5 Questions to Ask When Designing a Logo
What makes a logo enduring? What makes one logo stand the test of time and remain in people’s memory, and another fade away or seem outdated?
You might assume a logo is good if you like it, and not good if you don’t. Actually, regardless of our preference, there are particular traits of lasting logos. Here we’ll discuss 5 questions to ask when designing a logo to hone in on these traits.
Now, one could argue there are more than 5 questions, and I’d agree. But these 5 serve as an overarching umbrella covering a lot of ground, so let’s start!
1. Can it be simplified?
To simplify is to boil something down to its basic essence, so it’s easier to understand. A successful logo is quickly identified in our mind, and for this, simplicity is key.
The job of a designer is to take a complex or multi-layered idea and make it simple enough to recognize at a glance. This is critical since most people see logos while driving past them on a bus, scrolling down a web site, shuffling through a magazine, or walking down the aisle of a store where there’s a lot to catch your attention.
Another reason simplicity is important is because after the logo gets out into the real world it’s hard to control or forsee all of the ways it will be reproduced. For example, will it ever be embroidered? If so, the embroidery machine can only handle so much detail at smaller sizes. Will it ever be produced in one color? When a company sponsors an event, many times the sponsor logos are shown in one color so not to distract from the main event graphics. A designer must think through all these scenarios.
While working on a logo, it’s always helpful to do a “check-in” and ask yourself if each design element is necessary to communicate the goal, or is it just a frill?
2. Is it relevant to the field?
Unless purposely trying to be kitchy, the logo for an environmental nonprofit should not look like it was made for a sugar-loaded soft drink company. It should seem like it fits the category it’s in. If the logo for a bank feels silly or flippant, I’m not sure how many people would be willing to invest their money there.
Relevancy is also related to trust. You may have had the experience of seeing a product that looked like it was for a specific kind of company only to find out it wasn’t. Maybe it was an unhealthy food company packaging their product in brown recycled paper and green distressed fonts, trying to come off as an organic option. Companies who merely follow design trends rather than create a logo based on relevancy run the risk of causing their customers to second guess their honesty.
A logo can be playful or suggest authority, but it should sit comfortably in the field or niche it operates in.
3. How is it distinct?
Although a logo should be relevant to its field, it should also be distinct from competitors in the same field. After doing many competitor audits for my clients, I find that competitors often copy each other. They see something they like and mimic it, instead of putting in the work to uncover what makes them unique, and communicate that.
Sometimes it’s as simple as using color, typography, or a symbol to differentiate your logo. If the majority of competitors are using green, consider another color that reflects your values. If many of the competitors are using serif typefaces and ALL CAPS, maybe explore a sans serif typeface set in Title Case. If competitors are using only letters in their logo, try incorporating a symbol. Of course, all of this means due diligence must be done to learn the visual landscape of the field in order to make meaningful decisions.
Why is it important for a company to be distinct? Every day people are presented with countless options to choose from. A logo helps separate and identify one company as the option they should choose. It can express the sentiment of a company and help to differentiate it from all of the surrounding noise.
4. What makes it memorable?
Often times it’s something a bit off or unusual about a logo that makes it distinct. A bite taken from an apple, the towering height of golden arches, or the form of a peacock in the white space between colored feathers—these features surprise us and help our minds to record the logo in our memory.
For this we can explore using techniques such as wordplay, scale, and negative space when designing a logo. Is there anything that would cause a person to think twice, solve a puzzle, or even for a moment, wonder why?
5. Does it scale well?
In the digital age we live in, a logo needs to perform at the size of a billboard as well as the size of a favicon. Simplicity helps, but you also have to consider line thickness, the distance between letters and shapes, and even creating multiple variations of the logo.
If the lines are too thick, they can get muddy at small sizes. If too thin they can begin to disappear. If the letters and shapes are too close they can lose their distinction at smaller sizes. These are all important details to consider in order to have the most versatile logo.
It’s also helpful to create variations or “lockups” that allow you to present the logo with the tag line, text, and symbol together, the symbol and text together, or even just the symbol by itself. This comes in handy when applying the logo to different size materials.
A logo is a graphic mark that is the face of a company and base of a memorable brand identity. At times it is the first touch point a person has with your business. In the end, a great logo won’t save a failing or poorly managed company, but it is a major factor of building distinction, trust, and memorability in the sea of so many other options.
Next time you’re designing a logo or considering one for your business, remember to ask these 5 questions about simplicity, relevancy, distinction, memorability, and scalability.
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