Signs are everywhere: we see them on the streets, inside buildings, on packagings and in a lot of other common places. But what is (or what has been) their impact on the design of logos? This is quite a stimulating question from a web design perspective. First a truism: signs came before logos. If we go back in history, we will probably notice the abundance of signs throughout the entire human history. Probably the best example of signs is represented by the ancient Egyptian writing, a complex system made up of hundreds of signs that were only later translated by Champollion back in the early of XIX century.
Part of this system still exists today, for example on signs indicating some realms of our planet, such as water or sky. The important thing to understand is that an explosion of signs came only with the modern age, especially when we regard them as markers of our daily life. Signs indicating a direction, signs pointing to a particular place and the like became frequent with the beginning of the modern era, when the need to organize our life came together with the transformations produced by the industrial production and, only lately, by the new discoveries of technology.
So the first true meaning of moderns signs is organization, structure, cohesion, regulation and all other similar meanings related to our daily life. We live in a well-organized world. Our life is made up by several daily tasks divided into schedules. Signs help us to keep track of our position in time and space within these daily schedules. A typical example of this function is surely a train station or an airport. Have you ever noticed how many signs are there? They're actually a significant part of the entire structure of such places.
Signs constitute a map that helps our mind to fulfill our daily tasks. Turn left, turn right, no trespassing, push, pull, and so on. Signs also help us to learn new tasks, by providing some intuitive instructions to beginners.
Logos came only later, and with a different purpose. Logos convey a pluralism of meanings instead of a single meaning. They actually represent the whole idea behind a company, a firm or association. In short, they simply say what something is, what's its identity among other logos. So the main goal for a web designer is to create a logo that stands out of the crowd and tells the world the story behind it.
Both signs and logos are a combination of images and words, but with a main difference: signs are prescriptive, logos are descriptive. In fact, another goal for a web designer is to find the proper words for the tagline associated with the main image that constitutes the logo. An ideal tagline should fulfill the main idea expressed by the image. Many logos, such as those of Apple or Adobe, don't even have a tagline, because their power is focused on the image itself. It's up to the web designer to choose whether to focus on the image or the tagline, or even on both.
Can signs be a source of inspiration for logos? The answer is yes. In fact, they're very direct and immediate, and this is something that has a stunning effect on the audience, especially when the idea behind our logo want to be clear, simple and concise.