Logo Design and the Use of the Negative

What makes a logo really work? What gives it that certain pop that allows it to stand out from the crowd? In many cases it is the clever use of negative space. Using “whitespace” effectively as an active part of the design doesn’t just create visual harmony – it also produces optical illusions that elevate this vital brand identity element from bland to iconic. By incorporating negative space into a logo with adept skill, designers can make maximum visual impact with the simplest elements possible.

FedEx

This could possibly be one of the most famous examples of using negative space in logo design, and also one of the most subtle. FedEx’s white arrow, formed by the joining space where the E and the X meat is a detail that many people don’t even notice, yet it is an excellent example of good logo design. Designer Lindon Leader of Leader Creative explains why it’s there.

“An arrow, in and of itself, is one of the most mundane graphic devices in visual communications. Truly, there is nothing unique or particularly strategic (marketing-wise) in using an arrow as a brand identifier… The power of the hidden arrow is simply that it is a hidden bonus. Importantly, not ‘getting the punch line’ by not seeing the arrow, does not reduce the impact of the logo’s essential communication.”

Ogden Plumbing

According to designer Matt Everson, “Ogden’s core competency is great service, so I was determined to create something friendly and personal. I focused almost exclusively on the human figure as I knew this could illustrate many things (response, strength, personal service, etc. In messing around with wavy, water-like shapes I developed the running plumber image and saw the opportunity to incorporate the plunger.”  This logo would be totally different and probably far less effective if the plunger were in the other hand, raised above his head. It would probably read more like a weapon than a tool and it would change the dynamic balance of the overall logo itself.

Café Melody

The Café Melody Logo designed by Jure Klaric for a lounge bar in Croatia gets more effective the longer you look at it. The two simple shapes make a slightly stylized “C” for “café”, and they visually form a coffee cup on a saucer as seen from above. In addition the shapes join to form a volume button, which helps to emphasize the name, and function of the lounge. Coffee, and Music.

8 Fish

Using separate images of eight fish to illustrate the company’s name would be far too busy for a logo design if it weren’t as well done as this. Jerrod Ames managed to fit them all into a logo that is still crisp and minimalist. The logo plays off of Escher like styling creating vibration, and balance all at the same time.

Harris Structures

Designer Ahab Nimry of St. Louis created this logo using two ‘H’s including the one formed by negative space which come together to form a complete structure as seen from an isometric angle. The logo is quite fitting for a company named ‘Harris Structures’.

ED ‘Elettrodomestici’

This logo by Gianni Bortolotti is pure genius, based on pure mathematical perfection.  Although it probably helps  that the letters ‘E’ and ‘D’, which stand for Elettrodomestici, Italian for ‘household electric appliances’, when placed side by side happen to form the shape of an electrical plug.

CBS

Designed in 1951 by Georg Olden, one of the first African-Americans to achieve some notoriety in the postwar graphic design field. is a beautiful example of positive and negative space playing to each other. The mark is an unmistakable as an eye, yet it is distilled down to the simplest of elements. The Eye device was conceived by William Golden based on a Pennsylvania Dutch hex sign as well as a Shaker drawing.

NBC

In contrast to CBS, who’s logo has changed very little over the last 58 years, NBC needed a lot of tries to get it right. NBC went through no less than 6 ineffective logos, including a xylophone and a much busier version of the current peacock, before settling in 1986 on what is now considered an iconic example of effective logo design. Designed by Chermayeff and Geismar they took the peacock, which was already the established visual mark for the network, and simplified it with the use of negative space.