Logo design is all around us. To the general public, logos serve as an instant reminder of a company or a product; to the client they’re the point of recognition on which their branding hangs; and to us designers they represent the challenge of incorporating our clients’ ideologies into one single graphic.
No wonder, then, that logo design features so prominently in our lives. In an age where everyone must have a website to support their product, service or the company behind it, the demand for a top-class logo has never been higher.
More logo designs are out there than ever before, and with that comes the challenge of being different. How do you create something original that stands out in a sea of identities? And how do we create something quickly while retaining quality?
In this article, we’ll first look at the basic principles of designing a logo and share some pro tips for finessing your process…
Before you start
01. Online design sites
Inspiration can come from anything, anywhere. The obvious resources are sites like Logo Gala and Logo Moose, but if you’re a full-time logo designer you’ll probably be familiar with them already. Widen your research to include other graphic design sites, and art and design sites in general, like Dribbble or Deviant Art. Explore further down the results pages to visit sites you haven’t seen before and also narrow your search to put the spotlight on logos in the same industry or belonging to companies of similar size, aspirations and values.
02. Learn logo 101
An effective logo is distinctive, appropriate, practical, graphic, simple in form and conveys an intended message. In its simplest form, a logo is there to identify but to do this effectively it must follow the basic principles of logo design:
- A logo must be simple. A simple logo allows for easy recognition and allows the logo to be versatile and memorable. Effective logos feature something unexpected or unique without being overdrawn.
- A logo must be memorable. Following closely behind the principle of simplicity is that of memorability. An effective logo should be memorable and this is achieved by having a simple yet appropriate logo.
- A logo must be enduring. An effective logo should endure the test of time. The logo should be ‘future proof’, meaning that it should still be effective in 10, 20, 50+ years time.
- A logo must be versatile. An effective logo should be able to work across a variety of mediums and applications.
- A logo must be appropriate. How you position the logo should be appropriate for its intended purpose. For a more detailed explanation see: What makes a good logo?
03. Establish your own design process
Every designer has his or her own process, and it is rarely linear, but in general this is how the branding process is completed, which can be used as a guide to establish your own.
- Design brief. Conduct a questionnaire or interview with the client to get the design brief.
- Research. Conduct research focused on the industry itself, its history, and its competitors.
- Reference. Conduct research into logo designs that have been successful and current styles and trends that are related to the design brief.
- Sketching and conceptualising. Develop the logo concepts around the brief and research.
- Reflection. Take breaks throughout the design process. This allows your ideas to mature and lets you get renewed enthusiasm. Receive feedback.
- Presentation. Choose to present only a select few logos to the client or a whole collection. Get feedback and repeat until completed.
04. Price your work accordingly
“How much?” is the single most frequently asked question and it cannot be easily answered because every company has different needs and expectations. You have to take a number of factors into consideration when designing a logo/brand identity, such as how many concepts need to be presented, how many revisions will be needed, how much research is required, how big the business is and so on.
The best approach is to draw up a customised quote for each client and to do this you should learn how to price your designs, which is another topic in itself.
Jeff Fisher, a notable designer and author, had this great point in his article How Much Should I Charge: “The major point I wish to convey here is that all designers need to work smarter in independently determining what their talent, skill and expertise are worth and charge the client accordingly without question or apology. Being smart in determining what you should charge for your work will hopefully allow you to ‘work less, charge more’ in the future.”
05. Learn from others
By knowing what other brands have succeeded in and why they have succeeded gives you great insight and you can apply that attained knowledge to your own work.
For example, let’s look at the classic Nike Swoosh (above). This logo was created by Caroline Davidson in 1971 and it’s a great example of a strong, memorable logo, being effective without colour and easily scalable.
Not only is it simple, fluid and fast but it also has related symbolism; it represents the wing in the famous statue of the Greek Goddess of Victory, Nike, which is a perfect figure for a sporting apparel business. Nike is just one of many great logos, but think about other famous brands that you know and check out their logos – what makes them successful?
06. Avoid the clichés
Light bulbs for ‘ideas’, speech bubbles for ‘discussion’, globes for ‘international’, etc. These ideas are often the first things to pop into one’s head when brainstorming, and for the same reason should be the first ideas discarded. How is your design going to be unique when so many other logos feature the same idea? Stay clear of these visual clichés and come up with an original idea and design.
With this said, please do not steal, copy or ‘borrow’ other designs. Although, this shouldn’t have to be said, it happens too often. A designer sees an idea that he likes, does a quick mirror, colour swap or word change, and then calls the idea his own. Not only is this unethical, illegal and downright stupid but you’re also going to get caught sooner or later. Do not use stock or clip art either — the point of a logo is to be unique and original.
07. Research your audience
Creating a logo isn’t just about creating a pretty visual. What you’re doing, or taking part in, is developing a brand and communicating a position. It makes sense, then, that the first step in creating a logo should be to research these concepts.
Involving the client at this early stage is advised, as your interpretation of their brand may be different from theirs, and it’s essential that the message is clear before any actual designing takes place.
08. Immerse yourself in the brand
Before even beginning to sketch out ideas for a logo, spend some time compiling the equivalent of an M15 dossier on your client’s brand: who they are, what they do and what their demographic is.
Look at previous iterations of their logo and ask yourself what doesn’t represent the brand on these. Then compile a ‘dos and don’ts’ checklist before your creative work starts.
“Check out all the various logos your client has employed since their company was founded,” advises Martin Christie of Logo Design London. “This can be particularly interesting if they go back for many decades. You may be able to hark back to the past, if they would like to position themselves as a heritage brand, or you might be able to radically overhaul their original logo into something fresh and futuristic. This has the advantage of built-in continuity even as you present a new image.”
09. Keep all your sketches
“It’s probably a fair guess that for every logo you design you probably come up with a couple of dozen sketches before you decide which one to develop further,” adds Martin Christie. “Never throw away these early ideas; they form a valuable resource.
“Just because one of your early sketches didn’t work for another client, it doesn’t mean it won’t work at all. Go back through what you’ve done and you may find the seed that, with a bit of nurturing, could grow to become the logo you’re looking for.
10. Do your online research
Two great starting points for online research are Logo Moose and Logo Gala. One thing to be mindful of is knowing when to stop your research. It’s best to look at what did and didn’t work out of 10 relevant logo designs than swamp yourself with 50 extraneous ones.
If you’re struggling for ideas, try looking up key words in a dictionary or thesaurus or searching Google images for inspiration. If you keep a sketch book then look at previous drawings – you’re bound to have unused ideas from previous projects, so you may already be sitting on the perfect solution.
11. Fight the temptation to imitate
We all have our design heroes and sometimes we love them so much we want to imitate their styles. Well, they do say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. However, in the real world it’s just a lazy way to solve a creative problem.
Ask yourself whether the style you’re using is appropriate for the client’s needs. Do they really want a logo that has the same typeface Saul Bass used for Quaker Oats in the ’70s?
12. Don’t let clients dictate
Point 2 does not equate to doing what the client tells you. Look through the brief from your client and begin to ask questions about any vagueness or lazy brief writing you might find there. ‘The logo should be iconic’ and ‘The logo should be memorable’ are two extremely clichéd phrases you need to pull your client up about.
A man kicking a chicken dressed as Father Christmas is memorable but for the wrong reasons. So, as with all commissioned design work, you need to manage your client’s expectations, set realistic goals and find out what exactly your work needs to convey. Logo designs become iconic and memorable: they’re not created that way.
13. Mind mapping and mood boards
These sorts of tools can help you straighten out your thoughts and mix up different images and ideas. Play with keywords and synonyms and gather a multitude of inspirations from different sources onto a single mood board to see how they combine.
14. Create a board and rip it up
You could research logo designs all day as there are books and websites by the score containing examples of them. Only make mood boards out of ones that share similar values. Look at your mood board and analyse what isn’t successful about these logos. Then rip those boards up and use these rules as a guide for your own unique creation.