What makes a logo design that is loved for a long time? Learning from the master, Helmut Schmid


Designer and philosopher: Logotype artist Helmut Schmid

Mr. Helmut Schmid, a typographer and graphic designer who created a wide range of brand logos for brands including "ELIXIR," Shiseido's classic skin-care brand with more than 30 years of history, as well as "IPSA," "d program," and "MAQuillAGE," regrettably passed away in August 2018 at the age of 76. In this interview, we look back on his work with Shiseido, and learn once again about his philosophy of logo design.

--Firstly, what triggered the start of Mr. Schmid's work with Shiseido?

Nobuto:I heard that graphic designer, Kohei Sugiura, introduced Mr. Schmid to Shiseido some 30 years back. That triggered the start of our collaboration with him, and he produced the logo for ELIXIR in 1983.

--ELIXIR was the first logo design that Mr. Schmid produced for Shiseido, wasn't it? What was the reason behind selecting Mr. Schmid as the logo designer for ELIXIR at the time?

Nobuto:To begin with, the majority of Shiseido's cosmetic products had an elegant image that called to mind the essence of Art Nouveau and Art Deco. However, from around the 1980s, there was a growing demand for packaging and advertising that were able to communicate the functionality of the product's contents.

I think that Shiseido asked Mr. Schmid to produce the logo design for ELIXIR in view of this trend, so as to create a cutting-edge and modern image for the brand. The result was a simple and smart logo, which strongly reflects Mr. Schmid's design style.

Kawai:The first ELIXIR logo was characterized by the design of the section where the lines of the letter "X" intersect. Mr. Schmid had explained that because the area where the lines overlap tends to look heavier, he paid special attention to keep that from happening. Although this creative manipulation is barely perceptible, in reality, it creates a delicate appearance that is fitting for a cosmetic product, and functions as a key point that leaves an impression for some reason.

--Since 2005, ELIXIR has undergone several overhauls, hasn't it?

Kawai:Since 2005, we have split the brand name to "ELIXIR WHITE" and "ELIXIR SUPERIEUR" based on the contents that appeal to different consumer groups. Mr. Schmid was responsible for creating the respective logos. In 2014, we consolidated the two logos into a single logo once again in order to strengthen the brand power, and that has remained till the present day.

The logos that were in use from 2005 fit perfectly with the shapes of the slim product bottles, and were designs that had personality and character whilst remaining simple. What impressed me deeply was that the ELIXIR logos which were used at the top of both the ELIXIR WHITE and ELIXIR SUPERIEUR letters looked the same, but actually had slightly different shapes. It is such a slight difference that it can only be perceived if you were to enlarge the logos, and I was really surprised when I first realized it.

Mr. Schmid had made finely detailed adjustments to the kerning and slant of the fonts to make the words WHITE and SUPERIEUR look more beautiful. When we decided to use only the letters ELIXIR for the logo in 2014, he also adjusted the logo so that it looks the most beautiful as a standalone logo.

Mr. Helmut Schmid. Born in Austria in 1942. After completing his apprenticeship as a typesetter in Germany, he studied under Emil Ruder, Robert Buchler, and Kurt Hauert at the Basel School of Design in Switzerland. His production activities spanned countries such as Sweden, Canada, Switzerland, Germany, and Japan. He undertook design work while confronting the duality of information transmission and freeform. He was also energetically involved in writing, publication, and education for many years. (Photograph: Banri)
ELIXIR's logo at the launch of the brand in 1983
and today

The importance of accents in giving a logo functionality and character

--I understand that MAQuillAGE, the makeup brand that was launched in 2005, is also one of the brands with a logo design created by Mr. Schmid. Could you tell us the event that led Shiseido to ask him to produce the logo design?

Nobuto:MAQuillAGE is a brand that was born from a "mega brand" concept, aimed at establishing a brand that provides solutions for both point makeup and base makeup. The brand name "MAQuillAGE" is also a direct and straightforward translation of "makeup" in French.

In producing the logo for such a brand name, which could be described as the "go-to brand for makeup," I definitely wanted to ask Mr. Schmid, whom I personally have had great admiration for, to take on the work as one who has already produced a track record of designing logos for Shiseido's representative brands. At the time, Mr. Schmid did not have any representative works for makeup brands, so I also had a personal desire to see him create one.

The world view of the brand is based on the Art Deco style that also had an impact on early Shiseido's design style. At the same time, we aimed to give it a more functional and modern interpretation.

--The elements of Art Deco is somewhat different from the simplicity and intellect image that characterizes Mr. Schmid's style.

Nobuto:That's right. Mr. Schmid was well-known for his preference of the "Univers" typeface, so I had the feeling that if no special requests are made to him, he would deliver a logo in a simple and pared down design.

With that in mind, I requested him to use the "Bodoni" typeface (the typeface used in the title of the VOGUE magazine, for example) as the base of his design. This typeface exudes the sense of beauty of fonts in the Art Deco style.

My supervisor at the time rated the finished logo as a masterpiece, commenting that Mr. Schmid had done really well in producing such a graceful and original logo despite basing the design on the Bodoni typeface, which did not look much like his style.

--What about the logo for d program, the brand that was launched in 1997?

Hirose:I heard that we asked Mr. Schmid to design the logo for d program as we felt that his delicate designs suit it well as a brand targeted at customers with sensitive skin. He initially produced four proposals with different pitch and thickness that were adjusted to so fine a degree as to look almost the same at one glance.

d program contains eight letters, and it is long for a brand name. By making the letter "d" larger than the rest of the letters, he created a logo that detracts from the length of the brand name. Using the "Frutiger" typeface as the base for the letter "d," he added a small horizontal line to the tip of the vertical line in the letter to create an accent.

--Ms. Hirose, I understand that you were also involved as a designer in the overhaul of the "BENEFIQUE" brand in 2018.

Hirose:Like d program, BENEFIQUE has as many as nine letters in the brand name, and there was a feedback that it was difficult to read and not well-recognized as a logo. When I approached Mr. Schmid with this information, he proposed a design that adds an accent on the letters "I" and "Q."

In these ways, Mr. Schmid often helped us by incorporating ideas that are outside the scope of the design brief into his proposals. For the IPSA logo as well, a significant accent added to the top of the letter "I" was also from a suggestion made by Mr. Schmid as far as I understand.

Nobuto:With regard to BENEFIQUE, the marketing department wanted to draw attention to the appeal of the product benefits by redefining the brand's emotional world view and updating even the "sentimental" aspects of the brand. With these requests in mind, Mr. Schmid was asked to take charge of the overhaul of the logo design.

When I looked at the new BENEFIQUE logo proposed by Mr. Schmid, I realized for the first time that the word "IQ," meaning "intelligence quotient," was hidden in the text array. Not only did this match perfectly with the request to appeal for the product benefits; I was also impressed with his penetrating insight. Although this design was ultimately not put into use for reasons related to marketing, I liked his idea very much.

MAQuillAGE, 2005
d program, 1997
Draft logo for BENEFIQUE proposed by Mr. Schmid during the brand overhaul in 2018
IPSA, 1983
The first project under a different company that did not take the Shiseido name, which proposed a new value for Shiseido until that point in time. Mr. Schmid made fine adjustments to the thickness of the line, to the level of below 0.1 mm, and created a new and powerful logo typeface. (*Shusaku Sugiura)

The logo already exists in the brand name. The designer's job is simply to carve it out

--What about "recipist," the skincare and body care brand launched in 2017?

Kawai:With regard to the recipist logo, I have a memory that left a very strong impression on me, and which made me feel as if I had been exposed to the philosophy behind Mr. Schmid's logo production work. When he presented us with the finished logo, he included the following text:

"The product name 'recipist,' which has a good ring to it, is composed of a rhythmical line-up of curves and straight lines. This logo design was already present in the brand name itself. I have simply arranged the logo to make it light and open, and in a way that ensures it remains in the memory."

Hirose:Michelangelo once said, "Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it." Mr. Schmid told us that just as Michelangelo had described the sculptures, the completed form already exists inside the stone.

Nobuto:When making a sculpture, once you have dug into it, it will no longer be possible to return it to its original form afterward. It is the work of fixing the movements in each and every instant into a form. A logo may be similar to a sculpture in the aspects of finding a form that will remain in our memories.

We hardly ever heard Mr. Schmid, who placed great importance on intuition in "digging out" a logo, talk about the production process or story behind a completed logo, or the significance and meaning that he had incorporated into it.

I think that Mr. Schmid was also an artist and a philosopher as well as being a designer. Even from his work studio set up in a room in a very ordinary apartment in Osaka, which seems far removed from the precise and sophisticated image of his works, one could sense the way of life of a philosopher.

--Are there any other episodes related to Mr. Schmid's work that left a deep impression?

Hirose:Mr. Schmid did not use fonts as they were, but would definitely make some subtle adjustments to them. This created a very delicate and elegant atmosphere, and I felt that it shared something in common with the world view of Shiseido's packaging. I felt that these adjustments could only be achieved by someone like him who is extremely well-acquainted with the essence of the typeface and alphabets that he is working with.

Nobuto:Mr. Schmid was really good at imbuing a logo with unique characteristics through such little creative manipulations.

For the logo of the MAQuillAGE brand, he set the letters "u," "i," and "l" in lower case. I have once asked him if there weren't any problems in mixing the upper and lower cases in such an irregular manner. He explained that it is fine for people to freely interpret the text within the logo. That was his philosophy. I learned that in a logo design, there is no need to be constrained so seriously by grammar.

recipist, 2017

Give a brand character and ensure that it is not old-fashioned. Logos that stick with these two rules are great assets

--Did all of you learn something from Mr. Schmid's approach and attitude to his work?

Kawai:I learned how important the harmony between product design and logo design is. When I met with Mr. Schmid, he would definitely ask me as the product designer, "What are you trying to produce?"

That is why, before approaching him to tackle a logo design, I would take responsibility to ensure that we had created a clear and precise world view for the product, and that I was able to convey to him this world view as well as the kind of product that we wanted to produce. With that, Mr. Schmid always succeeded in producing a logo that accurately captured the core of the product.

Nobuto:I received much inspiration from the combinations of text that Mr. Schmid had researched throughout his career. A logo has the role of giving character to the brand, and it is important for it not to become old-fashioned even when the times move and change. Mr. Schmid's logo designs definitely remained faithful to these two rules. That is precisely why they remain familiar to us for a long time, and have become the greatest asset of the brand. I believe this is also the reason why Shiseido has trusted Mr. Schmid and tasked him with creating many logos for us.

--I have the impression that among the brands with logos designed by Mr. Schmid including ELIXIR and MAQuillAGE, many are long-sellers. Do you think that the logo has a significant impact on the lifespan of the brand?

Nobuto:Yes, I think so. If you line the logos up again and study them, you will find that Mr. Schmid's logos are fundamentally connected through a consistent aesthetic.

I think that this may be something born through the mutual interaction between the discerning insight of Mr. Schmid, who uncovered "forms" that match the concepts and stories of the brands through combinations of alphabets, and Shiseido, which seeks logos that are both sophisticated and universal.

The mutual respect that Shiseido and Mr. Schmid had for one another's thinking and aesthetic was precisely what made it possible to select the most powerful designs with all the unnecessary elements pared away from them. After Mr. Schmid's passing, Shiseido faces the challenge of finding another logo typeface artist like him.

Hirose:Mr. Schmid's daughter, Nicole, is one of the people who has inherited his design DNA. I have heard that she is taking over his work now, so it would be wonderful if we could work together with her.

--It would be wonderful if Shiseido could continue utilizing the things that Mr. Schmid had left behind.

Kawai:As a product designer, having had the chance to create something together with logo designer Mr. Schmid, is one of my greatest fortunes.

When Mr. Schmid completed making something that he was satisfied with, he would always present a very happy expression. When Mr. Schmid saw a finished product and said "That's good," I would once again experience the joy of completing the work, and at the same time, felt a deep and heartfelt sense of satisfaction and conviction.

Nobuto:When I attended his memorial exhibition and saw the research and books from his lifetime, I realized anew how profound his knowledge of the Japanese culture was. I felt a strong desire to hear more from him about the potential of Japanese brands, and to collaborate more with him.

UV White, 1985
Mr. Schmid was tasked with the design as Shiseido wanted to create a scientific image for the brand produced using cutting-edge skincare technology. Along with the logo, he created a symbol with the delicacy that is characteristic of cosmetic products. When talking about the fonts that he likes, I remember that he said, "If you overlay all the fonts and follow their core, you would arrive at the Univers typeface." (*Shuichi Ikeda)
IN&ON, 2010
As a brand of beauty food products and cosmetic products, the aim was to express a sense of life that surrounds both the inside and the outside. We wanted to give the logo a characteristic to create the image of circulation with the letter "&." With this in mind, we consulted with Mr. Schmid. He created a wonderful design that leaves a deep impression with the arabesque design elements that are characteristic of Shiseido's style. (*Akiko Jinnai)

Names marked with an asterisk (*) are Shiseido alumni.

Comments from Ms. Nicole Schmid--"He shared an empathy with the Japanese spirit and culture."

When my father, Helmut, was a student at the Basel School of Design in Switzerland, he studied under the typographer Emil Ruder. Through Ruder, he came to learn about and developed an interest in, the Japanese spirit and culture beginning with Tenshin Okakura's The Book of Tea.

After graduating, he took up a job in Canada. However, in his quest for a job in Japan, he later sent a letter to the design magazine, Idea. Hiroshi Ohchi, who was the editor-in-chief of the magazine at the time, introduced an advertising agency in Osaka to him, and he came to Japan soon after that. Although he returned to Europe once, his desire to work in Japan brought him back here once again, and he was based in Osaka ever since.

Helmut, who felt that his own designs were probably not suitable for cosmetic products, was asked by Shunsaku Sugiura, a designer at Shiseido at the time, to come up with the logo design for ELIXIR in 1982.

Apparently, the request was for an original Schmid design, rather than a gentle and feminine design that matches the image of cosmetic products. I think that such a start to the project made him feel reassured in taking a characteristically "Helmut approach" to the design.

The work of designing a logo began when the designer in charge of the project from Shiseido visited the office to provide an explanation about the brand. Even from my point of view as his daughter, Helmut was proficient at deriving simple yet memorable forms from a brand name and the thoughts and ideas incorporated into that name.

As Shiseido's production team would have extended Helmut's design fully to all the packaging, after submitting the logo, he would always look forward to the day when the products would have lined the shelves at the store without any anxieties or worries. After the launch of the products, he would visit the drugstores and department stores faithfully to see the brand whose design he had been involved in, and made comments such as "the new commercial is good," "the way the text is used is good," or "the image model is good." Even after the work had left his hands, he continued watching over it with great care.

He always enjoyed Shiseido's work, and seemed to take great pride in it. Once, he received a request to design a logo from another cosmetics company, but he rejected them with the reason that he did not want to take clients from the same field. That shows the degree of importance he placed on his work with Shiseido.

Ms. Nicole Schmid. Born in Osaka in 1978. Graduated from Kobe Design University. Studied at the Basel School of Design. Has been working at helmut schmid design since 2009, and took over the office after Mr. Helmut Schmid's passing.
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