With shrinking screen sizes and new channels for advertising, something about branding is becoming increasingly apparent to business owners: logos are no longer “one size fits all.”
So along came responsive logos. What’s that, you ask? Responsive logos are shape-shifting logos that change in size, complexity or even color to accommodate and adapt to wherever they are placed.
Originally thought of as a design trend (as we announced last year), responsive logos seem less like a fad and more like a practical necessity. Today, there are more places to stick your logo than ever before, and they all vary widely in size. That old rule of “never change your logo” that had been canon for decades? Nowadays, it’ll hold you back.
Whether this is the first you’ve heard of responsive logos or you are actively considering making one yourself, we’re here to tell you everything you need to know: what they are, why we need them and even how to design one yourself.
The history of responsive logos
You’ve probably heard the buzz word “responsive” a lot. The term was originally coined to describe how a website adapts or “responds” to different screen sizes. The goal is for websites to always appear at their best—no matter whether on a desktop, tablet or phone. More recently, logos borrowed the word to describe their own size-shifting capabilities.
But the truth is, “responsive” logos have been around far longer than responsive websites, or even the internet!
Over the last century, companies have experimented with different “contextual” logos to suit a specific location or print medium. Sometimes companies drained the color from their logo for black-and-white newspapers. Other times they shrunk and simplified their logo to appear on promotional pens. Or often they added more flourishes and decorations for an impressive letterhead.
Even before smart devices, altering logos had practical advantages. That’s not to say responsive logos should all be different from one another. Instead, it’s more about creating different versions of the same thing and then optimizing them to better fit different contexts.
As marketing evolved, an idea took hold that your logo should be consistent to increase brand recognition. There’s truth to that idea (consistency is important with responsive logos, too), but being so rigid about changing your logo at all can become counter-intuitive. It makes more sense to optimize your logo for its context than to copy-and-paste a logo designed for a billboard on your tiny business card.
Thanks to the popularization of mobile devices and the subsequent branching out of their screen sizes, brands started rethinking their “never change the logo” mentality. And that’s precisely where we’re at today: what was once seen as an advertising faux pas is now being recognized as a best practice. Within the next year, it’ll become the new norm.
Responsive logos are essential
The advantages of responsive logos are obvious. Considering all the different places a modern company needs to put their logo, it’s impossible to use the same version everywhere without losing a little something here or there.
Let’s start with screen sizes. The popularity of mobile browsing alone necessitates the need for at least one alternative version of your logo.
But lately we’re moving past smartphones into even smaller devices: smart watches, smart bracelets, and soon smart glasses. If you thought your full-sized logo looked smooshed on your phone, wait a few years when it’s crammed into the corner of the screen in your AR app.
Plus, we’ve also got tiny ads inside the tiny screens. Even advertising on a desktop site, your ad is likely to get shrunk. That effect is twice (or more!) as bad on mobile devices.
Print and environmental
Outside the digital space, companies are exploring new and diverse avenues for advertising. For traditional methods like promotional swag (T-shirts, pens, bags, hats, etc.) you not only need to consider the size of the logo, but also how it looks printed on different materials.
And don’t forget the popularity of guerrilla marketing where logos appear unexpectedly in public spaces, like graffiti murals in lieu of billboards. In other words, even strictly non-digital brands need flexibility in their logos.
Videos also allow a style of logo largely under-utilized until now: animated logos.
With more and more companies branching out into video content—especially on social media—brands in any industry can mimic the same motion effects that film studio logos have used for decades.
Now is the time of responsive logos, for big and small brands alike. Large enterprises are starting to capitalize on how well their customers know their brands by experimenting with more simplified and abstract variations—as long as there’s enough of their classic logo to make it recognizable.
How to design a responsive logo in 5 easy steps
1. Make at least four different versions
When you break down a responsive logo, you’ll find three or four different versions of the same logo, varying in size and their level of detail. Keep that in mind as you start experimenting with the format.
If you already know where you’re going to use your logos, you can model your four versions around those locations. If not, you can copy the format used by the top name brands on the right.
Your first variation should be your master logo, containing all the information you want to communicate, plus any extra frills you have space for.
2. Add or remove details as you scale up or down
So, what’s the difference in the four versions outlined above? If you’re familiar with responsive web design, you already know that designers add details as the screen size scales up, and remove details as it scales down.
It may help to prioritize the elements of your logo beforehand. For example, low-priority elements like a slogan or an “established” date are good additions when you have plenty of space, but should be the first to go as you get smaller. Higher-priority elements like the company name should remain for as long as possible, but it’s hard to justify their necessity at the smallest sizes.
It’s not just about getting rid of elements, but about reducing their level of detail. In the Argento logo on the right, the actual quality of the image is reduced in smaller versions, replacing the clear outlines of the letter and sun rays with increasingly simpler and more solid black lines.
Similarly, you can also reduce the amount of colors to simplify your logo. Colors can be hard to see at smaller sizes, and if you have too many, the design becomes too busy and distracting. When it comes to designing responsive logos at small sizes, simplicity is key.
Get creative with how you minimize clutter in your smaller logos. For example, instead of getting rid of your company name altogether, you can replace it with initials. We talk about this and other creative ways to simplify your imagery in Step 4.
3. Stay consistent
One of the biggest misconceptions about responsive logos is that each version should be a new logo all together. But the truth is, as we said above, responsive logos are different versions of the same, original logo.
Throughout each version of your responsive logo, keep common threads to link them altogether. Be consistent with font and color scheme through each logo variation. These elements are innately tied to your branding as a whole, not just your logo.
That’s not to say that you can’t modify these elements at all. Considering the restrictions of small logos, feel free to simplify your typography or color usage while still remaining consistent enough with the original.
4. Use abstract symbols at smaller sizes
Sometimes when designing smaller versions of your logo, you’ll run into a wall where too much of the original is lost. If that’s the case, don’t force it! Some design can’t be simplified (and looks awful when you try). A smarter alternative is to use a new symbol to represent the original.
Heinz does this well, taking advantage of their label’s unique abstract shape by fusing it with their logo. While they use the traditional method of removing details for the first three versions, the final version is simply the distinct shape of their label with the familiar color scheme to improve recognition. Because they’re a household name, their customers have no trouble recognizing the Heinz logo without words.
But what about brands whose logo is just their name, without any imagery? Usually, when these brands make responsive logos, they replace their full name with initials or monograms at smaller sizes. The principle is the same whether you use abstract shapes or initials. Those familiar enough with your brand will still recognize the telltale elements.
Just remember what we said above about consistency; the more visual cues you include, the more easily people will recognize you.
5. Strategically use stackingand rearranging
Responsive logos aren’t always about bigger or smaller. By definition, responsive logos are meant to “respond” to different circumstances; usually size, but sometimes how they fit together with the surrounding area.
For some logos, you can achieve more flexibility in how you stack your elements, such as text. Rather than removing elements altogether, you can achieve the same space-saving effect just by reorganizing where everything goes.
See what we mean in the three AMBR Consulting Group logos on the left. If the company opts for digital banner ads, their logos are optimized no matter if the banner is vertical or horizontal. On top of that, they also have a perfectly squared logo for when neither of the other options work.
When designing a responsive logo, consider rearranging as an option alongside merely removing elements. In some cases, smart planning can allow you to retain crucial parts of your logo at smaller sizes, so you have your cake and eat it, too.
A logo for every size, every shape, every season
Sure, having only a single logo is easier and more convenient, but the more marketing channels that open up, the less effective that one logo will be. Responsive logos are about having the perfect tool available, no matter what the job is. A wrench works best for unscrewing bolts; just because you can technically smack it loose with a hammer, doesn’t mean you should.
Want more logo design tips? Learn how to design a logo here.