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Logo design tips

Design tips from the TLF team

The Logo Factory® designers have been in the ‘trenches’ for years, with thousands of successful logo design and corporate identity projects under their collective belts. With that in mind, who better to ask for a series of tips and pointers when it comes to developing great logos. Here’s some design advice from some of the best designers in the field. It should be noted that most of these tips are not absolutes (you’ll probably be able to find instances in our logo design examples or Daily Logos that will contradict each and every one). They are, however, a decent set of guidelines that will help you narrow in on the best logo for your particular requirements.

Start out right

When you’re in the market to have a new logo developed, there’s always the temptation to take some short cuts. Usually to save time, money or a combination of both. Trouble is, most of these ‘cookie cutter’ solutions will turn out to be neither inexpensive or fast, and may cause a ton of headaches down the road – especially when your fledgling company starts to become more high-profile. Some examples? You may think about using a clip art logo (not a good idea – the image probably isn’t licensed for use as a logo or if it is, is already being used by a load of other people). You may think about downloading a logo template (similarly not a good idea – as most of these template sites are ‘anonymous’ and you’re never going to be sure if the work is original. We’ve even found our client’s logos being passed of as a template. And even if the work is legit, it certainly won’t be unique. The very idea of ‘templates’ involves many people using the same design. And if it is unique, the chances that you’ll get the correct formats are slim). Hosting a logo design contest has similar drawbacks and caveats. At the end of the day, there’s only one effective way to design and original and effective logo, and that’s to work with a seasoned professional with the experience to get your job right. The Logo Factory is one such solution, but if you don’t elect to hire us, this advice still rings true for the company or designer that you do hire. Once you’ve selected your designer it’s time to start the actual creative process. Some things to keep in mind (this tip is explored in our ‘starting out right‘ podcast).

Simple is sometimes better

A complex logo can be difficult to reproduce and more importantly, difficult to remember. Better to have a simple logo for your main design, and a souped-up version (like a beauty shot for example) when a more complex version is appropriate, and/or the reproduction medium allows. Take a look at the company logos in our Showroom to get an idea of what we created for others.

A logo doesn’t have to convey what your company does

More often than not, business logos don’t actually portray what the company does. Or creates. Think the McDonald’s Golden Arches. No hamburgers. Think the FedEx logo. No trucks or planes (though a cool ‘hidden’ arrow). Think the Nike swoosh. No sneakers or golf shirts. etc. While sometimes having a logo that portrays an element of the company is appropriate, it’s often better to have a corporate logo that’s graphically void of detail – a logo that can be adapted to whatever direction the company takes. Think the Apple logo. True, it is an apple. But there’s no indication that it belongs to a computer company. That’s a pretty cool thing – the Apple logo looks just as cool on an iPod as it does on the top of a Powerbook.

Size matters

Your new logo needs to reproduce at a variety of different sizes – particularly on the smallish side. Overly complex logos can ‘gum up’ when reproduced as a very small image. Think business card design, fax header. How about a key chain? Or a ballpoint pen? Take a look at the Nike ‘swoosh’. Not a very dynamic logo but it is recognizable on a shirt sleeve on the television where a complex logo wouldn’t be. Think of your logo as a mega-sized image as well. Like a billboard. Knowing how your logo is going to be used, both in size and media, can help your designer create a logo that’s appropriate in terms of complexity.

Aspect Ratios

The aspect ratio (the relationship between the height and width of a logo) is critical. A logo that is too tall and skinny, or too wide and short, is not visually pleasing, and you’ll end up with all sorts of layout issues when it comes to setting up your logo in artwork, especially when combined with other graphic elements (ie: business card, websites, etc). A logo that is closer to a ‘golden mean’ (almost the aspect relationship of a business card) is much more pleasing and more adaptable to working in other artwork. Square is pretty cool too – circle logos are very strong visually due to their ‘square aspect ratio’ (see here for more on logo aspect ratios & logo footprints). When it comes to using a logo in social media, a square format is pretty well it.

Disconnecting icons and text

If your company logo is to feature both an iconic logo and a textual treatment of your company name, 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. This is particularly true when it comes to using your logo on website & blog headers. As you’ve probably noticed, The Logo Factory ‘cog’ is placed solo at the top right of every page of this website, though there is a font treatment of the company name without the cog that we use from time to time. The two elements are actually pictured together in the ‘true’ version of our logo.

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’

Your logo needs to portray the essence of your company. Are you a serious company, or one that revels in being whimsical. Are you appealing to a conservative set? Then a cartoon logo probably wouldn’t be the best choice. Trying to brand a sports bar or an ice cream parlor? Then a logo that would work for a financial institution probably won’t cut it either. Understanding a particular industry’s ‘theme’ is important, and where a designer’s experience comes into play.

Your logo has to have ‘instant impact’

Your new logo will probably not have the luxury of being in your audience’s eye for a lot of time. In fact, you probably have a few seconds (at the outside) to ‘grab’ the viewers attention. 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.

A tagline is nice, but not as part of your logo

A tagline (also known as a strapline) is the phrase or few words that describe a company, or the company’s mission. Generally stated, taglines are featured under the logo (or in circular logos – around the logo). They’re cool and all, but it’s not advisable to include them in the initial design phases of your logo. Wordy taglines will require a small font that will become illegible at smaller sizes. Also, a tagline can create a lot of visual clutter in many applications. It’s always better to have that ever-so clever tagline as a separate element that you can add when appropriate, or when doing so will not interfere with the design integrity of your logo itself.

Strive to be ‘different’

You’d be surprised how many clients have asked that we design logos that are very similar to their competitors. Kinds misses the point, no? The idea of your own logo is just that – your own logo. 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. Avoid overused logo cliches at all costs.

Color is a secondary factor in your logo

The most important part of your logo project is the design itself. Oh sure, it’s nice to see your logo in the colors that you will eventually use, but in the initial stages of any design the colors are of secondary importance. In fact, most logo design ideas start off as black and white doodles and sketches. Don’t worry about colors in the beginning stages of the logo design process. They can always be changed,or edited later. Now, having said that…

Consider color choices carefully

Whether you utilize a two spot color, or four color process logo will greatly impact any reproduction costs in the future. While not critical in the initial design phases, your choice of corporate color will have a ripple effect throughout all you corporate ‘look-and-feel’ material and is a decision that should not be taken lightly in the final stages of the design process.

Some web colors cannot be reproduced

In traditional media that is. And vice versa. Some WEB colors are beyond a CMYK range – meaning that the color cannot be printed using CMYK or Pantone spot color equivalents. To make things more complicated, sometimes WEB safe colors CAN be converted successfully. Best advice – if there’s a particular WEB-safe color you wish to use, our designers will be glad to tell you of it’s usability is outside of your monitor. See our working with a printer page for more information.

Keep your logo ‘metaphor light’

While it’s nice for your logo to actually ‘mean’ something (i.e. – this color represents growth, this dot represents our product) sometimes clients wish to write ‘War-and-Peace’ with their logo’s metaphors. An overworked logo is not a pretty sight. The most memorable logos are also the most simple; the memorable complex logos are often highly rendered illustrations, not a bunch of geometric shapes. 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. Take a look at the top 10 Fortune 500 logos. Pretty simple stuff. And established brands, the Adidas logo for example, sometimes don’t mean anything at all.

Understand that your logo is just the beginning

True, it’s an important beginning, but a beginning never the less. Don’t expect your logo to single-handedly develop your company’s ‘brand’. Far from it. It is only by repeated use of your logo, combined with graphical elements (your marketing artwork, ads, etc) as well as the old-fashioned stuff (business ethic, customer service, etc) that will create your ‘brand’ or corporate image. Having said that, however, your new logo is the corner stone of these efforts, and its pretty important to get it right.

Repetition. Repetition. Repetition

You want to know why the Nike logo is so successful? Is it because it’s a ‘great’ logo? Far from it. Other than being remarkably simply, the Nike ‘swoosh’ is painfully uninspiring. No, the Nike logo is successful because it’s been seen a cazillion times more than any other sports logos. On TV. On the shirts of top athletes. On the sports equipment of almost every professional sports team out there. Simply put, the Nike logo is so successful because it’s been driven into our subconscious by constant exposure. And that’s the same philosophy you should take with your logo. Granted, you don’t have the promotional budget of giants like Nike, Apple or FedEx, but do what you can. Plaster your new logo everywhere. Every scrap of paper that leaves your office should feature your logo. Put it on your car (could be a tax write-off too). Letterheads, Brochure. Presentation folders. Use your new logo until you’re sick of it. And then use it some some more. In fact, that’s a pretty good rule of thumb – at the point you’re getting sick of your logo (and you’ll be tempted to change it – see next tip) it’s just starting to get some traction.

Don’t change. (Almost) never

Once you’ve developed your logo, it’s in your best interest to keep it. Brand recognition takes time (some studies state that viewers have to see a logo three times – or more – before they’ll remember it the next time). There’s an awful lot of logo clutter out there, so only be repetition will your logo break through. If you’re going to change or update your logo, think very, very long and hard about it. If you decide to go ahead, then make sure you get it right that time. Changing a logo dramatically more than once (in a short period of time) may tell your audience that you’re flaky and unreliable.

Not good in business.

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