Thursday, July 10, 2014

Best logo ever, Rockin' Down the Highway Division

Ideal at any speed.
The road is no place for a good logo.

A logo is art most immediate. It must stab you through the heart, convince you instantly. But you have to see it first; you need the moment to consider it.

Good luck if you're also trying not to wreck on the median at 70 mph.

Naturally, most companies who depend on the road for your attention don't even try. Disqualify the Coca-Cola™®s, the McDonald's™®, all those marks that trigger your visceral "consume me!" nerve. They didn't have to rely on the highway to stab you. They've had your whole life to do that. Logos for their ilk on the sides of trucks need no extra effort to attract or repulse you.

I'm talking instead about businesses whose business are the highway, they who transport, whose products and services almost subserve the road. They don't put much design effort into a lost cause, because you can't see them and you aren't the ones buying their services, anyway.

Exceptions are few. Yellow Trucking got known by not being yellow, for example. Its trucks were the color of macaroni and cheese, a thought I thought to myself every time I saw one of its trucks. Yellow has merged with other companies and now goes by YRC Freight®©, and uses two acute triangles to form a road receding beneath its name.

May Trucking — good on a signet
ring or a shirt pocket
Geometric shapes forming roads — a go-to solution for a lot of trucking companies.

May Trucking Co.®© has a catchy monogram, but you'd have trouble placing it out of context.

Old Dominion©®'s interlocking O and D looks like a college emblem.

Knight Transportation™®'s logo begs consideration. That's the trouble: Such an intriguing logo redesign deserves a good long look — anywhere else but the madding freeway.

A knight's profile forms the negative space in a capital K. A lance appears and disappears in the mass.

What could be the reflection of his shoulder armor, or the gathering of his cloak above his armored arm — is also the stylized head of a fierce horse. It's a gem hidden at high speeds, redesigned by a firm called Summation. The old mark simply used a charging knight atop a sans serif K.

Most small-scale trucking companies are variations on airbrush Kar Kulture script — fancy but clean, but sending no more than the message, "I own this truck and I'm damn proud of it."

The along comes Oldcastle®™, a maker and seller of building supplies, an American subsidiary of an Irish company. I passed a truck bearing the logo on my farewell trip from Oregon last month, and wanted time itself to stop.

Seeing how it didn't, the logo won me over anyway, even at high speed.

It's road tested.

I first noticed the strange calligraphic "O," thick below left and above right, thin above left and below right, just as a wide pen nib and a slanted stroke would render it. But sharp and angular. I had to look closer.

Then I saw the simple but mesmerizing image of a castle tower, two cuts into the skewed rectangle and its shadow to create a battlement, a castle tower.

Then, in a moment, the lovely optical illusion: The tower casting its shadow left — solid, stately … or the tower uplit, casting its shadow onto a ceiling or forest dark to the right — dreamy, progressive?

The designer used a simple Helvetica black (or 95 neue) {thanks, Bob Dahlquist!} for the name, timeless and clean, to support the mark rather than draw the eye away.

The name is made up (nothing wrong with that), and the design has a story behind it, which is rare. The story is brief and yet oddly satisfying.

The logo, says Oldcastle® company literature, was designed by the daughter of the company founder. If it's the same person based on my Internet research (and the Internet is always correct, so I needn't worry), the designer is now a popular sex advice columnist and author in the United Kingdom.

Though formally trained in graphic design with her own London design firm, she is quoted in a news profile as saying it wasn't her "idea of fun."

I see her point. Still, being able to create such elegant design, enjoyed at any speed, I might have reconsidered for the briefest moment.