technology Uncategorized

What can we learn from a logo?

I’m struck by the ways that a good logo can signal a company’s marketing priorities and customer culture.

Take the Microsoft logo, for example. It’s symmetrical and consistent. And that consistency is a key part of Microsoft’s brand; enterprise customers need predictable upgrade cycles, legacy interoperability, and clear vectors for support. Another visual element worth noting? The logo’s lines intersect at a single middle point, and Microsoft hopes to sit at the center of your business, delivering the software that ties together disparate systems.

Meanwhile, Apple’s logo, with its trademark missing bite, is very intentionally unsymmetrical. The imbalance implies some quirkiness—which appeals to the creative, “crazy ones” who make up its key market demographic. The logo also relies on an organic, natural symbol, rather than an abstract, precise polygon. This familiar shape distances Apple from the computer’s mathematical underpinnings and eases its brand toward the humanities. Note how often Apple’s executives discuss the intersection of technology and the liberal arts.

Of course, we could also analyze these logos less charitably. Microsoft’s logo is simple and unrelentingly… well, square. That slang term fits the company’s “tragically unhip” reputation. Steve Jobs once complained that Microsoft’s chief failure was its lack of taste. He compared it to McDonald’s—a restaurant that delivers a consistent experience but inspires no one. (Appropriately, McDonald’s golden arches are also symmetrical.)

Apple’s logo could be interpreted cynically, too. This symbol is concrete and unmistakable, and the apple’s “leaf” and “bite” both point in one stubborn direction. The implied message? Take it or leave it, it’s Apple’s ecosystem and they grip the reins tightly. If you want to ride along, Apple gets to drive. So, unlike Microsoft, Apple eschews cross-platform interoperability whenever it can. It limits users’ ability to customize its precisely-designed interfaces. App Store developers must play by Apple’s rules. iOS users can not set third-party app defaults for things like maps or email. Facetime never became that “open standard” that Steve Jobs promised.

Silly semiotics? Maybe so. A fun exercise? For sure.


marketing Uncategorized

Urinal logos: flushing your brand down the drain

Conventional wisdom says that you want to get your brand out there, no matter what. Sloan Valves, manufacturer of my school’s waterless urinals, has apparently taken that to heart.


The drain canister on a Sloan waterless urinal. Photo credit: TSOMPITM.

Any press is good press, right? After all, by printing their company name here, Sloan enjoys near-constant exposure to potential clients. People will stare at their brand for 10–20 seconds, non-stop, multiple times per day. That’s a blessed eternity in the marketing world. And these customers-to-be wouldn’t dare look away, or they risk a mortifyingly public stain. Guaranteed brand exposure for Sloan!

But did anyone at the company stop to think this through? Yes, your potential clients know your company’s name… but at what cost? Might the eyeballs advantage be offset by the fact that people are literally peeing all over your brand? Every time I empty my bladder, I fortify unfortunate subconscious associations. Through sheer repetition, I’ve established a Pavlovian response: when I see the Sloan logo, I’m hit with this overwhelming urge to give it a golden shower.

In addition, consider the unpleasant sense experiences to which Sloan binds itself:

That sickly unmistakable, ammonial stench.


“Yeah, let’s sink our brand right into that mess! Great idea, Jenkins! Photo credit: What grinds my gears.

Another disagreeable association: like any plumbing fixture, Sloan’s waterless urinals get backed up. When they do, a pool of pure, undiluted urine collects in the bowl. Eventually, it “mellows” and develops that golden-brown hue that marks well-ripened waste. Sloan sinks its logo right into the middle of that unhappy puddle.

One last unsavory connotation: the urinal session is one marked by territoriality and self-consciousness for many men. We space ourselves out carefully at the urinal wall, determined not to unwittingly ‘show our hand’ to our fellow evacuees. We concentrate on maintaining a stolid poker face–one that says, “Ha. I’m completely comfortable with whipping out my equipment here.” With all that anxiety floating through our heads, is this really the time you want to burn your brand into our brains? You risk tying your product to every experience of male inadequacy.

In the end, though, Sloan took that risk. And who can blame them? When your business is building toilet parts, maybe you want customers to associate you with human waste. Along these lines, look out for Sloan’s newest campaign slogan: “Sloan Valves. Making shit happen since 1906.”