Logo design: How to find the perfect symbol for your brand
Finding the perfect symbol for your business is a task worth doing well. Here’s what to consider as you design your first company logo.
What is a logo?
From the golden arches of McDonalds to the Mercedes-Benz three-point star, logos are ubiquitous in the modern world.
Logos are symbols that represent your brand. They put your stamp on products, services, premises and marketing materials. Once recognized, they help to cement brands in the minds of consumers, triggering familiarity and association wherever they appear.
Logos come in three basic forms:
- Ideograph – an abstract symbol without an obvious meaning, such as the Olympic rings
- Pictograph – an icon or image that represents the company’s activities, such as WhatsApp’s handset logo
- Logotype – a text-based logo that includes company name or initials, such as Coca-Cola’s flowing script
Why is logo design important?
A logo ties your branding together and creates a touchstone of familiarity for current and future customers. It sets you apart from the competition, making it easier to differentiate you from the rest of the market. A logo can also help support and maintain your corporate culture, representing a group identity and a sense of shared purpose among staff.
As well as its symbolic purpose, a logo needs to have certain characteristics that make it usable and appropriate for a wide range of contexts. It can’t be too complex, it must work in a range of colors and sizes, and it will in many cases have to carry positive associations in different cultures and environments.
When deciding how to design a logo, a designer needs to bear in mind the aesthetic and meaningful aspects of a design, the practical constraints involved, and the range of styles already out there in the market. It’s a complex and important job, and getting it right takes skill and care.
What your logo doesn’t need to do
A logo is present everywhere you are, and it needs to operate in a huge range of contexts. However, there are a couple of things logos don’t need to accomplish.
1. Tell the whole story
A logo may be considered iconic, but it doesn’t have to literally act as an icon. While pictographic logos are popular in some sectors, many popular logos are totally abstract. Some might say it’s better if they are, since an abstract logo won’t tie you to a particular service or market. Don’t feel obliged to overload your logo design with meaning.
2. Persuade or sell
A logo is a figurehead, the final flourish of your branding that will come to represent everything else you do. It’s good to have a logo that is eye-catching and aesthetically pleasing, but it doesn’t have to single-handedly draw people to your business and turn them into customers. Instead, it should complete and unify the broader picture painted by your products, people, marketing and brand.
7 elements of successful logo design
A great logo is equally at home on a few pixel’s worth of screen space or a giant billboard by the highway. That means it should be elegantly simple, with every unnecessary element removed. That way, your logo’s distinctive style will look good writ large but still translate on a tiny scale.
Apple’s logo is a great example – the simple silhouette with one diagonal leaf and a bite taken from the side is just unusual enough to be unique to the brand, but it’s free of complex details that could make it appear cluttered or unclear.
Use the Piccolino test to make sure your logo works well at a very small size.
As any designer will tell you, the world of business is overrun with cliched imagery and symbolism. From lightbulbs representing ingenuity to green leaves suggesting sustainability, there are a number of well-trodden paths to avoid when you start coming up with logo design ideas.
The best logos take a concept, shape or pattern and look at it in a new way, turning expectations upside down and coming up with a fresh perspective. There are some great examples of this kind of creative thinking in the world of logotypes. For example, Amazon’s text-based logo, underlined with an arrow that doubles as a happy smile.
There are a lot of businesses out there looking for a piece of your target market. That’s why no logo design project would be complete without a review of what competitors are doing and how they’ve approached logo design.
Your design should be distinct from other companies in your space, which can be tricky since you share a number of parameters – your audience, product, candidate pool for hiring and your supply chain may be similar or even overlap.
Look at how other companies are using shape, text style, color, symbols and contrast in their logos and branding, and identify gaps where you can do something different.
While this may limit your options, you should still be able to come up with something that’s right for your brand. If you’re working in a very crowded market, having a logo designer or creative agency can really help you get the edge, as they’ll be trained and experienced in coming up with truly unique and functional business logo designs.
Choosing colors is a key part of logo design, and can help you link your logo to your wider branding through a shared palette.
Color choice can help enhance your logo’s shape and impact through contrast. For example, Pepsi’s logo shows three wave shapes in contrasting colors within a circular frame. Without the differentiation from color and tone the logo would be a blank circle.
When choosing your colors, bear in mind that they will appear differently to people with different types of color blindness. Red-green color blindness is the most common form, but the condition can also change perceptions of yellow, blue and purple. Make sure your colors will still be visible and recognizable to these customers.
Finally, check how your logo will look when printed or displayed in monochrome. Since there’s no color, in a monochrome version of your logo you are reliant on different tonal values to create contrast. That means how light or dark your chosen shades are, rather than what color value they belong to. If your logo, like Pepsi’s relies on color contrasts, use different tones to make sure the design is just as striking on a till receipt, engraved design or monochrome printout.
Fonts, scripts, letters and initials play a huge role in logo design, providing the basis for some of the world’s best-known corporate symbols. IBM, McDonalds, eBay, and Google are just a few examples.
If you’re considering a logo that involves typography (known as a logotype), one of the first ports of call should be your existing company font library. This may provide inspiration for your design, and it’s also an important checkpoint to make sure your design ideas are compatible with other text on your website, app, printed materials and marketing communications.
Text-based logos provide opportunities to play with letter-forms in unique and original ways. For example, the VW logo uses letters to create an optical illusion that can be viewed as either separate V and W shapes or as one large W.
Letters can also be arranged so that the negative space between them carries a message, like the hidden arrow shape between “e” and “x” in FedEx’s logo.
Handwriting and illustrative script, such as the flowing Coca-Cola logo or Disney’s distinctive signature, create a highly distinctive look and can carry positive associations like hand-made quality or creative flair.
A logo should be unique and distinctive – so much so that if you change a few little things, it still works. Having a variety of logo designs and versions could be helpful if you want to diversify your business in the future. It means you’ll have branding for different sub-operations that are independent but share the same family resemblance.
FedEx achieved this through color. The logotype was carried across a range of operations, from FedEx Freight to FedEx Office. The “ex” part of the logo changed color according to which part of the company it represented.
This is a delicate balancing act that gives each sub-brand a distinctive identity while maintaining a clear sense of belonging. It can work well when the number of sub-brands is limited, but if you expand beyond a certain level, a new approach may be needed. In the end, FedEx opted to switch all of its branding back to the purple and orange logo in 2016.
The Nike “swoosh” looks great and is instantly recognizable, but it never takes over from the look and feel of the garment, box, banner or storefront where it appears. Your logo should be just as chameleonic in its ability to look good and add an understated authenticity wherever it appears.
Point 6 (variation) can help you achieve a logo that works in any context of use. If you have a library of logo versions, you’re more likely to have something that will work in a given context. Many brands choose to have a range of options like stand-alone symbol, image and text lock-up, and full version with strapline.
For example, project management software brand Asana typically presents itself using an image and brand name lockup, but where space is limited, it uses simply the three dots of its logo to do the job.
Business logo design tools
If you’re not a design-based company, working with a professional designer or branding agency is a tried and tested way to create a logo. However, if you prefer to DIY your logo, there are a number of tools and services available to help you do the job.
- You can buy an off-the-peg logo that has already been designed and put up for sale on a specialist website. This is a quick and low-cost option and there are lots of designs available at different price points, but the logo you get won’t be carefully crafted to reflect your brand.
- You can use web-based design tools to create a logo yourself. These typically allow you to edit fonts, colors and shapes within pre-made templates to create a customized design. You’ll get a unique logo, but the design options will be limited to what the tool provides.
- A logo generator tool uses basic information about your business and desired look and feel to create automated logo designs from a bank of templates. It may be a handy way to explore ideas before designing your own logo, or you may see an option in the list that fits you perfectly.
If you choose to create or buy a logo using a website or generator, make sure you check the legal basis before using it in your marketing and promotions. You’ll want to make sure the logo becomes your intellectual property after payment and won’t be usable by anyone else.
Test your logo design ideas
Once you’ve come up with some strong logo design ideas, you’re ready to test them with real-world customers. A logo testing survey is a great way to stress-test your concepts with a range of people, as you’ll be able to identify any issues early and get feedback from people of different backgrounds, ages, genders and personality types.
Ready to make your logo design awesome? Use our free, expert-designed logo testing survey template
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