Three Logos


A is one of the most commonly used letters in corporate logos. In this post, I critique three very similar logos all built around the capital letter A. The strength and success of each largely depends on the use of negative space (black areas inside the A). Let's take a look at these 3 logos from Adobe, American Giant, and First Ascent.

Logo #1: Adobe Systems, Inc. Adobe makes the best graphic design and digital editing software available (Photoshop, Illustrator, PremierePro, etc.). Adobe invented the PDF. They ushered in a brave new world of digital logo design and digital cartography with the introduction of Illustrator. Twenty-eight years after it was introduced, Photoshop remains the only professional image editing software package of note.

If you make great design software, you better have a strong logo. They do. Its bright red (not black as shown here).

Design Critique Take a look at the negative space in the center of the A. It appears to be a stylized arrow pointing upwards or maybe its a mouse arrow. This simple form is the first key to the logo's success. The black arrow plays against the strong symmetry of the white bounding A-frame. The A frame rests on a firm base. In fact the whole logo rests on an invisible, rock-solid baseline. The two bold black darts at the outer-upper corners square off the form and provide elbow room. The sharp tip of each dart terminates at the baseline, reiterating its presence. The aspirational A stretches vertically, reaching ever higher.

The logo captures the company's vibe well: Sharp, modern, clean. Its a square form, but you don't see a square when you look at it. The negative space is well designed. Functional, not cute.

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Logo #2: American Giant American Giant manufacturers "the greatest hoody ever made" according to Forbes, Slate, Wired, and others. Just a few years ago, they were a NYC-based, boutique-hipster brand that made just a few, high quality items. Today, they are a mega-brand that makes just a few high-quality items for hipsters.

Design Critique The overall feel of the logo is workmanlike, industrial, vintage. The big A appears to be a pyramid, a mountain, or an upward-pointing arrow - a loose suggestion of upward mobility, positivity. The font is straight off a flannel Yankees jersey from 1938 or a box of sparkplugs from the '40s.

The logo is both an A and a G, a form developed earlier by others. To my eye, a big circle doesn't harken back to anything particularly "american" or "giant", which is a small weakness. The 3 legs of the A appear a little thin, too.

Perhaps the logo's best quality is its use of repetition. Three triangles: one big, two small. Like the Adobe logo, the outer frame is strongly symmetric with inner elements offset.

All corners are rounded, which softens the appearance. Rounded corners are echoed in the larger black circle that encloses everything, but its a clunky association.

My main criticism is placement of the work "GIANT". Apparently, the text for both words "AMERICAN" and "GIANT" could not be shoehorned into the lower, horizontal leg of the A. Instead, the word is center-justified and placed it below "AMERICAN". The reason why "GIANT" falls outside the big A isn't altogether clear. Does it form the tail of an arrow? Is this a bailout move on the part of the designer who could not devise a better solution? I can just hear it: "What's the problem? The word is still inside the circle - it'll be fine. Print it." Of the three logos, this one is weakest. The legs are too thin, the circle fights the form it encloses, the negative space isn't used with purpose.

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Logo #3: First Ascent First Ascent is Eddie Bauer's line of mountaineering clothing. They hired mountaineering guides to design a line of goods under the new banner. Certain items in the line are actually quite functional and well built.

Design Critique What works about the First Ascent logo is the negative space - specifically, the group of 3 three black triangles. The larger white A surrounds 3 black triangles and creates areas of light and shadow with a 3-dimensional quality. There are quintessential alpine shapes to be found here: Nunataks poking up through Himalayan valley glaciers. A line of conifers dividing two ski runs. A rocky arete flanked by two icy faces. A modern A-frame cabin with snow plastered to the roof. The Matterhorn. Serra's Fulcrum sculpture. Etc., etc.. The use of negative space is by far the strongest of the 3 logos reviewed here. I prefer the nunataks interpretation best.

The font is complementary to the larger form and perfectly kerned. The fashionably paired regular weight text (FIRST), bold weight text (ASCENT) works here, mostly because it permits the designer to smash the two words together without the usual gap between. You could easily drop the text from the logo completely and lose nothing in terms of strength.

This is a smart and durable logo that settles down comfortably amongst the best in the outdoor industry. In fact, I think First Ascent's is equally as strong as uber-iconic logos from The North Face, Patagonia, and Arcteryx. Its just a half-step below the truly Hall of Fame logos from Apple, BMW, FedEx, Nike, and BatMan.

The logo is modern architecture and stable geometry. What more could Uncle Ian want? **

** Unlike ski instructors named "Todd", who never live past the age of 50, men named "Ian", who pursue mountain lifestyles in isolated New England hamlets, are routinely documented to live well into their 90s.

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