As a designer the most common request you get is “Can you design a logo?”. Well, sure, anyone with a computer and Word or Photoshop can design a logo. It doesn’t mean that it’s going to be any good, but for some reason people think that that’s all you need. There’s a lot more that goes into a logo design. You need talent, experience, a well-rounded sense of design, the ability to combine design with strategic thinking, and some of that is just pure know-how. So here’s a few tips to help you “know-how” to not make a bad, ugly, not-thought-through logo.
Know who you are creating this logo for. Not like take them out to lunch and finding out what their sign is, but know what they do, what they stand for, how they want to express their business, the vibe that their company has. What is their personality? Because this logo is basically going to be the world’s first connection to their business and it needs to accurately represent them.
It can be easy to look at other companies in the same field and want to create something that visually expresses that common idea of what these business do. But if you do that you’ve just created something that will blend in and not stand out. It’ll end up being same-same-but-different. It can also be easy to slip into the pitfall that is trends. They are trends for a reason. They are everywhere you look for a while then they disappear. You don’t want to design a logo that goes along with the latest design trends only to have it look outdated in a couple of years. Instead of following trends, be a trend-setter. Being able to design beyond the trends and the obvious shows imagination and the ability to think outside the box.
Before you start anything… step away from the computer. Play it old school for a while and sketch things out. It’s an easy way to scribble out a bunch of ideas without feeling like you have to fine tune anything in these concepting stages. Obviously they aren’t going to look perfect but you’ll be able to see things and move from one idea to the next much quicker. Knowing that these ideas don’t have to be perfect allows you a little more mental freedom to take risks. These are just rough sketches after all and there’s no harm in letting your creative juices flow.
Here’s a huge tip. Don’t ignore that idea that keeps popping up that you know is a bad idea. Sketch out that idea no matter how bad it is. Not because it will inspire you to do something better, but because your brain will stop trying to say, “hey! Did you try this?!”. Once it’s out of your head and on paper you’ll be able to think of other things. Sometimes bad ideas act like a mental dam until you get rid of them so the rest of your brilliant ideas can flow through. If you’re really embarrassed by it, just sketch it on a separate piece of paper away from your other ideas. Hopefully then you’ll be able to address the problem child and not feel like you are tainting the waters of your “good” sketches.
Logos aren’t always just icons or symbols. A lot of logos are wordmarks that require just as much thought and design. The common misconception by non-designers is that you can just type up some letters in Word and voila! You have yourself a logo. I mean, they aren’t technically wrong, but they are far from right. Wordmark logos require a lot of work. There is an immense amount of pressure on the typeface chosen to properly convey the persona and attitude of the business. The typeface chosen will set the tone for this logo. It has to say everything with only saying the business’s name. Proper design on a wordmark logo is what really sets them apart. Here you can really show creative thought and strategy. With a few clever adjustments you can elevate from a group of letters to a true logo and brandmark. Kerning, tracking, and leading are just the beginning tools. Don’t be afraid to treat the letter like shapes and manipulate them. Make them do unconventional things. See what these shapes are capable of. You’ll be surprised at what can happen.
When you are starting to play with ideas, start them off in black and white. Yes, color can be an extraordinarily strong part of a logo, but design is the strongest. If you have a weak design it doesn’t matter what kind of colors you use. There’s no saving it. You need a strong, well thought out design that you can add color to. Plus, it’s much easier to change a color palette than it is an entire design. Once you have your look, you can play fashion show with all the color styles you want.
Make sure that your typeface and color choices are appropriate. You’re probably not going to want a script font and pastel colors for a security firm logo. The style and weight of your typeface can make a big difference, even if they are from the same family. And color choice is just as important. There are many color schemes from analogous, to complimentary, to monochromatic, to triadic. Whatever you go with, make sure that it says what it needs to about the company. This is basically how you “dress” your design, so make sure your paint store logo doesn’t look like it’s dousing the globe in blood.
When you’re creating a logo, you are creating an identity. And there is a lot more to that identity than just a logo. Your color choices and font usage all need to be elements that can be represented in the branding. When you have the logo and the branding elements that go with it they all need to work together. Choosing a super weird typeface for your wordmark logo might work well for the logo but might not translate well into the branding. The choices you make for that little logo will end up carrying over into the entire branding and personification of that company. So don’t just do something because it looks cool in the logo. It could end up being a train wreck for everything else.
While you are making sure that all your elements are working together make sure that you think about the application. More than likely your logo isn’t just going to live on a business card or email signature. You need to make sure that it looks good and it legible in multiple applications. Your design needs to be able to be blown up to fit a billboard and shrunk down to fit a web ad. How is this logo going to look on a sign on the side of a building? On letter head? On a website? On a dark background? On a light background? On an ad online or in print? Make sure that your logo design works flawlessly no matter where or how it’s being used.
Lastly, make sure you get a second or third or fourth opinion. Have other people look at it and make sure you aren’t missing something. Sometimes it’s easy to be so close to your work that you can’t see the obvious. It’s much easier to have someone else look it over than have to shamefully go back and fix things that were painfully huge design flaws. If you are a freelancer and aren’t able to have other people check your work, walk away from it for a while. Take a few days and don’t look at it. Coming back to it with fresh eyes might help you see what you couldn’t see before. And no matter what feedback you get, remember, they are talking about this logo they see in front of them, not you. It can be hard to not take things personally when you put your heart and soul into something. But it’s not a reflection of who you are. You are a badass designer. And now that you have all these tips on designing, you’re gonna design some badass logos.