Logo as Placeholder: The USA Today Re-Design

Geometric shapes have long been used in design for their simplicity and sensibility: the circle is dynamic and complete, the square is static and secure, the triangle is stable and strong. I earned my degree from a college that uses a simple circle in its logo. Geometric shapes are absolutes, born out of unarguable precision, mathematics and logic. Although the use of geometric shapes in logo design is hardly new, recent logo makeovers and designs are trending toward the use of these elementary shapes, implying a modern reaction to post-modern design.

Old or new, the use of basic shapes in logo and brand design abounds, including: J C Penney, The Gap, H&R Block, the London Underground, and now USA Today, which the irrepressible Stephen Colbert critiqued recently:

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Logo Makeover for USA Today
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In its unveiling, USA Today described the circle element as a sort of placeholder that changes based upon story or subject, and comes in a variety of color options depending upon topic or section. The simplicity of the circle makes sense, then, when a logo is meant for adaptation. Modification is a new idea of how a logo actually functions: it’s a dynamic asset that not only represents an enterprise but also adapts to situations, audiences and platforms – a “living” logo. This is a relativistic and trending approach to identity design that, I believe, is becoming mainstream. Designers will develop suites of logos instead of a single graphic mark.

Public outcry and social satire over logo designs are not new. It’s apparent, though, that makeovers which the public finds unacceptable, amateurish or too drastic will result in media attention, whether favorable or unfavorable, for the enterprise that owns the logo.

What do you think of the USA Today re-design?


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Alvalyn Lundgren

Alvalyn Lundgren is the founder and principal of Alvalyn Creative, an independent consultancy providing brand strategy design and bespoke illustration for more than 30 years. She is the creator of Freelance Road Trip — a business school and podcast for creative freelancers. She teaches design and design practice on the college level with design schools and programs.