Should we retire the black and white logo tradition?

By Toon Creffield →
After an interesting discussion that has started over at the Estetica Design Forum about whether a logo should work in Black and White or not? I decided to give some of my personal insight into it.

We've all heard the arguments about how designers are too traditional and don't like to change their working methods, basically as designers we can be quite stubborn, however the debate as to whether a logo should be just as effective in Black and White as it should in colour has very little to do with tradition and more to do with longevity.

Should we retire the black and white logo tradition?

Still learning the trade...

This has happened to me in the past back in 2008. The client I was working for came to me with few logo styles he liked and I told him this kind of style doesn't work very well in single colour. It went a little like this:

Client: What do you mean, it doesn't have to be in one colour it can be in as many colours as I like.

Me: Well usually a designer likes to start off in Black and White so colour is only an addition to an effective logo rather than the driving force behind it, it's more of a function before form thing. It makes sure that the logo is clear and communicates without relying on colour and effects, glows, drop shadows etc. It also means there will be no issues when printing.

Client: Oh, printing won't be an issue we are a web only business.

Just get on with it...

I bit my tongue and being quite new to branding conceded and designed the type of logo the client wanted, he loved it, I got paid what could go wrong?

Yep you guessed it:

Client emails in 2012: I was wondering how much it would cost to reproduce our logo as a flatter more simpler logo without all the effects as we need to have something printed in what the printer is calling spot-colour?

Me: Ahh, you remember we talked about this? This was the reason that as a designer I prefer to work in Black and White first, my fear is that when you remove the effects and shadows from your logo the flat version will not be effective.

Client: What do you suggest?

Me: To be honest if you are no longer just web based you need to look at your brand overall, it's a whole new brief that will require a whole new solution.

I'd like to say for comedy value that I gave him my updated price list, he fell off the back of his chair and asked if I had a mask and stripy jumper on!

The truth is the client's business had grown and really needed a complete brand solution rather than just a cheap web logo. This was a person who now knew the value of a strong brand from the outset with the logo being a huge part of this, he was willing now to invest in the future of his business and no money was too much to get the problem solved.

This isn't always the case!

 
Not only did the client learn a lesson from this, I did too. It had little to do with me wanting to stick with tradition, me and the client never looked forward enough to see what might be needed in the future.

Use examples to make it clear...

Think of some of the most famous brands Nike, Shell, Apple, Kelloggs, IBM. These all work in Black and White and we often see them used in only one colour, is it that these brands were built to have legs in their conception? Admittedly Apple's first logo started out in full colour (the rainbow effect) and is now used in a very flat way with very little colour.

As a personal criticism quite a few logo's in my logo design portfolio aren't all that great as single colours and looking back now some of the strongest in my portfolio are the ones that do.

The old argument about using the logo on a fax and that's why you needed a Black and White version has gone out of the window along with most fax machines. But what about retail? Most supermarkets still use Black and White receipts with every transaction, so a Black and White logo is still essential for them right?

What about engraving? Maybe glass or metal or both? A single colour logo would be needed in this process surely? Maybe not fax machines but surely photocopying still exists in many businesses across the globe?

Newspapers? Many an advert is still printed in Black and White and this is a cost effective method for many growing businesses.

Give it the chance to survive...

In closing I think the question isn't "Why make a logo work just as well in Black and White?" The question is "Why wouldn't you?" Why not give this logo the chance to last, the chance to be adapted if needed, ie give the logo another string to it's bow rather then not.

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Toon Creffield

Graphic and Digital Designer from Sheffield England and owner of the Estetica Design Forum.