A Comprehensive Guide for Logo Designers
Logo designers, like the great athletes of our time who say “I just try to improve every day,” can share the same winning mentality. If you are on a mission to learn and improve, this comprehensive logo design guide is a great place to start. I wish that I had access to a post like this when I began. This information will help you achieve the single most important goal of logo design – distinction.
01. See Design in Everything
There are a 100 logo design blog posts that begin with “you must start with research,” however this is not the 101st. Begin by loving design and all things visual. Be open to design possibilities everywhere and at any time, not just when you are at your desk. Below: Picasso’s “Bull” and Javier Pérez’s “Trumpet.”
02. Know the Rules So You Can Break Them
Typography – Go into each project with the attitude that your logo design typography might get better if you don’t accept each glyph as it’s given to you with the font. Look at each character and see if anything can be changed, not just to look better, but also to support the brand’s goals. For example, the “Tie logo” is not just made by removing the “i” and replacing it with an actual tie, but the “T” is also manipulated so that the “T and E” brackets make a shirt for the tie.
Mark – Who says that the mark has to be one simple geometric shape and fit neatly just to the left or right of the word mark? The Bahamas’ logo has become iconic for changing what a logo mark can be and getting away with it brilliantly. There was a purpose behind breaking the stereotypical logo mark rules. Each shape and color represent a different island and it has a light-hearted feel that supports an upbeat vacation brand positioning.
PS: If you are going to break the rules, do it really well.
03. Know the Main Logo Design Categories
Icon or Symbol – Icons and symbols are simple and bold images that emblematically represent a company or product. The iconic imagery can be abstract or a stylized minimalist reduction of a literal representation. The goal is to make them instantly recognizable at any size. Some examples include Apple, Shell, and NBC.
Logotype or Wordmark – This is the typographical representation of the company or product. In most cases with famous logos, custom fonts are created or modified versions of existing fonts are used. Some examples include HULU, CNN, and Coke.
Lettermark – Lettermarks create a logo out of a combination of letters. A letter mark is a strategic choice – you are deciding that the brand can be expressed in a stronger and more memorable way through initials rather than the entire name. Many small businesses make the mistake in thinking that any set of initials can become memorable like GE or IKEA, but they either lack the brand strategy to bring it to life or they lack the understanding that also has to have “a ring to it.” GE and IKEA have a ring.
Combination Mark – These logos combine are a combination of a logo icon or symbol and a wordmark. A well-designed combination mark has two different components that can have strong branding impact separately or together. Two examples of combination marks are Microsoft and Walmart.
Emblem – Born out of the historic branding style of the crest, these logos combine text and symbol into one unique graphic. Two examples of emblems are BMW and Stella Artois.
04. Know the Primary Logo Design Approaches
What approach to the imagery will best express the brand? The main approaches are literal, abstract, negative space, responsive, and expandable.
Literal logos like Red Cross, Target, and Penguin obviously also have literal brand names.
An abstract logo creates a metaphorical interpretation of the brand. If it all possible, even in abstraction, the symbol should be founded in some kind of symbolism to create a memorable impression on the consumer. Some examples include Chase Manhattan Bank, Sprint, and Nike (the swoosh is yet another sub-category of logo approach).
Negative space logos require a high skill level. Two examples of negative space logos are FedEx (the arrow) and Northwest Airlines (you see an “N” in a circle, but the triangle makes a “W” for “west” and it points northwest), both by Landor. Negative space logos are used often by lesser known brands.
Expandable logos offer flexible versioning that can expand or contract depending on the need. You would use this kind of logo to represent a client’s diverse offerings. Opera Australia is a personal favorite and you can learn more about this project on UnderConsideration.
05. Read Logo Design Case Studies
Being a student of logo design will make you a smarter designer and hopefully a smarter designer will design at a higher level. These logo designers were kind enough to post really detailed and informative case studies.
06. Establish a Logo Design Process
Established logo designers know that a quality logo design process is integral to achieving design success. Every logo designer or logo design firm has its own unique way of working, but it generally follows a process outlined below. If you have a client that expects you to just “do it/make magic” without any input or cooperation, that’s a red flag for you.
Design Brief. Through interview or prepared questionnaire, you need to extract the necessary information for a design brief. You should try to make this part of the process easy for the client.
The basic information you need:
- Company name
- Tagline (if there is one)
- Target audience
- Main competitors
- Proposed schedule
More granular information that ideally would be communicated:
- The elevator pitch for the company or product
- Any marketing-related information
- Strong preferences about color or style
- The USP
It’s great if you know the budget upfront, otherwise this blog post assumes that you have already or will negotiate the fees. For more information on preparing a design brief, you may want to visit AIGA.
Research. This discovery period is when you’ll learn about your client and their niche. Conduct research focused on the client’s industry, history, and competitors. You could also research popular logos and trends relating to the niche you are working in.
Concepting, Brainstorming, and Sketching. You may have some ideas in mind and maybe your first thoughts will be the best thoughts, but it’s healthy to feel free and uninhibited to explore during this phase.
Reflection. How we perceive designs can change with time – even overnight. We notice nuances or realize new approaches often when we step back from our work. This is when we bring a little objectivity to the process, which can be hard to do when you are in the thick of a logo design.
Presentation and Client Feedback. It’s rare for a client to want to see every single concept you’ve done, so try to limit the first round concepts to a small selection. Once you’ve presented your initial round, the client will provide feedback. The process of receiving feedback and presenting refinements will continue until the logo is complete. Make sure that you have discussed refinement fees prior to project kick off.
File Prep. Once the logo development process is complete, you’ll provide various files for the client to use such as JPEG, PNG, PDF, and EPS.
Style Guide. Hopefully you have a knowledgeable and quality client and they expect and have budgeted for a logo style guide – even a one-sheet is better than nothing. It provides items such as color swatches, logo clearspace, and typography usage. More on Style Guides later in this post.
07. Typography 101
It’s important to know the basics of typography and hopefully a little bit beyond the basics.
Typeface or Font?
A typeface is a family of fonts, for example: Helvetica Neue Thin, Light, Regular, Italic, Bold, and Black. A font is one weight or style within a typeface family, for example Helvetica Neue Regular.
08. The Psychology of Type
Now that you know the basics of typography, you’ll want to know about the psychology of typography. Culture attributes personality qualities to fonts. Our culture today thinks a certain way about certain fonts, but go back 100 years for example, and the culture had different perspectives. There is no absolute, but we can certainly analyze modern perceptions and look for trends.
Serif Fonts – Serif fonts carry a distinguished feeling and logo designers use them to help make a brand feel respectable, reliable, and stable. They are, after all, the oldest of the Western fonts. There is also a psychological sub-set of the serif font that gives a brand different qualities such as glamour (particularly in the fashion, perfume, and luxury market segments). Great designers will use the expected and make something unexpected. Designer Samuel Johnson made the font Sür, which is used by the band The 1975. Johnson re-imagined the sometimes stodgy “yawn” association of the serif font genre into a high-end minimalist display font.
Sans Serif Fonts – Today sans serif fonts are perceived as clean and modern. The queen bee font of them all, Helvetica, embodies many desirable qualities. Helvetica is strong, distinctive, and timeless. It is used by many giant corporations because it has a leadership quality to it. Visit this link to see logos that use Helvetica.
Weight and Spacing – A font’s weight and spacing also greatly impact the psychological perception of the font. The lovely and slender RIMMEL logo uses generous spacing to help give the typography a glamorous quality. 3M’s logo uses a thick heavy Helvetica font that is tracked-in so tightly that the touching characters form a mark that is powerful and solid – it almost becomes an object.
09. Color Psychology
We’ve all seen the numerous color psychology infographics or color emotion guides. Because of my art background, I agree with others who think that color psychology is still dependent on personal experiences. The 2006 study by Satyendra Singh “Impact of Color on Marketing” found that up to 90% of snap judgments made about products can be based upon color alone (depending on the product). And the reality is that marketing bombardment helps us to feel comfortable with a brand’s color. Is Coke’s red color the key to their success? Pepsi is blue and blue is generally associated with trust and dependability. Could Coke be blue and Pepsi red? Could Sprint be blue or red? Sprint chose yellow and black to stand apart in an extremely competitive market. In Sprint’s case their psychology was more tactical rather than trying to tap into some universal truth about yellow. That being said, the following infographic can be used as a general guide and starting point.
10. Refine Your Logo Design
There are many ways to refine your logo design and probably most of them you already do instinctively. Use a grid to refine your logo. Make it in different sizes. Lock it up with a tagline. See how it will look as a social media icon, print it out, turn it upside down to see if it’s balanced.
11. Logo Design Style Guides
The most simple form of a logo design style guide is a one-sheet. However, it’s not uncommon to make a small booklet or multi-page PDF. A style guide catalogs the specific colors, typography usage, logo clearspace, and variations of the logo to make sure they are used consistently. It’s a level of professionalism that will keep your talents sharp. And it’s another of the many checks and balances in the logo design process that ensure the best possible outcome for your logo.
The American Red Cross produced a great one-sheet logo style guide poster (see below).
LogoDesignLove has a great collection of Logo Design Style Guides.
12. Logo Design Inspiration
Stay inspired to keep elevating your skills. Go to the design section of your favorite bookstore and flip through some logo design books to see what our culture values as being noteworthy. There are a number of online galleries where you can view logo designs and even submit your own work.
13. Know The Logo Design Trends
Making a trendy logo is a gamble, because then it will look dated after the trend has moved on. However, that does not mean that it is a waste of time to know the the logo design trends. It’s important to know them. Here are some websites that discuss logo design trends.
14. Stuck For Logo Design Ideas?
Sketch-related Ideas – Sketch by hand or just doodle without worrying about the outcome. Turn the logo design sketch upside down or flip it to see if you discover anything new. Sketch with different tools as an exercise to get you outside your tendencies. Be alert for “happy accidents.”
The Mood Board – Even, or perhaps especially, global corporations often begin the logo design process with a mood board, but you can certainly make one if you get stuck in an assignment. Collect different images that you may associate with your logo – see if the shapes and colors inspire you. Example: an architecture logo. Make a mood board of the different photographs of the buildings the firm designed. Maybe this will lead to noticing specific geometry that inspires your logo. This can work for just about any kind of logo. You can even do this with specific glyphs. Need a cool “a”? Make a mood board collection of as many “a’s” as you can find to inspire your original “a.”
This is a mock example of a mood board for an Eco Logo Design Project.
15. Avoid the Easy
Easier said than done. Avoid the cliche unless you can do it an outstanding way. Fight the temptation to imitate. Imitation may quickly satisfy a particular client, but originality in the long run is what will protect your business.
16. Make Sure You Have Thick Skin
Design for your client and not other designers. Expect that your logo will get criticized by other designers. Just make sure it is accepted by the client and satisfies the logo design brief. Pepsi, London 2012, Yahoo!, and Google, to name a few, all have had heaps of criticism for their logos and yet the use of the logo endures. You may even win a logo design award, but when you post it to a logo gallery, half the designers won’t like it. Get used to it.
17. Tools and Skills
At the very least, you need to know Adobe Illustrator better than you know anything on earth. Knowing Photoshop can be helpful. Knowing even a little bit about type designing is helpful, too. TypeTool by FontLab is an inexpensive typography software.
After the logo design work is completed, the question of trademarking often comes up and it’s helpful to be knowledgable about it. It’s rare that you will file a trademark for a client. More than likely the client will do it themselves or hand it off to a trademark attorney. The subject of “ownership” probably came up in your initial agreement with the client. Obtaining a federal trademark registration will give the client national ownership.
The Different Kinds of Trademarks – A trademark (TM) is a word, phrase, symbol, and/or design that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others. A service mark (SM) is a word, phrase, symbol, and/or design that identifies and distinguishes the source of a service rather than goods. Aregistered trademark (®) may only be used after the government issues a registration certificate. You can put a ™ after a logo that signifies your intent to trademark without immediately filing. However, you cannot use a ® until it is successfully registered.
The Application Process – The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) urges you to consider that “before ever filing a trademark application, a trademark attorney can conduct a more comprehensive search for potential problems.” While you may have the DIY mojo – research has shown that attorneys know what conflicts to look for and are best suited to advise you about this legal process. To begin the process, go to copyright.gov and click on the eCo Online Registration button. This is the new paperless system for copyright filing.
In order for you to succeed as a logo designer, you need to be a creature of design. The methods, tips, and approaches outlined above are the same strategies used by the most successful logo designers in the world. These practical steps are easy to integrate into your workflow. Now it’s your turn to knock us out with your logo designs.