The Transmission Error (or How to Fail at Logos: Lesson One)

When you do what I do for a living, you start to get an eye for the weird communication quirks that seem to go unquestioned by others. My mental catalog of ridiculous branding decisions is ever growing. Tiny things like utilizing happy pig cartoons to sell barbecue, they just stick with me and make me giggle.  

Here’s the best example of how not to do a logo that I can ever imagine: Transmissions. Yep, transmissions. Whenever I see a transmission-specific mechanic shop, without fail, the logo for the business is an accurate drawing of a real transmission. Sometimes, they sweeten this weird decision, by actually using transmissions in their decoration of their office, which is, by far, the worst decision I can imagine. 

There are many reasons why this is a terrible idea. The primary one is this: the people you are selling your services to are coming to you precisely because they have no idea what a transmission is, what it looks like, or where to find it. There are many hurdles they will have to overcome in choosing your business over others, and the logo is bridging precisely none of them.  

When I choose a mechanic, I look for a few things. They include:  

  • Does this person seem trustworthy? 

  • Do they seem like they will communicate well with me? 

  • Am I going to feel silly talking to these people about the noises my car is making? 

The logo, which originated as a way to establish trust in an era when we began doing business without face-to-face meetings, is there to help answer some of these questions. On the flip side, using a transmission says:  

  • It hasn’t occurred to me how you may feel about coming to see me. 

  • I don’t talk to people outside my peer group in a way that is relevant.  

  • Don’t count on me to be approachable.  

  • Or probably even nice.  

That could very well not be the case. They may be totally nice guys, with polite children, who love quinoa and roller skating. But that is the power of the Transmission Error.  

 When you design without thinking of how your audience will see you, when you design from a you-centric place, you say things you don’t mean. What’s logical to you, as a person who knows your industry, is most likely the least important thing to someone who does not.