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. 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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