Here's everything you need to know to take your logo design skills to the next level.
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
Effective logo designs: I Love NY, Apple, London Underground, CBS, WWF, Woolmark
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:
The brand identity 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.
"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."
The Nike swoosh is a highly successful logo design
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?
Effective logos: Shell, Volkswagen, NBC, ABC, Chanel, Rolling Stones
For more quality logos, check out Logo Of The Day or go to your local library/book store and check out some branding books. Also be sure to check out some of these logo design process case studies.
Examples of effective logotypes: Federal Express, IBM, Coca-Cola, CNN, Disney, NASA
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.
Good logo design doesn't just create something that looks nice - it has to communicate a brand message
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.
Hark back to the past, urges Martin Christie of Logo Design London
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."
Old sketches can be a source of new inspiration, suggests Martin Christie
"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.
Logo Moose is a great research resource for logo design
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.
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?
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.
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.
Initial design work
Shell's logo has evolved over the years but still sticks to the same fundamental design principles
When Raymond Loewy sat down to design Shell Oil's logo design, he used a logo construction guide as a guide to create an iconic design that hasn't changed much since 1971.
Not every line of the logo matches the grid exactly, but the grid is clearly an integral part of the design, which was more powerful and recognizable than the previous logo designs.
We learned a lot about the fundamental concepts of art and design as well as the process behind the Shell logo in Design Basics, a great read from David A. Lauer & Stephen Pentak.
A great example of a relevant logo grid system that turns a logo design into a great success is Sagmeister & Walsh's identity design for the Jewish Museum in New York.
S & W created the entire brand identity based on the grid system of the Star of David symbol, and the result was a unified and striking visual identity.
By using a logo construction guide, their designs evoked the past and introduced a fresh, modern look to the museum's brand.
Following relevant grid systems and geometric shapes from inception worked well in this case and is a great lesson for us to remember when conceptualising a logo design in 2015.
In creating Yahoo's 2013 logo rebrand, CEO Marissa Mayer and their in-house design team used a 'mathematical' blueprint as a logo construction guide. They also released a video to explain their precise design process, and to point out "some of what was cool/mathematical" in the design.
When it came to the exclamation point, Mayer states that "our last move was to tilt the exclamation point by nine degrees, just to add a bit of whimsy".
These mathematical explanations weren't convincing to some, and the design was widely criticized. Many in the design industry questioned its 'mathematical' qualities.
This is a great example of over rationalizing a logo design and how using 'mathematical consistency' doesn't necessarily result in a better design.
Get the pencil and pad out before switching on your computer. Picture credit: Ben Powell at www.gogetcreative.co.uk
With a solid understanding of what needs to be communicated, it's on to the first sketches: more often than not, these should be the pen and paper kind. This enables you to be experimental and not get caught up in the finer details.
It's tempting to move straight onto the computer first, but Ben Powell advises you resist the urge. "What did you learn to do first, use a computer or a pencil and paper?" he asks rhetorically. "Sketching is a much faster way to produce initial ideas before you even touch Photoshop CC. It doesn't matter if it's complete chicken-scratch sketching as long as it conveys your ideas correctly and you understand it."
Vectors are a good 'in-between' stage of logo design. Picture credit: Ben Powell at www.gogetcreative.co.uk
After starting with a sketch, some designers then progress to more technical sketches on graph paper. But the best way to save any pain and frustration with later iterations of your logo is to produce it using vectors. Here Illustrator CC is your friend as you'll be able to rescale your creation without losing any quality.
You can copy and paste your logo into Photoshop as a 'smart object' (again with no loss of scalable quality), if you need to combine it with other elements.
If you're creating a logo for screen-based media, be particularly careful of thin lines or very light typefaces. Also consider that different monitors can make text and graphics appear pixelated or rough.
Microsoft's new logo design represents a trend towards clear and functional typography
Typography is obviously central to good logo. You have two main routes to choose from: creating your own custom typeface or adapting an existing one.
If you create a custom typeface, try not to make it too fashionable because it could date quickly. Keep it simple and legible. Consider the words that you're depicting - if they're unusual then a simple typeface might work best; if they're common words then you can usually be more creative as they're easier to recognise.
There's no rule to say you have to create your own typeface, though: consider adapting an existing one.
Removing, extending or joining parts of letters may be enough to make your design unique. It's amazing how little you need to see of some letters for you to still be able to recognise them.
Don't be tempted to make your logo stand out by using gimmicky fonts. They're the equivalent of typographic chintz and there's a reason why most of them are free. For sheer professionalism's sake you should avoid them at all costs.
Most gimmicky fonts are too fancy, too weak, and are most likely being used (badly) on a hundred different cheap business cards right now. When it comes to logo design, keep your font choices classic and simple and avoid over-garnishing.
Fonts come in all shapes and sizes that resonate differently with strength (slab type fonts, big and powerful); class and style (fonts with elegant scripts or serifs); movement and forward thinking (type that is slanted). It's not about just looking pretty: matching the qualities of the font - be it bespoke or off-the-shelf - to the qualities of the brand is what's important here.
Jiyoung Lee created the logotype for this industrial building firm
You may want to produce a simple execution for your client that uses the strength of the typography alone.
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