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10 Great Logos (and an Exercise for Yours)

What makes a great logo? It's hard to say, since there's such variety to successful logos.

Nike's swoop is recognized worldwide, but it doesn't exactly represent the name--and the glut of logos that have used a nondescript "swoosh" since are fodder for mockery among designers. Some companies use an icon most of the time, and others exclusively stick with unadorned text. (Either can be striking.) Still others include emblems or detailed illustrations... so it's fair to say that there is no magic "formula" for a successful logo design.

However, you can judge logos for some common traps--weak typefaces, too much detail, poor color and contrast--by giving it the sizing test.

Resize your logo a few times until it's very small, and see how it appears at each step. Great logos should retain impact even when greatly reduced. Even though it's unlikely that most logos will ever be reproduced so small, this is a good method to amplify weaknesses in the design.

Here are 10 logos that, for the most part, reproduce really well--even at (approximately) 40px x 40px. They also happen to be good logos for other reasons; a note below each explains why.

Remember: If your logo needs a revamp, or you're starting a new business and need a world-class identity, I'm here to serve. Check out my logo design section and contact me at april at sugarsock for more information.

Firefox - It is what it says it is, a hybrid of "fire" and "fox," and it looks great large or small.

GOP - Politicians are laboriously dedicated to red-white-blue campaign designs, but the Republican elephant is so nice in its simplicity that it's been a mainstay for decades, even through passing design trends.

Illustration magazine - Although the smallest representation here is a little hard to read, the painterly lettering is perfect to reinforce the focus of this magazine.


Infiniti - Especially when simplified to black rather than the gradient (a common practice when a logo gets tiny enough), even at its smallest, the Infiniti logo clearly pays homage to a highway and a clock.

KFC - Col. Sanders IS KFC, and everyone in the world knows that face (and tie!), so this is one case where using a portrait is appropriate; the high contrast and simplification of detail keep the logo readable when reduced.

NOAA - It's sky, it's water, it's waves... and in the middle, is that clouds or birds or seafoam? This circular logo well represents NOAA's domain, even when the text is lost at its smallest size. (P.S. NOAA is part of the Department of Commerce? Who knew?)

Oprah - Kind of like Col. Sanders, Oprah is her brand. In the media mogul's case, however, the signature is almost a seal of approval by the woman herself--a powerful endorsement from a trusted source. Her scrawl is singular enough to make it immediately noticeable.

RSS - Everyone know what this icon means these days, and whoever made it deserves kudos for creating something so simple and easy to understand. To me, it looks like sound amplification or broadcast radio waves, either of which is a fine interpretation for RSS.

Target - Part of the success of this logo is the company name, but their marketing has become greater since really embracing the target icon.

Windows - Though I'm no Windows fan, I do appreciate the logo... a much-needed improvement over their previous version.

WWF (World Wildlife Fund) - Who knew a panda bear could be simplified so much and still have such impact? This logo was imprinted in my brain as a kid and remains as good today.