I'm not sure there's a harder question to ask a graphic designer. Maybe 'What are your top 5 favourite typefaces?' Being asked to be the first contributor for ‘My 5 Favourite Logos’ has been daunting but also really fun. I spent a lot of my time thinking about the meaning of why a mark makes its mark on a person.
Is it memory? Is it aesthetic? Is it the value of the organization that the mark represents? Is it clever? Is it potentially a future tattoo? I would simply answer yes to all of those. My choices are based on marks that highlight moments from my life, as well as their design impact.
Def Jam Recordings
As with many white, middle class teenagers growing up in rural England, the culture I aligned myself with was hip hop, of course. The hard, militant stomp that was coming through in the music of Public Enemy just floored me. This logo was a signal of street credibility (in the rolling fields of southern Dorset). I used white-out to draw it on my school bag. I just love the awkwardness of the huge J.
I don’t know who designed/decided on using the old English ‘D’ but it goes back to the team’s road uniforms from 1904. I started following the Tigers in the early ’90s when I returned to Windsor, Ontario from England. The Tigers stand as a representation of Detroit, a city I grew to love. The logo, in its various re-drawings, and the baseball team represent a blue collar city and its people that have had to be scrappy to get through. From spring training through to the World Series I wear a Tigers hat pretty much daily.
Over my decades as a designer, I have seen many people use the I/exclamation mark trick but in my opinion, Impulse was the first and the best. It is a logo that stands for quality. Known as the record label that ‘Trane (John Coltrane) built, this logo feels like the 1959/60 but is so clean and direct that it transcends generations. I am attracted to glitches. Why didn’t they align the top of the I and down stroke of the M? Why is the letterspacing so off? It will be 60 years old next year.
When my father died I was given a bunch of his stuff to sort through. In there was a single copy of Canadian Art magazine from 1960. It was coincidentally a special edition on Graphic Design. The work in this magazine is a treasure, covering the founding years of our design scene. In it is the work of Allan Fleming, Paul Arthur, Arnaud Maggs, Jack Birdsall, Theo Dimson, Clair Stewart and many more pioneers. On a page called trademarks was the O’Keefe Fisheries logo by Ernst Roch. It is pure genius in its simplicity.
Designed by Marina Willer while she was at Wolff Olins in the late ‘90s, the Tate Modern logo pretty much single handedly started off the trend in dynamic identities (yes, I know Bruce Mau’s NAI logo came first). I was astounded by it complexity and flexibility and impressed by how the Tate used it (I was there just after its opening). It has since been updated and I don’t mind the new one but this system in all of it iterations will forever stick with me.