Co.Design

The Makings Of A Great Logo

Six questions to ask yourself when designing a brand

Your company's logo is the foundation of your business branding. It is probably the first interaction that you will have with your customers. An effective logo can establish the right tone and set the proper ethos. After years of crafting logos for different projects, I've come up with a set of questions that I always ask myself before delivering a new logo.

1. What emotions does the logo evoke?

Above all design guidelines, the most important criterion is whether the logo reflects the character of the company. The emotions that the logo evoke should be appropriate to the company values. For example, the Disney logo evokes a sense of happiness and optimism. The curvy, fun typeface is appropriate for a company that has been making cartoons and animated pictures for kids. However, a similar logo style on a sales platform would not be appropriate.

Designers should understand the psychology of colors and the effect that typeface has on the design of a great logo. For example, green promotes relaxation and usually reflects growth, health, and the environment. Red, on the other hand, may evoke danger and passionate emotions. Similarly for typefaces, Garamond, Helvetica, and Comic Sans all elicit very different sentiments. Serif fonts like Garamond promote the idea of respect and tradition, and are hence more suitable for an environment that demands integrity such as a university or a news publisher. Sans Serif fonts like Helvetica are clean and modern, and are well suited for high-tech businesses. Casual script fonts like Comic Sans are probably best left for fun companies such as toy companies. A good understanding of the psychology of colors, typefaces, and shapes is an important part of making a great logo.

The styling of the Disney logo is appropriate for a company that aims to be fun, but such a style would not be appropriate for a sales platform company.

2. What's the meaning behind the logo?

Behind every great logo is a story. A great logo is not about slapping your business name on a generic shape, which is why choosing from ready-made logos is a poor idea. A logo has to have a meaningful story. A good designer first understands the culture of the company, the tone of the product, and the vision of the business, much before embarking on ideas for the logo. The end result of a quality logo is reflective of the philosophy and values of the company.

The arrow in the logo represents that Amazon sells everything from A to Z and the smile on the customer's face when they buy a product.

3. Will the logo stand the test of time?

How will the logo look in two, 10, 20 years? Designers should avoid getting sucked into flavor-of the-month trends. Trends like ultra-thin fonts and flat shadows are design styles that will probably not stand the test of time. Simple is far better than complex. A simple yet memorable logo can be used in 20 years without looking dated.

A good way to test the logo is to let it sit with you for a while before releasing it. Some logos grow with you--the more you look at it, the more you like it. Some logos start to feel nauseating after a while--the more you look at it, the more you hate it. If after a couple of weeks with the logo you find it boring, the logo is probably not strong or timeless enough.

The simplistic outline and shape of the Apple Inc. logo allows it to endure the test of time. The first prototype of the logo would definitely not be suitable today.

4. Is it unique? Can it be instantly recognizable?

A great logo is distinctive, memorable, and recognizable. Even if you have only seen it once, you should still be able to remember what it looks like after a period of time. A good way to test this is to show your logo to a friend, then cover it up and have your friend describe the logo in a week. A fresh pair of eyes can be very effective in figuring out the most memorable components of a logo.

In addition, if the logo reminds you of others you have seen, it is not distinct enough.

The logos of Path and Pinterest are very similar.

5. How does it look in black and white?

When I begin designing a logo, I always start in black and white. Designing with this limitation first forces you to make sure that the logo is recognizable purely by its shape and outline, and not by its color. A strong logo is one that is still memorable just by its contours.

A one-color logo also provides the benefit of using your brand easily in multiple mediums with different backgrounds and textures.

It is much harder to recognize the National Geographic symbol once we remove its signature yellow color.

6. Is it clear and distinct in small dimensions?

Another way to make sure logos are simple and recognizable is to scale it down dramatically. Even at tiny resolutions, a strong logo should still be recognizable at a glance. This is also a good test to make sure that the logo is not complicated with unnecessary design flourishes. Here, you see that the Nike, McDonalds, Twitter, and WWF logos are still very distinct at small sizes. The GE and Starbucks logos are far more cluttered, and less recognizable when they are small.

These are not hard-and-fast rules, just guidelines for making an effective logo. It is still possible to make a strong, complicated logo, but understand the trade-offs.

This article was edited and republished with permission from the author. Read the original here.

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28 Comments

  • This is a fantastic topline article on designing a logo or brandmark, though I am inclined to agree with Harry - brand is stronger and made up of more than said logo. I was talking about some similar ideas over on my blog, specifically from the skew of a small business establishing a logo and brand. Check it out if you're interested! http://bit.ly/1qf5bff

  • Alison Tugwell

    As someone that comes from a (fashion) design background and is transitioning into the digital marketing space, I found this article to be a great foundation for basic principles to keep in mind when designing a logo. Thanks!

  • koenahn

    I suppose that's like saying you can "design user experience" when you really mean to say you can "supply the ingredients that will likely result in the user experience you seek to accomplish". Don't give Lo Min Ming a hard time over some formulation technicality: these are helpful tips regardless.

  • "Your company's logo is the foundation of your business branding" - Actually, it's one representation of the brand. A big one, clearly, but the brand, positioning, attributes, etc are the foundation.

  • helen.bartley

    Sacred geometry? I can't argue with visual shorthand that conveys -- subliminally or consciously -- a world in perfect balance, drawing on the primordial essence of our oneness with the cosmos and all that lies within it and beyond. Can we assume the use of sacred geometry was understood & intentional in the featured logos? Brilliant design can be spontaneous & the immediacy can be, in itself, sacred. If one lives a life of awareness and empathy... well, you don't need no stinkin' math. Or the rigidity of diagrams. Or to be told the meaning of green. Be. Free.

  • of course we've overlooked one crucial element of branding. That is budget. You can design the single most hurtful eye-shafting fuck-cake of a logo and it will be around forever and be a 'classic' if the company it is for is popular and successful and chucks tonnes of cash at promoting it. Sometimes a good logo is not a beautiful., well thought out, designer's hard-on inducing work of visual magic, sometimes it's just something that someone did in MS Paint or Word®.

    Prime example, Google. It's a shit-awful looking logo BUT it is a super successful one and hugely powerful because it has been made to be those things by the company that uses it.

    THREEMATIC TONY said the most insightful thing here "Bottom line: make a good logo, but make a damn good business."

    This is the only rule of business. No amount of chin stroking hipster designers will ever make a logo so good that it can carry a bad business. However, a great business can make the worst logo a thing of wonder.

  • helen.bartley

    Is this article intended for designers? Not sure who else would be reading Co.Design, but this is so incredibly basic:
    "[G]reen promotes relaxation .... "? "Red...may evoke danger and passionate emotions"? Please, let's do what we can to avoid all the tired old rules whenever possible and come up with some new ones. Throw Garamond under the bus and do that annual report in Comic Sans. We need more room to be creative not less. If we restrict ourselves to the tried and true use of type & color, we're not doing our jobs. When you're branding a company, you are the creative guide for your client. Lead them to a place where green Garamond could drive everyone into a wild frenzy. (Oh... and I'd forget about the 20-year longevity rule, too. If the company is still around in 2 decades, hopefully they've evolved and you've designed a logo that could evolve along with them.)

  • chris

    Helen & Gareth; writing articles for a design blog that caters for not only seasoned professionals but to design students and juniors is not easy. Although I found this article to be concise and generic (its intended purpose), I also found it to be a good general guide.

    His references to colour are correct... Whether you like it or not. These feelings are perceptions of western society - it's engrained. As a designer I too will push the boundaries to explore new meanings and outcomes that can change perceptions in certain circumstances but you can't knock him for presenting a correct general guide. Eg: if you were to disregard general perception and create a red logo for an environmental sustainability company just because you want to be free from stereotype then you do so at your own peril.... I'd suggest you'd be designing for yourself rather than the client's consumer. My view is that this article presents a great start point for designers.

  • pskoa

    The KOA (Kampgrounds Of America) logo is now 50 years old. It still is vibrant and appropriate as it was in 1962. www.koa.com

  • Flip the argument. Google, GoDaddy, Spotify; each one have amateurish logo designs. The emotion the company evokes makes the logo credible, and in Google's case, even revered. Bottom line: make a good logo, but make a damn good business.

  • I'd add Facebook to that pile of horrible looking logos. The product or service is what gives a logo value. People inexplicably "love" Facebook despite their logo looking like a 3-year old designed it.