘70s, not only in style but in adoption of tonal technique. Forget dropping in a 40% tint of black or your selected colour from your swatch tab. The use of an over-scaled tonal effect is what rings true to the era. To a consumer, this only harkens back to a less demanding time in a subconscious manner. It’s an effect that designers home in on immediately as a bit janky but definitely a product of the way-back machine. An A+ for nostalgia but still a challenge if plans call for the mark to be scaled down. Too tight of a screen eliminates the charm, and at that point it might as well be gray.

DOTS

Somewhere geographically between Zip Tone and Highlights, lays the Isle of Dots. These oversized fields of dots are reminis- cent of placing a bit of gnarly halftone screen into a mark because they actually represent an element of the icon and not just a foundation in the background. I picture Jay Fletcher selecting the dots on his bowl of poke because it looks like a liberal dose of sesame seeds sprinkled atop the dish. Note that the dots serve as an approximation of a woven basket or the blush of a peach, but the pattern is not used as just an opportunity to lay in tone.

Utilising a bolder pattern scaled up to read as pattern and not as a halftone has turned into an effective way to break up the tension of flat tonal areas in a mark and create interest that visually remind us the mark has been well seasoned. As a way to achieve respite from a logo crafted from gradients and digital dissonance, this allows a designer to limit the colour in a palette and still draw the consumer in with a simple and playful vector repetition.

HIGHLIGHTS

It’s easily argued there are no new tricks in the field of calling attention to ourselves. Apes beat their chest, peacocks spread their plumage, and humans post to social media. Then there’s a small subset of identity designers that reach for a highlighter and start embellishing their work. Or at least that’s what this year’s Highlight trend appears to do. Otherwise proper and workman- like marks are made remarkable with a modest stroke or two to lay in the essential patch of vivid yellow.

We’re left with a bit of a feeling these often black-and-white marks were presented to clients that were 90% on board before they reached into their top drawer, pulled out a highlighter to dab at the art and then expressed elation at their own addition. Areas of highlight range from indiscriminate to purposeful information, and in all fairness, these are out there in other popular highlighter shades like lavender, day glow pink, and electric blue. All fun aside, many of these are well crafted, and praise is due the designers that recognised the spark of colour was what lifts these marks out of potential banality.

QUARTERS

A continuation of theme from the last two years has been the move to simplification of design or purity of mark. This homage to clarity of structure and image from prior generations is proof of designers’ inventive nature as they noodle out solutions rearranging the same geometric parts and pieces that have been in play since Euclid was a tot. Whenever you hear someone express the belief that everything’s been done before, just remind them writers and musicians have been rearranging a handful of notes or letters and rendering new music and books for longer than logos have existed. Our well is nowhere near dry.

This year, the plethora of circles quartered and strewn about in a deliberate fashion can be found everywhere. Most often, these are the sole building blocks, but they’re also found mixed with circles, half circles, squares, triangles, and the other step-sibling array or geometric shapes. Purity of form continues to deliver a signal of simplicity or competence, even when representing a complex message. There continues to be a limit to the number of elements you can fit into a mark before it seems cumbersome. The Soren West mark is certainly an engaging solution but is a half-step away from the quarter circle capacity.

SPELL SIGNS

I’ll confess, the first impression of these marks left me wondering if a few designers have a crush on JK Rowling. The stone, the wand, and the cloak, incarnate from the Deathly Hallows. If these logo talismans have nearly as strong a tale to tell, they will serve their masters impeccably. One simply cannot look at these without believing every resolute stroke is placed in perfect harmony to the others and likely imbued with powerful meaning. I’m left feeling smarter for just having seen these.

The clarity of the earnest strokes, the perfected angles and immaculately radiused curves intersect like precision crosshairs. These instil a technical superiority to their owners and leave us with a sense of competent infallibility. Surely the context of the application of these marks demands an equally rigid environment with little margin for whimsy. If anything, these symbols may be just formal enough to sway you to arrive at their office in a freshly starched shirt.

HOLES

Imagine that pale virgin square on a weathered apartment wall, signaling an inspector that evidence has been removed from a crime scene. It’s not what’s hanging there that informs us, it’s what’s not there that alerts us to a critical message. Whether the hole or shape in question is unceremoniously carved from the guts of other graphic elements or if it’s deftly excised, leaving no trace of foul play, each serve the same purpose. These exist as the canvas on which the consumer will complete the story.

These are not merely a hidden negative space like the arrow in the FedEx logo or the bear on the mountainside for Toblerone. These fields were not designed to hide but to illustrate for the consumer an incompleteness that only they can solve. By engaging the public in this brandmark conundrum, we create an engagement that might otherwise be lost on the public. Certainly the surrounding evidence points to the solution, as in the logo for the Museum Reinhard Ernst. The open square could represent any one of the museum’s collection or insinuate less is m[ ]re.

SPOT DRAG

Anyone that’s ever tried to illustrate with markers recalls that uncontrollable moment at the end of a stroke. Before you can lift the pen or if you’re indecisive and pause, the marker tip suddenly becomes generous and bleeds out a pool of ink you could drown in. I know that’s not the way a computer operates, but it sure helps me picture the visual appearance of this trend. Imag- ine that pen tip as a perfect circle that leaves an unvarying marker trail behind it and then parks the full circle at the end of the stroke like a street that unexpectedly ends in a cul-de-sac.

Whether these logos have faded and gradient trails behind the circle or they are clear and unvarying, they send a similar message. The circle is the messenger, and, until seconds ago, this mark did not exist. An action set the spots in motion and they have vividly burrowed across this field with precision accuracy to spell out a letter or highlight a path or trace out a symbol of significance. You have caught them in action and they may be done, or they may just be waiting for you to avert you eyes so they can repeat or carry on. They are dynamic, vivid, and fresh, and charged with potential.

GRADIENT BREAKS 

Adopting the broad use of gradient color in logo design has been one of the most polarizing trends our industry has witnessed over the last decade. There are still designers that abhor the use of transitioning color, as it runs counter to so many of the early precepts of logo design developed pre-digital age. It leads me to wonder if this trend is being led by the naysayers or if it is the work of those that have now worked with gradients so long they are trying to push it forward by taking a few backward steps.

Imagine a line filled with transitioning colour to demonstrate motion, or transformation, or a process. Now take that colour and step divide it with sequential solid tone. Basically a stepped ombre´ effect but utilised in a channel as opposed to a field. The Qwant identity achieves this with contoured colour breaks that really simulate a gradient to good effect versus CPA, which shows colour transition with quartered geometric breaks along the path. Note the infinity loop for Virtual Reality cheats this trend a bit with the use of breaks and very subtle gradient shifts.

CONTOUR STRIPES 

Stripes continue to dominate the field of potential trend contenders, but there have been so many marks anchored in this aesthetic it’s become more challenging to spot where this trend evolves forward. Taking a look, we finally see a cohesive group that takes stripes into a warped dimension. Still big bold salute the flag type of stripes but three dimensionally wrapped to demonstrate spatial contours on everything from bagels to bird nests.

Though this can be associated with monoline design, it is pushing the concept to another level. Representing dimensionality by its nature deals with foreshortening or wrapping of lines that cause them to diminish, so this necessitates a variable stroke. Relying on the consumer to complete the interpretation, they still see an orderly rhythm that demonstrates technical accuracy, a measured approach, competence, and consistency. Attach these attributes to the symbolic embodiment of your client, and you’ve found the possible nucleus of a smart solution.

PERIOD

As I contemplated this trend, I was forced to choose between periods and colons that have both been breeding like rabbits on thoughtful designers’ minds. Last year’s report addressed the use of punctuation associated with wordmarks in clever renditions, and as is usually the case, it was only the initial volley that turned to critical mass for each of our two contenders. As the header makes clear, periods won out, so let’s get to it. That spec at the end of a sentence is only the most basic way to consider this mark that can cap off punctuation, serve as a bullet or strung together as ellipse. It can serve as the opening of a domain or as the closing of a conversation.

It’s also possible the period is no more than a dot that’s floating around text with an altogether different pretext. In the Visible mark, those periods are actually remnants of the missing letters i. A period in literal terms describes an era of time, the division of a school day or a game, that time of the month, or command to STOP. It might be a decimal, and an exclamation mark without it is just an apostrophe. It’s the designer that flips the significance of a word or a name by considering the period outside of traditional context that sharpens the wit of the conversation.

WINGS

In the grand tradition of refinement, designers continue to boil down the essence of flight beyond the fluid beauty of a set of feathered wings. Stripping back the essence even further to the point that aerodynamics don’t vaguely register as an afterthought. As impeccably bereft as these marks are of any semblance of flight, I like them for what they are, and I get that they’re wings. Canted forward in an aerodynamic crouch or swept back fighting the vagaries of gale force headwinds, these forms are equally as far and as near to reality as you can be at once.

If a description of these existed, it would be a letter U with one short leg tipped on its side and slanted forward or backward to an optimal oblique position. Trim off the two tips at an angle to reinforce the streamline nature of the mark, and we’re done. There are more than enough iterations of this effort, but many seem to be referencing a letter such as the J for Jetta or the D for DoorDash. Plenty of Fs, Ps, and non-letters altogether that have sprouted these twin wings. Apples with wings, turtles with wings. Fill in the blank with wings, and we’ll likely find it.

DOORS

Portals to another world, time, or at least another frame of mind have become a literal manifestation in this year’s trends. Doors and windows allow us the ability to peer into that other dimension while staying firmly rooted to our here and now. They serve to invite us to become a voyeur or a participant, and it’s just that invitation that is so alluring with this theme. There is a certain amount of fantasy associated with what’s outside the opening, but restraint in the rendering of the passage assure it will not seem out of place.

Doors and windows have long been powerful agents to sell an analogy. Doors signify a right of passage, a pathway to a solution, an opportunity, or a sign of welcoming. Windows in much the same way are considered a set of eyes that allow you to see into another’s soul or another world. They serve as connectivity between here and there. These examples are relative- ly literal, but the reference to passages can be equally as effective in a metaphorical manifestation. Dream analysts could rift on this for hours, so we’ll move along and leave them to it.

CREATIVE DESIGN MANAGER

Leeds, West Yorkshire

GRAPHIC DESIGNER

Farnham, Surrey

PRODUCT DESIGNER

United Kingdom