8 steps to designing the perfect logo
You may have heard quotes similar to this one.
That’s been one of my mantras – focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex…
In my opinion, designing a logo is one of the peak achievements of being a graphic designer. A company’s whole identity revolves around the logo. A logo can seem like the simplest of tasks, like just choosing a font and color; yet, I’ve worked on logo projects that have taken months and cost buckets of money. A big project can include a lot of research into competing brands, custom fonts and illustrations, hundreds of variations, focus groups, and round after round. Once the logo is finalized, it can take a lot of time to create a multitude of variations for every purpose. That being said, a small business can usually get by with just a few variations: color, black and white, print and web.
Below are a few of my ideas that go into creating a good logo. In my head, this list is actually a lot longer, but I think you get the idea.
A good logo starts with a good working relationship
To me, synergy is like the secret sauce. It’s a balance between creative freedom (working in a vacuum) and creative killing (being told what to do at every step).
My client, Pedal Chick, gave me a lot of creative freedom and a lot of great ideas. This synergy generated a storm of creativity. These concepts will make great logos, T-shirts, ads and posters, which will all reinforce marketing and brand awareness.
TESTIMONIAL: First of all, I have to say I LOVE THEM ALL. I think you did a really great job of bringing what I envisioned to life. As you can tell, I’m really excited about the level of quality you’ve delivered. So, I have 3 favorites, which means I’d like to buy 3 logos instead of just one.
When designing a good logo, even if your potential customer knows nothing about what you do, you want the logo to look and feel like your product. On a related note, I think a good graphic designer has no style. They can create a new identity unlike anything before or mimic any style that the client is already using. The four logos at the top of this page are a good example. This isn’t my style; this is the brand’s style. You can see they all look like they belong together. Bigger companies will need to create brand guidelines so that all their employees know what colors and fonts to use.
Nothing says Costa Rica more than the red-eyed tree frog. That’s the goal behind this logo. It might be my favorite. I actually took the picture of the frog and spent long hours turning it into a simplified illustration. Below is another one of my favorites. It’s for a doggy daycare.
Speaking of identity, logos are designed to catch your attention, and two logos side by side are like boxers in a ring. See how all the logos on this page compete for attention. They all have a strong sense of identity.
One more favorite. Fire trucks to the rescue!
Concept and execution
If a logo looks good but doesn’t fit your brand, it is not a good logo.
When you buy a logo, you are really buying an idea that represents who you are and what you do.
I met with my client at Golden Gate Logistics, and we talked for over an hour about his company. We thought about illustrating a logo with boats and planes or one with Asia and America, but eventually, we settled on the obvious icongraph of the Golden Gate Bridge. Having picked a subject matter, there were still infinite angles and perspectives of the bridge. So after researching and brainstorming this idea, I sent him a bunch of thumbnail drawings (concepts or ideas), and we settled on one perspective. So I rode my bicycle out to the bridge and took this photo as a reference.
Once the subject matter and the angle were chosen, there were still infinite possible ways to illustrate the subject matter, including choices in style, complexity and colors. Compare the original photo to the illustration below.
Notice how I dramatically simplified the bridge and enhanced the colors. Notice how the illustration doesn’t have to be a literal representation; in fact, an illustration often has to be exaggerated to convey the same impression as the 3-dimensional object. In this case, I emphasized the contrast between thick and thin lines to give it more perspective.
Of course, having a great idea doesn’t even buy a cup of coffee. The ideas below are all about execution — bringing that idea to life.
A good logo is as simple as possible but not dumbed down
I kept the gentleComputing logo clean, simple, corporate and official. White and blue are great colors for that! We could have skipped the logo icon or used something simpler like an outline or a geometric shape, but we felt that a realistic picture of a hummingbird softened up the logo.
This realistic drawing was challenging because a logo needs to reproduce and be legible in various sizes. The hummingbird looks good small because it isn’t obscured by too much detail; on the other hand, there is enough detail to look interesting at much larger sizes, like a sign or billboard.
The more simple a logo is, the easier it will be to recognize it from a distance on a sign or at a glance while perusing a newspaper, and that means better brand recognition. Also, the easier and more economical printing will be.
The parts and pieces of a good logo work together
Here is a logo designed for a floatation and relaxation spa, featuring sensory deprivation tanks. This logo both reads and “feels” float. A logo, or corporate identity, contains several parts: the logotype and the icon and sometimes decorative elements. Various parts are used for various purposes and at different sizes. If all the parts work independently of each other, this is another clue that the logo has a strong identity that consumers will recognize instantly and from a mile away. Below the parts have been separated: icon, logotype with icon, and logo with decoration.
A good logo is adaptable
This is one of my number one measures of a good logo. Can it stand up to some abuse?
Being a logo is tough work. You have to stand out amongst the crowd: business cards, signs, posters, ads, websites, et cetera. And, you have to take a lot of abuse: being stretched and squashed and resized. So, one of the ways to judge a successful logo is if it translates well into different colors. If a logo looks good in various colors, it’s a sign that the logo has an aesthetic integrity that essentially acts as a frame against the hustle and bustle of the outside world.
This fitness logo was intended to be on a lot of T-shirts. Here is a test to see how it holds up. I’m impressed the logo even works on top of almost any color, even this rainbow background. It is not unusual to have to do slight redesigns depending on the usage. Can you tell what change we made for the white background?
As your business grows, you will need more variations of your logo for different uses: big and small, black and white or color, and many more. Below are examples of the different variations needed for display and printing.
- The first and fourth logos below can be printed as a full-color or a fancy two-color version using metallic gold ink.
- The second is your basic all-purpose black and white for photocopying, legal documents, etc.
- The third logo is reversed. Imagine this being on a black T-shirt.
- And, actually, what you are looking at is an RGB version for computer screens.
TESTIMONIAL: The logo you designed is just what I needed just when I needed it. Thanks for being so willing to work on many changes. I’m very pleased with the end product.
A good logo looks good at any size
SUCCESS STORY: My client requested: “I want a logo that people can see from across a parking lot, and say, ‘Oh, there’s Jim.'”
So, I designed a “simple” looking logo that can be placed on all kinds of media and is attractive and legible from business cards to billboard size, especially on the side of his mobile bicycle store and repair shop. It’s also designed so that the colors of the different elements can be changed easily to attract more attention depending on where the logo is printed.
Knowing what works and what doesn’t work.
In short, this comes down to experience. Will that beautiful idea function in the real world? Will the details print at a small size? Will a customer recognize your business from a distance? Will the colors fade in the sunlight? Is it possible to manufacture an affordable sign for my logo?
Often finding a solution means discovering what doesn’t work. And that means doing your homework on comparative and competitive brands. And lots of rough drafts. Logos can be subjective, so the more possibilities you eliminate, the better. And logos can be very technical with considerations like color, size, and file formats. It’s not like an illustration that is designed only to look good in print or a photograph that only looks good on a luminescent screen.
This Macy’s breast cancer awareness logo was a big win for me. It even got put into the Macy’s Day Parade on signs, T-shirts and thousands of balloons. They used it for years. Admittedly, it is a bit too fancy. The delicate lines were difficult to print. We made a version with thicker lines, but it lost something in the process. Now it has been replaced with the much more successful pink ribbon. Interestingly, no one owns this idea, so every company is free to make their own pink ribbon.
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.