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John McWade is the founder and voice of Before & After magazine. The publication is a bimonthly print magazine that teaches graphic design. An award-winning publication designer, Mr. McWade is a desktop publishing pioneer. He founded PageLab, the world's first desktop publishing studio, in March 1985, and was the world's first commercial user of Aldus PageMaker.

B&A is always on the lookout for designers/writers to contribute articles for publication in the magazine. Contact them at the email address below.

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The Power of Logo by John McWade

The image below is amazing, at least to me, not for political reasons, but for design reasons. What we see here is a 69-ton British Challenger II tank — seriously heavy metal — near Basra not long ago crushing a portrait of Saddam Hussein.

A portrait.

How much does a portrait weigh?

Do you need 69 tons of armor to ruin it?

Before you say of course not, I'd like to suggest that maybe you do.

That's what I find amazing.

When Saddam Hussein's statue in central Baghdad was toppled — not the real Saddam, not the actual person, but the metal image — that's when people flocked into the streets, when all knew the end was at hand, that the regime was done.

It's like this. When one nation invades another, the first thing it does, as soon as it is able, before the fighting is over, before the government is installed, the first thing it does is replace the flag.

There's a famous image taken in Berlin at the end of World War II of allied armor destroying the despised swastika atop Nazi headquarters.

They blew up the logo.

And then it was over.

The flag hoisted by three firemen in the rubble of 9/11, remember that?

When one business acquires another, what changes first?

Let's talk about your logo.

Why would you redesign a logo? There are many reasons. If a company changes product or mission or market,a new logo will reflect the new day. An old image may look dated. Tastes change.

Whatever the case, and whatever the logo, the thing to know is that the subject is serious.

As a designer, you most likely think first in terms of aesthetics — this image is prettier than that — or about what each element "symbolizes". But be careful. What an image symbolizes to you has no bearing on what it means to the client. To the client, it's the old logo that has meaning.

Why? Because everyone who works for a company has to some degree adopted an identity. We bring to a job our education, abilities, ambitions,and take from it income, friends, lifestyle. We identify these experiences with the company and infuse its logo with personal meaning, whether the logo is artistically attractive or not.

The logo is not "just a graphic" any more than a flag is a piece of colored cloth.

That's why it 's so hard to design. You're working on sacred soil. I'm exaggerating only a little, but I 'm not kidding.

Thing is, a client asking for a redesign will not be aware of this — that what he knows and values about his company is attached to its logo, and that he's asking you to replace it. He's asking for a new flag.

Advice: If you feel qualified, do the job. Before unveiling it, prepare your client. Tell him he can expect to feel uncomfortable at first, because you're replacing what he knows with a foreign thing. Tell him to not look for his familiar symbolism in it. It is being changed. But assure him that once his choice is made, his old meaning will gradually be transferred to the new logo.

Then show him your best work.

Originally published in Before & After magazine, Issue 33.
Copyright © 2003 Before & After magazine.
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