An Approach to Designing a Logo
Back when I was an art director and production manager, the company I worked for decided to change its logo and the look of its printed corporate identity materials. These changes would be reflected in about 100 printed products per year, ranging from textbooks to workbooks to marketing materials (brochures, posters, etc.).
I assigned the overall design job to the best designer in the group, but she told me she had no idea how to do it. My response was, “Yes, you do. We’ll look at it together.”
A memory of this conversation (almost 30 years ago) came back to me recently when I read “How to Design a Logo (Step-by-Step Guide),” by Rachel Begg, on Hubspot.com.
Most of what made this job so overwhelming to the designer who worked for me 30 years ago was that she needed to break down what seemed to be an insurmountable task into consecutive steps. What I liked about Begg’s article is that she did just that. Here’s her rundown:
1. “Start with your story.” (“How to Design a Logo,” Begg)
No matter what you read in the realm of marketing theory these days, everyone is saying that potential customers are attracted to “the story” a company tells more than to facts and figures. Some people call this the company’s “narrative.” It reflects (and elucidates) the values and goals of a company. People resonate both emotionally and intellectually with a company’s story. To reference Begg’s article, the story tells “why” a company does what it does. It goes beyond just stating “what” the company does. Creating a logo begins with articulating the story, being able to state the why in a sentence or a few sentences. Begg notes that this story should be reflected in the typeface, color, and shape of your logo.
2. “Brainstorm words that describe your brand” (“How to Design a Logo,” Begg)
This step is an outgrowth of the prior step. As you compose your story (which I personally believe should be written down), note what words you use to describe the company, and then do an Internet search for these and other relevant words. The more specific you can be, the more effective your search will be. According to Begg’s article, you should look for words that reflect both what the company does and why. (Although Begg does not say this explicitly, the advantage of brainstorming is that you are writing down all of these words without judging or editing them. This way, you have more chance that your subconscious will come up with something new that you would otherwise not have considered if you had been measured and analytical at every step.)
3. “Sketch ideas based on these words.” (“How to Design a Logo,” Begg)
Choose the best words, and then do sketches of anything that comes to mind, focusing on the words, the name of the company, or perhaps images that seem relevant to what the company does. But keep these images simple, and don’t rely on clip art. You want the images to be unique. Also keep in mind that you can create a logo made up of only the words in the company name. You don’t need to include a symbol. Begg also notes that it is helpful to develop ideas that come to you as you’re working on other sketches. That is, one idea may lead to another. Again, this step relies heavily on your subconscious mind and intuition.
At this point, also consider the color scheme. Begg suggests not including more than three colors. (I would add that the logo needs to work without color as well, since you may be using it in black and white at some point. Also, it’s helpful to consider how your marketing materials will be printed. If you choose PMS colors and then later print marketing materials digitally, you may have problems matching the PMS colors with the CMYK digital color palette.)
Begg also encourages you to be mindful of current color trends as well as colors used in the logos of the company’s competitors. The goal is to stand out from the competition. (I would also add that some color trends don’t age well. Consider, for instance, the color schemes of the 1970s and 1960s, which now look dated.)
4. “Test your top sketches with your buyer persona.” (“How to Design a Logo,” Begg)
Begg suggests selecting your top three concepts (sketches, which we used to call “roughs,” because they only reflected general ideas that had not yet been thoroughly developed) and show these to friends, family, a colleague who also does design work, and ideally a person who personifies the target customer. The target customer is a person who embodies the goals and values of the brand, hence the marketing term “persona.” Your goal is to see, before putting a lot of work into any one concept, how your ideal customer will respond to your design and concept choices. Begg suggests that you then take one concept and develop it into a polished design.
5. “Refine your chosen sketch.” (“How to Design a Logo,” Begg)
This step basically involves going back to the list of relevant words and images and making sure your chosen design includes everything. It is an editing step, with the goal of ensuring the completeness and comprehensive nature of your chosen design.
6. “Develop your logo’s layout on a free design platform.” (“How to Design a Logo,” Begg)
Begg suggests some free, online design tools, but most designers will already have design software that they prefer. Personally, I use InDesign because I’m so comfortable with it, but final logos are often requested (by printers, vehicle wrap installers, etc.) in Adobe Illustrator format. At the very least, keep in mind that the Bezier curves used in drawing programs can scale up indefinitely, whereas bitmapped images will become pixelated if you enlarge them. So use EPS files rather than TIFF files.
In this section, Begg also encourages logo designers to try out the logo in different orientations. That is, make sure it will align visually if positioned relative to other horizontal or vertical visual elements in a design. (This is important because the logo may not be a perfect square or rectangle. It may have asymmetrical protrusions: extending curves or letterforms.)
7. “Pick versatile color options.” (“How to Design a Logo,” Begg)
Begg suggests making sure the colors of the logo work on both light and dark backgrounds (a dark-colored vs. a light-colored shirt, for instance, if you’ll be screen printing shirts for a promotion). Begg illustrates this point with Coca Cola cans, showing how the brand is still recognizable through the typefaces and style of imagery, even when the colors are different.
8. “Choose a font.” (“How to Design a Logo,” Begg)
Begg notes that the typeface used in a logo can carry a lot of meaning. That is, certain typefaces appear more or less conservative. Others are fun and light. Some are ornate and intricate. These nuances can convey a lot about the tone, and hence the approach and values, of a company. Begg also encourages designers to stay away from generic, overused typefaces. The goal is to make the logo stand out from its competition. Also keep in mind that if a logo includes both type and a symbol, the logo still may be used in some cases without the symbol (with just the name of the company). It should be attractive, recognizable, and memorable either way.
9. “Ensure scalability.” (“How to Design a Logo,” Begg)
Your logo needs to be readable, as well as recognizable, whether it’s printed on a ballpoint pen, a business card, or a vehicle or building wrap. In terms of color, it needs to also be recognizable on the Internet (using a different color scheme and more limited color palette than in print publications).
All of this takes time and multiple reviews by everyone from your client to their clients. It is an organic process. Back when I was an art director, we separated out the redesign of the corporate identity from a year’s worth of the 100 books, brochures, forms, labels, etc., that we produced. We kept designing the regular jobs as in prior years until we were absolutely ready to apply the new look and new logo (which in marketing language is often referred to as a “rollout” or “launch”).
[Steven Waxman is a printing consultant. He teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.]