Trend Report 2020: Flexible Logo

by Bill McCool on 12/18/2019 | 4 Minute Read

2020 is finally here, and it's that time of year where we get to play Nostradamus and tell you where the future of branding and package design is heading. 

This is the eighth installment in our 9-part Trend Report for 2020; to view the other sections, click on the following hyperlinks to read about  Brand Merch', The Rise of Non-Alcoholic BoozeWhite Claw SummerMonochromatic PackagingPatterns, The Plant-Based World, Non-Binary Branding, and Material Innovation.


If you talk to anyone who went to school for graphic design, they’ll tell you that you never touch the logo. There’s one logo—that’s it. The entire brand is built around that logo, it breathes and lives through this one thing, and you must always do it this way. 

At least that’s what the brand kit says.  

A great logo—when it works—is ubiquitous and as much of a part of the cultural conversation as Friends and Office reruns on Netflix. But a logo is no longer just a logo. Now, it’s an aesthetic, and more brands are moving towards flexible logo systems.

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Think about Jones Knowles Ritchie (JKR) and their recent rebranding of Dunkin’. Sure, you might see Dunkin’ in an advertisement, but you could also come across a “DNKN’” or the letter "D." Similar to Taco Bell and their many variations of the bell, these brands have created a system that invites endless iterations and play, and so long as it feels like the base logo, there are no rules. 

When it comes to flexible logo design, Nike and MTV are the gold standard. The MTV logo was meant to have a graffiti-like look to it, almost like it had just been “sprayed on a wall.” By drawing on this inspiration and freedom that the then-fledgling cable channel did, they applied that same sense of emancipation to the logo, appearing in numerous variations over the years.

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So why are more brands doing this?

A typical audience interacts with a brand across multiple platforms, so it needs to exist in its own individual way for that particular outlet. Not that anyone uses Yahoo, but the new logo Pentagram created for them was intended to work across mobile platforms and the “side of a building.” Think about how you’re going to experience a brand. Is it on a billboard or a print-ad? What about inside a store? How about on Facebook or Instagram. It lives in countless places, so brands and designers need to have a flexible system for how that identity will live in the world. 

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According to Pentagram, “the identity is further streamlined with a simple ‘y!’ monogram, useful for favicons and social media icons. The monogram is also the foundation for a cohesive brand architecture that locks up the ‘y!’ with various channels to create sub-brands for Yahoo Finance, Yahoo Sports, and Yahoo Weather.”

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Victoria Bitter, Australia’s most popular beer, redesigned its logo and package design this past year. It took its round, oval “VB” and reshaped it into a circle with the express purpose of applying it across a wide swath of media. 

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Tango sells high-quality sex toys for everyone, regardless of gender or sexual orientation. They extend this fluid nature to the branding itself—looking at their social campaigns, the logo is never quite the same. The wordmark might come in any form that suits their purpose—it’s a star, it’s a wave, a circle, a smiley face. Hell, it’s their butt plug itself, draped across a wide array of bodies as seen on their Instagram.

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Some brands are also going without their logo entirely like Mastercard and Doritos. In an appeal to Gen Z consumers, Doritos stripped their branding entirely, leaving an empty triangle shape and the words, “Logo Goes Here,” as well as chip bags that were just blue or red. If they strip the brand entirely down to its core elements, they can endear themselves to a younger consumer who doesn’t like traditional advertising.

Announced earlier this year, Mastercard completely dropped their name from their logo, and all that remains are the two overlapping circles, what Pentagram described as an “evolution of its brand identity featuring a new mark that highlights the connectivity and seamlessness of Mastercard and its payment systems.” The decision brings simplicity to the brand, but it also makes it optimal for digital use.

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In this landscape, the worst thing you can do is stand still. If your identity remains unchanged, then your brand is communicating the same message ad nauseum, shouting the same thing into the void daily. In other words, consistency is boring. Mix it up, play around with it.

And for any designer, whether they’re working in-house or for an agency, these are exciting times. Gone is the drudgery of tedious, monotonous work, constantly iterating the same designs again and again. Now, to capture someone’s imagination or entice a consumer, you can really do whatever you want. 

Just don’t repeat yourself.

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