UPDATED: We reveal everything you need to know to craft successful logos, from inspiration to execution.
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 examples of logo design 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 creating a logo design and share some pro tips for finessing your process…
01. Research your audience
Creating a logo design 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 design 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.
02. Immerse yourself in the brand
Before even beginning to sketch out ideas for a logo design, 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 design 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.”
03. 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.
04. Do your online research
Two great starting points for online logo design research areLogo Moose and Logo Gala. One thing to be mindful of is knowing when to stop your logo design 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.
05. 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 design that has the same typeface Saul Bass used for Quaker Oats in the 70s?
06. 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.
07. 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 makemood boards out of ones that share similar values. Look at your mood board and analyse what isn’t successful about these logo designs. Then rip those boards up and use these rules as a guide for your own unique creation.
INITIAL DESIGN WORK
08. Sketch it out
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. It doesn’t matter if it’s complete chicken-scratch sketching as long as it conveys your ideas correctly and you understand it.”
09. Create vectors
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 design is to produce it using vectors. Here Illustrator is your friend as you’ll be able to rescale your creation without losing any quality.
10. Use smart objects
You can copy and paste your logo design 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 design for screenbased 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.
NAILING THE TYPOGRAPHY
11. Choose your typeface carefully
Typography is obviously central to good logo design. 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.
12. Adapt an existing typeface
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.
13. Avoid gimmicky fonts
Don’t be tempted to make your logo design 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.
14. Make the type match the brand
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.
15. Consider a type-only approach
You may want to produce a simple execution of a logo design for your client that uses the strength of the typography alone.
USE OF SPACE
16. Think about the space around your logo design
Most brand books will specify an exclusion zone. This is an area around the logo design that can’t be occupied by other content, to protect the integrity of the logo (and brand by extension).
When you’re creating a logo design, you need to consider how it should be used. If, for example, your design is intended to be viewed over the top of a photographic image, make sure you present it to the client in that way, and specify that it should be reproduced in this manner each time it’s used.
17. Use negative space effectively
Some of the best logo designs have hidden meaning in their negative space. A classic example is the Fed Ex logo, which uses the combination of the letters E and x to form an arrow in the negative space. There are many other great examples where a logo design looks ordinary at first glance, but reveals interesting and well-thought-out details on further examination.
18. Don’t overdo it
Try to use these principle to add value to your logo design, but as always, don’t add shapes and pictorial elements in negative space just because you can! Remember that you are not trying to appeal to other designers on Dribbble – you’re trying to solve a commercial problem and boost a brand amongst its audience.
19. Make your design active, not passive
If you’re using a device within your logo design that facilitates it, consider adding a sense of movement to your design. This doesn’t mean you need to add cartoon-like motion lines, but rather think about the size, position and rotation of elements within your design.
A fish will look in motion if it’s mid-jump or swim, but will look static if drawn side on as if it’s been mounted on a wall. You also need to take into account the direction of the implied motion.
20. Cultural differences
In the west, motion towards the left of the stage suggests backwards, regressive movement, while motion towards the right feels progressive and forward-thinking. This culture-based understanding is formed because we read from left to right. Things are different in the far East, so make sure you understand where your principal market is.
21. Consider tones as well as colours
Logo designs need to work in black and white as well as colour. If your logo design uses colour to convey meaning, think about how you can reflect that meaning when the colour is removed. Sometimes this may mean changing the contrast relationship between different elements of your design so that they still convey meaning when reproduced in monotones.
22. Be experimental
Don’t feel you have to be constricted by formal notions of what a logo design is or does. For example, designer Luke Prowse came up with a highly original use of logo and brand identity for music event Cut & Splice, celebrating experimental composer’s Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Aus dem Seben Tagen.
Playing with the experimental composer’s lifetime obsession with ‘controlled chance’, Luke created a logo design that is never the same twice, both online and digitally printed. In online form the logo design continually morphs and pulsates like an ever-evolving compositional soundscape.
KEEP IT CLEAN AND MODERN
23. Don’t use more than two fonts
Obviously, there are always going to be exceptions to this rule. But as a general principle, restricting yourself to just one or two typefaces is a good idea if you want your logo design to be clear and uncluttered.
24. Ensure it works on dark backgrounds
The client may be happy seeing your logo design against a white background, but be wary of him coming back a year later saying that the company is producing new marketing material and demand it will work against a dark background too. Sorting that out in advance is never a bad thing. (The same goes for using the logo in monochrome.)
25. Keep abreast of trends
Pay attention to current logo design trends doesn’t mean slavishly following them. But in the same way that you need to break the rules, to buck the trend (or start a new one) you need to know what you’re up again. For a quick round up of current logo trends, head to this article.