There's plenty to be learned here, but you need to be looking for the right thing. After a decade of studying logos from around the world—32,000 alone for this report—I can say with absolute confidence that the true benefit of studying logo design trends is that they invariably identify trajectories. Once you can see the path a trend starts to take, once you can see its arc and velocity, it's very possible for you to know where to take it next. You get to steer. You can find your own forward direction.
How To Identify a Trend
As I review logos that are entered onto the LogoLounge site, three distinct categories start to emerge. The first and largest category is replete with trends that already have reached saturation. They may be well-rendered and serve their clients very well. Any would have been excellent candidates for trend reports in past years, but they just don't move our field forward.
Leaders in the "done to death" category for this year include designs that include birds, dinosaurs, monsters, people as trees, transparent flip books (actually, flipping or stacked see-through pages of any kind), transparent lotus blossoms, fruit, and X's (this final tribe where two crossed arrows or lines have words or icons in each of the four quadrants is so overdone that designers themselves have begun to parody it).
Another category is on the opposite side of the universe. Here, you might see two and maybe three logos that indicate a brewing trend with promise. But there's no critical mass here yet, and certainly no guarantees that these will eventually grow into something bigger.
Some Examples From This Year's Study
Twixt – These contain odd little interlinks between points that suggest connectivity.
Angle bombs – These contain highly angled geometric shapes, oftentimes triangles, and are usually chaotic and without symmetry, like an explosion of sharp pieces from a central explosion.
Leaf amalgams – Leaves used to build cars, people, other leaves, whatever.
Copy – These designs use minute words as a graphic component, but the words could never be read. It is texture, not text.
Penumbra – Think of a halo of layered and colored light circles that are not quite centered on each other.
Monoliths – Squares or rectangles that are in perspective and that appear to be drifting.
The third category reveals the solid trends for the year. Within these groups, ten to twelve logos will emerge as either completely new in direction or as having successfully grown out of a previously existing trend. A dozen logos may seem like a small sampling, but time has proven this method works with uncanny accuracy. These pioneers set the course for what is to come.
An interesting fact about these emergent directions: They come from anywhere and everywhere. When we started this report, it wasn't too hard to spot a Minneapolis "look," to name one example. Good samples might be emerging from that city, or there could be imitators doing the same basic look elsewhere. That is not the truth anymore: The internet's global visual community can cause the very same idea to pop up in very different places simultaneously, quite unrelated to each other.
Other Design Drivers
What is it?
There has begun to be a real sense of confusion about the cognizant differences between logos, favicons, app buttons, and icons. For instance, if you show most consumers the Google favicon, they will identify it as Google's logo. This is not technically correct, but emotionally it certainly seems to be.
Even designers are letting that line blur. More than ever before, we create families of icons and symbols for use on electronic devices. More and more, we must design to fit the shape of a logo/icon/favicon into a tiny, round-cornered square. Detail is necessarily lost. Function is completely driving form.
Return of the classics
Monograms are coming back. Initials are being reworked and recombined. Some are classic, some are contemporary.
A clearer choice
There is so much use of transparency in logo design today that color choices, by necessity, are becoming lighter. Where areas of a design overlap, the new resulting color needs to be readable, not just mud. As a result, color values have been cranked back.
Dribbble and other portfolio sites are great tools but a proliferation of look-alike styles tend to flatten out (and devalue) illustration. As designers' involvement in icon design grows, the influence of illustration on designers grows. So style saturation has also started to affect logo design as well.
A more positive affect of the tightened relationship between logo design and illustration: When unique styles emerge in one field, they quickly bounce to the other.
The 2012 Trend Report
At this writing, there are nearly 175,000 logos on the LogoLounge site. Each design represents hundreds if not thousands of hours of thought and struggle on behalf of designers around the world. It's testament to their dedication that we're able to create these reports. So thank you to all of the designers who have contributed to the Trend Reports over the past decade.