There’s far more to crafting your brand’s visual identity than just dropping some text in a square and calling it a day. There is a reason that logo designers have always been in high demand: your logo is often your company’s first impression: one that can permanently impact a potential customer’s opinion of your brand, purchase decisions, and overall attitude toward your product.
We live in a society saturated with brand logos. They are everywhere you look. Even toddlers who can’t yet tie their own shoelaces recognize many logos or are otherwise able to figure out what a company sells simply by looking at its brandmark. Because of this, it’s hard to understate the importance of your logo when it comes to the success of your business — after all, your brand’s logo is in constant competition with all the other logos around it. It’s up to you to make yours stand out.
To that end, we’ve compiled some tips for designing a winning logo. Granted, a lot of these seem easier than they really are — which is why it can help to pay a professional logo designer to help you. But even if you are deciding to try and tackle this yourself, this article will give you the insight needed to avoid some common mistakes.
Know Your Brand
Yes, your logo is an image (or a wordmark, but more on that later). Remember, though, that it’s more than that — like we said, it’s also an introduction to your brand. To maximize its effectiveness, your logo (and branding) must speak to a specific audience and it’s important that you always keep this in mind. To accomplish this, you must know both your brand and who your brand needs to be speaking to.
Sometimes it can help to see how other brands position themselves and communicate their “brand personality” to their audiences. While researching other visual brands can be helpful, you need to be careful not to take the inspirations too literally. Your design work should be original and map directly back to your brand’s unique attributes. Is your brand utility-driven or is it more focused on evoking emotion? Is it sleek and contemporary or quirky and fun? What do your customers care about, and what does your brand aspire to be? While it is helpful to stay up to date on design trends, it’s more vital to stay true to your brand’s overarching personality. Here’s a quick brand personality evaluation that can help you figure this out.
More than anything, though, know what your logo means. Every successful logo has some kind of a history, unique and filled with meaning and purpose. Take Apple, for instance — the fruit is missing a “byte.” Or Wikipedia, an unfinished globe of puzzle pieces covered with glyphs from different writing systems. Both logos are simple, but have an added twist that circles back to their brand’s core ideology. Your logo is not going to reveal the entire story of your brand. It’s impossible. Your logo should be a hint of what your brand’s about.
Something To Try: Write down what you think about your brand; perhaps even create a mood board with imagery that reminds you of the brand’s ideology — check out websites like Niice for some inspiration. Just be careful of becoming too attracted to aesthetics and forgetting about the “deeper meaning” stuff. Looking cool is important, yes — but so is having a functional logo.
A logo is what helps distinguish a brand from its competitors after all, so it’s important that the image stands out from the rest — something that many brands struggle with. In many cases, imitation is the best form of flattery — with logo design, this is definitely not the case. Ever notice how many logos are present on any given store shelf? There are literally hundreds, sometimes thousands, in any given store. Your goal should be to stand out from the brands surrounding you, not blend in.
“What’s important is to create something that you believe is different from anything already out there,” David Airey, a graphic designer and creator of website Logo Design Love says. “It’s highly unlikely (some say impossible) that what you create will be original, but that should be the goal.”
The first step to good logo design is to take a look at what’s out there and find an opening for something new. When looking to avoid brand confusion, consider the color, shape, symbolism, and flow of your design.
The painter Edouard Manet was unfortunate enough to be a contemporary of the more highly regarded Claude Monet, to the point that Manet was asked to show his work only to learn that the gallery had believed they were contracting with Monet. Ouch! The last thing you want from your company’s logo is to have it mistaken for that of a competitor. So when considering logo design, it’s super important to keep it original.
Creating a unique design isn’t all about avoiding imitation or mistaken identity, but also about designing something out-of-the-box. It’s tempting to just throw an industry icon down and be done with it, but it’s important to think creatively. “The Mercedes logo isn’t a car. The Virgin Atlantic logo isn’t an airplane. The Apple logo isn’t a computer,” Airey notes in his book.
On another note, it’s also important to mention that once something appears online, there’s simply no way to guarantee it won’t be used in some shape or form in another forum. Designers who are unsure of the originality of their design can actually check for plagiarism on sites such as Logo Thief.
Keep It Simple
Keep it simple. That’s pretty solid advice for a lot of things, including logo design. If you’re looking to capture the attention of potential customers and remind current ones of your reach, a busy or cluttered logo isn’t going to do your business any favors. Some of the most successful logos have been the simplest. We’re talking about clean, bold lines without a lot of elements to distract the eye or detract from the impact of the message. The “gold scallop” of Shell Oil and the red and white “bullseye” of Target retail stores are excellent examples of simple designs that are bold, identifiable, and evocative of the brand they represent.
Make Sure It’s Memorable
What do the “running dog” of Greyhound bus lines and the “bitten apple” of Apple computers have in common? They’re memorable. These days the average consumer is flooded with commercial messages. Everything from TV ads and roadside billboards to web banners and pop-up ads on game apps seems to be screaming at us with a sales message. There are logos everywhere we look. Eventually, amid the high volume of commercial communication, all but the most memorable messages become noise that the brain learns to filter out. So how do you ensure that your logo gets through that mental filter? Choosing a design that’s bold enough to be both memorable and instantly recognizable is one key to success.
Focus On Clarity
When selecting a company logo, know your customer audience — both who they are as well as what they expect from you. Ask yourself what your company logo should say about your business. Distill it down to its essence. Does it emphasize power, tradition, speed, flexibility, health, fun, or connectivity? Any of these attributes (and many others) can be the central message of an effective design. Ford Motor Company, for example, has maintained its famous “blue oval” for a century — reinforcing the Ford name as an originator in automotive technology. On the other hand, the famous Nike “swoosh” emphasizes speed and forward motion. Six Flags uses a playfully nostalgic mid-century design to remind its audience that childhood memories are made at amusement parks. In each case, the logo evokes a mood — a positive feeling that is linked to the company’s core message.
Reproducibility Is Important
Your logo is your company’s public face, so it must be easily transferable to any medium that bears your brand — whether it’s a fleet of trucks, packaging, web ads, or social media, or all of these. An effective logo is easily recognizable at a glance, both in color and in black and white, and in any size. A good logo works as both a highway billboard and a Twitter avatar. If your logo relies on fine print, you have a problem. Another thing to remember is that even in this high-tech age, there are still companies and industries who are reliant on sending faxes (doctor’s and lawyer’s offices are a prime example of this). Would your logo be legible and look good when transmitted in grainy low-res black and white?
Think about all the formats that you use to connect with customers, and be sure that the logo design you select works well with each.
Color Is Vital
When taking your brand’s personality into account, you have to think about every aspect of the image. Bright and bold colors may grab someone’s attention, but could also seem brash; muted tones exude sophistication, but could be overlooked. Every color has a different implication and can bring subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) nuance to your message — don’t fall into the trap of conveying the wrong message because of something as simple as color selection. The Logo Company released an article “The Science Behind Colors” and an infographic displaying The Psychology of Color in Logo Design. Here’s a quick summary:
- Red: energetic, sexy, bold
- Orange: creative, friendly, youthful
- Yellow: sunny, inventive, optimism
- Green: growth, organic, instructional
- Blue: professional, medical, tranquil, trustworthy
- Purple: spiritual, wise, evocative
- Black: credible and powerful
- White: simple, clean, pure
- Pink: fun and flirty
- Brown: rural, historical, steady
The Importance of Structure
A logo typically consists of two elements: a wordmark and a symbol. This isn’t always the case, as some companies choose to stick to logotype entirely, like Ray-Ban, Coca-Cola and IBM. Conversely, your logo can also consist of a symbol, but it’s important to note that before a company can think about solely representing itself with a symbol, a great deal of advertising must be done to connect that symbol with the brand (think: Starbucks or Mercedes).
Whether your brand can use a logotype by itself depends on the kind of name your brand has. If your company has a unique name, then you could get away with a logotype. But if you have a generic name, then you’re going to need something to identify the company by, which can be achieved by using a logo mark. And when considering typefaces for your text, be sure to avoid gimmicky fonts, properly utilize negative space, and perhaps tweak an existing font — websites like Font Squirrel or HypeForType are sometimes useful starting points. Some logos even become recognizable because of their custom fonts. Coca-Cola originated the slanted font and now others try to rip them off.
When all else fails: turn to your friend Helvetica, a simple font that has been utilized well by many popular brands, such as Nars, Target, Crate & Barrel, American Apparel and JCPenney. Fun fact: DRKMTTR uses Helvetica in its logo, too!
It’s important to have a balanced combination of simple and quirky — you want your logo to be interesting, but you don’t want someone to have to sit and stare, analyzing the logo. A good example is FedEx’s logo, a simple logotype with a twist. The image utilizes negative space to create an arrow which connotes speed, precision and direction. Additionally, the company changes the color of the “Ex” in order to classify the type of shipping. Amazon, too, uses just its name, but also refers to its wide inventory (and fast/easy shipping from their warehouses to your door) with a small arrow pointing from a → z.
In the digital age, where logos will appear on multiple devices and across social media, you must design something that transcends paper. It must look great on different backgrounds, work for apps, icons, avatars and print, and it must be flexible in size. Take Adidas, a brand that incorporates the same motif of three parallel bars in all of its designs. The visual changes slightly depending on where you see it, but it always contains similar components. The branding is consistent yet flexible.
You want to design something that will last through the ages, but you must be open to small iterations along the way. Most brands, if not all of them, will create a style guide that lays out exactly how the company should present itself across print and digital — here are some examples of great design guidelines.
Nike; Audi; Puma — all have iconic logos, but like with anything successful, it took time for these to gain popularity. Your logo won’t become instantly iconic, even if you’ve designed the most beautiful combination of vectors. It depends on your product or service’s success and the market in which it exists. “What you think is your best design might very well be for a local craft store that only people in the nearby area ever see. And the design won’t be classed as iconic because it doesn’t have the reach of multinational businesses,” Airey says. “Ultimately, iconic design status can only be achieved if the client fulfills their potential, too.”
But what made those iconic logos so successful? If you look at how they originated, you see that their foundation was a great understanding of branding principles. Nike designer Carolyn Davidson was told to create something that displayed motion and would look good on a shoe — hence, the swoosh; Audi represents the company’s four marques linked together; Puma, a simple visualization of the name, along with a leaping puma.
Looking To The Future
It’s important to be patient and to not rush to make changes with your design just because you haven’t gotten the reception you initially expected. Don’t change your logo just because you’re tired of it, or because your competitors have. If the time has come to evolve your logo, look for elements that can be carried forward.