The basics of logo design

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Author: 
Michael Marsland-Root
Blog - Logo Design

The basics of logo design

So you have decided to go out and build your own business or perhaps you already have a business but it's time to refresh the branding and the key element of that branding is your logo. Where do you start? What should you consider? What do you avoid? Well, here are a few things to think about during this process whether you are designing it yourself or to get you ready to work with a design professional.

RESEARCH

We are so lucky that we live in this time of the Google. When I start a project for a new client the first thing I do, after a strong latté, is to hit the interwebs and search for companies similar to my clients. Click on the "image" option in google and blamo, you have tons of examples of people who, just like you, have wrestled with the iconography of your specific industry in the past. Some successfully, some lesser so.

Right away you will start to see some approaches you like and some you don't. What some don't realize is that it is just as important to figure out what you don't like as it is to find styles that you do.

So start a folder on your computer for your logo research and every time you find one you like, or don't like, right click on it and select "save image". Start building a database of logo inspiration you can refer to as you work along the process. And this doesn't have to be just logos from your industry. Start looking on-line for just "logos" and save a few that appeal to you. You can also go to websites for designers that showcase some of the best design work going on out there right now. There are some amazingly talented designers all over the world who wrestle with logo design everyday and some of their solutions are clever and truly amazing. Visit sites like:

www.underworldmagazines.com
www.designfloat.com
www.brandfreak.com
www.dribbble.com

STYLE

Now that you have a folder full of inspiration start looking at the ones you like and ask yourself why you are drawn to them. Whenever I do a brand workshop with a company the first day of the seminar is spent discovering the company's core beliefs. Why is this important? Well it drives all of the design decisions down the road and you can't make these decisions without really knowing what your company is all about and values the most.

For example, let's imagine a downtown Vancouver catering company that sells fresh lunch. Doesn't tell you much. You might say, "So what", and you would be correct, so what. Well, this company uses only organic sustainable ingredients that are grown within 50 miles of the downtown core. That is unusual. They have a blog that talks about everything for the healthy urban lifestyle, yoga, healthy recipes, great dog parks in the area and so on.

So we can start to see the core beliefs of this company coming through. Then you boil it down to single words. Fresh, organic, local, sustainable, healthy. What images do these words conjure in your mind? What colours? An urban community garden? An upscale spa? Whites, light greens, greys? Fresh bright white cotton towels? You see how it starts to take shape? It is all connected. You need to know your company better than anyone else so that you can then explain these core beliefs and concepts to those who are going to communicate for you.

Keep it simple

Look at the logos of some of the most successful businesses out there and you will see very simple, usually single colour, logos. Starbucks, Nike, Apple, McDonalds, IBM, Pepsi, Coke, Fedex. There is a reason they are simple. These companies are working towards what is known as iconography. That is the communication of complex concepts with simple images or icons. The goal is to have the public identify your company instantly just from your logo mark alone. No further qualification or explanation required, just your icon. And this is true for all the companies listed above. Any one of them would be immediately identifiable by just the shape of the logo mark. They have all spent millions of dollars over decades hiring the absolute smartest and best minds in branding to come up with this simple concept and you can get the benefit of all that work for free! Just keep your eyes open and look at what successful companies are doing. Learn from the lessons that are out there all around us. Keep it simple and iconic.

TECHNICAL CONSIDERATIONS

So now you have a working idea of the type of style you like, perhaps colours, and some example approaches of other logos you like. Here are some technical things to consider. Yes, this is the boring stuff but  important.

SIZE

Remember that most of the time your logo will be less that 1" in size. Often when designing the logo is presented full screen or the size of full printed page. This might look great, but make sure to physically print it out at 1" or less in size and see how it stacks up. Is all of the type still readable? Are the lines now too small and areas filling in that are meant to be clear?

COLOUR

Early on in the design process try not to get too hung up on colour. Focus on the logo design. Colour should be the last thing you consider as it is very easy to just click and change. Some people throw out entire logo concepts because they don't like a particular shade or tint. That can all easily be changed. Look past the colour at first. And also, don't rely on colour alone to distinguish your logo. More on this in the "black and reversed" section below.

Try to limit the number of colours you use. When you get to actually having your logo printed on business cards, banners etc. unless you are having them digitally printed, each colour will add a little cost. More on this distinction in a coming blog post.

GRADIENTS + SHADOWS

In short, avoid. The reason is that when you have a colour gradient in your logo, an area where one colour blends into another, the computer has to "render" or figure out that effect each time. And sometimes when you send your logo off to be printed, or to be in a booklet as a sponsor etc, their computers don't have the most up to date software and it interprets this colour transition differently or not at all. This causes unknown and unexpected results when you get your printed piece back. Also, gradient effects are tricky to look good on various backgrounds. So depending on where your logo will sit on each piece it may be hard to see or read.  

The same is true for shadow effects. These truly are "effects" where again the computer has to figure out a complex series of instructions every time it reads your logo and the shadow then has to interact with whatever is underneath it in the layout. I have seen this many times where the shadow causes all kinds of weirdness to happen. In short, avoid.

BLACK + REVERSE VERSIONS

Every logo when done should have a totally black version created and a totally white version. These are called black and reversed versions. The reason being that there will certainly be situations when your colour logo just won't work on a dark or complex background and you need to use a reversed out white or black version. So make sure not to rely too heavily on colour as the distinguishing feature of your logo. Take a look at the design with all colour removed. Does it still tell your story? Can you still understand what your company is about?

Ok, so you have a design you like. It's simple but with a strong iconic look. It still works on a full size page and at 1" in size on a printed piece of paper. There aren't too many colours and there are no gradients or drop shadows. It's colourful but doesn't rely on the colour alone to be unique and tell the brand story. You have both colour as well as black and reverse versions. You are now all set to go forth and tell the world about your business!

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