Logo: From the Greek, Logos — how something is understood.

A brand is so much more than a logo. We all know this, right.

Or do we?

When we think of Apple or Nike what do we think of? Iconic marks that are ingrained in consumer culture? A product that we trust and love? Thoughtful advertising that makes us stop and pay attention, relate and engage because we know it’s coming from a company we’re passionate about? All of this creates an experience. All of this is what makes a brand.

Human’s function on experience. It’s how we pass judgment, make decisions, form attachments and create memories. Experience is everything to us. By using our senses we form thoughts that help us to understand our environment and the interactions we take within it. So, it stands to reason that if you want to form a lasting impression, you need to project more than an icon and a name. A brand cannot be memorable without giving its audience an experience. A logo, no matter how clever, modern, funky or thoughtful, will never give a lasting brand experience. Context is just as important if not more.

The legendary Paula Scher of Pentagram in NYC recently shared some of her most lasting brand experiences at HOW Design Live in Chicago. In her talk, she remarked on the importance of understanding what was going wrong in the current brand experience as the first step in assessing where to go next. Then she cleverly began to solve the problem by giving the audience an experience through beautiful, smart design.

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The Philadelphia Museum of Art, known simply as the Art Museum, was suffering in the 40-year-old shadow of Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky. The steps, featured in the movie, were the only identifiable feature of the museum and in fact, millions of tourists every year came to the museum to climb the massive stair all the way to the front door … then promptly turn around and leave. How do you combat this? Her studio changed the logo to a simple, clean typeface giving “Art” the most prominent position and developed a brand system in which the museum could play. The “A” in art could be changed to any of a number of funky, fun, lively and creative designs that would be used across advertising, collateral, products and promotions. It allowed the museum to live within a brand system that was also creatively artistic — the perfect solution for the museums needs.

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After hurricane Sandy, NYC’s beaches were devastated. It would take years of construction to bring them back to their full beauty and the boardwalk had been completely washed away. Pentagram’s team was tasked with the environmental design to bring the love back to the Rockaways. They did this by designing a simple, beautiful system in which all signage could exist. And they did this by while celebrating the beauty of the beach itself. Each entrance sign was marked by the street number and a large landscape photo capturing the unique environment of that area. Simple and elegant. And the neighborhoods loved it. Finding that simple, bright colors work best in beach areas, they introduced blocks of color to the cement shelters and rest areas, bringing a beautiful touch of charm and happiness to the beaches. Finally, to complete the brand experience, they took inspiration from the engineering behind the new cement boardwalk and created a bit-font out of the slab patterns, painting the blocks so that, as aerials, they read the beach locations, but from the ground, read as colorful graphic patterns along the boardwalks.

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Finally, she talked about how sometimes a brand can just happen naturally. The Atlanta Center for Civil Human Rights had a logo, but no one really knew who they were. An exhibit of international poster designs had been commissioned but the curator found that upon arrival, the posters were so laden with cultural context that they were not understandable by a wide American audience and so therefor the exhibit felt underwhelming. He asked his old friend Paula to help him out. “What can we do to fix this? The show opens in a week.” A little frustrated, and very rushed. Paula looked at the work and felt a unifying design could help. She quickly worked out an idea and the wall was produced. She hadn’t given it much thought, really. But when the wall went up and the exhibit opened and unexpected thing happened. People really started to relate to the simplicity of the design. It went viral. It drew people to the museum. The simple image became a unifier for everything the museum stood for. It became the museum’s brand.

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So, you see, the logo is something that should help convey an understanding of brand. But the experience is the brand itself.