First 7 rules for start-up design – part 4

By Hadas Drachli

Every designer will at some point come across the success story of FedEx. FedEx’s logo is considered to be one of the most successful logos ever created, in the design community and beyond it.
The magazine “Rolling Stone” claimed it is one of the best 8 logos to have ever been created in the US (in the 35th Anniversary “American Icon” issue).

So what’s the secret? Look closely:


The first symbols in history were pictographs. These are the first foundations to our written language. The first symbols imitated the shapes found in nature, using some of the most basic geometrical forms – a square, a circle and a triangle – to create complex forms. The symbol usage is intuitive: when the brain comes across an object it immediately approaches its “memory drawers” and looks for something similar in shape – this is a basic survival instinct action to assess danger. The actual meaning of the symbol is conveyed through its resemblance to an object we already know.

A few thousands of years passed, our DNA remains more or less the same, and these shapes are still extremely relevant to our visual perception and our ability to assess situations.

Today most of the companies in the world have a shape or an icon associated with its brand, alongside the literal name. The usage of both icon and text comes from the two hemispheres of our brain, and the different processing in each; the right side of the brain is in charge of the visual analysis: color, shape, form, sound, intuition and more; the left side is in charge of the literal, verbal and logical aspects, language functions, order etc`.

FedEx’s logo ingenuity is in the combination of the visual and literal dimensions, using negative space to pull it off. The “invisible” arrow between the words (archetype symbol of movement created by the basic triangle and square) is influencing our subconscious – that’s why we recognize the essence of the product in seconds.

The icon associated with Formula 1, the most prestigious car racing tournament in the world, gives us another example to this principle:


Like the FedEx logo, F1 combines shape and number, and uses negative space to achieve it. There are endless examples of icons hiding meaning in their negative space, using basic shapes – symbols for house, the world, star of David, snow flake and more.

In a more digital field, one of the most successful veterans gives us a demonstration of the psychology of branding:


This logo has everything: it is straight to the point serious on one hand, and warm and inviting on the other. We see the arrow immediately, and quite quickly we can also see the arrow is a smile too. Individuals looking for customer service will see the smile first; others who look for efficiency will first acknowledge the arrow.
The location of the graphic element is not coincidental. It’s a referral to the phrase “from a to z”. The meaning – we have everything – didn’t need to be literally stated since it was already conveyed visually.

Combining the visual and literal dimensions, with or without the negative space usage, grants life and meaning to the logo that in many cases cannot be otherwise conveyed, certainly not as quick or as effective. If you happen to be an entrepreneur, investor, owner, or hold any position in a company and wish to promote a brand – you probably acknowledge the importance of good branding. In the process of creating your brand logo, its highly recommended to address the target audience from the psychological aspect as well: is the brand targeting audiences with a tendency to be more right or left brain oriented? Should you emphasize the visual dimension or the literal one? What will convey the brand values in the best way? And if you wish to go one step further – can a way be found to use both dimensions to present the brand, and ensure an instant clear message?