Let’s learn what makes an exceptional logo by analyzing the Anthem logo.
The Anthem logo checks all the boxes I look for when I design or evaluate a logo. The things that make a logo great are not what most people look for, and I outline that in a previous article called “What makes a logo good?”
The Anthem logo was a collaboration between the BioWare team, who created the game and collaborated on the logo design with the EA Global Creative teams. These are true professionals!
What is Anthem?
Anthem is more than a video game with a great logo.
Anthem is a role-playing game developed by BioWare and published by Electronic Arts. It is a science fiction game set in the far future. The game features a vast, continuous world that players share with other players via the internet. Anthem is a third person “shooter,” but players have abilities far beyond classic shooters like Battlefield.
Casey Hudson had an idea for a video game so compelling that BioWare codenamed the project “Dylan” because it was going to revolutionize video games in the same way Bob Dylan’s songwriting revolutionized music. And Casey Hudson had the clout to make such a claim because his team had just finished all three installments of the Mass Effect series, which were both a critical and commercial success.
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Why is the Anthem logo so effective?
The Anthem logo works because it is striking while staying simple.
The Anthem logo is distinct, simple, appropriate, striking and legally protectable. This all means that it is memorable for customers while being legally protected, two crucial things for a monster brand like Anthem. EA and BioWare will benefit from this rockstar-level logo.
The Anthem Logo is Distinct
The design’s cutouts, curves, and gradient make it unique.
The Anthem logo is distinct and super effective with its unique cutouts, sharp lines, and compound gradient. This distinct and effective logo will never be confused with the logo of another game thus achieving one of the ultimate goals of logo design.
The uniqueness of the logo is especially important because the brand name is not unique. “Anthem” is an existing word that any organization can use as a brand name. The logo needs to differentiate the word from every other use of the word “Anthem” so that people can understand that this is referring to Anthem the game.
The cutouts are the main thing that makes the Anthem logo unique. The designers have cut lines on the A, H, and E, which we rarely see. Our brains fill in the gaps left by the cutout and reads them as the letters they are as a result of the letters being in the context of being a title. Our minds are looking for letters, so they fill in the gaps; this is called gestalt in psychology It’s a neat hack for designers.
They have also rounded the inside corners of A, T, H, and E. The designers have created an exciting and visually consistent look when almost all of the 90 degree inside corners are radiused.
The last visual feature that makes it unique is the compound gradient. At first look, I thought the logo used a simple gradient from a warm red to orange, but there is a bit of pink in the bottom left and a yellow-orange in the top right.
Gradients are usually not a good idea for logos; they get printed inconsistently which makes a brand less recognizable. Games are somewhat of an exception, a computer monitor or TV will be displaying the logo 95% of the time, and screens are better at consistently presenting gradients than print. So, the designers broke a logo design rule, but I believe they broke it very consciously to make the logo unique.
The Anthem Logo is Simple
There is no unnecessary complexity, making it crisp, clean and easy to recognize.
It is easy to spot a professional designer because they make things look interesting without adding anything. When I was an inexperienced designer of logos, I added gradients, drop shadows, glows, and variable thickness lines. Now that I am a professional designer, I am happiest when logo designs get the job done with no more complexity than is required. Keeping complexity to a minimum and emphasizing simplicity is much more challenging than using all the bells and whistles.
The Anthem logo designer(s) are professionals. They did not add anything that didn’t need to be there. The logo comprises only the six letters of the word, some radiused corners, and a unique color scheme.
Why does this matter? Simple logos are easier for our brain to process visually. Their simplicity makes them more memorable and easier to spot at a glance.
I am sure the Anthem logo gets processed by the visual cortex as quickly as any new logo. Anyone have a spare f-MRI machine we can borrow to test?
The Anthem Logo is Appropriate
The logo fits right in with the aesthetic of the game, and its marketing campaign.
You would think that a red, pink and orange logo for a gritty space adventure game would be an odd choice and at conflict with both the tone of the game and the expectations of the game industry: it is a bold choice.
But, somehow, it does fit. The game is gritty, but it does have saturated, punchy colors and a broad palette. These bright colors in the gameplay set its tone apart from the Mass Effect series and other gritty space shooters that use a muted pallet (blacks, greys, and dark blues.) The punchiness of the game colors is echoed in the logo, so it feels right.
The EA Global Creative team uses the gradient in other ways throughout the marketing linking the trailers, the microsite, and the box-art all together. Their presentation is unique for video game marketing setting apart from the crowd.
Even though the use of the red-orange to orange gradient, and the white background are different, they don’t seem out of place to me. What do you think? Please comment below.
The Anthem Logo is Striking
The futuristic look of the letters is anything but bland.
It’s hard to put my finger on it, but there is an emotional hook to the Anthem logo. Maybe it is because the shapes of the letters are reminiscent of characters from a far-future space ship or sci-fi movies.
Usually, brands rely on a symbol to recreate the emotional resonance with the viewer, and the wordmark just states the name of the brand. So, it is remarkable that the intrigue is built right into the type. Game publishers and movie studios are particularly good at building emotion into the type; the scratches in the Far Cry logo, the wood carved look of the Lord of the Rings, the hyper-modern type of the Lost in Space logo all speak to the emotional tone of the media they represent.
From Sim City to Need for Speed, the EA titles have that emotion built into the type of their title treatments. They bring that experience to the Anthem logo which is vital because our memory and emotions are tied together. Bland logos are quickly forgotten. The Anthem logo speaks emotionally to people like me who love sci-fi.
Emotional resonance is subjective, so I would love to hear your gut reaction to the logo.
The Anthem Logo is Legally Protectable
The uniqueness of the logo makes its trademark enforceable.
The fact that the designer(s) started with a blank sheet of paper for the logo means that no other organization has a claim to the design, other than Electronic Arts. They have two trademarks in place for the Anthem wordmark, one for “entertainment service” and one for “computer game software.” These trademarks mean that anyone designing in those two fields cannot come close to using the name Anthem and/or a logo design visually similar.
The logo would not be legally protectable in the same way if the design were emulating or using art from anything else. A logo is not considered unique in the eyes of the law if a designer uses and doesn’t transformatively change clip-art, stock photos, free vectors, and even fonts.
Why does that matter? Because it will cost millions of dollars for a brand one day.
You might think that if you use an un-original logo that someone will just tell you to ‘cut it out’ and force you to rebrand. That is not how it works. Either another company can use your brandmark within your industry effectively hijacking your brand equity, or the designer of the original art sues when the brand is worth millions of dollars. They will argue that they are entitled to compensation because some of your success is based on the effectiveness of their design.
Nerd City recently called out Jake Paul for using unmodified clip art, free fonts, and traces of his tattoos for the logos and artwork on his merchandise.
Jake’s merchandise line is legally indefensible. Anyone can print knock-off shirts with the same clip-art he uses, and people can write RNBO with the same free font he used.
In the case of the art taken from his tattoos, the original tattoo artist is entitled to a licensing fee for every shirt sold, and I imagine that is a lot of money. He could also send Jake a cease and desist letter, and Jake would have to halt production and not fulfill any orders he has taken.
Designers: don’t risk loosing all the work your organization put into building a brand by copying designs for a logo. Ideally, start with a blank page. If you start with existing art, use it only as inspiration and change it so drastically that it is unrecognizable from the original.
Conclusion. There are vast rewards to being unique and simple.
Designing a logo that is both unique and simple is not easy. The simpler something is, the more likely it has been done already. So, finding that sweet spot is the mark of a true professional.
But the rewards to the brand for keeping it uniquely simple are tangible; the logo will be easily remembered and remarkable making traction for the brand easier. A great logo will never build a great brand, but a good organization or product will benefit from a great logo.
I know the Anthem game brand will go that much further thanks to the exemplary work of the design teams on this logo.