How to select the right kind of logo? An interesting question to be sure, and not one that can be answered easily, or arbitrarily. Every logo is different (the entire point of the exercise) and every logo design process is unique to each logo design project. To help you determine the correct type of logo, we’ve designed several flow charts that attempt to illustrate, as accurately as possible, how er develop, from start to finish, how we develop different types of logos, as well as the various options involved along the way. For legibility sake, we’ve split our flow chart into several sections (the entire flow chart can be viewed here 160k)
For the purposes of this exercise, we’ve broken down the types of logos into three main categories (we actually use four but will ignore graphic for this exercise) – text or font based, iconic and illustrative. The type of logo that’s appropriate for your project depends, to a large degree, on your market demographic and target audience. While a cartoon logo design may be cool for use on a web site, a cartoon certainly wouldn’t be appropriate for a bank, or home builder selling million dollar homes. How you plan to use your logo plays a big part too, as various media applications have caveats and restrictions. If your logo is going to be applied fifteen feet tall in vinyl lettering to the side of a truck fleet, best to have a simple logo than a complex design full of blends and drop shadows. These concepts make up the first part of our road map. While nothing is set-in-stone, or arbitrary, the grey boxes represent types of logos that may, or may not, be appropriate. White boxes represent logo types that certainly are.
Using the full legal name of a company as part of your logo is typically a matter of choice. For example, our full name is The Logo Factory Incorporated (usually abbreviated to Inc) but we never use it, settling for the truncated version The Logo Factory. Some market segments may require that an LLC or a CO to be tacked on (if applicable), and if that’s the case, best consult with your attorney. Using an acronym in a logo is not generally not a good idea unless A) you have an exceptionally long name or B) your company or product has a great deal of established traction in the marketplace. We tinkered with using the abbreviated form TLF to represent our company a few years ago, but spent more time explaining what the letters meant than it was worth.
This is often over-looked by both designers and clients alike. Who is the logo being designed for? In the purest sense, It should be designed for your customers. In order to select the right type of logo route it’s critical to understand the demographics of the target audience. Take a look at the most successful competitor in your area, and see what they’re doing. While copying logos is never cool, but it will certainly give you an idea of the kind of logo approach to take.
Our logo design road maps are set up like typical flow charts, running from top to bottom. The dotted lines represent steps in the design process that are iteration heavy, usually involving a back-and-forth between you and your designer. We’ve also added some examples of each option from our logo design portfolio, below each chart. Keep in mind that nothing in these road maps is carved-in-stone, and there’s lots of overlap between the various logo types described.
Used to be that using a custom-built font for almost every logo was the way to go, but with the number of excellent fonts available these days, it’s almost counter-productive. That’s not to say you can’t customize portions of words made up from off-the-shelf, so that’s been added as an option in our text logo flow chart. The Logo Factory logo is a good example of this approach.
Serifs are semi-structural details on the ends of some of the strokes that make up letters and symbols. Think of them as little tails and feet in the typeface. While serif fonts are considered to be more legible in print as body copy, there are some resolution issues when used as part of a logo, electronically, on a website for example, especially in smaller sizes. On the other hand, serif fonts can represent stability and are often appropriate for conservative and traditional businesses.
Sans serif comes from the French word ‘sans’ meaning, quite literally “without” the little tails and feet you just read about. While serif fonts remain the most used type of font in the print world, it could be argued that sans serif typefaces read more effectively in the electronic world. Accordingly, sans serif fonts are often appropriate for modern, web-based or trendy new businesses.
Italic fonts are slanted, generally to the right, and are often used to emphasize portions of phrases. Italic letters can also represent speed or a sense of urgency. Keep in mind that there are some legibility issues with italic fonts, especially at small sizes, and particularly on the web. Italic logos also can present some issues when selecting a complimentary font for collateral marketing material due to the increased aspect ratios and footprints.
Whenever words are input into any design software package, the program ‘guesses’ how close the letters should be to each other. This is known as kerning. In the case of software it’s called ‘Auto’ Kerning. Problem is, these are only estimates and some software does it better than others, and accuracy often depends on the fonts you’re using. Off-the-rack kerning is often more accurate in ‘professional’ font sets than fonts available for download on ‘free font’ websites, but as kerning is almost always gauged visually. Almost all font sets require a certain amount of ‘tweaking’ by hand. It often depends on the software too. Keep in mind that a word that looks well-spaced on your monitor will look nasty when enlarged to billboard size. Some letter combinations – V & A for example – require tighter spacing than say, M & N. Hyper kerning of words is another option (when words are stretched out, with a lot of space between letters) but keep this in mind – when used smallish, and because the individual letters are small to begin with , hyper kerned words can become unreadable.
A tagline is a sentence, usually under the logo, that describes in several words the company, or the company’s core activity. Using a tagline (also known as a strapline) in a logo is not recommended from a design perspective (the lettering is often too small to be legible) but almost always demanded by clients eager to tell the world what it is their company does. That’s perfectly understandable, so it’s often beneficial to design a logo that can be featured with, and without a tagline. Once your company is established, we can drop it.
We’ve placed the the selection of colors well into the design process as that’s were it belongs. It’s often beneficial to design logos in black and white so that we’re not relying on colors to define bits and pieces of the design (a ineffective way to design your logo if it is ever to be reproduced as black and white). There are three main color choices we can make here – one color, spot color or four color process. This is a critical choice, as the colors you select will determine the compatibility of your logo for its lifetime.
The legals portion of all our road maps is two-fold. The first is whether or not to add a ‘TM’ or “®” to the logo. The difference between the TM and the R-in-a-circle comes down to a) a matter of taste (if you have in fact registered the trademark or b) if you haven’t registered the logo but are claiming a trademark (in which case you can only use the ‘TM’ addition). The second part of the legals section is the transfer of ownership of the logo from the designer to the client, so that the proper copyrighting and trademarking is possible.
Setting up logo file formats correctly is perhaps the most important step in the logo design process, yet it is often the area given the least attention with designers failing to edit their working files into versions that are ready for print, web and other uses. See here for a file format quick reference guide.
A very popular version of iconic logos, this type of design features an icon created out of one (or more) of the first letter(s) of the company name. Can also be worked into literal iconic treatments (see Cluepedia below for an example)
An icon that describes, in literal visual terms, a core activity of the company or product represented. In the case of Cluepedia (above) the icon illustrates the crowdsourced technical answers thrust of the website. The fact that this is also a letterform icon, with the figure created out of the letter ‘C’ is a bonus.
These kind of icons are designed around visual metaphors of the company or product represented. In the case of Ingena, they wanted to represent the ‘lifting’ of start-up companies to the “next level.” What better way to suggest that than using a metaphorical image of kites, worked into a brutally simple icon. Metaphorical icons are often hard to “sell” to the client, unless they understand the underlying symbolism as part of their business plan.
Abstract icons don’t really mean anything, but are simple ubiquitous graphics that look ‘pretty’ over the text portion of the logo. These are the easiest logos to design, but are often the most nondescript logos produced unless particularly clever. These types of logos are often the result of a poor client brief, or faulty initial Q & A (most designs pitched as part of logo design contests or crowdsourcing effort will fall into this category for that very reason). That’s not to say that abstract icons don’t have their place – they do – but should be approached with a great deal of care in order to avoid designing a logo that’s similar to something already in use by someone else. When there’s no rhyme or reason to a logo, it runs a higher risk of having been designed before.
This type of illustrative logo pretty well defines itself. Realistic.
Illustrative cartoon logos aren’t for every application so proceed with care. If they are applicable, cartoon logos offer a wide range of marketing and advertising possibilities.
Stylized illustrative logos are often the most difficult to obtain client approval on. Sort of a combination of various types of illustrative logo types, served up in the designer’s personal style. Accordingly, these logos are often the most satisfying for the designer.
Abstract illustrative logos are just that – extremely detailed and rendered abstract graphics that may, or may not, have something to do with the core activity of the company it represents. Very similar to abstract iconic logos but with more ‘oomph’.
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We covered sketching and rendering in our iconic logo road map, but as initial sketches are CRITICAL in an illustrative logo approach, it’s worth revisiting again with a few notable differences. Your designer will probably need some photo reference on an illustrative logo – your customers can be sticklers for detail so you want to make sure you’re being accurate in whatever you’re portraying in their logo. Also, it’s impractical to render every single sketch, so it’s a good idea to get approval BEFORE going to render, as opposed to our iconic logo doodles where it’s possible to render multiple iterations. For that reason, sketches presented to our clients need to be as finished as possible.