To The Point: Brands That Keep It Simple


Simplicity arises from understanding. Simple brands aren’t unfinished or unsophisticated. They’re brands with absolute clarity of purpose.

Simple branding evokes rather than describes. It inspires rather than convinces. It’s stripped-back, iconic and authentic. And it’s linked with brand success.

Once you go simple, you never go back. Let’s take a look at some of the places simplicity is taking over.

Logos: storytelling made simple

Follow the evolution of almost any company logo, and you’ll find a key trend: simplification. Typefaces, mascots, backgrounds and design elements have all taken a minimalist turn over the years. 

Take Dunkin’ Donuts, which has been selling donuts and coffee since 1948. Since then its logo has undergone several iterations involving different shapes, typefaces and colors. Today’s is a two-color word mark in its iconic sans serif font. But even that’s set to change – the brand is considering simplifying further by changing its name just to “Dunkin’.” Other simplifiers in the fast food world include Dominos, IHOP and Baskin Robbins.

Digital is also helping drive the trend of logo simplification. Logos now need to display well on phones – and app icons. Netflix, YouTube, Spotify, AirBnB, Twitter and Dropbox have all gone back to basics.

Even staid institutions like universities are simplifying in order to stay relevant. Some eye-catching changes include the Kentucky School of Art + Design, Harvard University Press and St Louis University.

Try it: pick a handful of logos and count how many elements they contain. Research them and see if they’ve changed over the years.

Typography: I shot the serif

With the exception of hipster hand-written fonts, typography has also trended towards the simple. Readability, legibility and impact are all core components of good type design. stellapop-click-to-tweet.png As a result we’re seeing typefaces differentiated by weight, size and color contrast — not by flowery designs.

Take Helvetica, used on the NYC Subway and just about every government publication. Not to mention dozens of famous logos, including Target’s. It’s clean, crisp and easy to read. 

Frutiger, first used for the Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, is another crowd pleaser, used everywhere from the Euro banknotes to Cornell University, while Bauhaus-inspired Futura pops up on Absolut Vodka bottles and films from Kubrick onwards.

Avant-garde scripts and decorative typefaces have their place — but it’s the simple type that makes the world go round.

Try it: next time you’re out for a drive, take a note of all the typefaces you come across. What font families do you see, and how are they used?

Names: from meh to memorable

Brand names have simplified over the years as well. Gone are the days when companies relied on their phone book listing or window signage to explain what they did. Names have become shorter, more streamlined and more evocative. 

There are several reasons for this. One is that highly descriptive names are unmemorable — and unnecessary. Brand names are rarely seen out of context. There’s no need to add “microchip manufacturer” to your name. Customers will see this stamped on your products or in articles relevant to what you do. Besides, if you decide to branch out into other areas, you’re stuck. 

Lengthy brand names aren’t inspiring. They’re hard to recite, write down or type into a browser. There’s a reason International House of Pancakes became IHOP and Lucky and Goldstar Co became LG.

Simple brand names are engaging, memorable and flexible. They have power, they’re easy to build a visual identity around, and they give your company room to grow.

Think Virgin, Lego, Disney, Fedex, Jet and IKEA. 

Try it: compare the names of global brands, fresh startups and local businesses. What differences do you see?

UX: we’re not here to think

Open up Google’s homepage and all you get is a search box. It’s only the most used website in the world, so clearly it’s doing something right. Google knows exactly what users expect from it: search. And that’s the experience it delivers.

Great user experience (UX) means a great brand experience. When an app, website or program is hard to use, works in unexpected ways or features distracting elements, “friction” is created. The more friction, the poorer the experience.

Elegant, simple UX design makes for seamless, intuitive interactions. Performing a task is easy. Buttons are accurately labeled. Feedback is provided.

The more thinking a brand has put into its design solutions, the less thinking a user should have to do. Because when UX is done right, the user can’t get it wrong. stellapop-click-to-tweet.png

Take a look at Slack, YouTube, Duolingo, Twitter and Tinder. They’re simple, intuitive — and deliver exactly the experience you expect. 

Try it: download a new app and make note of every time you get lost or confused. Is the experience as simple as it should be?

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