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2020 Logo Design Trends to Forget in 2021

Updated: Jan 16, 2021

These logo trends were almost as bad as 2020 was in general. Which ones should we abandon in 2021? And which might actually be great design?

 

Simplicity, gradients, true to the general theme of 2020, logo design trends this past year were confusing, uninspired, and at times just plain awful. We didn't see much innovation, but rather concepts that have been overused the past few years. Seriously, is creative-block a symptom of COVID-19? *quickly opens up WebMD symptom checker*


Apparently it is not. But graphic designers everywhere seemed to be opting for simplification, fast-fashion trends, and way-out-there design choices this year. To be fair, not all utilization of these concepts is bad - some companies really blew it out of the park while implementing new trends.


As with all forms of art and expression, branding goes though fads. One year all the companies are going for hyper-detailed, super involved logos - the next they are stripping it back to just a basic font. But hey, it keeps us on our toes!


Simplification

They say "less is more"... but when is less, well, just less? In 2020, we saw a ton of companies opt for clean, modern, and sort of boring. While in some cases, simple logos are a bold statement, other times they fail to stand out. Let's look at some 2020 logo updates that fell short by stripping it back.


Yahoo, Pepsi, and Heinz fall short with simplified logo design

Yahoo, a popular search engine, news, and entertainment website has been known for their quirky and iconic font since its conception. They new update feels, well... it looks a lot like a logo meant for a different brand. When I see this update, I don't immediately recognize a brand that's been a huge competitor in the web space for years. Clean? Yes. But it lost some brand identity.

Professional Rating: 4/10


Alright, Pepsi's logo has been a mystery to me for a long time. When I saw the first look at their new branding, I couldn't help but think it was a bit of a joke. In branding, every decision should have a purpose. Reshaping the time-tested circle? Seems a bit misguided. Updating a logo should feel like putting makeup on it. Maybe even a bit of plastic surgery. But updating this very balanced logo doesn't make it look prettier, it looks like an off-kilter distant cousin

Professional Rating: A generous 3/10


Okay, as a native Pittsburgher, I take personal offense to Heinz's 2020 logo redesign. Most well known for their ketchup (Hunt's who?), Heinz's products are as iconic as their logo. But wait... where's the keystone? The 57 varieties? The pickle?! Consumers shop with their eyes. Even a toddler can pick out a recognizable icon or symbol. I promise you, the only people remembering you for your font... are fellow designers. If you can get your symbol to be as recognizable as Heinz, it is in your best interest to use that to your advantage.

Professional Rating: A (very begrudging) 5/10


So logo simplification can get messy, but here's some tips to designing an effective one:

Target, Mastercard, and Instagram excel with simple logos.

Ah, Target. Is there anything you can do wrong? Target kicked off the year with a bold choice - completely removing their name from their branding. Even new store designs are opting for a nameless facade, showcasing just their iconic bullseye. Why does this work? Target has spent years crafting such a recognizable brand, that putting a name to the face is virtually unnecessary. Changing up your logo often can be fun, but once you find your "thing", sticking with it really pays off.

Professional Rating: 10/10 (please don't make me regret it)


Mastercard would have flown under the radar this year, but as a got a new credit card and saw their new branding, I must say I was pleasantly surprised. They stripped back the effects and detail for a clean, modern approach. Since they are already known for their ven diagram style icon, a new simplistic revamp really gives it a modern look.

Professional Rating: 8/10


The new Instagram logo is a minimalists dream. Maybe they've been taking inspiration from the influencers that go on one trip up north and suddenly are striping down their photo aesthetics for whatever "Scandinavian Minimalism" is. The bold, yet refined lines are a great 21st century take on that god-awful little brown camera icon they started with. But you're not out of the wood yet, Instagram. We'll talk more about you later.

Professional Rating: 7/10 for now...


Rainbow Gradients

This year, bright, bold, in-your-face rainbow gradients absolutely dominated logo design. While the world got darker, logo designers were out living their most vivacious, vibrant lives. But did the rainbow treatment spice up the space, or did we all just end up looking like sad clowns?


Instagram, Avon, and Adobe Cloud opt for over-the-top color palettes

I told you we weren't done with you yet Instagram. While the simplification of the design won over minimalists, they overrode with the color. Instagram opted for a striking gradient of complementary colors. While we've been seeing colorful gradients overwhelm the app market, I'm not sure if a newly simplified logo needs to look like it's going to a rave. We've also seen similar styles grace other social such as PicsArt, Tinder, No Crop, and Facebook Messenger. Is it a trend? Or keeping up with the Zuckerbergs?

Professional Rating: Was 7/10... now 5/10


I'm a firm believer in innovation, but when something works... why change it? The fashion and beauty industry has crafted a very specific style that has stood the test of time through decades. From clean, minimal fonts to bold elegance, and palettes that span the color wheel - the industry doesn't have room for flashy ombres. While new isn't always bad, using a trend so removed from the industry makes it hard to recognize as one of the most well known brands. In my opinion, a simple black sanserif would work wonders.

Professional Rating: 4/10


So I must admit, I don't mind this as much as I wish I did. It is a refreshing change from the past red and white logo. But the rainbow seems uninspired. I expected more from the most well know provider of literally all the professional design programs. I would have liked to see the whole suite of apps get an overhaul to match. Maybe each app get a subtle gradient in each color? Adobe, feel free to contact me and we can discuss this upgrade.

Professional Rating: 5/10


Who came out lucky at the end of this rainbow? Here's some helpful tips:

Apple Music, Firefox, and Discovery Plus do gradient logos well

This is actually kind of nice. I’ve never been a huge fan of Firefox, their design or web browser. Their “Sonic the Hedgehog” style never really screamed professional me. However, their simplicity with this redesign struck gold. What makes the gradient work is this: Firefox already had brand identity in their bright color palette. Unlike others like Avon, who only adopted the trend recently. Also, a great tip is breaking up the colors in segments. Blocking them really creates a stylistic effect rather than a plain rainbow.

Professional Rating: 7/10


Rainbow gradients seem to be most effective this year within the application niche. The style really pulls its weight when used in small icons on mobile devices. While many people are opting to customize their Home Screen (blog on that to come), a vibrant eye-catching design isn’t all negative. What makes Apple Music’s icon work is moderation. They keep the central elements solid and impactful, while using a color gradient that isn’t too bright.

Professional Rating: 6/10


I really didn’t want to enjoy this, but credit it due. Another tip to remember with vibrant gradients is industry. For Discovery +, a streaming service focused on nature, science, and environment. The muted rainbow palette works nicely here. Sunset, sky, and earth colors blended together well. The gradient isn’t linear, giving it an organic feel. Also we have to note the unique water drop effect they have overlain the gradient. The result is calling, plays into the theme, and makes the trend actually really pleasing to the eye.

Professional Rating: 9/10


Simplified Emblem

I know I said that rainbow gradients were the worst trend of 2020, but there’s a special place in Hell for overly simplistic emblems. I remember watching as a company I knew well get rid the beloved, quirky pop-art inspired logo got rebranded into just a san-serif letter in a plain blue circle. I stand by the opinion that a letter is not a logo! Well, it is. But it should not be!


Let’s painfully work through the do’s and long list of don’ts, shall we?

Weight Watchers, Wordpress, and BMW fail with simple emblem logos


Weight Watchers has been trying to reimagine their brand as “the WW” for some time now, but this isn’t the way to do it. Two Ws in a blue circle? How new. How revolutionary. Never seen before. When you see logos like this, there’s no recognition. Is it Wordpress? Westinghouse? If you’re going to spend 80% of your marketing budget for the year on a logo, you don’t want it to be confused with another brand!

Professional Rating: A slim 3/10


While we’re on the topic, let’s talk Wordpress. Wordpress has had a signature W logo for quite some time. Is it time for a refresh? With so many similar concepts flooding the market, especially with the same letter (seriously what’s with everyone and a W in a circle) I don’t automatically think of Wordpress when I see this anymore. One extra point awarded though for the cheeky bookish font choice though.

Professional Rating: 4/10


Is it just me, or does BMW’s new logo look like someone forgot to add something? For a luxury car manufacturer, you’d assume their branding would reflect a rich, lux appearance. Minimalism can look chic, but it can also look empty. Removing all of the notable metallic elements leaves a logo void of that extra special something. In badging, the logo doesn’t look that bad when outfitted in chrome. However on print and marketing materials, it looks to plain. And a key to successful logos is that they look good in all uses.

Professional Rating: 5/10


Some brands know how to do a simple emblem well. Let’s learn from them:

Volkswagen, LG, and Popeye's excel with emblem logos

On the topic of car manufacturers, we saw Volkswagen take a minimalist turn with their branding this year. The difference is layout. BMW’s logo is mostly occupied by their blue quarter circle, while their namesake is very small and secondary to the icon. While their name disappears in a simple layout, Volkswagen dominates. They haven’t changed their layout, keeping with the bold interlocking letters. This stylistic element, which turns more geometric than textual, holds up when stripping back the effects.

Professional Rating: 7/10


LG is a great example of how to do a circle text logo right. Instead of keeping their focus on a single letter, they create art with their text. By laying out the letters this way, it makes a sweet little hieroglyph-style face. It creates an image, a recognizable icon. Not to mention, original characters are big for 2021 logo trends (future blog post coming).

Professional Rating: 8/10

I may never have had their chicken, but their logo sure is tasty. Popeye’s rebranded this past year and they weren’t chicken when it came to updates. They did a few things really well. First, simplicity is at its finest by removing their rooster image in favor of a simple P. Because Popeye’s has had this badge style logo for a while, the update flows well. Additionally, the 3D depth treatment on the letter keeps it original and not too plain.

Professional Rating: 8/10

Chaotic Arrangment

Chaotic arrangement: where the designer makes some out there text treatment choice and prays the viewer understands it. While some unique text layouts are chaotic good - most are more confusing than a brain teaser in a magazine in the dentist office waiting room.

Let’s learn what makes a logo just plain chaotic:


Bryon, Fashion for Good, and The National Holocaust Museum confuse viewers with new logos

Upon seeing this logo the first time, I couldn’t even read it. Was it YOBRN? NORBY? ROBYN? Being as I had never heard of the company, there was absolutely no brand recognition so the chaotic arrangement of the text just made it hard to understand. Loosing readability is never positive. Also, apparently this is a chain of burger restaurants… another important detail that the logo completely fails to communicate.

Professional Rating: A confused 3/10


An excellent cause, a sadly not-so-excellent logo. Again, the layout of this logo doesn’t do any favors for the sustainable clothing company. These crossword style designs have come into fashion every few years for a while now, but what do they prove other than that you figured out both words contain the same letter? It’s also hard to comprehend upon first glance. Leave the crosswords for grandpa.

Professional Rating: 5/10


The National Holocaust Museum is undoubtedly uncomfortable to visit, but did their logo also have to be? It actually makes me claustrophobic. One of the basic rules designers learn about typography is kerning and leading. By bringing the letters and lines so close together, it gives the logo a squished and enclosed feel. Visually, its a hard concept to get right, and I think the Museum missed the mark. You want to invite the viewer with branding, even if the experience at the venue is meant to evoke a dark, uncomfortable energy.

Professional Rating: 4/10


Chaotic arrangement is hard to master, but with the right organization, we can get it back in line. Here’s some better examples:


Travel Grafia, New York City Ballet, and Richard Schlagman Art Book Awards excel at chaotic arrangement

One great way to use chaos is to communicate an emotion or movement. The way Travel Grafia, a company that connects guests with travel destinations in Columbia, does just that. Their logo is fairly readable, yet the text evokes energy and excitement. Obviously, you want visitors to feel inspired to get in the travel spirit and ready to hop a plane. Through their text choice and paths used in the logo, they really make the branding seem positive and inspiring.

Professional Rating: 8/10


Perhaps the foil to what The National Holocaust Museum did wrong, The New York City Ballet did right. They too, adopted the tight leading, however, keeping the text justified makes for a compact and organized effect. Also, opting for a gradient color palette leads the eye through a natural progression, making it easy to comprehend. Do I think it was necessary to make the letters touch? No. But it keeps you on your toes.

Professional Rating: 6/10


Chaotic arrangement works well when there’s a method behind the madness. Evoking tone, direction, or energy are all great uses. For the Richard Schlagman Art Book Awards, they used the text to create the image of stacked books. This tongue in cheek approach to the logo is humorous and effective. They created a visual image without any actual design work being done. It’s a simple yet innovative concept.

Professional Rating: 8/10 for pure wit.


Bonus:


Dropped I

To round out our design trends to forget in 2021, we have an oldie but a… nope just old. The concept of a dropped I in design has been around forever. Basically, the designer uses the I as a focal point of design. I like to imagine designers who love a dropped I were those kids who dotted all the Is on their homework with little hearts. We saw a major comeback of the trend this year. In most cases, using the I as a design element just seems a bit elementary. Of all the innovative graphic concepts, the best you can come up with is dotting the I with a leaf? Some brands add a pop of color, others flip it over. Regardless, it’s overdone and uninspired.


If you must use your I as a design element, here’s some more interesting ways:



Right ways up? Upside down? It’s been done before. How about sideways? That could be fun.

Making the dot of the I the cross of the A? At least it’s a refreshing change from using the dot as a period.


Alright, I actually like this one! Just get rid of the Is entirely. Not to mention, it’s a bit of a cheeky take on the brand name.


That rounds out our list of design trends we’d love to forget from 2020, just like we’d like to forget the whole year. What design trends would you like to never see again, and which ones are you loving for 2021? Leave them in the comments below!


 


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