A good logo just makes sense. It will feel simple, unforced, a ‘natural’ choice. But as with most things that appear effortless—the glide of a swan, lift of a dancer’s arm or ‘bed head’ waves—a lot of energy, thought and effort goes into their execution. Here we’ll explore 10 design logo principles to keep in mind when creating a logo (with professional guidance from a brand designer, to boot).
What is a logo?
Amazon’s orange arrow stretches from A to Z, representing the extensive range of their products and also the dimpled smile of their happy customers.
In a nutshell, a logo is a mark made up of text and images that is adopted by an organization to identify its offering. Ideally, a logo will present a brand to an audience while also differentiating it from the competition. It will be packed with meaning and perfectly communicate the industry, services, demographic and values of a company so that consumers can speedily decide if it’s for them.
What makes a good logo?
However you might feel about McDonald’s, its golden arches are the stuff of logo legend
A good logo tells the story of your brand using design elements like color, fonts, imagery and shapes. It will be easy to distinguish against competitors and have an impact wherever it’s seen. A good logo is also translatable across every medium, and is clearly distinguishable whether it’s on a business card, or an Instagram logo.
We all have our personal tastes, but there are objective measures by which a logo can be judged. According to Melbourne-based brand designer Tamarin Morley, who’s worked with agencies including Truly Deeply and TANK, a solid concept is key.
“It can be as pretty as you like, but if it doesn’t mean anything and doesn’t communicate anything, then it’s not going to be a good logo. It needs to be effective at communicating the brand—its purpose and personality—and it needs to do that in a very simple, clear way. It also needs to be memorable and recognizable.”
The design elements included in a logo
FedEx makes clever use of negative space between its ‘E’ and ‘x’.
The basic ingredients that make up a logo are:
- Negative space
How to start designing a logo
Instagram’s logo has evolved with the app.
When it comes to design a logo, it should always start with strategy. This includes a deep dive into the business, its purpose, personality, offering and point of difference—which will mean a lot of market research and workshopping with the client.
“I wouldn’t even start a branding project until I’d got a very solid understanding of all of those things,” says Tamarin. “It’s pointless trying to work out what you want something to look like until you understand what the point of it is. Once you’ve got a good understanding of that side of things, then you’ll start mood-boarding.”
Next comes sketching, and here is where these 10 design principles will come to the fore:
10 logo design principles to follow
1. Make it simple
Apple threw in its original, highly detailed logo for a simple one that took the world by storm.
Simplicity is king when it comes to cutting through, so now is not the time for fiddly bits. “Something that’s bold and simple is going to be far more memorable and recognizable than something that’s got an awful lot of detail,” says Tamarin. “The detail can come in the visual language and be expanded out in other applications, but the mark itself does need to be simple. It doesn’t have to be super simple, but it has to be something that translates from large-format signage to a tiny little digital icon.”
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2. Design for an audience
Chupa Chups’ fun-filled mark targets the young and young-at-heart
Every brand will have its target audience and you’ll want to consider its defining features, which might include gender, age, location, income, occupation, etc. You’ll also want to do your market research and eyeball the competition, but don’t let industry norms restrict you. “Rules are there to be broken,” says Tamarin. “You’ve got the fundamentals but they’re well and truly worn and people get sick of them. There’s a lot of really great branding that has quite a naïve approach that is very much aimed at a higher-end adult audience, it’s all in the way it’s executed.”
3. Make it memorable
Swooshy ‘V’ people logo designs are a dime a dozen.
With thousands of new start-ups launching each year, creating a logo that stands out from the crowd is a challenge. Steer well clear of motifs and symbols that appear in generic-looking designs, such as globes, cityscapes and swooshy ‘V’ people. “There are so many resources out there for people to be ‘inspired’ and borrow quite heavily from existing content,” says Tamarin, who suggests drawing from a brand’s origins to keep a logo fresh. “If you can manage to tell a business’ story in a mark, that’s the holy grail of branding.”
4. Make it timeless
Coca-Cola’s red cursive script logo has remained fundamentally unchanged since 1885.
Another challenge of logo design is achieving a modern, yet timeless look. “Everything changes so quickly these days that something can become incredible fashionable and incredibly unfashionable in no time at all,” says Tamarin. “Avoid anything that’s super trendy because by the time you’ve finished the branding project, it’s probably out of fashion. Logos that are purely typographic can look very classy and timeless, and are unlikely to become kitsch or unfashionable because they’re so simple.”
5. Make it versatile and scalable
The new Slack logo is more versatile than its former 18º-angled icon.
It might look smashing on a computer screen, but how will a logo hold up on a pen, paper print-out or 10-foot billboard? “You’ll need something that works on a tiny little digital graphic scale as well as it does on the side of a building,” says Tamarin, who suggests mocking a design up across a range of applications. “It should also be easily adaptable to different formats – long and horizontal for a web banner, for example – so you get that versatility of format as well as size.”
Color, Tamarin adds, is another area where logos can get lost in translation. “A lot of people design with just RGB in really bright color and then go to print it and it looks flat and horrible. Make sure that you understand the difference between RGB, CMYK and Pantone, and how things are going to translate between digital and print.”
6. Use a quality typeface
Google made the switch from serif to sans serif.
Whether it’s a classic serif, crisp sans serif or flowing script, the font (or fonts) used in a logo say a lot about the brand it represents. In a perfect world we’d all have the chops to make an entirely custom typeface from scratch, but there’s no shame in sprucing up an existing one. “Even if you just take a typeface and just change it up a bit so there’s a little quirk in it that makes it unique, it individualises it,” says Tamarin. “I think that goes a long way to making something that’s just a word into a brand mark.”
7. Be strategic with color
Red is a common but powerful choice for logos.
Different colors evoke different emotions, and it’s no coincidence that the most common colors used in the logos of famous brands are blue (thought to evoke feelings of calm, stability and trust) and red (energy, passion and action). Ninety-five percent of brands use no more than two colors in their logos, and it’s widely believed that a signature color can boost brand recognition by 80 per cent.
“I would say generally keep it pretty minimal with color,” says Tamarin. “You probably want to have a hero color, but I don’t think there are any hard-and-fast rules here. I’ve seen some amazing marks that have a rainbow spectrum of colors and they look amazing. Most of the time this would look terrible, but if it’s executed well it can look fantastic.”
8. It should look great in black and white
Adidas looks sharp in monochrome.
We’ve just discussed the importance of color, but a logo should never entirely rely on its hue. “There are so many occasions where a brand’s mark will appear in black and white,” says Tamarin, explaining that in scenarios such as sponsorship, when a logo is paired with others, it will often appear in monochrome. “A logo needs to work either in greyscale or black and white.”
9. Make it balanced
Twitter’s logo was designed using the golden ratio.
Humans are geared to recognize balanced images as beautiful, and there are some tried-and-tested design ‘rules’ (the golden ratio, the rule of thirds) to help in laying out a logo. That said, mathematical balance is not the same as optical balance. Adjustments should be made according to your eye. “The thing with balance is it’s not necessarily literal balance,” says Tamarin. “It’s not like a logo needs to be even or symmetrical or anything like that. It just visually works. Something that’s happening in one place should be offset and anchored in another place.”
10. Stay on-brand
Gap made the mistake of a ‘corporate’ rebrand and swiftly reverted back to its heritage logo.
Above all, every single design decision you make needs to align with the story and spirit of the business a logo represents. “This comes back to the strategy, and why it’s really important to understand the brand purpose, personality and offering,” says Tamarin. “You need to have that set in stone and always refer back to it in anything that you do in communicating that brand.”
Tamarin suggests asking these questions of a logo: “Does it express the brand strategy? Does it ring true to the brand personality and purpose?” She also recommends showing it to a handful of people in the relevant target audience. “See how they respond to it. See if it appeals to them. See if they feel that it’s telling the story that you think it’s telling and achieving what you think it’s achieving.”
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