Designing a logo is simple, right? Think again. There’s more to crafting a brand’s visual identity than just placing a name in a square and calling it a day. Logo designers are in high demand, and it’s for good reason — a logo is often a company’s first impression, one that can impact a customer’s brand perception, purchase decisions and overall attitude toward a product.
We live in a society painted with brand logos. Even toddlers who can’t yet tie their own shoelaces recognize many logos or are able to deduce what a company sells just by looking at its brandmark.
1. Be unique and clever
A logo is what helps distinguish a brand from its competitors, so it’s important that the image stands out from the rest — something many brands struggle with.
In many cases, imitation is the best form of flattery — with logo design, this is not the case.
“What’s important is to create something that you believe is different from anything already out there,” David Airey
“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 Lovesays. “It’s highly unlikely (some say impossible) that what you create will be original, but that should be the goal.”
Deborah Harkins, creative director at crowdsourced design website 99designs, reiterates the risk of plagiarism. “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.
Creating a unique design isn’t all about avoiding imitation, but also about designing something out-of-the-box. It’s tempting to just throw an industry icon on the page, but it’s important to think creatively. “The Mercedes logo isn’t a car. The Virgin Atlantic logo isn’t an airplane. The Applelogo isn’t a computer,” Airey notes in his book.
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2. Understand the brand
Yes, a logo is an image, but it’s also an introduction to a brand. The logo must reach a specific audience and when designing, you must keep this in mind. Write down what you think about the 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. But be wary of becoming inspired by only aesthetics rather than deeper meaning. “Researching other visual brands can be helpful, but designers need to be careful not to take the inspirations too literally,” Harkins says. “Any design work must be original and map directly back to your client’s unique brand attributes.”
Is the brand utility-driven or is it more focused on evoking emotion? Is it contemporary or quirky? What does the customer care about, and what does the brand aspire to be? While it is helpful to stay up to date on design trends, it’s more vital to stay true to a brand’s overarching personality.Here’s a quick brand personality evaluation that can help you along the way.
More than anything, know what your logo means. Every logo has some kind of a history, filled with meaning and purpose. Take Apple, for instance — the fruit is missing a “byte.” OrWikipedia, 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 brand ideology.
Harkins echoes the importance of understanding the brand. “Since a logo is the brand’s visual keystone — the most concise expression of its personality — an honest approach to defining its DNA is imperative to a successful result.”
3. Color is key
When taking the 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 nuance to your message — don’t fall into the trap of conveying the wrong message because of a simple brush stroke. 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 break-down:
- 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
4. What’s in a name?
According to Airey, a logo consists of two elements: A wordmark and a symbol. Before a company can think about solely representing itself with a symbol, a great deal of advertising must be done (think: Starbucks or Mercedes). Some companies choose to stick to Logotype entirely, like Ray-Ban, Coca-Cola and IBM.
Whether your brand can use a Logotype depends on the kind of name the 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,” logo design blogger Jacob Cass told Mashable in a previous article. And when considering typefaces for your text, be sure to avoid gimmicky fonts, utilize negative space and perhaps tweak an existing font — websites like Font Squirrel or HypeForType are helpful. 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.
5. Keep it easy and flexible
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 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.
“Finding a logo that can still be relevant (or not feel outdated) in a matter of years, or even months, when we don’t even know what the web will feel like, seems to be a bit more of a challenge,” Raj Abhyanker, CEO of Trademarkia says.
You want to design something that will last through the ages, but you must be open to small iterations along the way.
You want to design something that will last through the ages, but you must be open to small iterations along the way. Most, if not all, brands will create a style guide that lays out exactly how the company should present itself across the web — here are some examples of great design guidelines.
6. Don’t expect instant success
Nike; Puma; Audi — all iconic logos, but like with anything successful, it took time for these to gain popularity. Logos won’t become instantly iconic, even if you’ve designed the most beautiful combination of vectors. It depends on the product’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.”
“Ultimately, iconic design status can only be achieved if the client fulfills their potential, too.”
But what made those iconic logos so wonderful? If you look at how they originated, you see that they derived from a great understanding of brand 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.
It’s important to be patient and 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,” Harkins says. “If the time has come to evolve your logo, look for elements that can be carried forward.”
7. Use online resources and tools
There is a vast sea of information online for those who need some inspiration, collaboration or assistance when designing a company logo.
99designs offers both a Logo Store equipped with unique, hand-vetted logos for those on a tighter budget looking for off-the-shelf ideas, and the site provides an opportunity for more personalized contests where customers are integral to the outcome from the beginning. The website also helps clients make the tough decision between loads of logo submissions. “99designs customers can create a poll of their favorite submissions, and share a link via social networks and email inviting people to vote,” Harkins says. “Often they’re surprised when the design they were leaning toward doesn’t come out on top! But ultimately, they need to own their decision.”
For those who want to design on their own, sites like Logomaker and LogoYes are logo design interfaces that are easy-to-use and free — although, there is a fee to download higher quality versions for print.