Designing a great logo isn’t just a matter of sitting down in front of a fired-up version of Illustrator and pushing pixels around a screen. Those aren’t ideas. They’re random digital doodles. Creating a logo is the art of bringing an idea, a concept, to fruition. The software you use is the final step, not the first. So how does a designer develop the skill of coming up with great logo ideas on a fairly consistent basis? Here’s a few sure-fire ways to improve your logo conceptualizing skills.
Take a trip to your local library and read some dead tree logo design books and graphic design magazines. And while it’s true that great logo design does not happen in a vacuum, luckily you’re living in the wired age and the internet is awash with information, concepts, doodles, opinions and examples. There are tons of blogs that offer a wealth of in-the-trenches advice on an almost daily basis. From people who specialize in logo design, branding, corporate identity and almost every facet of the niche to major agencies whose ’secrets’ are available with only a few mouse clicks. Never before has so much information and design inspiration been available for so little effort. Get out there and read about logos, particularly from designers who are willing to share a little behind the scenes ‘info’. You’ll be able to get all sorts of ideas while sitting in front of your computer of iPad. A word of warning though. Trawling the internet for logo ideas doesn’t mean looking for ideas to knock-off. You’re looking for inspiration, so let’s draw the line there. Even if you’re short on ideas, copying logos is never cool, m’kay?
One of the most valuable idea banks you will ever own is a sketchbook. If you tell me “I can’t draw” then I’ll simply ask “why not?” I’ve always been of the impression that anyone, with enough practice, can become a decent draftsman. While illustrators with exceptional talent owe some of their magnificence to God given genetics, most of us can develop adequate drawing skills by simply spending enough time doing it. And in developing these skills, we can learn to look at the world from a linear and graphic perspective, something that will only help when it comes to coming up with unique logo ideas and concepts.
Accordingly, this is extremely important (and something that I often neglect to do). If you haven’t already, get yourself a sketchbook. Doesn’t have to be terribly fancy, you can probably pick up a nice hardcover sketch book for about $10 at your local art store. Try to doodle a few times a week. It can be anything. Items lying around your desk. People and objects at your neighborhood park. The mall. Ideas that come to your head. Jot down your ideas. Thoughts. Random concepts. And here’s the key – don’t tear anything out, regardless of how bad you think your drawing is. Keep ‘em all. Break things down into their simple shapes – cubes, spheres and polygons. These random illustrations, sketches and notes will become an idea library, as well as a journal of both your progress (and in many ways, your life). Once in a while, pick a simple idea or company theme and sketch out a couple of pages of logo ideas. Doesn’t matter how bad, or how good they are. The idea of this exercise is to get used to getting your ideas, sometimes extremely fleeting, down on paper.
Another tip: use a magic marker (I’m partial to Pilot Fineliners) as these are permanent and force you to get your ideas to paper in absolute black and white, rather than the full range of tones made available by using a pencil. Using a marker also forces you to be decisive, bold and unforgiving. Think in terms of negative and positive spaces (see the hidden arrow in the FedEx logo). If you’re trying to design a logo that incorporates an actual object, a bee or fish let’s say, try to draw it using a few shapes as possible. Then try to remove a shape or two to make your iconic bee or fish even simpler as the idea of this minimalist doodling is to capture the essence of the object, not a photo-realistic representation.
Here’s a fun idea generating exercise too. Throw together two unrelated words – car & bones, cat & fish, airplane & fork – and try to develop concepts and ideas around those. While I so hate the phrase “thinking outside the box” these exercises will, in fact, help you think outside of it. And if you utilize your sketchbook often enough, you’ll have a library of rough concepts and ideas for actual logo projects that come your way. It will also train you to think beyond the limitations your design software may have, or past the vector drawing limitations you have yet to break through.
We’re surrounded by logos. After typing that sentence, I gave myself 10 seconds and counted the number of recognizable logos lying on and around my admittedly messy desktop. 39. That’s a heck of a lot of reference material for the would-be logo designer. But just don’t glance at the logos around you. Really look at them. Find ones you like and try to figure out why you like them. Perform the same exercise with logos you don’t like. More importantly, try to figure out which logos are the most effective. Are they recognizable from a distance? Do they communicate a theme or a vibe that works for the product they’re meant to represent? Again, try and decipher which logos aren’t particularly effective. And then see what you’d do differently.
Look at the logos on light boxes over stores when travelling around town. Try to figure out which ones work. Which don’t. Read logo design themed blogs that dissect logos and offer case studies. You don’t have to agree with the critiques, but have a reason or two why you don’t. While liking and not-liking logos often comes down to a version of “beauty is in the eye of the beholder“, try and figure out the pearls from swine. See, when it comes to logo design, and other than obvious design catastrophes, there’s no real right or wrong. It’s more important that you have a reason for your opinion that goes beyond “that sucks” or “wow, that’s cool.” See if you can determine the idea behind the design concepts you’re looking at. If you’re reading a logo design blog, and don’t understand something, don’t be shy about asking questions about the articles you’re reading or the case studies you’re looking at. Ask the author how they came up with the idea for a logo that you particularly like. You’ll find that most designers are very generous with their time. And sharing their ideas.
Before long, you’ll be a master at developing your own logo concepts and bringing them to market. And isn’t that what being a successful logo designer is all about?