In So Little Words: Telling A Story With Your Logo

By Taylor Smithfield

Good stories aren’t always told in words. Visuals are also powerful conveyors of meaning. Take, for example, Terrence Malick’s experimental film The Tree of Life, which follows a young family in the 1950s. The 2011 movie is filled with sweeping images and imaginings but very little dialogue. Despite this, audiences are able understand the storyline because the character’s thoughts and actions are implied with strong visuals — a look of deep sadness in church, a quick smile from Mom, belly laughs over dinner. The human mind often requires very few breadcrumbs to make major connections.

However, static images have a similar storytelling ability. The iconic photograph of the flag raising on Iwo Jima captures the briefest of moments during WWII, yet it tells a story of immense courage, hope and loss. Good stories aren’t always told in words. Sometimes simple is just more powerful. Less is more.

This is also true also for brand identity. While it’s easier to tell your brand story throughout a 10-minute video interview or even a photograph than it is with a small logo mark, the latter can still tell consumers a lot about your brand.

Consider Amazon’s logo, which consists of black text smiling at you like an old friend. Two simple shapes create a pleasant grin — or, wait, is that also an arrow? We associate the brand mark with happiness, customer satisfaction and convenience (arrows indicate direction and movement, or speed and efficiency). The word “amazon” conjures images of wild, daring adventures or perhaps amazing possibilities. Good stories aren’t always told in words.

A Guide To Brand Discovery

So, what story does your logo tell? “With 50-plus years in business, we’re known for phenomenal customer service and community connections.” “We boast the largest selection of firearms in the city with easy access to expert training and advice.” These are all great beginnings of a brand story. However, there are ways to dig deeper. Whether you’re family-owned, brand new, in the foothills of Montana or on the streets of Philly, your story is something you can define with a little help.

Should you decide to redesign your logo in the future, you’ll want to work with a graphic designer or marketing firm. An experienced designer will help you define your unique selling propositions — your brand’s compelling aspects. However, it’s helpful to prepare your thoughts beforehand. The following questions will provide you with insight into your brand, which you can use to craft a representative logo:

1: Who is your ideal customer?
2: How are you different from your competition?
3: How do you make your customers feel?
4: Why do your customers trust you?
5: What are five words that describe your business?
6: If your brand had a personality, how would you describe it?

Not only will the answers to these questions define your overall brand, but they’ll actively inform how you approach and execute your logo. While this may seem like a lot for your logo to accomplish, good logos can easily support this task. However, it’s important to also accept the limitations of your logo. While it can be a powerful and compelling symbol, it’s still just that, a symbol. It’s best not to overburden it with too many functions or tasks. After all, you still have the rest of your brand (physical storefront, reputation, website, advertisements, etc.) to reinforce your story.

Criteria For Your Logo

Even though graphic design trends have evolved over the years, many companies have managed to successfully maintain their original logos for decades because they’re still relevant (think MasterCard, Apple, IBM). These brands clearly saw beyond the fleeting trends of their day. This isn’t to say you can’t take advantage of design trends, but it’s important to run them past a set of criteria first. Good logos are always simple, timeless, relevant, versatile and scalable.

A busy logo always sends a convoluted message, however simple logos are concise, confident ambassadors for brands. If your logo is trying to accomplish too many tasks, it won’t execute any of them well. Simple logos also stand the test of time (think Nike, McDonald’s or Google). You could probably draw these logos from memory. Simplicity makes your logo easier to recognize, which in turn makes it more memorable or timeless. Timelessness doesn’t just refer to a logo’s aesthetic but also it’s symbolism.

In 2016, Savage Arms overhauled its long-time logo (a portrait of an Indian chief) because the firearms maker wanted to convey a new message to customers: Savage Arms is a modern, high-performance brand. Additionally, an updated logo positions them to attract a younger, more diverse audience. This is why it’s important to choose a versatile symbol that’s not only culturally relevant but relevant to your target audiences. If you’re going after younger blood but don’t want to alienate your loyal customers, then it’s important to choose a symbol appealing to both groups.

Versatile logos also have practical advantages. A well-designed logo looks equally great on billboards and business cards alike. In other words, it’s physically scalable without loss of quality. Logos can also be scalable in terms of brand growth. Should you ever decide to go after new audiences, expand to multiple locations, or add a range, you’ll be well positioned to do so with a versatile logo representing multiple facets of your brand.

Adopting A New Identity

As previously stated, one of the biggest mistakes a company can make is to force their logo to work too many jobs, tell too many stories. This is often why you’ll see companies redesign their logos at some point. The poor thing is worn out and no longer serves its original purpose. It’s not timeless or versatile. In recent years, several firearms manufacturers have overhauled their logos for these reasons. Three in particular have successfully adopted new identities: Lipsey’s, Savage Arms and Viridian. Each company reimagined their brand identifies to become more modern and relevant as well as attract younger and more diverse firearms enthusiasts.

Without a doubt, winner of the most dramatic logo redesign goes to Lipsey’s. The previous logo featured a hunter with his dog in the woods, on a medallion surrounded by stars, emblazoned with multiple banners which included its founding year and company slogan, all of which sat on top of a plaque-looking shape. Phew! While the distributor’s previous logo was nostalgic and featured industry-relevant imagery, it lacked the simplicity and flexibility of the new logo. Perhaps inspired by the previous badge or medallion, Lipsey’s created a striking yellow icon with shapes that look like firearm sights couching the letter L. The company name sits just below in bold, tight letters. Lipsey’s now has the flexibility to separate its icon from the logo text. Just as Nike utilizes its standalone swoosh icon, Lipsey’s often displays just the “L” icon or logo text.

Savage Arms similarly simplified its logo about a year ago. Previously the company mark was a highly detailed illustration of an Indian chief with an elaborate headdress. Opting for a more modern symbol, Savage reimagined its logo as a bold “S” icon. Constructed of clean lines that convey movement, the S-shape is visible in the negative white space. Whether this is intentional or not, the icon looks like a stylistic feather or the fletching on an arrow. Savage kept its same identifiable red color as well as the slanted text (which also conveys movement). Now the company can easily place the new logo on small and large items alike without loss of quality or clarity. Just like Lipsey’s logo, the “S” icon can also stand on its own — subtle but striking.

Viridian redesigned its logo around the same time as Savage Arms. The previous logo was actually quite clean: digital-inspired black text overlaying a large green V. However, it had its limitations. When objects in a logo overlap each other, the logo can’t be displayed all black or all white on products of marketing materials. (Imagine how the I and D would simply disappear into the green V if the logo were a uniform color.) This is one of the reasons why companies have moved away from overlapping or overly complex logos. They’re simply not practical or versatile enough. In contrast, Viridian’s new logo is comprised of separate elements, though it still uses the same bright green (a unique but welcome color choice for the firearms industry where brand colors are largely relegated to primary colors).

What do you think of these logo transformations? Does your current logo pass the criteria in this column? How helpful was the brand discovery questionnaire? We’d love to hear about your logo’s brand story or how you’d craft one in the future. Contact us directly at

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