There is an art to business. Though you may not realize it, that art, in the form of logos, has the power to affect you every day. How many logos can you identify without the name of the company to help you?

You might get more than you think: Apple, Nike, Starbucks, Playboy, and Mercedes are just a few of the brands whose logos instantly call their product to mind.

But as the economy shifts and changes, so do logos. Starbucks recently redesigned its signature mermaid to modernize its brand — it also dropped the words “Starbucks Coffee” from the logo’s perimeter. But why would a company like Starbucks, whose old logo was widely recognized, take a chance and make a change?

Simplify, Simplify, Simplify

According to Andrea Naddaff, a partner at the branding firm Corey, McPherson, Nash, the company wanted “to explain and enter Starbucks into more products and services, rather than just coffee.” Even a shift as subtle as removing the word “coffee” from its logo can help disassociate Starbucks from its beginnings as a Seattle coffee shop.

But Starbucks isn’t the only company removing words from its logo — Twitter, Nike, and Domino’s Pizza have also dropped letters. As with Starbucks’ decision, these brands hoped that removing words from their logo would help customers see them differently.

“It’s a call that we are simplifying, paring down, but also entering new markets,” Naddaff explains. “We want you to think of us in the way that you think of us, but we also want you to extend that equity into other areas.”

New Media, New Rules

Simplicity is the new standard, but in some ways the proliferation of technology has allowed branding to become more complex. 3-D modeling lets creative design teams create logos that look liable to jump off the page. Plus, logos no longer need to be identifiable in black and white so consumers can spot them in a fax or newspaper. Instead, new ways of accessing content have driven companies to rely on color — studies show that color can aid in brand recall up to 80 percent.

While you won’t see household brands like Coca Cola changing up its classic red, Naddaff notes that many start-up companies are using bold and experimental colors in hopes of gaining recognition.

But the shift to color has created a new challenge for global companies. Brands need to be careful when choosing their shade of the rainbow — the same pigment that sends a message of “trustworthy and reliable” in North America might have connotations of weakness or immaturity abroad.

“A well known color is red — on one hand red is love, passion,” Naddaff explains. “Well, in Europe red can be alarm, stop, danger, or ‘take note.’”

Becoming a Brand

But brand recognition isn’t all about a logo, or even the name of the company. Any well-known brand also carries a mental and emotional identity. In addition to its iconic swoosh logo, Nike also has a unique personality — one that’s recognizable to anyone who has seen the brand’s commercials.

“[Nike] is what we call a ruggedness brand,” says Michael McPherson, creative director at Cory, McPherson, Nash. “A brand that defines itself around toughness, around endurance, around persistence, around tenacity.”

Nike’s rugged ethos is evident in commercials that emphasize overcoming challenges, running through pain, and savoring victory. The mere mention of “Just Do It” brings to mind athletes pushing themselves to the brink in order to achieve greatness.

So who is the leader in this new world of streamlined logos and emotional branding?

“Apple has almost set a standard that’s unachievable,” says Michael McPherson. “I can’t tell you how many meetings have started out by people saying — when they wanted to redesign their website, or redesign their logo, or redesign the look and feel of their materials — that they wanted it to be modeled on Apple.”

McPherson thinks Apple leads because they’ve perfected the new branding standard of extreme simplicity. The company has pared down its logo, created a cohesive design strategy and removed its name from both advertisements and products themselves.

What’s left, he says, is “simple elegance.” 

Test Your Logo IQ with this Quiz: