These days logos are everywhere and their purpose is accepted and known to everyone – the conveying of a certain message or image regarding the entity associated to the logo. In order to effectively achieve its end, a logo needs to appeal to its intended audience through some symbolic mean of representation of the message. While this is not the place, nor time to dive into symbolism and its psychological underlyings, it suffices to say that symbols, through their imagistic component, are subjected to both rational and, most importantly, irrational interpretations. This last observation should come as no surprise now, in the twentyfirst century, as the subconscious has been analyzed and marketed to by politics and industry for at least one hundred years, and by art for much longer than that, albeit in different ways.
What is fascinating is that the logo does not and cannot exist only by virtue of its artistic value; its meaning is given by the viewer through subjective interpretation. The more one associates a meaning to the image and the more these individual meanings converge in different individuals, the more successful the logo. Therefore, the subjective perception of the elements of a logo becomes important insofar as it can be generalized to large audiences and associated in some way or other to the generating entity.
The question that arises is how should one rationally analyze and interpret the visual element starting from a subjective perception? Is there any latent meaning or content beyond its obvious practical marketing payload and if so, what is it?
In searching for an answer to these questions, proudly lacking any marketing skills and knowledge, I will try to provide some personal insight into what can “escape” into a logo from both our conscious and subconscious minds. For the purpose of illustration, I’ll resort to analyzing a logo of my own making, the logo of Oxoa Research. Since the logo is made by me for my company, this does imply some small indiscretions of personal nature, that I consider necessary for this analysis and that, hopefully, the reader of this article will not feel to offended by. Obviously, my personal observations are made from a privileged status of maker of the logo and are more difficult to extend in practice to arbitrary professional logos. However, this should not discourage the reader from extending or applying the same analysis to arbitrary logos and having some fun while doing it. Additional information besides the logo as well as some imagination are needed in order to make any educated assertion.
In true Freudian manner, I will start by a preliminary statement regarding the genesis of the logo and by extension, the company name. The name Oxoa Research came fairly naturally to me some years ago, while thinking of a potential company name, if I ever decided to go my own – professional – way. The name has close link to the logo or, more exactly, it stemmed from the representation of the word oxoa, itself taken as the combination of the digit 0, the Latin letter X and Greek letter α. So, in short, in this case, the symbol generated the name, with the word research being a later addition. I oscillated quite some time between research and labs or laboratory and finally chose research, as it more accurately reflects what I do, without the association of a laboratory coat, éprouvette or other meaningless visual stereotypes, while lacking coolness factors. More on this aspect later on. As for the actual design of the logo, it took a full day. While the overall aspect got resolved pretty fast, after exhausting all options (that I could concieve at that time), the actual work for the illustration followed only aesthetical considerations with no rationalization or consideration of any political or business aspects whatsoever. This is an aberration in the “world of logos” because in normal circumstances, the logo would go through a thorough process of interpretation by several marketing and communication experts, tested and validated on some target audience, so that it does successfully meet the criteria of information conveying and, only then, proudly displayed. I, however, did not have any remote inclination towards such approach because I dislike the idea and favoured quite the opposite, namely the dissection and illustration of the logo in text rather than image, in reason rather than impulse. This article could be considered also as a complement or footnote of the logo, a small contextualisation of a quasi-artistic process.
The analysis will try to follow two seemingly orthogonal components, namely a conceptual one – pertaining to the message aimed to be transmitted, and a graphical one – relating to the actual “implementation”. The components are only seemingly orthogonal because in reality they complement and depend on each other through their rational and irrational constitutive elements. However, for the scope of the article, this separation should suffice in providing a more organized view of the creation process.
The logo shows the full name of the company. The first word in the name, Oxoa, is represented as 0x0α while Research remains almost unmodified, if not for the four blue-filled O’s at the top of the final h. It is obvious that Oxoa has a purely symbolic meaning (I only later found out that oxoa is also a basque minced meat recipe). The direct symbolism behind 0x0α is pretty easy to grasp: 0x is a prefix in computer science for the hexadecimal representation of information (numbers more exactly); the symbols following the 0x correspond to the bytes of information contained. So 0x0α stands, accepting that α is a fancier substitute for the Latin A, for the hexadecimal representation on sixteen bits or, two bytes, of the number ten. From the start, one would associate the form to computer science and the low level representation of information, which is what I aimed for, given my background in electronics and computing. The α stands for a variable, parameter and unknown at the same time. It was ment as a symbol for the mathematical and algorithmic nature of my work, as well as for its practical versatility and variability. A sort of a known unknown. The choice of alpha (instead of any other greek letter for that matter) is both practical, as any other letter would make the resulting word sound weird and void of any musicality to say the least, subjectively aesthetical and correct from a numerical standpoint (hexadecimal characters range from A to F). Yet the alpha retains other meanings as well, which one can relate to through cultural references or vulgar symbolism, meanings that were familiar to me and whose potential influence I cannot disregard: it stands for the beginning, the first and by (naturalistic) extension, the best or strongest within a group. It also has a meaning in an educational context as well. A, or its numeric correspondent, 10, often marks the highest grade, a symbol of excellence in learning, even though this latter aspect is somewhat frowned upon these days. The presence of the alpha retains an elusive component even now and, I am inclined to accept all symbolic and practical meanings and interpretations that I can conceive for it as valid, albeit present in different proportions in its choice. The choice itself represents a solution to both practical as well as latent personal expectations regarding the enterprise.
As for the word Research, it is ment to be taken literally and interpreted in its full significance. Research – the process of gathering, processing, analyzing, experimenting with and structuring information with the aim of gaining knowledge over an arbitrary problem. Yet, one should not haste in associating research strictly with its academic context or use, as the latter is just a formalization and refinement of the process itself. Research is both a personal and collective endeavour with no intrinsic meaning or purpose. However, in all its forms it does share some common elements in that it is purely (or should be) rational, deals exclusively with facts and has a well defined objective. The word Research was not the first or only choice for a second component in the company name (and logo). Alternatives such as Lab, Labs, Laboratory (and a few other not worth mentioning) were considered, however, at some point I realized that these presented the risk of unwanted associations to reckless experimentation, laboratory coats, foamy solutions and intricate machinery that is bound to explode or be broken by mistake if not handled carefully. Research is safer from such associations, more sober and has an aura of respect which is more desirable. In other words, it optimizes the perception of risk and, at least in my opinion, leads away from a seemingly coolness factor that small technology companies (read startups) tend to want to associate with.
Although the symbol 0x0α is the main symbol behind the logo and the first thing that I came up with when thinking of a company name, in the actual design of the logo I had to reconsider its practical applicability simply because of lack of any prior abstract – mental – graphical representation of it. Furthermore, the elements that I had could scarcely be considered sufficient at that time for making a logo. They turned out to be sufficient in the end. Several trials were necessary (these can be observed in the image at the top of this article), in order to exhaust all major representations that could be contrived. In the end, the simplest form prevailed, meaning pure text, with the exception of the four blue O‘s at the top of the h from research. Interestingly, these were also the last addition to the logo and, the position above the last letter was the last one tried for the colorful ensemble. Writing this, I noticed an additional meaning, that of a symbolic representation of a ribbon knot, the sort that one makes atop a gift, marking the end of the wrapping process. Yet, at that time, the blue symbol was nothing more than a graphical appendix that appealed to me greatly. Once finished, I distinctly associated two images with it, the first of a four leaf clover, a symbol for luck, as well as the symbol of, using the underlying h, a key. The direct association of a key to research was appealing, as research can be considered a key towards understanding, unlocking the doors of etc. etc. It is maybe worth noting that the blue O‘s replaced a single yellow colored circle. The circle would have been placed somewhere above the one of the zeroes, as noticeable in some of the whiteboard logo trials. I cannot think of other reasons for the current choice, other than a greater concept association power, which in itself has proven to be a stronger argument. Regarding the colors, the blue was quite easy to decipher: it vaguely reminds me of Intel blue and Twitter blue, two technology companies whose products I like, and, apparently, according to our marketing department (yes, pun intended), it signifies trust, dependability and strength, assertions which I cannot contradict. Apparently, it is also a colour favoured by men. The same reasoning can be extended to black. Moreover, the presence of both colors in the logo could also, at least in part, be attributed to the cover of “Artificial Intelligence. A Modern Approach” by S. Russell and P. Norvig, a book whose cover I particularly like and which has been lying on my desk for quite while before my experimentation began on the logo. Viewed from this perspective, the choices seem logical; Occam’s razor works quite well in explaining the thought process: book on the desk, blue and black work together, men are more inclined to liking both colors, etc. Yet, I was personally surprised since my initial color choices for the logo were either green or a warmer colour, such as yellow or orange in addition to black, which was supposed to be present in a smaller amount. This leads me to the conclusion that subsequent disregard for the initial chromatic considerations when working for the design, led to the current outcome.
The last part of this article addresses the font. From the start, I deliberately opted for a serif font, choice quite uncommon for a technology company, a notable exception being – or having been, I am not sure what font they actually use now officially – Google. Most technology companies use some form of sans-serif font, I leave the reader to speculate as to why. From a perceptual perspective, serif fonts are easier to read and have been the de-facto choice for printing text for quite some time. Yet, this does not constitute a valid reason, primarily because a sans font in the context of the Oxoa Research logo would be entirely legible and secondly, because there are many sans fonts that I like, such as the Roboto and Ubuntu fonts. The reason which I tend to speculate lies behind the font – which is, by the way, the free Liberation Serif – hides precisely in the association between serif fonts, printed material and research, with the printed material as principal expression of any kind of research. Again, I cannot dismiss some kind of underlying tendency to distance the logo from the seeming trendy-ness of sans fonts that litter the logo landscape. In this context, I favour the notion that this serves only as additional support to the choice, given the fact that from the beginning sans-serif fonts were out of the question. Another reason is the fact that I associate text with quality and the image (at least in the digital context and for information purposes), with some sort of fake-ness and lack of the afore-mentioned quality; empty messages and trivial phrases can and are be skillfully hidden behind good quality animations and images. For this reason, I recommend viewing this website in text mode. For those not willing or able to do so, the logo will be the only graphical element of notice. Hence this article.