The Arrow in the FedEx Logo: Purposeful or Accidental?
No, the arrow in the FedEx logo is not accidental. Think about the visual design process. As a designer, you are responsible to find/establish/explore and expand upon visual relationships between design elements within the given space. Your job is to ideate multiple options for possible solutions and critically assess each of them until the most powerful visual expression is developed. The FedEx logo went through that process.
Ideation means you sketch out a base-number of at least 50 possible solutions as the first step of the design process. (In my case, that base number of idea sketches was 90. Had tough professors but rightfully so.) Sometimes, the right solution emerges from the first phase of the ideation, but most often, it does not. The purpose of these preliminary sketches is to eliminate the weakest ideas. Just to get them out of your system. These preliminary ideas are called the “low hanging fruit.” They are the easy solutions that most everybody could reach with more or less effort, whether they are trained designers or not.
Effective logos are designed by people committed to transcending obvious results. The design process continues into phase 2 and 3, and more. An effective logo is logically designed to represent the brand and the company accurately. The effective logo is visually striking, conceptually expressive, perhaps intriguing, but never ambivalent. The designer’s work addresses all relevant concerns consciously, which, by the nature of the process, is not an accident.
The logo design-process involves compiling and arranging appropriate/relevant visual elements that are considered viable options for the ultimate design. If not yet done so, this is now high-time to decide whether the logo should come together from an image only, or from text only, or both. If you are a clever and assertive designer (or a group of designers) with a penetrating vision to recognize powerful visual relationships between design elements, your text-based logo design may also reveal an embedded image. That is the case with the FedEx logo.
Brand identity design is a conscious and purposeful process, committed to delivering to the client a powerful set of attributes that all together define and support brand intention and effectively convey the company’s promise to the customer. Brand identity can’t be designed with visual elements only. There is way more to building a brand. The logo is only one part of the brand design process. That is to say, in itself, the logo is not a brand, but it is one important visual identifier or visual marker of the brand.
Being part of the brand identity design process, logo design is a purpose-driven investigation and exploration to produce a powerful and unique visual identifier of products or services.
All logo design-attempts should go beyond offering a “low-hanging fruit” solution. Also, the result should include an initial sense of emotive trigger that people are drawn to, appreciate, and even become increasingly fond of overtime. The emotional component is an important human element embedded in the logo - at least into the ones designed by people. (This human component is typically missing from instantly-done, mechanically produced logos offered all over the place online.)
PRINCIPLES OF DESIGN
Well-designed logos are made to resonate with an essential message. The Principles of Design concepts play an important role in making this resonance happen. Principles of Design are the agents of establishing strong internal relationships between individual design elements. They are activating forces that connect visual elements cohesively together to reach the desired effect. They energize your design. The text-based logo of FedEx employs a few Principles of Design, the most significant of which is, Figure-Ground. (Can you spot some other ones?)
An important characteristic of Figure-Ground visual relationships is that when viewers focus intently on either the figure or the ground at a time, they can’t see the other component. The moment of discovering the other component in the design carries within something magical that makes the message, delivered via the logo, very compelling and attractive to the audience. The arrow in the FedEx logo is a great example of that.
The word “accident” means “an unfortunate incident that happens unexpectedly and unintentionally.” The professional logo design process is not an unfortunate incident. It is planned and executed based on the plan. Therefore, its result is not unintentional. A good design process expects to find something fresh and new that is not out-there yet. Otherwise, what would be the point? If something is planned, it is not an accident.
Unlike accidents, the design process is a thoughtful, pondering, productive, and time-consuming undertaking. The evaluation of preliminary results requires critical insight into the purpose of the products or services. As a designer, you are to understand the mission of the company. It is through the purposeful design process that the step-by-step logo results are critically assessed, marked for further consideration, or eliminated. That is not an accident.
In the design process, one idea generates/informs several others. You may not think of a potential solution from the start, but by way of sketching things out, you do. You happen onto new solutions by aligning one design element with another in a way that together they either form something meaningful or suggest something potentially strong to explore further. You only notice those unique alignments by having keen attention to detail. You are looking for visual cues that may lead to the result, so when you find the right one, it is not by accident.
You may think that the idiom, happen onto, suggests accidental finding. However, if you type out “FedEx” (in this form) and look carefully, you’ll notice the arrow already there. It was always there. Only we needed a thorough and fully invested professional designer (with trained eyes and clear understanding of what a logo is, what a brand is, and what the design process is) to make the arrow more convincingly apparent. A sign with the power of influence.
I think, the chance-component (if there is), might be hidden in the notion of how far you push your ideation process. Let’s say you decide to stop your exploration of ideas one step too short of finding the most powerful solution. You are almost there but quit. It might seem like a chance. However, your stopping-too-early is also a conscious decision, and thus, it is not an accident.
THE FEDEX LOGO
Lindon Leader and team ideated the FedEx logo at length. Their diligence was not an accident. They committed to understanding what FedEx was all about, so as to represent it in the logo in kind. By the time they zeroed in on the arrow, they already produced more than 200 ideation pieces. The arrow concept was part of the ideation pretty much all along, but it was not a cohesive element of any preliminary design piece.
Lindon didn’t stop pushing the exploration further because none of the set of potential logo solutions seemed as strong as he wanted it to be. The final result is successful because all along the process, he never lost sight of the fundamental company-operation concepts the logo was to support and convey: Moving forward with speed and precision. He refined the arrow concept to match the company’s essence and essential message perfectly. And thus, the FedEx logo was born with the arrow cleverly embedded yet also emphasized in it, in no way due to an accident.