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How to Design a Company Logo

One of my favorite and most useful design books is Design Basics Index by Jim Kruse. I’ve discussed various suggestions from Krause’s book in prior PIE Blog articles, but I am always surprised and pleased at how helpful this print book can be.

I was paging through the text this evening, and I came upon a step-by-step presentation of a logo for a company (possibly fictitious) called Rototech. This section becomes even more useful when paired with another section that explains how to create icons from physical objects.

To explain the thought process behind the logo creation exercise, let’s start with the icon creation exercise. In both cases, the photos and drawings Krause includes are as helpful as the written explanations.

Abstracting the Essence of Images for the Logo

Krause includes four hand tools in his section on icons: a saw, a screw, a C-clamp, and pliers. To demonstrate the process of extracting the most important elements (functional as well as visual) of these tools, he has circled the teeth of the saw, the head and threads of the screw, the entire shape of the C-clamp, and the jaws of the pliers. On the opposite page he shows icons of the four photographs, or images “created from the stylistically rendered details taken from only a tiny portion of the object’s entirety.” (page 159, Krause)

All four icons are set within blue circles. Each has an outline in white of the simple shape of the tool (in most cases just a portion of the tool), and the tool itself is rendered in light blue. The key is simplicity and immediacy.

In another section of the print book, Krause shows four more renderings of a wrench, ranging from a lifelike silhouette showing the jaws, gear, and handle of the adjustable wrench, to a dot-matrix image of the tool, to a “sketch” of the wrench made up of simple red lines drawn over a blue background shape.

Krause explains the goal of reducing the image down to its most essential elements in creating an icon. It must “directly and vividly convey its meaning to the viewer.” (page 159, Krause) In Design Basics Index, Krause notes that the goal is to “simplify and stylize” the image (page 159, Krause), and states that this is a difficult and time consuming task which is an art in itself.

Krause’s Design Process for the Rototech Logo

In the logo creation section of the print book, Krause simplifies the blades of a fan in a handful of different ways to explore options for creating movement. Most of the fan shapes include three blades in slightly different but analogous colors. He also tries these three-blade, simple shapes as a reversal (to white) out of a solid green circle.

In this exercise, Krause discusses such graphic tools as style and volume (showing the fan blades in both flat and dimensional renderings, and in both sketchy and more hard-edged representations). Clearly Krause’s goal is to get the reader to experiment as he or she explores options for a logo mark.

The final section of this lesson involves the “presentation” of the logo image. That is, Krause displays the fan image within a type treatment of the firm’s name. At this point he has selected the three-part fan image in dark, medium, and light orange. The fan blades are simple and stylized. The repetition of the simple shape along with the shift in colors creates apparent motion.

All of the type treatments Krause includes for this logo are tightly kerned, all-caps versions of the word “Rototech” in a geometric, sans serif typeface. The first shows the fan repeated five times above the name of the company. The name is reversed out of a blue rectangle, and all fan images except one (the one in the three shades of orange) are represented in lighter or darker shades of blue. The repetition of the form of the fan increases the sense of movement, while the warm colors of the central fan image draw the eye to the center of the presentation and then down into the reversed word Rototech. The simplicity of the all-caps letterforms give a futuristic and “techy” feel to the presentation.

Krause shows a different approach in the next image by filling the second “O” in Rototech with blue and then superimposing the orange, three-part fan over the letter. This places the emphasis on the word Rototech instead of the fan logo mark.

Another treatment positions the three-part orange fan in a blue square above the word Rototech, and a fourth treatment reduces the size of the fan blades and blue square box to the height of the company name, and places the logo mark to the left of the word itself. Again, this gives predominance to the name of the company over the orange fan icon.

What You Can Learn From Krause’s Design Exercise

This is what I learned from the samples in the book as an approach to logo design:

  1. Start with the icon. Choose an image relevant to the company and then simplify it.
  2. Create multiple, different approaches to the presentation of both the logo mark and the associated words (name of the company, tag line, etc.).
  3. Make sure the logo mark and the associated words complement one another (in tone and style) and reflect the essence of the company.
  4. Create versions that highlight the name of the company, and also create versions that focus more on the logo mark or icon.
  5. Don’t become wedded to one version. Experiment. Approach the design challenge as play rather than work.

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