And how the creative process works
“This article includes a step-by-step description of how a logo is made and the creative process. It features the creation of a logo, but any project would follow a similar format. It also includes some of my design philosophy, which hinges on co-creating with my client a beautiful and functional product that increases their company’s brand recognition and profitability.
Logos are some of my favorite projects to work on. I’ve designed hundreds of logos. And hundreds, dozens of variations of each one, and thousands of combinations to get to each final product. If successful, logos are deceivingly simple but packed full of art theory, the science of perception and the psychology of symbolism.
- Design Philosophy
- STEP 1 — Brainstorming session
- STEP 2 — Concepts and designs
- STEP 3 — Feedback
- STEP 4 — Repeat Steps 1-3 as necessary
- STEP 5 — Final design fine-tuning and production
- STEP 6 — Delivery of product and guidelines for usage
Any website, logo or advertisement needs to:
- HOOK: Attract and keep the consumers attention. (Selling to the consumers emotions). Often this means creating a product with aesthetic beauty.
- INFORM: Problem > Solution. (Selling to the consumers intellect). This includes having a logical information design, so that the customer won’t get lost navigating or confused by the imagery.
- SELL: The call to action. (How to buy the product.) This includes creating a design that is going to reflect your business philosophy and creates publicity and revenue stream.
STEP I — Brainstorming
This is a stage that I pride myself on. I love meeting people and I love learning about their passions. This is the stage where the client and the designer begin to analyze the problem and solution. Rather than call it a problem, I prefer the terms puzzle, challenge or goal. Sometimes the goals need to be redefined. Sometimes the goals can be achieved by thinking outside the box. Sometimes the goals are very straight forward.
In this case, my client, Fat Cat Motorsports, knew what he wanted — a logo of a hefty white cat driving a 1991 Miata MX-5 (British Racing Green) wearing goggles and a big grin. Nonetheless, the Fat Cat logo would still be challenging. It would need to be sophisticated yet simple enough to reproduce in various media, like business cards, websites, outdoor signage, etc. Also, it would require considerable time to illustrate and I wanted to make sure my client would be 100% happy before producing the final illustration.
STEP 2 — Concepts and designs
The first round includes research and brainstorming. The client will receive rough thumbnails as idea starters.
Below is a screenshot of my master file for The Spokes Writer logo. This is the first round of design. You can see there are about 6 distinct designs, and hanging off the right side are some thumbnails of logos that I collected for inspiration. These illustrations may look fancy, but they are rough concepts. I use imagery from various sources to approximate the concept of the logo, which means I might have to spend several hours to redraw an image in final form. Actually all the drawings, fonts and colors may change entirely. Some of the logos may appear quite bad, but it is important to eliminate some possibilities. I encourage clients to use their imagination to think about the concept of the image rather than the aesthetics of the image itself, and feel free to mix and match ideas, and perhaps the second round will focus on something entirely different.
The logo for Madison Truck Equipment went through 12 round of designs. Below is a screenshot of my master file for the twelfth round of design. Each logo is slightly different: font, kerning, tagline, color, etc. I also experiment with the logo in different colors and with other brands of the same company.
After brainstorming my client, I researched competing and complimentary companies, and researched cats and cars, to help create a unique image to captivate the consumer. Then I let it simmer for a day or two — this is the magic — when the brain subconsciously puts 2 and 2 together and gets 5. Then when brimming with creativity, I began sketching several variations of the logo, playing with the gesture, mood, perspective and style of the illustration. Then I sent my favorite thumbnail drawings to the client. At this stage, we don’t want to spend a lot of effort on the image, but capture the essence of a variety of solutions. Fat Cat picked this sketch.
STEP 3 — Feedback
The following is a portion of the creative brainstorming to refine our idea.
I said, “Here’s how I envision your logo so far. A fat sassy cat with his ears tucked back and whiskers blowing in the wind. I think it would be nice to do a fairly detailed illustration, though keep in mind the more detail, like shadows and colors, the more difficult it is to print in various media, not to mention illustrate. You’ll notice that most logos, like the McDonald’s arches are a flat, one-color, simple shape and are easy to reproduce or recognize from a distance.
He said, “You’ve helped stir my imagination with the possibilities! Not looking to go crazy with details. The general concept really jumps out well. The cat looks like he’s having a helluva good time and that’s exactly what I want to convey. The ears even look a little devilish, and I consider myself a happy devil as a friend once said. Having him overfill the car is perfect — easy to see his face and enforces the “Fat Cat” concept. I think the impression of speed is enhanced by having slightly blurred lines on the car so you don’t see seams in the bodywork, etc. I think the cat’s grin is really what’ll grab people and be memorable. I was just wondering if a second, slightly different logo was possible — the cat with a similar grin holding a scaled-down Miata in his hand, standing nonchalantly with legs crossed? Having a couple logos to bounce between (if not too complicated or adding too much cost) would be awesome. What do you think?”
I replied, “Having two logos is almost never done because it will be hard enough to brand yourself, meaning, get people to remember you with just one image. However, you can play with the idea and create a different image for t-shirts and websites to work in conjunction with the logo. If you want, I can sketch the concept of a cat standing, and you can see what it will look like and choose between the two. But I feel this one conveys the feeling of motorsports better. Also a technical note, the shape of a cat standing holding a car would look quite small on a business card. The more compact shape of the cat in the car would work well in a variety of shapes and sizes.
Afterwards, I went back to the drawing board and rendered our ideas in a more finalized style. What I did was sketch this out a couple times until I was happy. Then I inked the lines and scanned it into the computer.
STEP 4 — Rinse and repeat Steps 1-3 as necessary
We discussed the above illustration at length. We both agreed that it was very close, but that the car was a bit too cartoony. In other words, we felt that car lovers would rather see something more racy and realistic. This is the revised drawing.
STEP 5 — Final design fine-tuning and production
The client approved the above pen and ink drawing with a few minor changes (can you count all seven changes?). Then I scanned it into the computer and redrew the image in Adobe Illustrator by hand. I didn’t want to automate this process because it results in jagged lines and I wanted the car to be perfectly smooth. This process also converts the image from a photograph with a limited resolution to mathematical line art that can be any size.
At this stage, though a little bit late in the process, I added the typography. I searched through a couple hundred fonts before deciding to illustrate a semi-customized font.
The above logo is the black and white line art version, and the logo below is the 3-color version.
STEP 6 — Delivery of product and guidelines for usage.
The client will recieve all final files and copyrights. (Important: some designers retain original artwork and copyrights, forcing you to return to them for any changes or printing of additional materials.) Plus, you don’t get just one logo but sometimes a dozen. The final files depend on the client’s needs, and often change for each project (business card, website, outdoor sign, embroidered hat, magnets, etc.).
- Composition: Horizontal (the logo is side by side with the text), Vertical (stacked version like the one above), just the logo (in this case, the car and cat), just the type treatment (in this case, the name of the company, “Fat Cat Motorsports”, and the tagline, ‘Where innovation drives us”).
- Color: You may need your logo in a variety of color profiles, like: line art, grayscale, spot color (custom inks for custom jobs), CMYK (print) or RGB (web).
- File types: There are many different file types like PDF and JPG.
- Sizes: And finally, the client recieves several images optimized for colors, size and resolution, each use of an image is unique, otherwise you risk loss of resolution and other imaging problems.
I was so proud showing it off I forgot to email you back! The logo is AWESOME! I got shivers. Really. It’s like, “Okay, I’ve arrived!” :) My partner was thrilled too, said I made a great investment in going with your service. Everything looks so professional! Thanks again.Fat Cat Motorsports
Overall, there were 60+ emails, a dozen phone calls needed to complete this project, and it went very smoothly since the client knew what he wanted from the start.
I hope that gives you an idea of how a logo is made and how the creative process works for almost any project.
More articles in this series:
- What is a logo?
- What makes a good logo?
- Bicycle logo design. Some of my favorites.
- How is a logo made? The creative process.
- How to make a free logo.
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Scott is still available for graphic design, information design, web design, branding and illustration. Profits support this website and our work with schools, not to mention Scott himself. Please contact Scott to discuss your project.