What Every Designer Needs To Know Before Designing A Logo.
By Nicole Hyman
Mar 25, 2015
So you think you have what it takes to design a logo? Oh, I know that feeling. I’ve been there too many times before. And let me tell you it didn’t end well.
It’s not a question of being good. My logos followed every rule in the design book. Versatile - Check. Timeless - Check. Scalable - Check. And so I continued checking things off my must-have list. Until I was left with something that so closely resembled perfection it was boring, if you ask me.
You see, my logo didn’t mean anything. It just sat there. And that’s when it hit me. This wasn’t just another design project. Oh no. This time I wasn’t on a mission to beautify. I was out to infuse a few measly pixels with a whole lot of meaning. And I was taking no prisoners.
What's In A Logo?
I can’t say I’ve mastered the fine art of logo design. But, I have done a lot of experimenting and along the way I’ve thought a lot about it. About how deceptively simple they seem to create. And how, every now and then you stumble across a logo that does more than just sit there. My favorites include Spotify’s new green button-logo, Mall of America’s colorful star and GitHub’s OctoCat. These are the logos that perfectly encapsulate the identity, values and aims of a company. See, what I’ve come to realize is that a good logo says something meaningful. It doesn’t just help identify.
So now that you have some idea of what you’re up against, it’s time to get started. If you’re still up for it, that is? But don’t worry, we’re not going to dive straight in. Instead, I thought it would be useful to start with the basics. Here’s what you need to know: there are three different types of logos: logotypes, literal logs and abstract logos. Why should you care, you’re wondering? Because this is your starting point, the moment that ensures there won’t be any last minute U-turns. And believe me, you’ll be grateful for it.
First things first, decide what kind of logo you’re creating. Are fonts, imagery or abstract graphics the main focus? Here are some hints. You’re creating a logotype if typography is what excites you most. This means you’re going to manipulate fonts to create a specific effect. Maybe that’s not what you had in mind. I get it -- fonts aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. Perhaps you’re more a literal logo person who likes to show it as it is. Nothing wrong with that. These are popular among small businesses.
Then there are abstract logos. My personal favorites. These leave more room for experimenting and use abstract symbols to convey mood, tone or ideology. If that’s what you’ve got your eye on, good luck. You’re in good company: Nike, McDonalds, and Apple all use abstract logos.
Here’s Why Most Logos Suck.
Have you taken logo design 101 yet? And I’m not referring to this course, though it does look fun, or any other introductory one you may be thinking of. I’m talking about the most basic building blocks. This is your homework. Sit down and ask yourself: What makes a good logo? Really think about it. Most designers can’t answer that. I know I couldn’t when I started out. And that’s where the problem lies.
So you want your logo to stand out? To catch people’s attention? To get people talking? To do more than just sit there? Oh, I hear. So here’s what you need to know. The best logos are distinctive and unique enough that they don’t get confused with other logos. Give people a reason to stare. Make sure yours is a logo that tells a story.
But don’t get carried away. There’s no need to be the Rubik’s cube of logo design. Take it from me, if it takes more than a few seconds to understand your logo, you’re in trouble. Think Nike’s Swoosh or Apple’s apple. Both enigmatic yet simple. They’re distinctive, easy to remember and don’t make people think too much. All in all, I’d say perfect logos.
Unforgettable and distinctive yet classic, in an Audrey Hepburn kind of way, that’s what you’re going for. No small task I can assure you, but we’re talking about logo design so that’s to be expected. Ask yourself, will this stand the test of time? How will look in 10, 20, 30 or even 50 years? If you’re scrunching up your face, then maybe it’s time to head back to the drawing board. Remember, you want something classic. Classic fonts, images and symbols.
Now don’t forget why you’re doing this. Your logo needs to mean something. It needs to say something about the company it represents. Otherwise, all you have is a pretty decoration. And that’s not too helpful. Always keep in mind that what a logo conveys is far more important than how it looks.
Taking Those First Steps.
You know what they say, don’t run before you can crawl. Baby steps will win this race. So take it easy. Start with the idea. What is it you’re trying to convey? For those who are more experienced, this may seem like a tedious exercise. And I understand. But bear with me. You see, these first steps will influence the colors, images and even typography used. So tread carefully whatever you do.
Initially, you’ll want to spend most of your time planning. Considering things like scalability. Now I know, you want to start designing already. But you’ll thank me later when you see that your logo looks as good on a business card as it does on the side of a truck. Another helpful tip, if I may: check that a logo still works if viewed in black and white. This will save you hassle and frustration later when it comes to faxing or photocopying.
We’re almost done with all the planning. But before we move on, you might want to spend some time considering the company’s name. After all, you wouldn't want to use bright pink Comic Sans for a luxury sports car, now would you?
Now for the images. Of course, these need to be selected carefully. That goes without saying. Something you may not know though, is that you should avoid raster images. At all costs. They can appear pixelated when scaling and no one wants that. I’d also wean myself off stock art if I was you. I know they’re time-savers, but what is this, drive-through logo-creation? Come on, be original. Your clients will thank you.
Booby Traps To Avoid.
Even some of the biggest names get it wrong sometimes. You see, logo design isn't an exact science. You can understand what makes a good logo. But making the magic happen, well, that’s up to you. Sadly, there’s no checklist for that. Trust me, I’ve looked.
What I can tell you, is that there are several booby traps you should do your best to avoid. This may not help your logo stand out. And it probably won’t win you an award. But it can help prevent the most basic logo flop.
Fonts say a lot. And they are very powerful, but avoid the urge to use too many at once. I say no more than two fonts. Otherwise, it screams amateur. Also, be consistent. There’s nothing worse than a cluttered and confusing logo.
Another no-no: being overly literal. This misses the point. You want to convey something not illustrate it. Do some research and you’ll see that the logos hint at something without actually spelling it out. The key is a creative, visually appealing image.
Whatever you do, be sure to get a clear design brief. This will save you loads of aggravation in the long run. After all, how else are you going to understand what your client is looking for? You aren’t a mind reader.
What’s Hot In 2014?
The hot, hip and happening of 2014. These are logos to watch. They may not be around forever, but they’re your go-to place for new ideas. I like to think of it as browsing a beauty magazine. More often than not, it will make you feel like the ugly duckling. But the few ideas you do get, will make it all worthwhile. And whatever you do, just remember to be original. No one likes an imitation.
But enough with the preaching. Onto this year’s trends. Using line art in the form of straight and curved lines for both graphics and typography has become quite trendy. Then there’s 3D styling, which really makes the logo stand out, and has caught on this year. There are also the attention grabbing techniques such as using negative space, contrasting colors and mosaic patterns. All are worth looking out for. Another hot trend to keep an eye on is shape creation. It’s being used to create interesting abstract shapes. Lots of fun is also being had with multiple lines to create recognizable shapes or objects.
Playing with the visibility is quite trendy. Some have used selective focus to make certain parts of a logo seem slightly blurry and in that way drawing attention. Then there’s ‘the reveal’ where one letter is peeled back to reveal another. This technique was used successfully when redesigning the logo for DC Comics where the D was peeled back to reveal the C.
So What Does This Mean For You?
In my experience, logo design is one tricky, hands-on job. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give it a try. And it certainly doesn’t mean it isn’t worthwhile. There’s something very rewarding when you get it just right. When you manage to cram everything you’re trying to say into one simple word or image. Nothing can beat that. And even if you don't succeed, believe me logo design is the best tool around for refining your design skills. It will teach you more about visual literacy than any degree ever could.
What tips would you give to designers struggling to bring their logos to life?
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