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If you’re first-timer new to designing logos or just want some advice on building your brand, here’s a few basic pointers to get you on the right track.

After spending some time on naming your new company, registering that matching domain name, we’re now ready to get down to business – the point of this entire series – designing a logo. Before we start scribbling away, we’re going to take a look at some things you’ll need to kick around during our upcoming brainstorming sessions. Some ‘rules of logo design’ if you will. By keeping these things in mind, you’ll be able to avoid some serious potentially costly missteps and common design errors. This is not the definitive list of design dos and don’ts – not by a long shot – but by keeping these pointers in mind you stand a decent chance of developing a workable logo on your own.

What not to do.

First, we’re going to talk about things you’re not going to do. Your first inclination may be to reach for some clip art images you’ve got lying around your hard drive, downloadable from some design site, or from one of these do-it-yourself logo generators (LogoYes.com, LogoMaker.com, InstaLogo.com, et al). Just stop right there. You want to design your own logo, not use logo clip art that’s available to anyone with an internet connection.
no-clip-art-logosThis series is about designing a unique logo, and all of these do-it-yourself solutions are the very antithesis of unique. They may be cheap, but in very real terms you get what you pay for – thirty-nine bucks doesn’t buy a lot of logo. Granted, by designing a logo yourself, you’re paying nothing, but the cost is extracted via the very real effort you have to put into your project. Despite their claims to the contrary, do-it-yourself logo generators are repositories of someone else’s design offcasts, unoriginal in the extreme, and designed to convince you that you’re getting something that you’re not. A decent logo. If you’re only interested in slapping a pretty picture on a business card, and very little else, then stop reading right now and go for it. If you’re interested in developing a company logo that has longevity, originality and portrays your company in a serious light, then cast clip art from your mind and read on. I’ve assembled a series of notes, pinched from our logo design tips section, re-jigged and updated for our do-it-yourself series.

Keeping it nice and simple.

An overly complex logo can be difficult to reproduce, difficult to remember and in terms of this do-it-yourself series, difficult for you to develop and render.
simple-logos-bestThere are times when illustrative logos are what the design doctor ordered, but development of same will probably involve the services of a fairly skilled designer. That involves hiring someone else – not what we’re talking about here. Unless you’re fairly adept at drawing stuff with a reasonable degree of proficiency, you’re probably going to focus on simple shapes and objects for your logo, as opposed to complex characters and illustrations. Conversely, if you still really, really want an illustrative design, there’s nothing to stop you from working up some rough ideas on your own, and presenting them to a professional designer who can then turn your hand drawn doodles into rendered artwork.

Packing for Vacation school of Graphic Design.

Illustrative logos aside, and if this is you first (or near first) attempt at designing a logo, you’ll probably be tempted to ‘go to town’. You want your logo to graphically represent a whole bunch of different things – quality, speed, uniqueness what have you – and you want to squeeze as many visual metaphors into the design as possible.

Don’t.

While a war-and-peace design may be your idea of a great logo, it just won’t perform as well as a simple one. A complex logo can be difficult to reproduce and more importantly, difficult to remember. If you’re tempted to shoe-horn a load of distinct visual elements into your rough doodles, treat your sketches as you would packing for a vacation. Feel free to put them in, but force yourself to take them out.

A logo doesn’t have to portray exactly what your company does.

It’s true. While you may be tempted to create a design that illustrates, in very real terms, your core business activity, this isn’t a necessity. Sometimes it’s not even recommended. Think of the McDonald’s Golden Arches. No french fries or hamburgers to be seen. How about the FedEx logo? Not a truck or plane in sight. Look at the Nike swoosh – arguably one of the most successful logos of all time. No sneakers, golf shirts or track pants. While a logo that portrays an element of the company is sometimes appropriate, it’s often better to design a logo that’s void of graphic detail – a logo that can be adopted to whatever directions the company may take. Look at the Apple (computers) logo. It is an apple. But there’s no indication that it belongs to a computer company (good thing too – the company recently rebranded themselves as as Apple Inc. in order to embrace their expansion into the entertainment and electronics market).

Size does matter.

Actually, this is one of the most important things to keep in mind, if not the most important. Most company logos need to reproduce at a wide variety of different sizes – more frequently on the smallish side. Extremely complex logos can ‘gum up’ when reproduced as a very small image, especially on a website when we’ve only got 72 dpi (dots per inch) resolution to work with. You should also think about business cards, fax header. How about promotional items like a key chain? Or a ballpoint pen? Look at the Nike ‘swoosh’. Not a terribly dynamic logo but it is recognizable on a shirt sleeve on the television where a complex logo wouldn’t be. There may be times when your mark is reproduced on mega-sized media as well. Something like a billboard. Or the side of a truck. Keeping in mind how your logo is going to be used, both in size and types of media, can help you design a mark that’s appropriate in terms of complexity.

How your logo fits.

This extremely important facet of any design is often overlooked, even by design professionals, and will determine how successfully your logo will integrate into various applications. The aspect ratio of your logo (the relationship between the height and width of a logo) is an absolutely critical consideration when laying out the basic parameters to your new mark. First of all, a logo that is too tall and skinny, or too wide and short, will not be visually pleasing.aspect-ratiosMore importantly, you’ll end up with all sorts of layout issues when it comes to fitting your logo into various types of support artwork, especially when it’s to be combined with other graphic elements (ie: business card, websites, etc). Here’s a few types of aspect ratios. A logo that is closer to a ‘golden ratio‘ (a business card is pretty good example of a golden ratio) is much more pleasing and more adaptable to working in other artwork. Square is acceptable as well – logos that use a circle logos are strong visually due to their ‘square aspect ratio’. While we’re at it, probably wouldn’t be such a bad idea to acquaint yourself with our logo design help center if you have a few to spare.

Your Logo Footprint.

A ‘footprint’ of a logo is a term we coined several years ago when trying to figure out what made an effective logo, as opposed to just a ‘nice’ one. A simple concept really. The footprint of any design refers to the absolute physical boundaries that are required for reproduction of a mark.
logo-footprintQuite literally, you can imagine your new logo’s footprint as the bounding box around the minimum area needed to reproduce your spiffy design. It’s important to note as part of this series, as this ‘footprint’ factor is often overlooked when inexperienced designers are developing their first logos. When sketching your first logo, it’s important to keep in mind ‘trailing elements’ of the preliminary design – that is, parts of your logo that extend beyond the main image area.

Separate your symbol and text.

If you’re planning to use both an iconic logo and a textual treatment in the development of your business logo, it’s best to have the elements as distinct pieces of artwork (as opposed to overlapping, intertwining, etc). This way, you’ll be able to use either the text or icon solo, and the logo will still stand up as being representative of your company or product.

Your logo is for your audience.

Naturally, you want to like your logo (we’ve know lots of times were people are reluctant to use their logo as they no longer ‘like’ it). On the other hand, keep in mind that your logo is to appeal to your customers, and should be created with them in mind. You may be the most conservative person on the planet, but if you’re trying to market to the hip-hop crowd, your sensibilities are probably different than your ‘audience’. A logo that you ‘like’ probably won’t appeal to them.

Your company’s essence and ‘theme’.

When we were dealing with naming your new company a few installments back, you probably developed a sense of direction for your business. A theme that will be the focus of all your branding and marketing endeavors. Quality services. Cheap prices. Boutique level attention to detail. Fast. Reliable. These are the types of themes that your logo will need to reflect. Are you a serious company, or one that revels in being whimsical. Are you appealing to a conservative, well-heeled market? Then a cartoon logo is probably not an option. Trying to brand a restaurant or a casual coffee shop? Then a logo that would be appropriate for a financial institution probably won’t cut it for your needs. Understanding your particular company’s ‘theme’ is important. It is this ‘theme’ that will form the baseline and creative direction your new logo will take. Think of it this way. You’d take a different approach to designing real estate logos than you would when developing a mark for a heavy metal website.

Your logo has to have ‘instant impact’.

Your new logo will probably never have the luxury of being in your audience’s eye for a lot of time. More than likely, you only have a few seconds (at the outside) to ‘grab’ the viewers attention and tell your story. If your logo needs to be deciphered, or has an elaborate ‘back story’ (see metaphor light) there’s probably little chance that it will communicate the essence of your company, service or product effectively. And fast.

Strive to be ‘different’. Your logo needs to be unique.

You’d be surprised how many clients have asked our designers to create logos that are very similar to their competitors (answer’s always no). You’d probably be shocked at the number of times people have wanted to purchase a logo that’s featured in our logo design gallery. (Again, the answer’s no) Kinds misses the point of the whole deal. The idea of your own logo is just that – your own logo. Unique. Memorable. While it can be helpful to look at logos that your competitors are using (or even people in the same industry), this should never be used as a guide to creating your logo. The idea here is to be different than your competitors. To stand out in a cluttered marketplace. To have a logo that’s better than theirs Or, at the very least – different.

Color isn’t important in the initial design phases.

Colors don’t mean diddly in the first concept phases, the most important initial part of your project being the design itself. You may already have corporate colors picked out and to be sure, it’s nice to see your logo in the colors that you’ll eventually use, but when we’re first doodling rough ideas, colors are of secondary importance. They can always be changed, or edited later.
power-colorsI’d even go as far to say that any logo that relies too much on color (or tones) to hold it together visually, always runs the risk of being mediocre. There are even times when your spiffy new logo will have to work in black and white. In fact, we’re not even going to touch color yet (we’ll be doodling in black and white anyway) other than to suggest that you brush up on the main types of color reproduction that will come into play later on – spot color and four color process. We’ll visit these concepts some more when it comes to adding color to your new design.

Keep your logo ‘metaphor light’.

While it’s an admirable goal for bits and pieces of your logo to actually ‘mean’ something (i.e. – this swoosh represents growth, this dot represents our product) sometimes first-time logo designers wish to write ‘War-and-Peace’ with their design metaphors. An overwrought logo is not a pretty sight. Bottom line – the most memorable logos are also the most simple; the memorable complex logos are often highly rendered illustrations, not a bunch of geometric shapes slapped together. Dozens of swooshes, dots and colors – all professing to ‘mean’ something will not mean anything to the first time viewer even though it might be a ‘cool’ back story to tell.

Have reasonable expectations of your new logo.

Keep in mind that your new logo is but the beginning. True, it’s an important beginning, but a beginning nonetheless. You shouldn’t expect your logo to single-handedly develop your company’s ‘brand’ and turn your new company into the latest commercial empire. Far from it. It is only by repeated use of your logo on marketing material (business cards, letterheads, website, etc) as well as some old-fashioned elbow-grease (business ethic, customer service, etc) that will develop your ‘brand’ or corporate image in today’s over saturated business market. Still, your new logo is the corner stone of these efforts, and it’s pretty important to get it right. For some more logo design help, you can always rummage through our library.