You’ve just been given the assignment to design a logo for a company brand. Congratulations! It’s an awesome responsibility that, when done right, will have a huge and lasting impact on that business and your career. In essence, the logo you design for a brand can become your brand. So now what?
First, consider that there are three types of logos: font-based, illustration based and abstract graphic-based. Font-based is just that: a simple spelling of the company, such as Google, IBM or Microsoft. But just because it’s a font doesn’t mean you can’t have fun with colors or even creating your own font:
Illustration-based logos work when a plumber spells their name with pipes. As for abstract graphics, think Nike swoosh or Pepsi circle. As part of your pitch, you could craft versions of all three types, but you’ll be called on to pick your favorite. Make it count! Here are some other guidance tips to help you get started with your logo design project.
Embrace the Logo Laws
A logo is what the company depends on for brand identification. To that end, the logo you design needs to be simple in nature. This isn’t the time to show off your George Seurat skills of painting with dots. Yes, your logo can be quirky, but it shouldn’t be complicated.
A logo also has to be memorable. This is especially true for those logos like the aforementioned Nike swoosh. You don’t even need to see the word Nike. The swoosh says it all. Of course, this kind of brand identification doesn’t happen overnight. It also helps if the product reaches the apex of being a cultural phenomenon.
That brings up the next logo law: your logo needs to be enduring. Think of it lasting a lifetime through all kinds of advertisements and product integration. Can your logo stand the test of time?
Finally, your logo has to be versatile. This is especially true today. It’s not just going to pop up on a billboard or the side of a bus. Instead, it’s going to be blasted across all kinds of social media platforms. The goal is to reach for becoming iconic.
Look for Inspiration Everywhere
Your logo ideas can begin to bubble up by looking for inspiration everywhere you go. Bookmark Logogala to search a vast array of logo samples. You might also want to spend some time falling down the “rabbit hole” at Deviant Art. It’s an online community of thousands of artists and photographers sharing their work. Remember: you’re looking for inspiration and not “lifts.”
Do Your Logo Homework
Anytime the ad executives on “Mad Men” were brainstorming a new campaign, they often tried out the products for themselves. This is why liquor and cigarette campaigns were so popular! As the designer of a logo, you want to come up with your own process that will help you understand the company you’re working for.
If an extensive design brief is your style, then be sure to pour in all the research you can. Don’t just ask the company for their stockholder pamphlet — instead, hit the streets! Spend time in the places where that logo is going to show up the most, such as grocery or retail outlets. You want to pull in as much information about the company’s product or service as you can, to the point of near-exhaustion. You’re going to become an expert on that “thing.”
Come Up With a Solid Quote
Obviously, you’re going to be paid for this hard work. The question becomes: “How much is your work worth?” It would be nice if you got a royalty agreement for a logo, but that’s not going to happen. Instead, approach the project from the perspective of time. How long will you be devoting to this project? That’s not just the initial design phase, but all the revisions and adjustments (of which there will be plenty).
You also have to consider overhead. That holds true if you’re working alone or in an office as part of a team. The other thing to consider is not pricing yourself out of the market. You might get to that level someday, but starting out means you might have to work within a company’s budget. There’s nothing wrong with asking up-front what that budget might be. If you like that number, then lock it down!
Toss Out the Clichés
Just because the company you’re designing has the word “global” or “international” in their name doesn’t mean the logo should include an actual globe or picture of the planet. Those ideas are going to pop up in your first round of design. That’s okay! Just be sure to get them out of your system. The general rule of thumb is that if you thought of it first, it’s probably because you’ve seen it somewhere else. And so has your client.
The same can be said for borrowing designs. Just because you’re flipping fonts or colors doesn’t mean you can call something your own. You might have gotten away with that back in the “Mad Men” days, but Google Image search will come back to haunt you every time.
Keep Your Client Involved
As a designer, you might have images of landing the gig and then going off to create. Weeks later, you show up at the boardroom with your concepts in tow. One look and the client is popping champagne. Reality check: It doesn’t work that way.
Instead, you should be involving your client in every step of the way. It might help to share some preliminary thoughts just to make sure you’re not going down the wrong path. After all that research you conducted, you might be thinking the brand means one thing while the client is on a totally different page. You need to get on the same page.
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Start Building a File of Sketches
Your actual logo design work will begin with doodles. What if you make a swish here? What about a blob there? These are the kinds of things you probably wouldn’t want to show a client, because they’re too rough and just musings. However, you should absolutely keep them in a file or box throughout the entire design process.
If you get stuck, go to the box and see where you started. Circling back can often reveal a new way forward.
Map Your Moods
You wouldn’t be a designer unless you saw things with a unique visual aesthetic. It will help the process if you dedicate a white board or even an entire wall to mapping your moods with regard to the logo. What are the words most associated to the product? What are some of the visual images that spring to mind when thinking of that product? Spend some time thinking about color, too: there’s a multitude of hidden meanings and feelings you can invoke when you use color wisely.
Write, cut and paste whatever pops in your head. There’s nothing wrong that you can put up on the mood board.
Take the Grid Approach
Often, a logo can be broken down as fitting into a perfect grid. It’s also a way to build out that timeless nature of the logo. Consider the case of Shell Oil. This is a logo that has gone through many revisions since its inception. However, it’s always remained true to the original grid pattern. In other words, all those shells can fit into the same box. That’s very effective logo design.
Of course, you don’t want to go overboard with your grid rationalization. Some logos will require a certain level of fluidity. You need to allow room for a logo to “breathe.”
Think About Space
The space around your logo is often as important as the space within your logo. This is where visualizing where that logo is going to appear really comes into play. Will it always be on a white background? Does it work to put the logo in the box?
Then, there’s the use of negative space. This is where you find a way to utilize the space within your logo. Classic example: FedEx. Although it’s subtle, the arrow between the “E” and “X” reinforces that FedEx is always on the move. Brilliant in its simplicity. That is the kind of logo you could retire on!
Make Room for Experimentation
There are plenty of companies with entire generations of business success. They might not want to stray too far off the mark with regard to their logo. On the other hand, there are just as many startups who want to be considered hip and trendsetters.
This might allow you to experiment with designs that would never be considered “traditional.” You can alter a background, incorporate layers or even approach from a 3D perspective. Go wild, but keep it focused.
Try Different Sizes
Once you home in on a few logo concepts that seem to be gelling, you’ll want to start playing around with sizes. What if that logo is going on the back of a baseball cap or the front of a t-shirt? Does it get all mushed together? Can it be identified without the aid of a magnifying glass? All things to consider.
Don’t Chase Trends
Google “most popular fonts.” You’ll come up with a solid top ten list. Then, Google that again a week later and that list will change. As we all know about trending topics, they don’t last very long. The same can be said for all those “cool” fonts. Remember: you want your logo to be timeless.
Finally, after you’ve put yourself through all this work, it might be time to take a break. Find a way to go off-grid and give your creative space a chance to reboot. You might just come back with a fresh approach. One more “Mad Men” reference: The final episode has Don going off to find himself. What he found was peace, harmony and a way to sell Coke.