The Science of Logo Design: How to Choose an Effective Logo for Your Business

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When you start a new business, you have a long to-do list.

Choosing the right logo for your new business is near the top.

Logos are important. Without a brand-specific image like a logo, it’s impossible to distinguish one business from another.

Well-crafted custom logo design bridges this identification gap. A logo is a crucial part of your company’s brand identity and can create resonance with potential customers by communicating a bit of the spark that makes your business unique.

It’s essential to understand logo design trends, but trends change. Fortunately, best practices and science can guide you in choosing an effective logo that will connect with your audience.

We’ve emphasized that:

At its most basic, a logo is a small, symbolic artwork representing a business… 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.

Let’s break these principles down further:

1. Focus on communicating your brand

Your brand strategy should reflect and communicate what your brand is about.

The primary function of your logo is to represent your unique brand.

So, if you use a free logo generator or pay a random amateur on Fiverr $50 to give you a generic stock logo, you’ve missed the point – and hurt your business.

The best logos – the kind of logo you want for your business – communicates the “who” of your unique brand.

There are many ways to do this – with colors, shapes, typography, lines, etc.

But these are just the building blocks. An experienced designer will work with you to assemble these building blocks with wit, psychology, and insight into a logo that could only ever represent one business – yours.

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2. Aim for instant recognition

Instant recognition is essential.

People are busy. And they’re distracted. They’re not going to invest time in confirming that they’ve found you and not your competitor.

Your business name is important because you want people to remember your business when they hear or read the name. And, your logo is equally important because it’s your logo’s job to ensure that when people look at your website, storefront, signage, or mobile app they can immediately say, “Oh yeah – that’s the one.”

So, how do you create instantly recognizable branding?

A unique, distinctive shape is vital.

So, challenge your logo designer to think beyond the standard name-in-a-box or initials-in-an-oval paradigm.

A signature color combo can also help with immediate recognition. But color alone won’t cut it. Sometimes your logo will have to appear in black and white.

In logo design, the shape is the leading man, and the color is the sidekick.

3. Test for versatility

A logo is intended to represent your business everywhere.

If you have one, it should appear on your website, business cards, and storefront.

Your logo should also appear on all marketing materials, including ebooks, emails, flyers and brochures, social media content, and promotional materials for joint ventures and partnerships.

That means your logo must be versatile enough to appear big or small, in color or black and white, in a single color or multiple colors, and still be consistently recognizable.

Here’s a test: can you put your logo in a single color on a brightly patterned business card and still quickly tell what it is?

If not, head back to the drawing board.

4. Plan for longevity

The best logos last the test of time.

Think about Disney, Nike, and Coca-cola. These brands (and their logos) are recognized throughout the world. And, these companies have kept the same logo for decades.

Repeat exposure helps people to remember a brand. It takes time for a logo to penetrate the public’s consciousness.

And that means that you have to be willing to live with your logo long enough for people to get to know it.

So, avoid trendy design fads that will date your brand. Focus instead on a logo that will represent your business as it grows over the long haul.

The science of logo design

Best practices are important.

But they’re not your only resource when planning and designing your logo.

We promised you some science. So settle in.

We’ve previously written about ways that science can improve your marketing.

Science can also help you make confident decisions about your company logo.

Descriptive vs. non-descriptive logos

L to R: Non-descriptive logo, descriptive logo

Let’s conduct a thought experiment.

Imagine you’re down to the final two options for your logo.

Logo A features your business name artistically rendered inside a solid-colored circle. Classic. Professional.

Logo B is a unique custom shape that reflects what your business does. Your company name is beneath. Specific. Unique.

Which do you choose?

According to a recent study, you should choose Logo B.

In the study, researchers conducted seven separate experiments and analyzed the effect of logo design on brand equity for 597 companies to reach their conclusions.

And their research found that descriptive logos are more effective than non-descriptive logos.

The researchers defined a descriptive logo as:

… a logo that includes textual or visual design elements (or a combination of the two) that clearly communicate the type of product or service a brand is marketing.

But what does having a descriptive logo do for your business?

The researchers explain:

Our studies and analyses reveal that it is easier for consumers to visually process descriptive logos and understand what a brand markets as a result. We also found that, compared with nondescriptive logos, descriptive logos:

  • make brands appear more authentic in consumers’ eyes
  • more favorably impact consumers’ evaluations of brands
  • more strongly increase consumers’ willingness to buy from brands
  • boost brands’ net sales more

It doesn’t get much more compelling than that.

Descriptive logos make it easier for potential customers to determine what your business does. People like that. And it leads to more sales.

Circular vs. angular logo shapes

A picture is worth a thousand words.

And even simple shapes communicate more than you might suspect.

A study in the Journal of Consumer Research revealed that,

 …the mere circularity and angularity of a brand logo is powerful enough to affect perceptions of the attributes of a product or company.

This research confirms what experts have long known – the shape of your logo matters.

Different shapes communicate different traits. And choosing the shape that communicates the qualities you want people to associate with your business significantly impacts how effective your logo is.

So, let’s look deeper. The researchers explain:

While there are an almost infinite variety of possible shapes, broadly speaking, shapes can be classified as circular, angular, or a combination of the two. Circular shapes are curved and without sharp angles (e.g., an oval or a circle); angular shapes consist of straight lines and sharp corners (e.g., a triangle or a square).

This same study showed that circular shapes and angular shapes could reliably be associated with certain perceptions.

Circular shapes were found to be perceived as:

  • soft
  • gentle
  • mild
  • caring and kind
  • more attractive to people who approach conflict resolution with compromise

Angular shapes were found to be perceived as:

  • hard
  • harsh
  • cruel
  • more attractive to people who favored confrontational conflict resolution

Neither circular nor angular logos are inherently better than the other. But they do communicate different messages.

And shapes can fall anywhere on a broad spectrum between circular and angular. So, don’t be afraid to encourage your logo designer to experiment with circular and angular elements in your logo.

But, most important of all, keep the perceptions associated with these shapes in mind when choosing a logo design. It’s essential to send the right message about your brand.

The impact of color on the mind and body

Color is powerful.

The Impact of Color on Marketing study found that people subconsciously judge products within the first 90 seconds of seeing them.

And almost 85% of consumers cited color as the main reason they bought a specific product.

Why does something as seemingly irrelevant as color influence so many people?

The reality is that color is not a superficial factor.

Science has revealed that color can impact people’s emotions, perceptions, and even bodies.

A 1974 study by K.W. Jacobs and F.E. Hustmyer measured the galvanic skin response (GSR), heart rate, and respiration of men in response to specific colors. The study found that red was significantly more arousing to the participants’ GSR than blue or yellow. And green was more arousing to the GSR than blue.

Various studies by Rikard KĂĽller revealed that colors could impact viewers’ heart rates and autonomic nervous systems. Red stimulates the sympathetic (or fight-or-flight) nervous response, while blue stimulates the parasympathetic (or relaxation) nervous response.

Collectively, these studies show that color can impact our bodies’ behavior. Red excites our bodies, leading to anger, aggression, or passion based on the context. Shades of blue calm the body – leading people to experience feelings of peace, trust, or sadness based on the context.

So, what’s your takeaway when choosing a logo?

Colors are scientifically shown to impact people on a deep level. So, choose colors that communicate how you want people to feel about your brand.

Check out how brands use color to influence customers to learn how specific colors can help you create a stronger connection with your target audience.

You’re not in this alone

Choosing a logo is an important decision.

And, it can be a less stressful decision when you’re equipped with the correct information.

Follow these best practices and scientific guidance to be confident in your logo choice.

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