The Dos and Don’ts of Logo Design
The vital ingredient to successful branding is a logo. A logo can provide the graphical shorthand that your consumer needs to find you online, in a shopping centre, amongst the direct mail and on a shelf in the grocery store.
Obviously, you can do as some businesses do: you can draw yourself a circle, slap that company name inside in a relatively attractive font – and bam, the job is done. If you want to see what millions of would-be graphic designers are producing just visit crowdsourcing sites and browse.
The logo seems deceptively simple. Just look at Facebook - the name in white font and put on a blue background. One might think that anyone could put that together in Paint on your average laptop in a matter of two minutes, but this belies the sophistication and theory that underlies the Facebook logo. Colour psychology has proven that blue has connotations of trustworthiness in consumer’s minds. It is a colour that signifies future-focused thinking – that blue-sky thinking – that shapes what we will be doing in the next 50 years. The clearly spaced, rounded font was chosen with the suggestion of friendliness and simplicity – code for Facebook as an intuitive platform where you can make connections.
Due to the misconception of logo design being simple, it can be easy to get wrong. Let’s start with the don’ts, before moving onto some practical advice for successful logos. There are some common mistakes that most weak logo designers make.
Think about the old Gum-Tree logo. The tree looked like something from the 1970s - with its over elaborate details, multiple colours, and the use of orange. Over time, and with the advent of some sophisticated input from a marketing expert, the simple single line outline of the tree on a purple background looks strikingly modern. This is kind of important when you are a brand reliant on technology for your success.
Starbucks learned quickly that they needed to reduce the complexity of their logo. The level of detail in the woman’s face and the use of the Starbuck name have all been removed to leave a simple green silhouette. The importance of simplicity cannot be overstated. Think how quickly you recognise a McDonald’s outlet from the golden outlets. The recognition is so instant, and it has the power to make you feel hungry. One letter, one colour - massive impact.
Even the Bing logo is too complicated. The shaping of the “g” is hard to interpret and the yellow dot over the letter “I” is a distraction rather than a distinguishing graphical choice. Quick is not good enough. Instant recognition is the name of the logo game.
Too close for comfort
If you are designing your logo, you could inadvertently draw on characteristic signatures that you have seen in other brands. Trends, after all, can be hard to avoid, as we see year after year, but leaning too heavily into what can become a fad is dangerous for the longevity of your logo.
If you are a tech company, it is tempting to look at IBM and HP and emulate that simple use of initials and blanket blue. However, stray too close, using the same font or the same shade with the same composition, and you could be accused of copying. You also lose something of your own unique brand. How will the audience know you are different?
It may not even be that you are copying; it is just that you are being predictable. A housing association company using the simple V shape of the roof may communicate the purpose of the business. However, how many housing associations and builders have you seen using that same roof design?
Now that we have covered how logo design can go wrong, let’s have a look at how companies get it right:
Make simple images work hard
One of the most useful devices is to use a visual double entendre. Put simply, this means creating a straightforward image that communicates two things at once. You give the viewer a chance to interpret your idea by chunking ideas together. Look at the Nike tick: the double meaning – you have made the right choice plus you have succeeded in whatever sporting activity you have chosen to undertake. The symbol is most often referred to as the “swoosh”. This just so happens to be the sound we think of when someone is running fast. All that positive intent in a straightforward image is genius!
Your audience loves the play of techniques. So, the designer of the Wine Place logo turned a wine glass upside and made it a parasol over a table. The viewer will note the talented mix of ideas in that one simple outline image.
Choose colours wisely
Colour is not a superficial decision. There is a whole branch of psychology that looks at human interaction with different hues. Why do detergents favour greens if not to suggest they are environmentally friendly and natural? Then, think about the four squares of Microsoft: the squares obviously represent the Windows concept. However, the colours chosen are simple, bold primary colours. It appears friendly and suggests that it is fundamentally simple to use. However, each of the colours represents a part of the brand: green is the Xbox, blue is the Windows operating system, red is used for MS office, and yellow is there to complete the idea of the window and suggest a potential for future developments.
Follow trends while avoiding cliché
For a long time, Boho and Hipster were on-trend. Logo design for millennials and the Y gen where suddenly overwhelmingly influenced by this style. It got old real quick, and it became difficult to discern one brand from another. Not only does it give the impression that you are ripping off other more successful brands, but that there is nothing unique about your offering.
Here is an example you will recognise. Coca Cola started a trend where the graphic designer merely thought logo design was a trip to the font menu. How can you hope to be distinctive when every brand at the eye level buy level in the supermarket has the same swirly font? Custom type is fine – if you are confident you can pull off the same trick as the brand who has managed to co-opt Christmas as an event about carbonated drinks rather than religious or even pagan celebrations.
Simple but powerful
The art of the logo designer is to grasp the simple language that communicates instantly and powerfully. Most of your audience will be travelling past at 70mph. How are you going to shout your brand at them in that split nanosecond of attention?
Look at Apple. We see it on the packaging, and we think technology. The company doesn’t need even to write the name of the brand on the box. This might seem to make no sense – except when you realise a logo does not stand alone from the whole branding campaign. Also, if the apple were missing the bitten-out chunk, the Apple logo would not work. Why? Well, the bite mark gives it a distinctive silhouette that requires no or little cognitive processing.
Know your logos story
If you know why your logo looks the way it does, then it can live in the whole marketing campaign you are designing. Think about the logo for the Peugeot car. The lion symbol represents strength and the sharpness of the product. It emerges from the history of the brand – as the Peugeot company emerged from an old sawmill that was transformed into a steelmaker and engineer. The angles of the lion were said to represent the teeth of the saw. Such a design represents the heritage of the company and its origins as a family brand built out of entrepreneurial spirit and ambition.
Also, be careful about the interpretation of your logo by the public. You don't want to give out the wrong idea to people, a bad logo can cause the downfall of your company and your hard work making you the butt of the joke.
And if you only have a moment
Here is all you need to remember about logos: keep them simple but with a powerful message; access the immense influence of colour psychology; don’t copy, parody or reference other logos; use double meaning and know the story of your design that should reflect the story of the brand.
Photo by cottonbro studio