Can a logo ever be too simple?

Can a logo ever be too simple?

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Kate Spade Logo

I’ve brought this question up once before in a slightly similar post titled “When is a logo too simple?” but after posting Kate Spade’s new logo (shown above) on Logo Of The Day, I think it’s a good time to bring it up again.

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Many people have been criticising the new logo for being “too simple”, “not creative” and “boring”, among the other usual snarky comments. These comments may have some validity, however, a logo does not always have to be creative or fancy to do its job. A logo is there to identify.

What’s your take? Can a logo ever be too simple?

Opinions via Twitter

“The new Kate Spade logo brings tremendous versatility to the brand; over time I think it will become quite iconic.”

via @MikeWattersPDX

“It’s not very, uh, unique is it?”

via @ralphsaunders

“I saw it featured elsewhere. I thought the company may have gotten ripped off – TOO simple.. barely any creativity.”

via @aldricht

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“A little originality would have been nice. This may be a little too simplistic.”

via @CjCipriano

“I like it too. Clean and Simple usually wins in my books.”

via @kylemcdesign

“I think once seen used on the journal and bags etc. It looks quite nice. Some people don’t appreciate simplicity these days.”

via @ShannonHatchNZ

“It is just a spade symbol. Lame.”

via @twodayslate

“I am a fan of its simplicity. Straight to the point. The obvious (but correct) solution. Right up my alley.”

via @LogoBird

“It’s a spade like any other. Not feelin’ it.”

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via @gregpetit

“I don’t think of Kate Spade when I see it. I think “Hmm I think I want to play some Rummoli.”

via Jennifer Hoknes-Steinhauer (on Facebook).

So what’s your take? Can a logo ever be too simple?

Photo Source.

81 thoughts on “Can a logo ever be too simple?”

  1. I think the problem some people are having is not so much that it’s simple, but that it takes a very common symbol and otherwise doesn’t do much with it. The simplicity lies not in the design itself, but in how little is done with the reappropriated symbol.

  2. I wonder if same people would have complained that the Apple logo “is just an apple” or the McDonalds logo “is just a letter M” before those companies became billion dollar corporations.

    I think an effective logo identifies a brand. People don’t have to love it for it to work well.

  3. I’m surprised you’ve not mentioned the Starbucks logo – their entire process has been simplifying their logo. A lot of folk hate it, but it’s purely making the idea simpler which is always a good thing when it works.

    Would the apple logo be as loved if it was attached to a tree branch?

  4. I must say I love simplicity. Sometimes if the site surrounds itself with the logo it can work, but other – it’s for the content not the logo so why go all out on one.

  5. Although elegant and beautiful I agree with Jeremy. A spade is a very common image/logo and it is never going to be associated fully with Kate Spade, which is surely one of the main points to an effective logo.

  6. I’m really torn on this one. I think some of the comments, such as ““I don’t think of Kate Spade when I see it” are stupid, because as Chris pointed out earlier, did people used to associate an M with McDonald’s before?

    I think the one problem is it’s something that people already have associations with. I think Apple’s logo is a great one to compare to because it’s a simple Apple icon, but it has a unique touch with the missing bite. I think simplicity is key for logo’s and branding, but Starbucks (which Russell mentioned) simplification works because it’s been around so long people recognize it without the wordmark (I don’t want to know how much money on studies they spent to prove this before going forward).

    I like the simplicity of this and the tie in with the name, I’m just not sure if some small, simple ‘quirk’ could have been given, the same way Apple did.

  7. I think a logo can never be too simple. Look at some of the brands you can easily think of:
    Target – a bullseye; Apple – an apple; McDonalds – a gold M. These brands are easily identified just looking at their simple mark. It all has to with how the brand is marketed in my opinion.

    While unique creative logos are great, I think it has more to do with the target audience someone wants to appeal to on how simple the logo should be.

    If you go to the Kate Spade website you can see how they are already incorporating the mark into the merchandise, splashing it all over the place. So they are trying to make the single spade mark into a status symbol, the reason they probably chose something really simple.

  8. Personally I like it. It’s simple but it’s also instantly identifiable. It avoids using any logo design trends which will ensure it’s longevity. It works really well with copy inside it and looks good on the companies products.

  9. Can a logo ever be too simple? this is an excellent question, but I think this is not the best sample to make us think about it, logos such as Mc Donalds, apple, target, chase, these are simple and unique piece of art, but with Kate Spade’s logo, the situation is different, everything is reduced to take and existing symbol and place it everywhere.

  10. This is similar to what JeremyOLED said but a bit of a different take. I think the logo has potential to be great. But with such a non-desrcript logo that is essentially an icon, it is up to the implementation that will make or break its success. It could become iconic if used creatively and consistently, but could remain generic if not. Such a simple logo puts the onus on the organization to make something of it, rather than letting it stand on it’s own. This can work spectacularly in the right hands or die an early death in the wrong ones.

  11. i go for simplicity too. ALWAYS. This is simple. Sweet. But, unfortunately, NOT UNIQUE. And just as Kevin mentioned, what make the Apple logo unique even though it’s just an apple, is the missing bite.
    The simplicity in the Kate Spade logo has murdered the uniqueness.

  12. The comparison with McDonalds or Apple is wrong, those logos are unique brand pieces, you don’t type “apple” or an “m” on Google and find lots of other similar icons. I’m not saying it’s wrong to be simple, it’s not wrong to use iconic symbols, but what makes this spade logo different from other spades icons?

  13. Ha glad my tweet got on here.
    Anyway, there is a fine line between simple and unoriginal. The spade is a commonly used symbol and can have multiple meanings.
    As far as Apple and McDonalds having the same simplistic touch as the spade, that is completely untrue. Both of those logos have unique touches to them that make each recognizable to its own.

  14. I don’t see simplicity as the issue, more the appropriation of an already established symbol. Of course, repetition leads to tradition so it’s all in the frequency of implementation.

  15. I don’t think a logo can ever be too simple, I think that is the goal for many designers. I think the issue is how simple can it be, whilst still being unique enough so that it’s identifiable with the company it represents, and not too similar to another company’s logo. This is especially so if the company intends to use the mark on it’s own without the company name.

    In the case of the Kate Spade logo, it’s based on a common symbol, not a representation of a real object (Apple logo), or a unique take on something, such as McDonald’s golden arches. Many larger businesses want to protect their logo by having it trademarked. In my opinion it would be difficult to have a trademark granted for this mark, without the name – which is something companies such as Apple and McDonald’s have done. So there would be nothing stopping another company from using almost the same logo.

  16. Much has already been said to this effect, but I think the idea that the designer of this logo was going for is sound, but wasn’t carried out well. Every brand wants to be so ubiquitous that people can see a small part of it and know what company is represented by it. But even the brands that have that notoriety—Nike, Apple, Starbucks, McDonalds—did not start that way. Their original logos were far more complex and have evolved into simpler, iconic versions over time as their brand recognition and brand value increased.
    I can see that the Kate Spade logo is going for that same iconic simplicity, but it does very little to separate itself from what most viewers associate a spade symbol with, namely a deck of cards. In that, it is lacking as a logo because it does not give itself a uniqueness. Apple didn’t re-invent what an actual apple looks like so much as they create a iconic version of what people would recognize as an apple, and then gave it their own uniqueness with the bite mark.

    It all comes down to how much space does your brand hold in a viewer’s brain. The more space, the higher the value of the brand. If something else that looks similar to your brand holds more space in a viewer’s brain, odds are that your brand value will have a difficult time increasing.

  17. Yes, a logo can be too simple: the new NBCUniversal “logo” is a good/bad example. Simplicity shouldn’t be confused with lack of imagination.

  18. I don’t think that logos has to be complicated.
    It doesn’t matter if they are easy or not:
    there’s a lot of complex logo that sucks… LIKE THIS ONE.

  19. I’m so glad everyone who has commented so far has neglected to use the phrase “Let’s call a spade a spade.”

    I stand by my earlier tweet. I think the adoption of a simple spade has the potential to be very big for the handbag maker, iconic even.

    Would something so simple work for most of us? Of course not. But I have a good feeling about Kate Spade. The implementation so far has been so well done.

  20. My soon to be revealed new logo uses a “light bulb”. When I created it I had in consideration that a light bulb is a very common symbol used to represent creativity, cleverness, idea, etc. So I knew I had to present it in a way to make the light bulb just mine. Hopefully I accomplished that task. I’ll show my new logo soon. Anyways, I agree with Jeremy, in my opinion simplicity is always good but the problem with this logo is that there was nothing added to that common symbol nor it was manipulated or presented in a way that makes that symbol their own.

  21. I like simplicity in logos but it doesn’t work in this particular instance because not only is this a very common playing-card symbol, but it’s also a centuries’ old and recognizable icon. Using it as a base for a logo–however simple–would work, but not simply throwing up the preexisting (and strong) icon as-is.

    And I won’t rehash but, as Carlos and Sollo said, I don’t think that you can compare this to the Apple or MacDonald’s logos as those are unique alterations–unlike this.

  22. It’s simple that is for sure, but it gets the message across. First thing you think of is spade. Sure it is a common symbol but it only makes it more challenging to create the brand.

  23. My soon to be revealed new logo uses a “light bulb”. So I was obviously afraid of cliche and I knew I had to presented and manipulated in a way to make the “light bulb” mine. Hopefully I accomplish that task, I’ll show it soon. Anyways, I agree with Jeremy. Simplicity is always good but in my opinion there was nothing added to this common symbol to make it their own.

  24. This is a great discussion! One thing to remember, is a logo is primarily responsible for conveying a message. Anytime a message is conveyed, one of the most critical considerations is context.

    If a logo was simply a single dot, representing Kate Spade, the context would send a very confusing message. However, if the company was called ‘Point’, the simplicity begins to relay a different message.

    Context + Simplicity makes the logo powerful, even without explanation. Logo’s that have the luxury of large advertising budgets get their messages told numerous times and the explanation creates context for the viewer.

    When using a simple mark, like a spade, that’s already a known symbol, you’re brand is competing with all the other associations and messages that mark is known for. Definitely adds more risk to your logo and creates the need for a lot of advertising reinforcement.

  25. In my opinion, its not that its too simple, its that there isn’t enough creativity in it. Her last name is spade, and the guy went with using a spade. It seems too obvious for me.

  26. All this if fine but Jacob why did you add this logo to the Logo of the Day?

    I think it isn’t a question of simplicity more than calling into question the criteria a logo has to have to be titled “Logo of the Day”.

  27. I don’t think the logo is too simple. However, the shape could be refined and the implementation could be more exciting.

    So it goes…


  28. @Chris Obrien,

    Your argument makes no sense. I would have an issue with the “apple” and the “M” in those respective company’s logos if the logo was just a reproduction of a symbol dating back to the 15th century.

  29. I would love to read the designer’s process and justification behind this design. I think it could be very revealing. Jacob, do you know who the designer is on this one? Maybe you can get a few words from him or her since it has stirred up so much conversation on your site.

  30. I’m not a huge fan of that logo, but it’s not due to the simplicity. Because that’s a really good thing for a logo I think. It’s more that it doesn’t look well designed to me, the colors are not appealing, and it’s not an innovative idea.
    This is just my opinion, and identity/branding is a very individual matter of taste.

    This is however an interesting discussion, and i agree with those who says that a logo can never be too simple. But it needs something extraordinary OR be branded in a good way.

  31. Its a hard line to see the border of whats ‘iconic’ and whats a logo and ‘different / creative / and individual’

    This logo as it were will stand the test of time in its simplicity however I do feel the reason its subject to harsh critisim is that it is not unique enough or clever enough to be deemed the result of a graphic designers work.

    On the other end of the scale we can take the Macdonalds logo for example. One giant yellow M. simple yes, and it works. However the difference between macdonalds and this logo falls in its creation. The spade icon has been around for a long time dating back as early as the 14th century, and thus to just be re invented as a personal logo brings can much controversy.

  32. In the midst of all the chaos its refreshing to see something this simple actually out there. I think the simple logo has a lot of potential and can be built into an icon. Great job

  33. Me personally I would rather have a simple logo that people can remember it, verses overly to detailed logo that know one can remember it. The only thing that bugs me about this logo is that there is no name with the logo. I just feel that only well known companies can do that. Because they market their logo so much and spend millions of dollars on promotions, they can get away with it. For an example, the nike swoosh or the two golden arches in macdonalds, or the bite of the apple mac. That’s just my opinion I could be wrong.

  34. Me personally I would rather have a simple logo that people can remember it, verses overly to detailed logo that know one can remember it. The only thing that bugs me about this logo is that there is no name with the logo. I just feel that only well known companies can do that. Because they market their logo so much and spend millions of dollars on promotions, they can get away with it. For an example, the nike swoosh or the two golden arches in macdonalds, or the bite of the apple mac. That’s just my opinion I could be wrong.

  35. I bet what they will do with this logo is turn it into a graphic like we are seeing so much these days at places like Jonathan Adler and David Hicks. The spade will be repeated, and inverse repeated, to make a bold modern fabric design and they will put it inside their purses, on scarves…you name it. Kate Spade will have the same look as an Hemes bag or a Johnathan Adler Pillow. You saw it here first.

  36. No, a logo cannot be too simple, but that’s not the problem with Kate Spade’s new logo. The problem is that it’s too commonplace, without any adaptations to make it unique. The comparisons to Apple and McDonald’s are false — you wouldn’t associate those exact icons with those companies without a long history of branding, and those particular icons did not adorn a commonplace item like playing cards for centuries before their use. The biggest problem here is that Kate Spade will never be able to keep people from using a spade to identify other companies or products — she can’t protect her new brand from being diluted, because there’s nothing distinguishing it from the long-used and pervasive icon.

  37. It all has to do with the pervasiveness of the graphic brand within the niche market.

    I’ve never heard of Kate Spade. I assume it makes hand bags from googling it, so are there any spade-like graphic identities in fashion? I certainly would have no idea, but that is the test. Can it be the “fashion spade?”

  38. i was in the kate spade store over the weekend and the whole store has been updated with this logo. i like a simple logo, but in this case the spade symbol just doesn’t exemplify stylish, luxurious…etc; however, her initials and/or her name alone did.

  39. I agree with JeremyOLED, the problem with this logo is that it takes a symbol we are familiar with it and make it their own. I love simplicity when something new and creative is made.

  40. I don’t care for it. I like simple logos as long as they are unique. There is something about Apple’s apple and McDonald’s “M” that are done in such a way that are original and unique enough that they are associated with their brand. This spade looks too common. They should have at least elongated it or added some curlicues to make it stand out.

  41. Think there’s been a lot of mentions that the ‘spade’ symbol is far too commonplace and there’s not enough originality in this?

    One big point of this… Spades are black

    They’ve taken a recognisable symbol that represents the client thru wordplay and added a slant of originality by changing the colour and this will cause people to double take it to try and work out whats odd about it.

    The success of the logo will be in the use of it beyond the actual mark. Personally I think there’s great potential with the shape from a ‘branding’ perspective on shopping bags, advertising, store decals, badges etc.

    I think we as designers are too often afraid to use the obvious as people will think we haven’t ‘tried’ but obvious is obvious for a reason, because people expect to see it, we should play that to our advantage – Well done Kate for being brave enough to accept the obvious.

    (Food for thought – If it was someone called Kate Elephant who was looking for a logo I’m pretty sure most of us would explore the idea of using an elephant in her logo and that’s a pretty common symbol)

  42. …..had another thought on the way into work on this topic.

    Ambitious I know but imagine if (when) the Kate Spade ‘brand’ took off, think of the amount of people out there playing Poker, Rummy, Hearts, Snap, ______ (insert other game using playing cards) who might then see the spade and think:

    “ooo that reminds me of that fashion retailer, who was that?? Oh that’s right Kate Spade”

    And then a discussion happens around the table about who/what Kate Spade is/are.

    Think of the amount of packs of playing cards out there that could be considered as advertising? That’s the optimist coming out in me but, definitely a plus point for the brand in my opinion.

    Great topic non-the-less Jacob, certainly got me thinking!

  43. Dave,
    Funny you mention that ‘Kate Elephant’ idea. I actually had to design a logo with an elephant for the New York Digital District and during the research came across literally hundreds of elephant logos. Many unique, many quite plain. We ended up going with a digital illustration as seen here.
    Before you ask why we chose an elephant, it is because the district lies in the area of Dumbo, hence Dumbo the elephant. Sorry Disney.

  44. This logo is witty once you know what it is for. It’s like how the musical artist Prince has translated his name into a symbol. A spade for Kate Spade is a completely apt summation. However, as a logo, it’s lacking that branding experience. If I just saw this symbol somewhere, I wouldn’t automatically say, “Hey that’s Kate Spade!” On the other hand, there are symbols (like the Olympic Medals) that you see and immediately identify with them. In summation: Simplicity is taking the hard path.

  45. One thing is sure, it will never beat Pokerstars Logo. Pokerstars made it theirs adding the star in the middle, and you identify them very well.
    Is a Spade from Poker Cards, so it works.

    In this case, is a Spade, is Kate Spade… but who is Kate Spade and what does it sell?

  46. It’s really a matter of striking a balance between simple and original. While the logo in question is not original at all, it’s simple, which helps recall but doesn’t do much for branding.

  47. I think the points about the Apple logo miss the mark slightly – it’s not an apple, it’s an apple with a bite in it. Simple, but not PLAIN. The connotation of an apple with a stylised bite in it is immediately associated with Macs and related products, not the fruit.

    The spade is a direct cmd+v from a deck of playing cards. The relationship with the brand name and the logo is TOO obvious, TOO predictable and contrived because there is nothing distinguishing between this and a game of 500. It’s not clever.

    There are pre-built connotations with this icon. Who else is thinking of old-school card illustrations and a few rounds of Poker? Chips, even? The ‘Golden Arches’ M built the connotations we now think of, NOT the other way around. See those golden hoops, do you think of a letter or a Big Mac? Apple – do you think of a fruit, or the latest intel-powered monsters & your phone?

    This isn’t whimsical. This isn’t clever. If you were to look at a bunch of the initial sketches, I’m willing to bet this and a garden shovel were the two first thoughts, along with the initials KS in a variety of arrangements. 90% of the thought that would have gone into it would probably be ‘I wonder if we can get away with this’…

    In my opinion this isn’t a question of simplicity at all. Not in the slightest. This is a question of recycling existing icons and being able to get away with potentially bending a few lines, thinking that one tiny company can change the perception of an icon that has existed in our culture for many, many years.

    The logo as it appears on the Japanese website for the company makes a wee bit more sense; “Hello Spade” appearing in the middle of the logo offers a little more information on whether it represents a betting agency, a graphic designer or a handbag company. It is, still, unoriginal and in my mind a poor play on ‘Hello Kitty’.

    Simplicity is bloody hard to pull off. Think of the billion-and-one logos that are a

    I am a harsh critic, however, and not one to reward mediocrity.

  48. Again…. Spades are black!

    It would be great to see where else this has been implemented across Kate Spades business/brand as I don’t think the pic above does it justice.

    The success of the Nike ‘swoosh’, Mcdonalds ‘golden arches’, Addidas ‘leaf’, Apple ‘apple’ etc doesn’t lie in the individual mark more in practical application of it and what it stands for, something to bear in mind.

  49. I was at the mall just yesterday, and I happen to see this logo in a window. What really struck me odd was that the logo I saw actually have Kate Spade typed under the bottom. That’s when I thought to myself that this logo didn’t look half bad now. Kate Spade really needs to put their name on it verses just a spade. Otherwise it will give the wrong impression.

  50. I personally believe that as a designer, we can only go so far with an identity for someone. After that, it’s really up to them to make the image work for them. Like someone said before about Apple. Of course I would look at that and wonder who they were if they weren’t this huge company. But their logo didn’t make them millions, they did, and because of THEIR hard work, made that little apple timeless.

  51. Oh yea, forgot to mention. I appreciate Jacob for posting even the criticizing comments. It’s nice to know even he gets heat from time to time, if he did Kate’s logo that is.

  52. I think that a lot of logos can work but the simple clean and smart logos are always the most recognizable. I did not design my own logo but I think mine is fairly clean and simple, I may be changing some things about it. Let me know if you have any feedback…. thanks!

  53. @Katie L. You are right the simplest logos are the most recognizable. But the fact is, that a lot of people on here are complaining that Kate Spades logo isn’t unique and original. When I looked back what makes a good logo, this one hit’s all the main points, accept for timeless. You can read that article on this website. Which might help you on what you do want change about your logo. The only thing I can see about your logo, is perhaps make it a little more versatile. Otherwise your logo is still pretty good.

  54. The logo should reflect the needs of the brand and the positioning of the company. It has to work within a greater context rather than as a standalone art object. To adapt a saying from my industry you don’t want people walking out of the theater whistling the logo.”

  55. I think that a logo should be either working and memorable / recognizable/,or it should be just a logo design. Is the Nike logo looks too simple? I think so, but everyone knows who’s that logo is.
    Is the Starbucks coffee logo looks more complicated,compared to Nike? Sure, but again people are familiar and recognize the brand.

    So, a ” simple” logo in terms of one or two symbols used in designing it, should not matter if the logo is doing it’s job.

    And I believe that simple logo designes, are more successful than fancy, trendy and sophisticated designs.

  56. in my opinion, it depends on the message you want to give. a logo can be simple as long as it gives personality and originality to something or someone.

  57. hey Kids…. maybe its what the client wanted? Its not always now cool you or the logo looks while you are posing in a coffee shop acting all cool.
    We listen…we design… they agree…they send a check….

  58. A logo is too simple if no one realizes it has a connection to someone/thing. This can happen most often if the logo is of something very common, such as the spade. You have to be “in the know” to get it.

  59. I’m am thinking that the visual of the spade on a building may just be taken out of context. When you see it on her website, it has her name, which makes the logo make more sense.

    That being said, I agree with the many comments about the spade being a little to common place on its own. While Kate Spade has been around for a while, I am not sure that she has reached the point of being able to be known by a symbol alone (especially such a drab/common one). You can ask a non-athlete what the Swoosh stands for and they would guess Nike, but I doubt that non-fashionistas will get the spade. Once you are a household name, then you can go minimalist…

  60. Referring to this particular logo in this particular picture, I like it. I know nothing about the brand (or really about spades) but the mood in that photograph just seems to fit.

    That’s a completely different discussion to whether or not generic symbols in general can function as logos, or if a logo can be too simple.

    I think a logo can be good regardless of how simple it is, taking other things into account (on a case-by case basis). I also think generic symbols don’t work very often.

    Pure geometric forms might do better than simple recognisable shapes (“abstract” rectangles rather than a table or chair) but until you’ve done your homework as a designer you can make no assumptions.

  61. i agree its not always necessary beatiful or sofisticated logo,but also the message is important to eyes of potential clients .

  62. I don’t personally like it as a logo, simply because it’s a universal symbol that could be used many times over for a variety of applications.. It’s a spade from a deck of cards. Had it been altered in some way to make it unique then I’d like it.

    As for the main topic however, I don’t think there is ever “too simple” if it distinguishes a brand from its competitors. Off the top of my head – the new windows logo is simply 4 squares. Very simple, but it’s clearly attached to the windows brand.

  63. It is very easy and I can make it myself. I need a very simple logo but I talked a logo designer who asked me $50 for one logo. But now I do not need and I will make it myself. Thanks a lot…

  64. I don’t think a logo can ever be too simple – in fact I think the main issue is brand’s over-complicating their logos. Although flat icons are so popular at the moment (which would explain a lot of simple logos), I think they’re the type of designs that will outlive extravagant logos which will quickly become out of fashion and outdated. As I work in promotional products and merchandise, I see hundreds of logos each day at work, and it’s safe to say in terms of printing and branding a design looks a lot more effective if it is a simple logo. It’s more memorable and identifiable.

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