Fast Chat: Angus Hyland on Penguins, Michelin Man

Pentagram partner dissects 1,400 logos in his new book, Symbol

What makes a successful logo?
A successful logo is one that endures. It’s got to eventually be honest to the product it describes. It’s got to be simple. It’s got to be functional. And it has to have that other thing: It’s got to have character.

Is there any classic cautionary tale?
There’s a number. A recent one would be the Gap, when they rebranded and then reverted. We don’t really go, “Wow, I’m in love with the Gap logo,” until someone replaces it with something we’re not in love with. It’s very hard to rebrand a very established brand without there being kickback.

Online, people are furious when Facebook or Twitter redesigns, but that typically lasts five minutes. 
The same could be said for a magazine redesign: No matter how good it is, it’s a paradigm shift for the readers. You’ll meet resistance. Truth is, if it’s better, that resistance will quickly die away and everyone will be happy. Less so with a [trade] mark. It’s less about function and much more what we associate with it.

Are there any designs you’ve done that you’re embarrassed by now?
Everybody has a drawer of shame. But I won’t open it for you.

Discuss creative and corporate clashes. 
Every creative project I’ve been in has been a compromise between the two parties. If that compromise is developed carefully and communicated well, it will undoubtedly improve the end product. It’s not unlike Michelangelo and the Pope.

Is there a cardinal rule in designing a logo?
No. Some of the most dysfunctional logo types can be the most enduring.

Such as?
Pirelli [tires] breaks a lot of typographic rules with its overly stretched P; the longer the word, the more horizontal it becomes and the less functional it is. It breaks all conventions. It’s kind of ugly in its weirdness, which probably would have never got through a boardroom now. It’s part of its charm and distinctiveness.

Must be hard to get charm into a logo today.
Absolutely. Charm is an attribute that comes about through instinct. It’s not necessarily been organized into vertical chain of thought. Charm comes in from left field. The more anodyne the process, the more it’s going to chop off all the charm.

Penguin is an example.
Penguin is interesting because penguins have very little to do with the product. Penguins are illiterate! I suspect that original penguin wasn’t intended to be solidified into that logo. It was much more of an organic mascot like Bibendum, the Michelin Man. But through time it’s become fixed.

I didn’t realize the Michelin Man had a name.
If you look at early advertising, he’s this strange tire monster. It’s so idiosyncratic. There’s just no way a committee could have come up with that. You look at the mascots of the 2012 U.K. Olympics, and they’re so anodyne and thought through. No charm.

Is there a logo you wish you’d done?
There are many. My very favorite [trade] mark is the World Wildlife Fund. I’d love to have done that. That’s the one. The giant panda is the perfect choice; the way it’s drawn is charming and very enduring.