Jul 17 2011
You might have noticed how the Chinese people, but also the Japanese and Koreans, adore logos. The same goes for monograms. Detractors claim this is related to self-promotion and a desire to show off, but they’re only marginally right. The fact is, logos go hand in hand with the Asian thought process because they are based on ideograms.
Indeed, our brains process word-based alphabets and drawing-based ones (like a logo or an ideogram) in very different ways.
When Westerners like us read, our brains perform additive operations. Take the word “Liberty”, for example (liberty and not freedom, please). Our brain is going to process it as such: L + I = Li, B + E + R = Ber, T + Y = Ty, and finally Li + Ber + Ty = Liberty, thereby yielding the final meaning. It’s a long mathematical process relying on the left side of the brain, containing logic. The term “Liberty” comes from Latin for “slave”, and therefore fits in the context of a break in the vertical master-slave relationship.
For our Chinese friend, things are totally different. For them to read, they need to associate meaning with drawings known as ideograms. Going back to our Liberty example, in Chinese it is represented by two ideograms Zi and You. The former represents the self, and the latter origin. The Chinese reader sees two successive images directly affecting the right side of their brain. – the side of intuition and emotion. Their concept of Liberty, incidentally, is different from ours, as it is entirely focused on the individual – having one’s self as an origin.
“What about logos?” you might ask. Well the brain works by routine and is a creature of habit.
At first, the Chinese are uncomfortable with our alphabet because it doesn’t fit in their ideographic system. And it is not ingrained in them by their education. For most of them, except those fluent in English, our words mean nothing more than when you look at a website captcha. It makes no sense and is really hard to decrypt. But in a logo, the Chinese see a drawing, a concept much closer to their familiar ideograms.
So why do we say ideogram and not pictogram? Because the ideogram represents a concept, and is not a drawing per se. Take the drawing of a tree, for example. Normally, you see a trunk, some branches, leaves, and fruit. In other words, the visible parts of a tree. Now take the ideogram Ki. You see a trunk, branches, and roots. Namely, something you cannot typically see – the roots – but are an inherent part of the tree. We therefore have the concept of a tree, and not its drawn representation. We are dealing with symbolism, and not a reproduction of reality.
I don’t have to tell you that a logo is a brand’s symbol. It stands for its presence and its concept. Logos are Western versions of ideograms, and they work much like them from a Chinese thought process standpoint. Because the Chinese mind will not clearly identify the letters, but will see the symbol and associate a brand and its myth with it.
The human brain works off routine. It does not appreciate disruption. And so logos are well adapted to the Chinese brain with its prevalent right-side hemisphere. That brain looks at a logo as a symbolic image, not a set of calligraphed letters.
Herein lies the secret of the logo’s impact on the Asian mind. It has more to do with the way their minds are wired than any desire to show off.