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Responsive Logos and Abstraction in Design

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With continuous technological advancements, new channels of communication emerge, constantly improving digital interactions for users. These advancements call for an alteration in the approach to design and user experience. In regards to web design, “the landscape is shifting”, and as a response, the scope of design adapts to the media that renders them, developing new solutions to ensure optimal viewing experience. In 2016, StatCounter found that mobile and tablet devices accounted for 51.3% of internet usage worldwide compared to 48.7% by desktop. This rapid shift from desktop to smartphones and tablets is crucial for companies to meet the latest industry demands and retain competitive advantage. As a result of this exponential rise in screen sizes, an increased variety of browser specifications and screen resolutions are needed to accommodate each device. 

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Web designers and developers are faced with a constant need for adaptation, ‘Responsive Design’ provides the solution to the vast variety of screens and devices. In 2001, Audi launched the first responsive web design (RWB) site. Responsive design adapts to the device it is viewed upon, ensuring seamless user experience across a wide range of devices. Although responsive design is gradually entering the field of standard practice, to argue the notion that a large percentage of companies have already responded to market demands is false. In accordance with a list of 10,000 top-tier web sites being analysed, figures show that 18.7% use responsive web design. An explanation to justify these low figures is that brand symbols or logos suffer from an inability to effectively adapt to the varying aspect-ratio cropping of screens. All images, including logos, serve as an obstacle to implementing a truly adaptable responsive site. Images can no longer be placed within a composition with an expectancy to remain still. This inconvenience is detrimental, considering a logo is the integral core of a brand’s identity, an unavoidable part of marketing that provides a foundation for visual communication. In most cases, resizing a logo is not enough, as it can be left unreadable or blurred.

 Therefore, the issue must not be neglected. With market demands for responsive websites on a rise, growing pressure is created for logos to be more versatile and fit smaller screens. Instead, a new concept is adopted; a Responsive logo design for RWD. The term ‘Responsive’ is commonly associated with scalable websites, yet it is those same contextual design principles that are applied to logo design. The concept of ‘Responsive Logos’ involves a similar application to RWD, in that it adjusts individual elements to form a more legible and appropriate design in relation to screen size display and resolution. “The future is contextual” and responsive design is the solution that allows logos to work openly across different platforms, such as digital, print and environmental. Looking beyond the digital space, new and diverse avenues for advertising are being capitalised. The popularity of guerrilla marketing shows logos appear in unexpected public spaces, forcing designers to consider even unconventional locations to display a brand. “The future is contextual” (Harrison, 2demonstrates that even brands who are strictly non-digital require flexibility in their logos. As discussed in ‘The Deep End DesignCast’ podcast, the overall goal when designing a responsive logo is that all its uses and applications are considered initially. Just as you would design an ordinary logo for a variety of sizes and uses, from business cards to billboards, this extends to responsive websites. 

Instead of producing fixed logos, designers can pursue the responsive route by delivering several variations of the same logo. This route does not imply that each variant is contrastive to one another other. Rather, the focus is made on creating consistent versions of the same design and then optimising each for a better-fit in different contexts. As marketing evolves, brand consistency remains a crucial factor in increasing brand recognition. The practice involves delivering the same messaging and visual branding across all communication channels. Today, the natural progression of a brand launches into developing a brand style guide, “a reference tool that helps maintain consistency” . These guidelines ensure that logos are applied consistently, through dictating the content of your logo and including treatments that the logo should avoid. However, this widespread mentality that a logo must never be changed is now flawed on account of the popularisation of mobile devices and the subsequent branching out of their screen sizes. In the case of responsive logos, consistency is still essential, with the difference being that it ‘aims to move branding away from fixed, rigid guidelines into a more flexible and contextual system”. From my investigations into scaled down versions of well-known logos, brand equity is still seen. 

A majority of participants were able to accurately identify the brands, proving that striving for visual cohesion does not necessarily strengthen a brand’s identity. By conducting an online survey, I began to investigate how well consumers knew selected brands. As iconic logos become increasingly simplified for smaller screens, I purposely chose to experiment with simple and abstract variations of classic logos. My aim was to prove that even in their simplest form, any brand-aware person could instantly recognise the logo. Each example was composed with enough correlation to the original, in colour and form, to ensure that brands could still be identified. The second-half of the survey was designed based on the success of logo quiz apps, where users must guess a brand based on limited visual cues, to exemplify that logo recognition is in our second-nature. 

Participants who were unable to recognise selected brands, or answered incorrectly, provided valuable insight into factors such as recognition and user experience. It is probable that if a logo went through drastic changes in style, initial responses would reveal an inability to distinguish certain brands, as seen in my experiment. Even though optimisation requires variations in the appearance of the design, the obstacle presented in remembering the brand can be overcome in time. Users will gradually become more attuned to the variations on different devices within a particular brand. 

Additionally, logos that respond responsively can attract a user’s attention, adding further engagement in the design. The best brands of today are often described as having a “human face”, possessing the ability to mimic human behaviours. Like humans, these brands have an authentic personality, they evolve and are not stuck to a rigid visual appearance. Brands that can adapt become so integrated with our daily lives that we no longer need a fixed logo to identify them. Nike is a prime example of this, interchangeably using their iconic swoosh, title and trademark ‘Just Do It’, without exhausting the brand’s image.  

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