Designing Original Logos

10 tips to creating designs that stand the ‘originality’ test. Like snowflakes. But with logos. And design.

While it’s true that some logo rips are just that – blatant knock-offs of other people’s work, there are times when similar logos are created with the “like minds think alike” principle. Often it almost seems that design laziness that leads to inadvertent similarities, rather than nefarious intentions. Here’s a quick ten tips for designing original logos.

1. Use Google image search.

While Google image search is often used to find logos and themes for shady folks to copy, it can also be used to find concepts and designs that have already been used in order to AVOID copying someone else. If your logo concept involves a deer, then run searches for various keyword combinations – deer, logo, buck, icon, etc. You’ll be able to very quickly see a lot of the ideas already in circulation. And develop a list of concept approaches and design themes NOT to take.

2. Use the USPTO Database.

The US Patent and Trademark Office has a decent database of logos and designs that have already been registered. You’ll be able to see what other people are already using and have registered with the US government. Trademark protection is rather nebulous (designs that are similar can be judged as infringing) and the database doesn’t include logos that have recently been submitted for approval, but it will give you an overview of what’s already been done as it applies to your particular logo niche or theme.

3. Don’t start throwing together random shapes in illustrator.

This is were most designers end up creating logos that are similar to designs already out there. Illustrator only has a few vector shapes – circles, rectangles, stars, variations of hexagons and octagons. If your logo doesn’t have a concept (ie: it’s just a bunch of random shapes thrown together to look pretty) there’s a high likelihood that that random combination of shapes is already being used somewhere by someone else. Start off your new logo with a concept – it can just be a list of buzz words – and work from there. It’s highly unlikely you’ll come up with an original idea by creating polygons in illustrator and pushing them about your monitor.

4. Avoid Google image search.

True, you should use Google image search to look for logos to avoid, but using Google image search for design inspiration only leads to the dark side – copied logos. Even on a subconscious level, assembling a group of images and logos that look ‘like’ what you’re trying to accomplish runs the risk of polluting the design process and influencing your design’s originality. So while you’ll use image search to determine what you WON’T emulate, you shouldn’t use it for an idea bank when it comes to actually creating or conceptualizing your logo.

5. Do not use logos that you, or your client, like, as a design template.

One of the ways designers try to figure out what their clients are after is to ask them – “what logos do you like”. Clients often supply designers with a laundry list of links and images of logos they like as a ’starting point’. Trouble is, that ’starting point’ often becomes the art direction of the project itself. One of the reasons logos keep getting copied on logo design contest sites is that the contest holders often use logos in other designers’ portfolios as a The Logo Factor designer editionframe of reference for what they’re seeking. Some designers will use the examples as a direction, while others will out-and-out copy the designs provided. Seeing a list of logos that a client likes can help us determine what direction to go, but rather than trying to copy various elements of the logos supplied, try to determine what the logos have in common. Use that as a direction when you start from scratch. Better still, rather than asking clients WHAT logos they like, it’s better to ask WHY they like the logos that they do. Even better still, give up trying to figure out what established logos your client likes, and build a design direction based solely on their needs and requirements, rather than what they ‘like’ visually.

6. Do not use stock art in any logo concept. Ever.

Most stock art isn’t licensed for use in a logo. Period. Use of stock art in logo design creates all sorts of legal conundrums – who owns what, what can and can’t be trademarked, can other people still purchase the artwork once it’s been used as a brand, etc, etc, etc – so most stock companies refuse to let their material be used in this way. Besides, unless you can purchase the stock artwork as an exclusive property, before anyone else has used it, there’s no real point in using it anyway. You have no way of knowing how many times the design has been used elsewhere and what ownership rights have already been established. And if you are able to purchase stock exclusively, the cost is usually too high to make it’s use practical. Best policy is to avoid stock artwork completely. You should also avoid using clip art in logos for the very same reasons.

7. Adobe live trace is cool. But not for creating logos.

The internet is awash in photographs and reference material that designers can use when trying to develop accurate representations of real world objects. That’s cool. Vector conversion software like Adobe’s live trace has made converting photos into logo artwork a snap, but it’s not without complications and some IP considerations. Unless you’re using your own photograph, or the licensing of the photograph allows the use of a ‘derivative’ version to be used in a logo (see stock art above), building a logo from other people’s photos is a form of copying, especially when used straight-up. By all means, use photos and other peoples work for reference, but don’t use it as the logo artwork itself.

8. Start from sketch.

The easiest way to ensure that your logo is original is to start from sketches and doodles. Sure it’s time consuming and an additional step in this ‘get ‘er done fast’ world, but starting with pencil and paper is the surest way to develop an original logo. Ideas are quick, your own style will be built into the concepts, and you’ll come up with solutions that aren’t as apparent when simply pushing polygon shapes around in illustrator. When it comes to scanning the pencil drawings and doodles into illustrator, you’ll add more interpretation into the design, making the logo even more your own.

9. Be careful of client supplied material.

Often designers are asked by well-intentioned clients to incorporate images and/or artwork into a logo. Make sure that the client has the rights to the work, or if you’re a client, make sure you can legally ask your designer to add the artwork. Copyright infringement can be an odd beast (and often determined by who’s lawyer is bigger) so be very wary of introducing concepts, sketches or photograph reference that you’re not absolutely sure of where the original source is. Here’s bonus tip – If you’re a designer that’s been asked to incorporate (or to vectorize) artwork that’s being supplied by the client, make sure you get a waiver in which the client asserts they have the rights to use the work. If you’re a client, make sure you have the rights to use the artwork, and be prepared to sign that waiver.

10. Customize the logo font work

Using off-the-shelf fonts isn’t a problem (there’s often confusion with designers as to what can and can’t be done with commercial fonts in a logo) but simply typing out a company name in a readily available font isn’t the most original method. Customize the font work whenever possible. Join interesting letterform shapes. Use negative space in interesting ways. Replace whole letters with nifty little design flourishes and otherwise tweak commercial fonts to make them completely unique.

This was originally published in the older version of our Designer Lounge but due to some housecleaning and moving things around, we’ve republished it here to get it out of the way. It’s still a pretty solid piece that nobody found in its old spot, so we’re golden.