Design Heroes: How Superhero Logos Inspired A Commercial Designer

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I always enjoyed superhero comic books as a kid. I especially loved Spider-Man. The fun, joy, and feeling that this could be a job l love to do motivated me to pursue design as a vocation. Working in corporate settings doesn’t mean I can’t still enjoy design. Let’s talk about why.

I enjoyed comic books from a young age. I was especially a big fan of Spiderman. I really enjoyed drawing the character and his logo. The overall aesthetic of this Marvel icon resonated with me. AIGA, a professional association for designers, ran a cool article subtitled Logos So "Bad" They're Good about how logos and branding for Marvel comic books break all the rules you’re taught about design in college but have taken that paradigm shift and made it iconic. I still love Spiderman to this day, and if the successes of the movies and expansion of the character’s imprint to include an entire separate Spider-Verse are any indication, I’m not alone in that enduring admiration. 

There are so many emblematic franchises to sift through in the world of comics. Part of the joy of going to the comic book store was perusing the wire racks and looking through the bold 3-D lettering, drop shadows, and other elements that primed you for the type of adventure ahead before you ever turned a page. Comic artists not only metaphorically break one of the primary rules of branding—consistency—they often literally break the logos, with characters interacting with, and even frequently smashing or breaking off parts.

This stood in stark contrast to similarly recognizable corporate logos. The stoic simplicity of a logo like that of the American Broadcasting Company (ABC) and its understated presentation had no place in the world of comics where the titles and logos were almost characters unto themselves. Every title and logo has to be as big and bold as the franchise they represent, month after month and year after year. This practical need to display the books in racks that could only show the top quarter of the cover influenced what would become iconic design choices. Shoppers decided which books to look at based only on viewing the logo.

In college, when I first got into design,  I was searching for something that would lead to a job I could love doing every day. I got an internship at Vassar College in New York. [Vassar College is one of the "Seven Sisters", a group of prestigious women's liberal arts colleges - Ed]. While there I had my first professional foray into the web and what design could be online and I fell in love with it.

One of the things that was drilled into us in school was the idea that typography is sacred. Adhering to defined typography is one of the critical elements to establish a brand identity. In corporate settings simplicity and restraint are often given a premium. We don't always have the latitude to diverge from the corporate style guide—to modify, crop, and play with logos and typefaces the same way a comics designer might have because it’s important that the imprints we create remain consistent and recognizable across any media platforms in which a client may publish.

That said, we always consider sizes, shapes, typefaces, and whether those elements speak to the company or some important aspect of their identity or operations. Typically we work within defined content and branding guidelines, so a large part of our job is embracing those constraints to ensure that logos and typefaces look sharp, and augment the brand identity effectively regardless of how the client is interacting with the content. 

We may not operate in the wild west of designs that break the rules, but we still get to make following the rules look good while communicating effectively. Finding ways to make something stand out and provide value to the client without bending the rules beyond recognition presents an exciting challenge with every project. That’s a job that I can look forward to doing every day.

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