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What are the traits of a memorable logo? The answer might vary depending on where you look and who you ask. But certainly, the most iconic logos of our time such as Nike, Apple and Amazon share one common trait: simplicity.

I learned this bit of knowledge after speaking to Christian Flaccus, chief designer of the original logo for hybris Software. Back in 1997, Flaccus and his university friends Carsten Thoma, Moritz Zimmermann, Klaas Hermanns and Andreas Bucksteeg had a premonition that selling stuff on the internet might just be the next big thing and if it was, businesses were going to need software to do it.

“We knew we wanted to create a company that was based on an emotional bond; not just internally from colleague to colleague but to partners, clients and investors as well,” said Flaccus. “We wanted to have something that united us -- a symbol of our mission; something to be proud of and identify with.”

Only in his second year of graphic design, Flaccus set his sights high when brainstorming logo ideas, the mindset of hybris from the very beginning: “always aiming to do better than you think you are capable of.”

Like all great logos, Flaccus knew the hybris logo had to be very specific, yet unique. At the same time, he felt it must be vague with a lot of empty space that offers the freedom for everyone to project something onto it.

“One of my favorite simplifying factors when determining what makes a logo work is, does it look cool on a tee shirt?” said Flaccus. “It also has to be so simple that nearly anyone could take a pen and draw it themselves.”

It’s hip to be square

Flaccus also looked at logos he admired, like the Deutsche Bank logo, a prime example of graphic design excellence. The Deutsche Bank logo is highly condensed and reduced only to the most important aspects. “I circled that logo a lot and imagined how the criteria would port over to the software environment,” said Flaccus. “For a bank you expect the most solid thing ever which is a square and you always want things going up. That’s why for a bank this logo is so perfect. Rock solid image, within a square that indicates your money is going up.”

Building off the stability of the Deutsche Bank logo, Flaccus knew he also needed to capture the flexibility of technology. Again, something that hints at sophistication without being too complex. Hence, the now famous ‘y’ with brackets that make it look mathematical, a simple solution to a complex problem. This simplicity also needed to be turned on its head.

It’s not normal brackets and it’s not a normal ‘y’,” said Flaccus. “So compared to the rock-solid square of the Deutsche Bank logo, it was important to bend the square of the Hybris logo because things need to be flexible and adaptive. That’s what software is supposed to do – react and adapt to the outside world.”

About that backwards y…

Inquiring minds want to know: Why not some variation of “H” or “Hy”, instead of the backwards “y”? Turns out, there’s a method behind this logo madness.

“If we went down that path, we felt that there would be no humor and therefore no point to any of it,” said Flaccus. “It was very funny to take the second letter mainly because ‘y’ is the most interesting letter in the word hybris. It’s also the letter that feels the most like it’s part of a formula. We always wanted to base the brand on emotional pillars. Every single step of the brand creation should be based on something you can emotionally connect to.”

Connecting back to the business

As creative and irreverent as the hybris logo might be, it still connects back to the business, if you know where to look. Think about the cloud activity happening throughout the industry, for instance. The hybris logo works well in this context because it signifies a light tool to do heavy lifting.

“That’s why I think it’s the right logo for a modern business,” said Flaccus. “Hybris founder Carsten Thoma always stressed the importance of treating customers as partners. More customers do implementations themselves and expect to have a fair pricing model instead of one big time license deal. It’s all about lightweight solutions that are simplified to the max of what you really need.”

It’s all Greek to me

In addition to simplicity, it’s hard to ignore the slightly Greek vibe of the logo, an intentional choice that emphasizes the Greek name of the source, “hybris” the translation of which means not being aware of your own limits or overestimating your own skills.

“Coincidentally, that’s what hubris or hybris literally stands for,” said Flaccus, who insists that was the fun of it.

“When we started hybris we were just 21, and the competition was so established -- they already owned big skyscrapers. It was quite insane to challenge them. But with every challenge, you can only succeed if you have the confidence in yourself, even if it might seem unrealistic. Either you go for it or you don’t. We thought our goals at the time were impossible and that’s why we chose to name our company the way we did.”

To learn more about the history of the SAP Hybris logo, listen to the recent podcast "Why the Y?" with SAP Hybris President and Co-Founder Carsten Thoma.

Y not follow me on twitter @TClark01?