What’s In A Logo?

What’s In A Logo?

If you drive a freeway stretch for any length of time, you’re bound to run into a McDonald’s billboard. It’s a popular marketing channel for the global fast-food chain. Last year, they surprised the advertising industry with a campaign that literally took the arch out of the Golden Arches, flexing their branding muscle once more and proving that a logo can count for quite a lot.

Recently, as we drove up to Lake Tahoe for a vacay, I spotted one of these and it got me thinking…

What makes a logo instantaneously recognizable, even when only 10% of it is being shown? And besides the logo itself, what other design characteristics were vital to ensuring McDonald’s clever campaign hit the mark?


A good logo is simple and clear. Regardless of the industry or tone, a logo should have clean lines and minimal detailing.

This is not just for aesthetic sake, but also so the logo can exist on many different forms, ranging from small digital web ads to large scale billboards.

If a logo has too much detailing, it won’t show well when it’s eventually shrunk down to fit on a business card or pen giveaway. Furthermore, it could distract from an overall ad campaign message, if it takes up too much real-estate on a poster or flyer.

Make sure to create several formats, sizes and versions of the logo, all within the same style guide. This way, the marketing team has different, pre-approved graphics for various uses. (More on the importance of styling below).


Developing a logo and rolling it out across all aspects of a brand is a time-consuming process. Because of the effort involved, and the recognition your brand immediately starts to acquire once it’s live, a logo design should be able to withstand the test of time. In today’s instantaneous culture, that means at least 5 years.

But rebranding a company involves a larger question than just ‘how much time has passed since the last logo design?‘. Rebranding requires intense, strategic thinking about the brand’s positioning in the marketplace and long-term vision.

Companies should avoid rebranding too frequently, because in doing so, they risk losing any established brand recognition. Consider the example of McDonald’s cropped billboard, who’s logo hasn’t changed in over 50 years.

Only a very well-recognized brand can pull off a campaign that shows only 10% of its logo.

1000 Logos shared a telling snapshot of McDonald’s logo variations over time. Once the golden arches came on the scene in the 1960s, they remain the staple symbol for the fast-food conglomerate into present day.


Typography and color play important roles in any logo. Whether the tone is fun and playful, or reliable and steadfast, styling greatly impacts the brand.

As we see in McDonald’s cropped billboard campaign, as long as the color scheme and font style is on-brand, passersby recognize the brand, even when the logo is 90% cropped.

To achieve this level of style consistency over the years, a branding style guide is key. Having a formal style guide ensures all asset & channels reflect a cohesive brand feel.

Not only for graphics, a style guide can define editorial styling too, such as messaging, tone of voice and terminology used.

For more on messaging strategy and content trends, check out our blog post about clickbait culture.

Typography is another important factor in a brand style guide. Beyond just font names and sizes, typography guidelines define all the characteristics of the various text blocks, including headings (e.g.: website styling H1, H2, H3…), paragraph styling, line spacing, bullet points, indents, kerning, color and much more.

Typography style guide example from Website Style Guide Resources

With established brands like McDonald’s, marketing has the freedom to veer from their formal style guidelines, as long as the foundational components of the brand/logo remain intact.

For example, McDonald’s style guide likely has a section about logo usage, including restrictions for cropping and placement. Their recent billboard campaign purposely violates some of their own style guidelines, but with the familiar colors and font styles, it’s still instantly recognizable.

In today’s increasingly visual world, a well-known logo can hold incredible brand equity, recognizable in even the most outside-the-Happy-Meal-box formats.

Do you recall another example of logo design done right (or wrong)? Comment below to share. I’d love to hear from you!

Click around my other blog posts, too.

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