Corporate logos, visual puns and the juvenile brain that just didn’t get it

When I was young, I just didn’t get it.

See, I was lo­cated squarely in Piaget’s pre-operational stage of de­vel­op­ment, and some­thing funny seems to hap­pen there: you’re only able to take things at face value, miss­ing out on sub­tlety, double-meanings, sar­casm… and all that good stuff that isn’t stated bluntly. Once you’re a fully cog­nizant in­di­vid­ual, you can ap­pre­ci­ate all of that.

As a teen, or per­haps slightly ear­lier, I was sud­denly able to see these sorts of things for what they re­ally were. Well, most things.

When I was young, I just didn’t get it.

See, I was lo­cated squarely in Piaget’s pre-operational stage of de­vel­op­ment, and some­thing funny seems to hap­pen there: you’re only able to take things at face value, miss­ing out on sub­tlety, double-meanings, sar­casm… and all that good stuff that isn’t stated bluntly. Once you’re a fully cog­nizant in­di­vid­ual, you can ap­pre­ci­ate all of that.

As a teen, or per­haps slightly ear­lier, I was sud­denly able to see these sorts of things for what they re­ally were. Well, most things. But for a cer­tain class of things that I first ex­pe­ri­enced dur­ing my pre-op stage, I con­tin­ued hav­ing trou­ble see­ing them for what they truly rep­re­sented. Here’s an ex­am­ple:

the classic Burger King logoWhen I was grow­ing up, this was the Burger King logo. (I also walked up­hill to school in the South Florida snow, both ways. Kids these days.) It’s pretty sim­ple, right? The words rep­re­sented the meat, be­tween a cou­ple of buns. To whom was that not abun­dantly clear that the logo is a burger?

To me.

I didn’t re­al­ize that un­til I was a bit older (high school, maybe), at which point it just hit me. It was not for lack of ex­po­sure; I had been eat­ing at Burger King prac­ti­cally since birth. I had a birth­day party there in el­e­men­tary school. I was in the god­damn Burger King Kids Club!

The fact that I was ex­posed to this logo so early in life is pre­cisely why I took it for granted. I missed the vi­sual pun; as far as I was con­cerned, the logo looked the way it did be­cause that was just what the Burger King logo looked like. I sim­ply couldn’t imag­ine it any other way, or hav­ing any other pur­pose than telling peo­ple who see it on the side of a build­ing that they’re look­ing at a Burger King lo­ca­tion.

I had no such dif­fi­culty with the stupid-simple McDonald’s arches. It’s just a big “M.”

old-school Milwaukee Brewers logoHere’s an­other ex­am­ple of a logo I didn’t fully un­der­stand or ap­pre­ci­ate. For the record, I wasn’t a Milwaukee Brewers fan, but at the age of four or five (and thanks to a friend’s fa­ther) I found my­self with a huge col­lec­tion of con­tem­po­rary base­ball cards. Again, un­til I was much older, all I saw in this logo was a styl­ized base­ball and glove… which to a child, seems a per­fectly ap­pro­pri­ate logo for a base­ball team. And your av­er­age sports-team logo is on the lit­eral side.

I be­lieve it was at some point in col­lege that I no­ticed the sub­tle let­ter­ing in the Brewers’ logo. What a bril­liant de­sign!

There’s a com­pletely dif­fer­ent class of lo­gos that are more sub­tle, with some­thing in­ten­tion­ally hid­den within. You don’t need to be a young­ster to miss it.

These tend to be great:

the Goodwill logothe FedEx logoAmazon.com logo

The FedEx logo is widely cel­e­brated, its pun mas­ter­fully sub­tle. It only oc­curred to me it a few years ago, while dri­ving to work one day. I was be­hind a FedEx truck. Then it hit me. (Thank you, I will be here all week.)

As for the Goodwill logo, this blog com­ment made me see the light, or rather, the huge “g” in neg­a­tive space. I had al­ways just seen it as a face.

The day I re­al­ized that the Amazon logo wasn’t mean to be a smirk was the day I saw the A -> Z.

Can you think of any other good ex­am­ples?

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