What Makes a Memorable Logo? Advice From The Science of Memory.

May 4, 2011

In order for a logo design to be truly successful, it must be memorable. But what is it that helps us remember certain designs and forget others?  One way to answer this question is to look at the psychology of memory. A great source for understanding is the research study “Memory for pictures: Sometimes a picture is not worth a single word” conducted by American University and Carnegie Mellon. We can learn a lot from the study about what makes a logo more memorable:

Logos are more memorable when they include graphic symbols.

toyota and gmc

It is widely understood that pictures are more memorable than words. We often say that “a picture is worth a thousand words”. The theory explained in the study is that a picture elicits an associated word automatically, and that we store two representations in our memory (the image and the word).  On the contrary, words do not automatically cause us to think about an associated picture.

Symbols are most memorable when we instantly recognize them.

jack daniels logitech

If you don’t instantly recognize an image and associate a verbal label, you’re less likely to remember it.  Abstract imagery is much worse than obvious imagery when it comes to memory retention.  According to the study “if you cannot name it, you will probably not remember it.”  The Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey logo above was created by Nathan Hinz at Cue, Inc, and is the logo for Jack Daniel’s new honey-flavored liqueur. The symbol within this design is instantly recognizable as a “bee”. On the other hand, it’s very difficult to tell what the symbol is supposed to represent within the Logitech logo.

A logo is more memorable if the symbol is relevant to the company name.

apple logomark

If the name and symbol work together to allow us to more quickly associate a word with a graphic, we’ll likely be storing both in memory and more easily recall the design in the future.  If the symbol is very closely associated with the company name, the icon has a much better chance of standing on its own.

Less-used fonts aid in memory retention

typeface importance

Using unique typefaces will make your designs more visually distinct and aid in memory retention. The “hype” design shown above was created by Dustin Chessin, and is one of our featured designs this month.

If your design isn’t unique, it won’t be remembered

nbc unique icon

The study showed that if we encounter similar images frequently, it becomes more difficult for us to distinguish them in our memory, and we’ll likely forget them.

Questions to Consider

Is creating a logo that is more memorable most important for small businesses, large corporate brands, or equally important for both?

Are the famous logos that don’t heed the memory advice (listed above as “NAY”) less successful because of it?

The study was focused on remembering an image/word shortly after encountering it for the first time.  We come into contact with famous brand icons time and time again (like those used above as examples).  Are there different important factors that effect memory in these situations?

  • Theartofkim

    Many times logos are only seen briefly, such as on a car or on a shelf in store among many other products. If a logo is on a bill board for example,people only have a few seconds to take it in and remember it. Also we see so many commercials today that our attention is on something for a very
    short time. A memorable logo is very important. If it doesn’t say something about the product or company than the more likely it is to miss the mark. Surprisingly some logos stick with us even though they are poorly designed simply because it is a large company and we see the logo and name frequently. (CVS, Walgreen’s etc.) It can be much more difficult to create a good logo if the client is stuck on an idea. A good logo is not only memorable, but speaks to the product or company. Maybe the category of abstract logo should disappear. What does the logo for British Petroleum say a bout the company and does any one remember what it looks like without doing an internet search? I think that the smaller the company, the more important a good logo is to make them stand out from their competition. Everyone who who NBC Universal is even thought the revamped logo is horrible. The same goes for the new attempted logo for The GAP. This one was dumped quickly because it met with instant complaints. And what about the PEPSI debaucle? Anyone who drinks Pepsi still does. Even so large companies should have a good logo.

  • http://www.logolance.com Logolance

    I think your point makes sense that having a memorable logo is actually more important for small companies. Like you say, since we repeatedly see large company logos through advertisements, it’s much easier for us to eventually remember these.

    Small businesses have much smaller advertising budgets and really need to stand out to be successful.

    I agree on the NBC Universal and Gap logo. What was Gap thinking. This is one of the things that we’re going to try to address through our market research tool. By allowing companies to get feedback from clients, key stakeholders, or the general public before finalizing their design, it’s unlikely something like the Gap fiasco could happen through Logolance.

  • http://www.companylogos.ws/logodesignguru.html logo guru reviews

    Good basics on this subject. Bit of confusion with the colors and printing processes though. If you are choosing spot colors for your logo to be reproduced in print. You will need to get a hold of a Pantone book and choose proper!

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