Striving for Imperfection in Graphic Design

With modern design tools, anyone can come up with geometric perfection. But to do so is missing the point of what makes a design stand out.

In every walk of life or in your day to day business activities, you will often hear people talking about striving for perfection. But ask them to define what perfection really means, and unless there is a set operating procedure or quality manual to follow, you will most likely be faced with stammering, foot-shuffling uncertainty.

When it comes to artistic endeavour, the question of perfection is an even more controversial one. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Does perfection come down to what the majority of people perceive it as? Surely artistic merit has to be more than a mere popularity contest. Still, if we are talking about logo design, there are, at least some ground rules that must be followed. Simplicity, symmetry, bold recognisable colours and a tangible link
to the brand identity are the watchwords, right? Not necessarily, as the following two examples demonstrate.

Google
Most of the classic logos have a history that goes back decades – the McDonalds arch, the Nike swoosh and the Ford blue oval for example. Yet in a few short years, Google has catapulted to superstardom in the world of logos. What makes the image stand out? The simplicity and bold colours we talked about are plain for all to see, but it is the asymmetry of the imperfect G that gives the logo its unique and unmistakable character, and conveys the friendly informality that is such a core part of the Google brand.

Starbucks
Another logo that is unmistakable, but this one portrays a human face, so surely there is no room for imperfections here. After all, we have been told by every study going that humans are attracted by symmetrical faces. Show someone with one eye higher than another or a crooked nose, and it will surely not meet the accepted definition of beauty in the same way that a perfectly symmetrical face will. This was the theory the Starbucks logo designers followed when they were challenged to redesign the coffee chain’s logo to something fully textless in 2011. Yet when the mermaid’s perfectly symmetrical face became centre stage, they found she looked cold and impersonal.

This was when the designers hit upon the idea of adding what might be considered a small imperfection. Look closely at the design, specifically to the shadows on either side of the nose and you will see that one is longer than the other. This tiny detail injects character into the face and makes her look more “real” as opposed to a human-like mask.

Love your imperfections?
Are carefully crafted imperfections the key to creating a logo that really stands out in the modern age? If so, we could be on the cusp of one of the most interesting eras in logos, as graphic designers seek to perfect the art of the imperfection.

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