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We’ve all seen bad logos, but what makes a logo stand out as one of the worst of all time? It takes a lot more than ugliness to make a bad logo, and some common logo design mistakes can still take an aesthetically appealing logo and turn it into a branding nightmare. Recently, Michael Bierut sat down with Josh Miles on the Obsessed With Design podcast to talk about one of the worst logos he’s ever seen.

If you’ve paid attention to the world of design and advertising over the past 20 years, you have certainly seen Michael’s work. You have undoubtedly read articles from him. You may have even watched a documentary that he was interviewed on. On this special episode of Obsessed With Design, Josh sits down with Michael to learn more about his life, his career, and his inspiration. Here are the three traits that Michael Bierut believes lead to the worst logo designs.

Bad Logos are Complicated

One of the worst logos that Michael has ever seen was a previous version of the Verizon logo. Aesthetically, it wasn’t good, but it also wasn’t that bad. The logo’s complex design, however, made it a branding nightmare. This particular logo had multiple gradients and several conflicting shapes, making it visually hard to read. The complexity of the mark took a logo that could have been passable and turned it into a mess of poor design and messaging.

“Their aspiration as a brand is to be simple, easy, and reliable,” Michael said. “What’s funny is that those three things are the opposite of the traits of their logo.”

While some logo design mistakes can be isolated and controlled, creating an overly complex logo only compounds other design issues.

Bad Logos are Hard to Understand

This complexity led to the logo mark being difficult to understand. Most logo marks do a great job of communicating something about the brand. Some marks seek to communicate stability, others innovation. By keeping the logo simple, you allow yourself to effectively communicate a message to your target market. Verizon’s mark, however, didn’t allow them to communicate anything effectively due to its complexity.

“It was a complicated mark that no one really could understand,” Michael complained. “Why is the ‘z’ doing that? Is that a check mark or not?”

Bad Logos are Hard to Reproduce

Finally, both of these issues culminated in a logo and word mark that was extremely difficult to reproduce. Verizon has an extremely large brand that must show up on things as large as billboards and as small as SIM cards. Their logo has to work equally well in both color and black and white. Their word mark needs to look great etched into a name tag and cut out of a metal sign. Unfortunately, this logo was so complicated and hard to reproduce, it looked slightly different everywhere.

“We could walk through their office and photograph 20 different variations of their logo,” Michael said. “Because it had so many graphic tricks in it, almost any time it was reproduced, it had to be altered somehow.”

You can listen to this full episode and subscribe to the podcast on iTunes.

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