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The 10 Commandments Of Logo Design

Breaking the top rules of designing logos. One at a time

The internet is littered with design websites, the library is full of design books and most them feature their own variation of The 10 Rules of Logo Design. We have ours too. It’s almost like these logo design rules are Design Commandments and should not, cannot and must not be broken by any designer or their clients. But are these rules carved in stone, just like the tablets Moses brought down from Mount Sinai? Is breaking any of these rules tantamount to committing design heresy? Over the years, we’ve discovered that there’s some rather large wiggle room and we can break some, most or every single established rules that have been established for designing a logo. Let’s go down the top ten:

Commandment #10: Thou shalt logo thyself from obscurity.

Regardless of how fantastic your new logo is, it certainly isn’t a magic wand that erases a multitude of corporate sins. A a logo’s just part of your overall brand (albeit a fairly important one) and if your company is awful with its customer service, your products are defective more often than not, or your phone automatically goes to voice mail when people call, there hasn’t been a logo invented that will undo that kind of bad corporate image. Looking after what your company does is far more important to the ‘big picture’ than how your company looks.

Rule #9: When coin is tight, thou shalt maketh a covenant with a mediocre logo.

This simply isn’t true. Due to budget constraints, many business owners still believe that a mediocre logo is better than none at all. This is a natural result of this ‘that’s good enough’ era which is faulty logic. If you’ve decided that a logo is needed to use to identify your company, isn’t it a worthwhile exercise to develop a good one? Let’s break a logo design rule right now – rather than a lackluster, mediocre or unoriginal logo, it’s best to have none at all. Many successful companies have marketed themselves quite well with their name in a simple text logo, concentrating on other ways to distinguish their brand in the marketplace.

Commandment #8: Thou shalt shelleth out five grand for thy new logo.

We’re not sure where the five thousand dollar figure came from, but it seems to be the price tag that gets thrown out, often during heated discussion about budget logo design on the internet, and usually be companies that are trying to muddy the waters as to what is, and what isn’t, effective logo design. The pitch usually goes like this:

“Up until we launched our logo design website, small businesses couldn’t afford to pay five thousand dollars for a logo.”

Trouble is, that figure has been pulled completely out of thin air. Very few companies page $5,000 for a logo. And when they do, it’s for a lot more than just a logo. More like a complete corporate branding rollout. There are lots of vendors that charge less than five grand. Take a look at our logo design pricing for one such example. We’re not saying you have to select our little design company (though we hope you do). Here’s some tips on hiring a logo designer that doesn’t mention the five thousand figure once..

Commandment #7: Rememberith thy logo and keep it unchanged.

It is true that any logo will only get traction with the marketplace through repeated use and exposure. That only makes sense. However, that doesn’t mean you should be stuck with a bad logo forever or that by changing your logo, you’re committing some cardinal graphic design sin. Far from it. If the cartoon pirate your little nephew designed for your accounting practice is no longer resonating with people looking for accounting services, then change your bloody logo. It’s gonna cost a little of time, and will set you back in the expenses department, but the longer you use a logo that doesn’t work, the longer it’s going to take you to get your clientele to become attached to a new one. A logo isn’t some marketing holy ground, so if you honestly believe it no longer works, feel free to change the icon you’ve been using since starting your business from your kitchen. One caveat – you should make any changes to your brand carefully, as too many rebranding efforts will defeat the very purpose of having a brand n the first place. One of two logo reworks are an improvement to your company image. Any more than that and your company runs the risk of having a multiple personality territory. That’s not good for business.

Commandment #6: Thou shalt not worship multiple or varied logos.

There have been thousand-page manuals written that lay out rule after rule on how to use this logo or that. What size it should be. How close the logo can get to type and other graphic elements. The number of colors. Etc. Etc. Etc. This is all fine and dandy – it’s how major corporations build their ‘look and feel,’ but is this really the approach for Johnny Appleseed? Maybe not. Large corporations are so anal about their brand guidelines because their logo is being plastered on hundreds of items everyday, by different vendors and suppliers, often in different countries where language can be an issue. There has to be some form of consistent use of large corporation logos, or else we’ll end up with Coke logos that are purple and teal, or Nike logos that are backwards, upside down and spelt Nicke. If you’re in control of the logo guidelines for your own company, don’t be afraid to play around with your logo a bit. Use the icon portion solo. Use the text on its own. Mix up the colors around. As you’re about six degrees of separation from all your marketing material, things won’t get too out of hand without your say so. When you grow to an international enterprise, with hundreds of designers who toil on your marketing and advertising material while you’re on your yacht, then by all means, knock out your own logo usage guidelines. Until then, have fun. Or let your designer have fun. You’ll be amazed at the results.

Commandment #5: Honor your logo with a maximum of two colors.

This rule is a little more stricter than others, but technology and printing prices have given us more flexibility than previously available. This rule was carved in stone many years ago when four color process printing was incredibly expensive, especially when it came to often reprinted, non-revenue generating staples like business cards and letterheads. Much more economical spot color printing, using Pantone Swatch books to bypass CMYK printing, was a much more attractive approach for most small businesses on limited budgets. And designers designed everything accordingly. One and two color spot logos became the lay of the land and nobody dared designed printed material that strayed from this insurmountable rule. Designing logos is a bit different these days, with many printing companies even refusing to print spot color, preferring to convert everything into CMYK in order to print their material in ‘gang runs.’ CMYK colors also translate more accurately into RGB palettes – the method of reproducing logos on websites and blogs. Storefront light boxes and vehicle wraps also use digital full color printing (as opposed to previous dye-cut vinyl signage that was available only in a limited selection of Pantone colors.) Designers are a little freer to design multi-colored logos if we so choose. We can’t break this rule entirely though – if you’re a stickler for exacting color accuracy then Pantone colors are still the way to go. Color accuracy through CMYK printing can be inaccurate at times, with some budget online printers being less accurate than others. This is especially true if your brochures, letterheads or business cards are being ‘gang run” on a large sheet with multiple projects, all with varying color densities.

Commandment #4: Thou shalt not commit blending or gradients.

Everything we just discussed about spot and four color process, applies to this rule as well. Most color blends and gradients require 4 color process printing to print (setting up a blend in spot color can be difficult) and they became taboo for logo design during the spot color era. Not so much today. Before getting carried away with blend and gradients, we should keep this in mind. Even though we can be a more flexible in their application, there are still technical issues with logos that feature this often abused technique. As the number of colors required to render a blend properly almost always exceeds the number of colors available for certain web file formats (.GIFs for example,) banding is a real concern with it comes to low resolution reproduction. Bands of solid colors are formed to complete the effect, rather than a smooth blended appearance. We can get around that by using better file formats (.PNG files for example) but it’s still something to keep in mind (see our logo file format reference guide for more). Blended logos don’t scale very nicely, especially on the small size, so if your company logo is going to be used a lot at postage stamp size, you should probably still tread carefully.

Commandment #3: Honor the latest trend, as heralded by experts.

Every Christmas, logo design experts, and people who like to write about logos often publish great articles that predict the upcoming logo trends for the new year, or take a look at the observable trends that had emerged during the last. These are great articles to read, and certainly interesting for the graphic designer, but they’re not logo design blueprints to follow. Design trends get overused rather quickly as tend to die off rapidly as people tire of the latest visual phenomenon. Trouble is, everyone that jumped on the bandwagon are left with logos that aren’t so trendy anymore. Best to aim for timeless and sensibly constructed simple logos. You may think your logo is ‘boring’ now, but you’ll feel much better about things when the trend everyone followed in January, is out in August.

Commandment #2: Thou shalt maketh all logo designs simple.

Here’s some decent advice. We should always design logos for the lowest common denominator. The absolutely worst, most artwork hostile reproduction method that the design is likely to be reproduced with. Printing your logos on pens is one such environment. The logo’s used very small. Not much, if any, color freedom. Extremely low resolution on the screens used to print. If you’re going to print a lot of pens a simple logo is the way to go. One color might help too. But what if you’re never, ever, going to reproduce your logo on a pen? Then it’s quite possible to up your game a little, adding a little complexity to your logo. See, that’s the thing about complex vs. simple logos. A complex, illustrative logo is quite acceptable, if a complex, illustrative logo is what’s called for. As a lot of our logos tend to lean towards illustrative, we often get grief from other designers for overly complex logos, but in our defense, we’re also quite capable of developing simple text and iconic logos too. And we often push clients towards simple design (see a case for simple logos to see one should incident). It always depends on what your application calls for. Sure, there are some very real advantages of simple treatments, and there’s a lot of successful simple marks around. Though technology, both in design and reproduction, had given us a lot more latitude into what we can do. We’re not saying your logo should involve a War & Peace extravaganza, but a little creative muscle flexing is certainly an option for you or your designers. Like most of our rules, it comes down to common sense and appropriateness of the imagery you want to represent your company.

Commandment #1: Thou shalt not covet thy neighbors’ logo.

This is still a rule. And we can only break it a little. Copying a logo is never okay. There’s all sorts of copyright and trademark ramifications. However, it’s perfectly acceptable to look at other logos for inspiration. All sorts of designers scope out other people’s work for logo design ideas. That’s were most ideas come from, as creative people crib, mix and rehash other concepts to make their own unique work, though copying flat out is a very bad idea.

And there you have it. Out of 10 logo design rules, we managed to break 9.5 of them. That’s not bad at all.

The Logo! Factor blog for designers & clients
The Logo! Factor is the official design blog of The Logo Factory, offering features for business owners and designers alike. To receive notifications of new releases, subscribe to our Design Dispatches mailing list.

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