This entry kicks off a 24-piece project that’ll run throughout 2018. The goal is to review a number of popular logos hoping to uncover what makes them so effective and unique. In the process, I’ll build my understanding of solid design principles and better articulate my craft using “plain English.”
There’s one logo I’ve been considering for a few years now. It seemed far too simple to be considered “special,” but here I am still enamored. So, let’s get started.
Designer: Bob Wolf | wolfdesignpartners.com
Industry: Heavy machinery, construction equipment
According to Komatsu’s corporate website, the company was named for a city in Japan. Translated into English, Komatsu means “little pine tree.” In 1921 Komatsu Ltd broke off from a larger mining company and, like a new pine, took root and grew. The logo carried this imagery until the early 1990’s when this newer mark was adopted.
This is what the industry calls a logotype; the word stands alone and is designed in such a way that no additional imagery is required. Unsure of whether a specific font was employed as a foundation. If so, at least two of the characters have been customized, but it’s just as likely all were built from scratch.
The Komatsu mark uses an extra-bold sans serif lettering. The letters have real balance, they’re weighted and stable. If you could stand any one of them apart from the others it looks as though it’d never tip over. Even the ‘S’ is strong. Wolf managed to represent the extreme durability and reliability of these machines as type. Very cool.
One design principle I think takes center stage is repetition. Despite a handful of curves, it’s a recurring wedge that carries the viewer from left to right. Sharp triangular notches are cut into the ‘K’, ‘M’, and ‘A.’ The ‘T’ employs 90 degree angles, but are equally edgy. Those hard corners even appear on the rounded letters.
The most noteworthy element, the one that really stands out, is the ‘T’. It’s unique because the right arm climbs above the cap-height (the height of all other letters). I’d always wondered what drove that modification, but now believe it’s a nod to that “little pine tree.” That small elevated box is clearly connected to the rest of the letter, not just matched at the corner. And like the branch of a tree, it extends toward the sky. Komatsu says the mark demonstrates their role as a “leader in technological innovation.” That little box doubles as an indication of their direction. Subtle and super-clever.
Only the kerning appears inconsistent, and I’m not sure why it was built this way. If you take a ruler to it, the spacing between the letters makes mathematical sense, but to me it still feels “off.” Four letters in the middle are literally touching, but the ‘K’, ‘O’ and ‘U’ stand with plenty of elbow room.
The deep blue coloring is called “Gloria Blue” and was chosen to convey “glory and praise.” This turned out to be a very eye-catching selection, because it pairs so well with the standard yellow hues painted onto nearly every earth-mover on the market. It’s not as severe as black would be, and that gives it a more approachable, humanistic character.
All-in-all, I love this mark. It’s a bold and clear communicator with a memorable simplicity that makes it jump. Rock solid.