Everyone has their own take on what makes a company logo perfect.
New trends (and fads) in logo design appear every year. Stripes, letter stacking, fades and geometric shapes are popular in logo design. Just a year ago monoline designs, negative space, and retro designs were all the rage.
Be careful not to fall into the trap of following every new fad. As we cautioned in 5 Hot Logo Design Trends That Can Improve Startup And Small Business Brands:
Today, small businesses and startups have to compete in an increasingly noisy world, against larger, more established businesses. To do so, they need to get noticed. Customers who are just discovering your brand need something to remember you by, and your logo serves as a kind of souvenir for them to hold on to.
Customer preferences and markets change over time, so it’s important to understand trends before you settle on your brand.
I’m not suggesting you follow fads. For example, for some time, it was very popular to have 3D, animated logos but those were impossible to print and often very difficult to read. Lasting trends help you to better shape and define your brand. Passing fads can lead you astray.
When you break it down, what are the most fundamental, necessary elements that a logo should possess – regardless of fads or trends? And, how do you know if your logo has these key elements?
Paul Rand, the trailblazing designer of IBM, UPS, and ABC Broadcasting’s iconic logos, said:
While designing a logo is somewhat analogous to any kind of design problem, it’s special. The problems are different from those in advertising. You have to break everything down into the smallest possible denominator.
And that’s what we’ve done in this guide. We’ve broken down the logo itself into its most essential traits and functions. The result? Your guide to the most effective logo design possible.
At its most basic, a logo is a small, symbolic piece of artwork that represents a business. But, we’ve dug a bit deeper than that. When you set aside all the design trends and fancy fonts, at its core, a logo must:
1- Embody your brand.
2- Be instantly recognizable.
3- Be versatile.
4- Be timeless.
Everything else is optional.
In fact, I’ll go one step further. Every design choice in your logo should exist only to serve and strengthen the four items listed above. And, if you meet these four requirements, many other commonly cited logo must-haves, like simplicity and memorability, naturally follow.
Now, some business owners worry that the cost of logo design can be prohibitively high.
It’s true that many design companies and agencies charge thousands to tens of thousands of dollars for their services. But this isn’t universally true (crowdspring’s custom logo design projects start at just $299, including all fees).
Let’s examine these concepts in a little more detail – and discuss what you can do to ensure that your logo can meet these essential criteria. And, take advantage of our quick and easy questionnaire at the end of the article to determine how your logo stacks up!
A good logo must embody your brand
First and foremost a logo should embody your business’s brand. This is more important than simplicity, balance, line, or color.
The logo plays a pivotal role in any company – it’s the visual representation of a brand and will convey, in one quick peek, all the emotions, thoughts, connections, offerings, benefits and value of that particular brand.
Your logo is a key part of your brand identity – a visual shorthand for your business. You want it to convey the essence of your business quickly and effortlessly. This is the one quality that truly gives a logo any chance at being effective.
If your logo doesn’t make consumers think of your brand, then you should head straight back to the drawing board. And, if you find yourself in that situation, it’s time to ask the tough question – do you really understand your own brand?
Before a logo can communicate anything about your brand, you need to understand your brand. What values, practices, benefits, products or services set your company apart and make it unique?
As we previously wrote:
Your logo has to derive meaning from your brand, not the other way around. The world’s best brands are not well-known because of their logo, they are known because of the people and vision that the logo represents.
In art for art’s sake, it’s okay to make choices based on aesthetics alone. However, a logo’s primary function (its raison d’etre) is to communicate brand identity. Arbitrary design choices just won’t do. So, all aesthetic considerations – from line weight to color, to form – must serve the brand.
Your Logo Design To-Do List:
- When planning a new logo, start by defining your brand.
- Communicate the most important aspects of your brand identity to your logo design team.
- When viewing prospective logo designs ask yourself if the aesthetic choices communicate and represent your brand.
A good logo must be instantly recognizable
As your brand’s visual ambassador, a logo must be easily and instantly recognizable. After all, that’s the whole point, right?
You want people to see your logo and instantly think of your brand.
In order to achieve that goal, there are a few considerations you must keep in mind.
First, a logo must be sufficiently unique that it only reminds consumers of your brand.
This is where logo design trends (and stock logo art) really become your enemy. Logos that take their cue from design trends or stock rather than the brands they represent begin to look mighty similar – and that’s a problem.
As we’ve previously explained:
It doesn’t matter if a different company is similar to yours, what matters is that your logos are different. As a result, you have an opportunity to make a unique first impression. Often, a logo is one of the first defense barriers against competition. Besides your company’s name, it’s the first difference customers and prospects will notice.
Your logo’s job is to visually identify your brand. To successfully accomplish that goal, a logo must be unique. You want consumers to associate your logo with your company. And, you want them to build a trusting relationship with that logo; and consequently, your brand.
If your logo looks like your competitor’s logo, they’re not building a trusting relationship with you. They’re two-timing you with your twin brother and they don’t even know it.
At best, you can hope that the consumer will only be confused by a similarity between your logo and your competitor’s. At worst, they may feel tricked or even associate your competitor’s poor behavior with your brand. As we mentioned in our article 5 Ways Stock Art is Killing Your Small Business Brand:
If your competition does something unethical and their reputation takes a hit, your reputation may be impacted as well! Guilt by association, fair or not, is a real threat.
To avoid the trap of an indistinct, generic logo always take your design cues from your unique brand.
Second, a good logo design must be easy to visually recognize.
Logos featuring bold lines and strong, unique forms are easy to visually identify. Think of the Nike “Swoosh,” the World Wildlife Federation’s negative space panda or Apple’s apple. All have a strong, easily identified and unique visual form.
Truthfully, in order to know if a design is visually unique or not you have to have some idea of what’s already out there. And, we can help you get started. Check out our guide to Overused, Overdone Logo Concepts to see some examples of generic and overused shapes that will make your logo disappear into the crowd. Then avoid these concepts at all costs.
Your Logo Design To-Do List:
- Use your unique brand as a compass to guide you to a unique logo design concept.
- Research your competition and avoid design choices that will invite comparison or confusion between your logos.
- Communicate to your designer that you’re looking for a logo with a bold visual statement, and request that they steer clear of the overused logo design concepts you see here.
A good logo must be versatile
A logo, if it is going to function effectively, must be versatile. It will (or should) appear on every piece of branded material your company produces. These can range in size from a business card to a billboard… and every size in between. Your logo needs to scale effectively to any size.
So what does this mean in terms of design? It means that excessive complexity is out. Detailed textures, intricate linework or complex details may be completely lost (rendering the logo unrecognizable) when scaled down to fit on a business card. Simplicity is your best friend.
Designs that rely too heavily on color may also suffer. Color gradients or fades may lose their form entirely when rendered at small sizes. And, important detail may be lost when a logo is rendered in black and white if the design relies too much on color for its impact.
Your logo should work equally well when printed large or small, in black and white, or in color – this is one of the reasons why line and form are so important to logo design. Your logo needs to be visible on any surface, against any color, at any size.
If your logo can’t go everywhere your brand needs to appear, then what’s the point?
Your Logo Design To-Do List:
- Test your prospective logo in a wide range of sizes before committing to the design.
- Verify that your logo design works as well in black and white as it does in color.
- If a design fails either of these tests, send it back to the drawing board.
A good logo must be timeless
Our final must-have trait for a logo is timelessness. A logo is a branding tool. And, good branding is consistent branding.
You want consumers to develop loyalty and trust in your brand. But trust and loyalty don’t grow overnight. Brand consistency, over the long-term, is the key to building trust and loyalty.
Personal branding guru William Arruda writes in his article Why Consistency is the Key to Successful Branding,
Brands are built through the consistent delivery of the brand promise through all stakeholder touch points. It is the consistent, desired experience that builds trust and trust is the foundation for loyalty and promotion.
Your logo is often the very first “stakeholder touchpoint”. This means that you should aim for a logo that will last a long time – a trust and loyalty-building length of time.
And, once you’ve built trusting and loyal relationships with consumers, starting over with a completely new logo can really set you back. You’ll have to rebuild your audience’s relationship with your brand identity from scratch.
When Tropicana changed their beloved logo in 2009, their sales dropped by 20%. They returned to their original logo in less than two months.
And, remember that instant recognizability isn’t purely a result of effective design. It also relies on the associations your marketing team builds between your business and your logo. Your customers need time to absorb that message and get to know your logo and your brand.
Logo design savant Paul Rand once reflected:
A good solution, in addition to being right, should have the potential for longevity. Yet I don’t think one can design for permanence. One designs for function, for usefulness, rightness, beauty. Permanence is up to God.
While it’s true that a designer can’t predict what designs will become truly timeless (and all designers can’t help but be influenced by the prevalent style of their time), they can avoid choices that will instantly date their designs. This is yet another reason to avoid prioritizing design trends over brand authenticity.
Drawing too deeply from the logo design trend well is going to leave you with a logo that looks dated faster than a design that draws its visual cues from your brand. Once a gimmicky design trend becomes dated, it dates your logo as well.
Your Logo Design To-Do List:
- Plan to keep your logo around for a long time to provide a consistent brand identity for consumers.
- Avoid embracing design trends for the sake of being trendy or “contemporary.”
- Make sure your logo concept has enough substance that it can receive the occasional update without losing its familiarity. (Think Starbucks’ ever-evolving mermaid.)
Remember that in logo design there is no one “right answer.” What is right for one brand is wrong for another.
And in the absence of absolutes, it may be tempting to make logo design choices based on what’s popular. But, that instinct can only backfire. After all, popularity is determined by a crowd – and you want your logo to stand out from the crowd.
The great Paul Rand once said,
The principal role of a logo is to identify, and simplicity is its means… Its effectiveness depends on distinctiveness, visibility, adaptability, memorability, universality, and timelessness.
So, let your unique brand identity be your logo’s north star. And remember to aim for a design that is instantly recognizable, timeless, and versatile.
To determine if your logo is up to par, fill out this quick questionnaire. How well does your logo perform?
Your Logo Design Questionnaire
Does your logo:
Communicate your brand essence to someone who knows nothing about your business?
Look good in color and in black and white?
Remain easy to recognize and identify when rendered at small scale and large scale?
Look similar to a competitor’s logo?
Rely heavily on contemporary design trends?
Resemble any overused or overdone design concepts?
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