Seven Golden Rules
(Pretty-much) ‘carved-in-stone’ (almost) absolutes of logo design
While the variables are infinite – a good thing, it means that every logo can be original and unique – there are certain benchmarks (I hesitate to call them arbitrary “rules” but that’s what people recognize) that if you follow, will pretty well insure that you’ll end up with a decent and workable logo. While whether or not any logo is ‘good’ remains completely subjective, following these pointers will give you a logo that’s usable, practical and promising a long shelf life.
Your logo should be able to stand out as completely ‘yours.’ It’s surprising how many times we get asked to copy logos – we’ve even had clients request a ‘version’ of The Logo Factory house. Not a good idea. On top of the potential legal complications nothing screams ‘unprofessional’ like a logo that’s looks even remotely like someone else. Do not engage in copying logos. I’ll say it again. Do. Not. Copy.
Every once in a while I get into online debates about the notion of a logo being “timeless” because many people don’t understand what it actually means . It doesn’t mean that you can’t change your logo (many major corporations do, and quite often.) It doesn’t mean that you need to be able to predict what will be vogue five years from now and design for that. Nah, timeless simply means avoiding the latest ‘trendy’ design gimmick currently being thrown at everything. Every few years there’s a trend, or fad, that new logos seems to embrace. A few years ago it was the ‘swoosh’ – made logos all hi-tech and ‘internety’. Trouble is, everybody jumped on that bandwagon and the treatment rapidly became hackneyed and trite. Few years hence, and we’ve got lots of people stuck with out of date designs. The latest design logo trend is so-called flat-design, a technique that (like a lot of design trends) can be traced back to websites and adapting images for use on same. Flat images tend to render accurately across all monitors, are quick to download and don’t have transparency issues when used as a PNG file on a web page. It’s not really a bad thing, so I imagine flat design will be around for a while, until someone with clout decides it ain’t a thing anymore, then the trend will pivot back to blends and drop shadows again. Speaking of drop shadows..
3) Gimmick free.
Special FX and filters are usually applied, by inexperienced designers, to logo concepts that are ‘missing something.’ Trouble is, what the design is generally missing is any design integrity, and adding bevels, lens flares and drop shadows is the logo design version of ‘putting lipstick on a pig.’ While it certainly shows how cool your latest design software is, it doesn’t do much for the professionalism of your mark. Such treatments are fine for glamor shots (used as display pieces on brochures and the like) but used on the standard version of your logo, are only going to cause grief down the road, especially when it comes to its application of on typical business material. Your logo should be as technically simple as possible for adaptability, which just happened to be number 4 on our list…
Over the life of your company, you’ll want to plaster your logo over everything you send out. That’s the point of having one in the first place. In order to do this, you’ll need a logo that’s adaptable to every occasion and while they may look ‘pretty,’ the design gimmicks we just talked about render your logo impractical for many of these uses – checks, FAXs, embroidery, newspaper ads, invoices, letterheads, etc. Your new logo has to work on all of them. You’ll also need a quality black and white version of your logo that can reproduce as a halftone grayscale, or in the cases of low-resolution BW reproduction, a linear version.
When using your logo, you’ll need to be able to use it small. Real small. Postage stamp size. Classic example of this – over the years, I’ve designed a load of sports event posters that feature logos from dozens of event sponsors. Space only permits the logos to be featured as very small images and it’s always the simple designs that stand out when viewed from a distance. The cluttered logos aren’t recognizable to any great degree and the sponsors are probably wasting their money, especially if inclusion on the poster is the only benefit of their sponsorship. When it comes to scalability, the text portion is the most important, as that’s the piece you want people to remember. Scrawny, sickly text doesn’t read very well at half an inch high.
6) Color is secondary.
Colors are extremely important. Using consistent corporate colors will become part of your brand – that’s understood. However, when it comes to the design of your logo, color must always be secondary. A logo that requires color to ‘hold’ the design together is fine when reproduction is optimal – websites, 4 color process printing and what have you – but even then only if the size is appropriate as well. Logos that rely too much on color tend to blend together when used small and unless the contrast between the two colors is pronounced, will be a grey mess if used in black and white. As for low-resolution reproduction (FAXs, checks, etc) you can forget about readability completely – logos that use color as a design cornerstone usually come out as black blotches on a FAX transmission and with all their money, banks still haven’t figured out how to print a decent check.
7) Appropriate aspect ratio & footprint.
The aspect ratio of a logo is the relationship between its height and its width. Bottom line, you don’t want a logo that’s too tall, or too wide. A square design is always best as this allows the maximum adaptability of a logo, especially when it’s being used in conjunction with other artwork. The ‘footprint’ of a logo refers to the amount of physical space that’s required to place a logo on any page. If the footprint is ‘wonky’ – trailing design elements ‘poke’ outside the footprint – it can greatly affect the size that the design can be used at, as well as the visual impact of same. See here for more footprints and aspect ratios.
How does our logo stack up?
Like most ‘rules’ of design, not all of these will apply in every situation, and in many cases, we’ll break rules completely. Even our studio hasn’t been absolute when it comes to following our own pointers. Not bad mind you, but certainly not perfect. Let’s take a look at the evolution of our logo;
Our first “official” logo, for example, didn’t reproduce very well at small sizes. Earlier versions of the logo depended on color far too much for the design so any small, or black and white usage, would see the house becoming ‘muddy.’ Overall, the aspect ratios of all our logo versions have been pretty good – generally speaking, the logo has always been able to remain fairly large in relationship to the space available. The footprint of earlier versions were a little off (the house was much higher than the typography) but there wasn’t a lot we could have done about that (the house needs it’s smokestacks.) Original designs scored very high on ‘uniqueness’ (enough to be granted registered trademark status in multiple countries.) That’s because the icon is based on a house, not an actual factory, and avoids the typical cliches. Our latest text & cog mark is only so-so. We got some cog action going on, but so does everyone and their dog. Having said that, our current logo can be used effectively on low-resolution material, works really nicely when sitting on a dark background and is recognizable even at the micro sizes of social media program. Looks pretty decent on our stationery & business cards too.
All in all, we ‘d score our own adherence to the 7 Golden Rules at about a B-.
Visit our legacy blog to see how we redesigned our own logo in an extensive step-by-step case study.