By Samuel Caverly
Symmetry is a central feature of countless famous logo designs. The iconic McDonalds arches and the Starbucks siren are perfect in their left-right bilateral symmetry, and the Target logo and British Petroleum logo take it a step further with perfect rotational symmetry. It may be easier to design a logo with symmetry but that’s not the sole purpose of symmetry in brand logos. Symmetry is a fundamental part of nature and, when used in a logo, it is a powerful tool for shaping the way customers perceive a brand or company.
Symmetry’s role in nature and human perception will be discussed below, followed by how it is used in logo designs such as the UPS logo, the Adidas logo, and the new Nintendo Switch logo.
Symmetry in Nature and Human Perception
Symmetry has been around a lot longer than marketing or even humans. Most members of the animal kingdom exhibit bilateral symmetry, and in fact, evidence suggests that bilateral symmetry had already firmly established itself in animals 500 million years ago. There is no scientific consensus on why this is, with explanations ranging from symmetrical bodies making it easier to maintain spacial awareness to symmetry being an easy metric to measure the sexual fitness of potential mates.
Human behavior seems to backup the sexual fitness explanation. According to one study, humans find more symmetrical faces to be more attractive. Another study says that humans find more symmetrical people to be better dancers.
Symmetry may even be more important to humans than to other animals. In another study, researchers showed symmetrical dots to humans and to non-human primates and, while both groups showed increased brain activity in the visual cortex, the human group showed a greater increase in brain activity. There’s no doubt that symmetry is a fundamental part of being an animal and especially of being a human, but what does that mean for advertisers?
Symmetry and Marketing
Symmetry’s role in logo design isn’t as simple as it seems to be in human sexuality. It’s more than just “more symmetry is always better.” If it were then every logo would just be perfectly symmetrical and the world of logo design might actually be a bit boring. Instead, companies use differing levels of symmetry in their logos in order to communicate certain ideas that they want to associate with their brands.
Some symmetry is important in order to maintain a balanced logo that is visually appealing, but adding asymmetry to a logo can convey important meaning to customers. The importance of symmetry and asymmetry can be tricky to understand but it is crucial to logo design.
Some designers like to associate symmetry with perfection or craftsmanship and asymmetry with genuineness or humanity. Because of this, a lot of car companies such as Volkswagen, Mercedes, Honda, Toyota, and Audi have symmetrical logos and also place craftsmanship and engineering at the center of their advertising strategy. Meanwhile, companies such as Nike, Facebook, and Apple use asymmetrical logos and often promote their more human attributes in their marketing strategy.
Georgia Tech researches Aditi Bajaj and Samuel D. Bond explore the differences between symmetry and asymmetry further and more scientifically in their article entitled “Beyond Beauty: Design Symmetry and Personality.” In this article they describe two experiments that they conducted on groups of college students in order to test their hypothesis that symmetric logos are associated with sophisticated brands while asymmetric logos are associated with exciting brands.
In the first experiment they asked two groups of subjects to choose logos for a given brand. The first group was to choose logos for a brand described as sophisticated, and the second group was to choose logos for a brand described as exciting. Affirming their hypothesis, the group tasked with choosing sophisticated logos was consistently more likely to choose symmetric logos while the group tasked with choosing exciting logos was consistently more likely to choose asymmetric logos.
In the second experiment the subjects were divided into the same two groups as the first study, but this time they were asked to actually design logos for their given brands. Unsurprisingly, the group tasked with creating a sophisticated logo drew more symmetrical logos and the group tasked with an exciting logo drew more asymmetrical logos. Furthermore, the first group specifically said they were interested in using symmetry to convey sophistication.
So how has symmetry been used to varying degrees in famous logo designs?
UPS’s logo is a great example of how to effectively balance the use of symmetrical and asymmetrical design. The outline of the logo (the shield) has perfect bilateral symmetry which evokes thoughts of sophistication, engineering, and efficiency, all important attributes for a customer who wants their package delivered on time. However, the internal design of the logo is slightly asymmetrical giving it a more human feel. This human feel might help to remind customers that the package won’t just be delivered on time but that it will also be delivered with a smile.
For much of Adidas’s history they used a bilaterally symmetrical trefoil logo, but they recently added a new asymmetrical logo based on the outline of a mountain. What is especially interesting is that Adidas still uses the old trefoil logo on their so-called classic products while using the asymmetrical logo on their newer high-performance wear. This lines up well with the theories explored above. Symmetry creates the classical, sophisticated feel. Asymmetry creates the high-performance, exciting feel.
Nintendo Switch Logo
The Nintendo Switch logo has received a lot of press recently for its strange approach to symmetry. The logo might look fairly symmetric but it’s actually not. The dots on either side aren’t symmetric with each other, and the two halves themselves are actually of different sizes. Nintendo created such a lopsided logo in order to make up for the differing visual weights of the logo’s various elements. That the logo comes out looking symmetric and balanced just goes to show that, while important, there’s more to logos than mere symmetry.
Symmetry is a simple tool that conveys complex information to customers when used appropriately. Many famous logo designs expertly utilize symmetry and asymmetry to subtly influence their customers, and understanding this phenomenon is crucial for any marketer, designer, or even customer.