For the past few weeks, Ive received a few email requests asking for my thoughts regarding proper logo creation. It seems to be one of the more requested topics that appears on the forums, so hopefully this will serve as some sort of guide on the topic. Ive done a few rants (as I like to call them) on the subject over the past two years or so that Ive been participating in these forums, but it seems that over the course of time, those rants have passed from the forum archives into the great unknown. Therefore, to satisfy the requests Ive gotten recently, I thought Id throw up a new post on the topic. It wont be the most detailed dissertation on the subject that I could do, but is far more than Ive ranted on in the past. Ill probably gloss over a few things and leave out some of the more in-depth reasoning behind what write, but if it spawns questions or debate Ill be sure to keep an eye on this thread and answer whatever questions I can (my days seem to be growing ever busier and I have less and less time for the forums). So please feel free to read through this, take and use whatever advice you wish or feel free to disagree if you want to. It all makes for a good thread and a good teaching tool. Enjoy
OVERVIEW Logo design is one of those specialty skills that a designer can use to set himself apart from the rest of his competition. Thats not to say that you are a bad designer if you dont like doing logos (just between you and me, I hate doing them), but the ability to craft solid, identifiable and versatile logos is not a talent to be taken lightly. Creating a logo is one of the most difficult tasks that a designer can take. Its an art form, really; a corporate-sanctioned, sterilized symbol of stature and it can make or break a company all in less than one second.
GENERAL THOUGHTS A good logo must do the following things: 1) serve as a recognizable symbol for a service, company, organization or product; 2) convey that entitys image, message or process in less than a second; 3) it must be instantly recognizable; 4) it must be memorable; 5) it has to be versatile and 6) it must look as if youve seen the logo a thousand times, even if its the first time youve actually looked at the logo.
Its very easy to create a bad logo. Just look around, bad logo design is everywhere. Its on the sides of plumbing trucks; on billboards; on bus benches; on crappy Chinese takeout menus; in print ads; on TV commercials Theyre everywhere. And even though theyre all around you, how many do you really remember? Did they make you stand up and notice? If you saw them again, would you really remember the logo? Would you associate it with a quality service? Would it make you want to call upon that company or organization?
A logo is an organizations public identity. It does so much more than just serve as an image that states a companys name. If a logo looks cheap or ill conceived, I guarantee you that it will reflect poorly on that companys public image. It doesnt really matter how good the product is or how well a service is performed, if a companys primary means of branding and corporate identity looks like an afterthought, the company itself WILL BE tainted in the public eye.
Think of the good logos youve seen. You think of things like the Nike Swoosh, the Golden Arches of McDonalds and the prestigious Mercedes emblem. Three different logos picked at random, yet instantly identifiable in your mind. The logo just pops into your minds eye when I mention Apple, Coca-Cola, Starter. You look at these logos and you think of quality, you think of reputation, you think: How would I look wearing that?
Sure theres a lot of marketing money behind those logos. Theres a lot of history and tradition that accompanies those corporate symbols. But you also need to remember that these logos once started out with no huge amounts of financial backing or tradition to help serve the identity. At one point they were new designs fresh off of some artist or designers drafting table or sketchpad. And though the years have passed, these logos have remained virtually unchanged and true to their original form. Why do you think that is?
There could be many reasons, not all of which are related to good logo design and theory. There have been many good logos designed throughout the years that have symbolized really crappy companies (think about the dot.com boom and subsequent bust). Its true that a good logo wont single handedly make a company successful. It also wont be the reason for an organizations downfall. But a good logo is important to a companys public face, and in a world where perception is often more powerful than fact, its important to make sure that your outward appearance is as effective as it can possibly be.
PREPARATION Before you even do so much as a thumbnail, do your research. Examine the intent of the logo, the company, its product or purpose in as much detail as possible. Talk to members of the companys marketing department or ownership if possible. Listen carefully to what they say about their company (and HOW they say it). Get a feel for the excitement they have towards their product or service and adopt it. Immerse yourself in the intricacies of the business. Dont just know what they do; UNDERSTAND what they do. Ask whatever questions you deem important to help you comprehend the public identity they wish to convey through their logo (and subsequent print materials, i.e. corporate identity items like business cards, letterhead and envelopes). Believe me, it will help in the long run when it comes time to actually sit down and design the logo.
The other important thing you need to do is research. Research the name of the company. Usually it means something, whether it is a persons name or a word pulled out from a dictionaryusually that word or name was chosen for a reason. Find out why it was chosen, what it means and where it came from. Research the logos of the competitors. See what theyve done. See if their logos hit the mark or miss the point. Teach yourself to learn from their wisdom or their mistakes. You can find a lot of inspiration and direction with a little dedication and willingness to put some time in on research. It doesnt matter if the company is a brand new startup, or has been around for 100 years. Either way, theres no way you can know a company better than those who run it, so take the time to learn what you need to learn in order to understand the task at hand.
Once youve done your research and have a good idea of the message the logo needs to convey, youre ready to sit down and start your thumbnails. Do at least 50 thumbnails; more if necessary and sort out the different variations and design elements you have in your head. It will help you in the long run to identify the attributes and designs that you will use when building your logo. Its a good idea to show a client several different logo options. I will usually show no fewer than ten distinctly different designs to a client. From that initial presentation, the client may choose a logo out right. He may ask for some revisions. Or he may ask to see a whole new set of logos. Either way, you should have enough information from that first presentation to hone your approach and better define your strategies for the particular logo.
PROGRAMS The program one chooses when building a logo is actually far more important that many people realize; even seasoned professionals. In order to achieve maximum versatility (in terms of size, ease of editing, and format conversion) its very important to design using a vector-based illustration program. The three biggest vector illustration programs are Adobe Illustrator (the most widely used), Corel Draw (my personal favorite), and Macromedia Freehand. One can expect to pay between $500-$700 for each program, individually. Some are available as part of larger software collections and can be found bundled with other programs for around $1000 (Adobes Design Collection being a notable example; get Illustrator, Photoshop, InDesign and Acrobat), or as competitive upgrades (if you already own a qualifying product) for as little as $150.
Choosing the right program is of paramount importance when beginning any project. A vector program when doing logo design is akin to using an image editor to touch up a photo, or a layout program to design an ad. Sure, one can use an image editing program like Photoshop to design a logo or create an ad layout, but it really isnt what the software is designed to do, and as a result, you will encounter limitations of some varying degrees.
So why would one use a vector illustration program instead of an image editor or layout program when designing a logo? One word: versatility.
An illustration program uses a series of mathematical points and lines to create images. This gives the logo the ability to be scaled to any size without any loss of image quality. Additionally, an Illustration program offers the ease of simplicity when converting to any other graphics file format. For example, a native Illustrator file can be exported/saved to TIFF, JPEG, PSD, EPS, GIF, SVG, BMP or PDF file formats. Its easy to go from vector to raster, but in many cases its nearly impossible to go from raster to vector. There are some programs like Adobe Streamline or Corel Trace that do a decent job in converting simple raster images to vector file, but struggle in maintaining realism with more photorealistic images. Vector files usually also result in smaller file sizes when compared to their raster counterparts, which serves as an added benefit when storing or emailing files. Since vector images also use mathematical points do define the image, output to printing devices will yield sharper images at all sizes than identical raster images.
An image editor uses pixels to define an image. The plus side to this is that a greater range of photorealism is achievable and a variety of specialty effects can be applied. The problem is three-fold. The first problem is that photorealism and special effects actually work against good logo design (as will be discussed a little later). Secondly, since an image-editing program does depend on pixels, not mathematical points, it cannot be scaled without loss of quality. One can shrink the logo to a fair degree and still maintain image quality, but the logo cannot be scaled upwards without losing integrity. Doing so can result in image blurriness or pixilation (both of which are not desirable). Since one would need to create a logo that would be the most versatile, that logo would need to be initially created with such size and resolution that the mere file size would likely prohibit effective utilization on most computers and applications. Lastly, raster images arent easily converted to vector-based formats. This limits the logo to formats like TIFF, JPEG, PSD, BMP, GIF and PDF formats. These formats will work for most print applications (newspapers, magazines, posters, etc), but not so well for things like vinyl signs, embossing/engraving or promotional products, where the vendors work almost exclusively with vector images.
Though it doesnt happen as much, some choose to use a layout program as the primary means of logo creation. This just adds difficulty to an already challenging undertaking. Where TIFF, EPS, PDF, JPEG and BMP files will pretty much work in any layout application, files designed in Quark, PageMaker, InDesign or (gasp) any of the Microsoft products (Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Publisher) are pretty much only good in the program that created it and not generally as versatile. One has to jump though hoops in order to get a layout program-based logo into formats that can be utilized by other programs. Of all the layout programs, InDesign is probably the layout program best suited toward logo creation because it has some of the basic illustration tools available in Illustrator and has the most file format export options; it can also read native Quark and PageMaker files. Quark and PageMaker do offer an export to EPS option, but experience has shown me that to be a somewhat unpredictable experience. One really has to know a great deal about all the individual program capabilities in order to get a layout program to export its creation to a format that can be utilized by other programs. Sometimes the only way is via a screen capture, scanning a printout or printing to a PDF file, which adds just another unnecessary step to an already time consuming process.
The bottom line is that for any project, one should choose the right tool for the right job. For logo design, that tool is a vector illustration program.
BASIC DESIGN Its been my experience with logo design that the best logos are typically those that are square(ish) in nature. There have been many good horizontal- or vertical-oriented logos, but the best and most versatile logos are square in nature.
Now, dont take this too literally. I dont necessarily mean that a logo has to be a square. Quite the contrary, it can be whatever shape you need it to be, a circle, an oval, a rectangle, a diamond whatever. What I mean is that when you measure the logo end to end, it is roughly the same size as it is when measured from top to bottom.
The reason for this is pretty simple. When a logo is designed, you need to design it for any possible application and space. For example, if a company does a lot of corporate sponsorships, its logo might be placed at the bottom of a print ad alongside other sponsor logos. If the logo was designed as a horizontal format and is placed in a vertical ad, the logo might be reduced to such a small size (if there are a number of sponsors) that it isnt as legible. This is because the overall size of the logo is limited by the amount of available width in a particular layout. If there isnt sufficient width available, the logo never achieves enough height to be legible.
The same is also true for vertically oriented logos. To be legible, a vertically oriented logo is dependent upon having enough height to make up for the lack of width. If an area is too small, a vertical logo can suffer the same fate as a horizontal logo.
The squarer is in its design, the less space it needs to be legible. It can fit in any area, and do so without sacrificing either height or width. Its a little trick really For example, if you take the same instance of a corporate sponsorship as given earlier, a square logo can actually become more visible, more legible in less space than either a vertical or horizontal logo.
LOGO DESIGN SPECIFICS: COLOR One of the biggest mistakes designers make when creating a logo is through the use/choice of color. It is very important that when designing a logo that the first version be a lineart version. This means black ink on white paper. No halftones, no drop shadows, beveling, embossing or tints of color; just solid black on white paper. I dont care if it looks cool with the effects or different color. The ultimate point is that if a logo works in its basic, most pure form, itll work anywhere.
The primary reasoning goes back to what I wrote about using a vector illustration program. Its about versatility. Engravers, coffee mug printers and sign makers need to work with solid images. Their craft just wont allow for the use of halftones, so if youve spent hours creating a really pimped out logo with bevels and drop shadows you might find yourself frantically trying to reproduce the logo in a lineart version when the client asks that the logo be engraved on a crystal trophy, bronze plaque or applied to a coffee mug. So its best to design a logo from the ground up. Think of the lineart logo as your foundation. Once you have that, you can build anything you want upon it and be confident that no matter what comes ahead, that youll be able sleep easy knowing that your whole company image is built upon a solid foundation.
Once you have your solid lineart version of the logo, you can then build upon it by adding in color. Keep in mind that a logo should have one or maybe two spot colors to it. Theres no print limitation that says you cant do more. What you will find is a financial limitation. The more colors you add, the more that logo is going to cost you to reproduce. For example, I had a client that insisted that we put twelve different spot colors into his logo. He pulled out a Pantone book and marked all the colors that he said HAD to be in his logo. I tried to warn him about the cost. He wouldnt listen. He wanted a good, consistent image and he wanted all the colors. I pointed out that we could process out the colors and save money, but that he could experience color shifts. He wanted to make sure that all the colors were identical across all media. So we printed his business cards, just 500 of them. He paid $2,000. Thats $4 per card. Hardly cost effective. Still, he liked his cards and the price didnt seem to matter. Okay, no big deal for me. I hade a happy client and received a greater profit from the markup. His true awakening came when he wanted to get his logo embroidered on some golf shirts to shell out in his company store. Each time he embroidered logo on a shirt it cost him $35. The shirts themselves cost $40 each before the embroidery. So just to break even, he would have to charge $75 for each shirt. Who here would pay that much for a t-shirt?
Since a logo is part of a good consistent corporate image, you want to make sure that it always reproduces the same way. The use of spot color is a great way to ensure that. Process color only invites press, registration and color issues as each vendor may lay the ink down differently. Your logo may come out too light, too dark, be muddy or, as mentioned earlier, not have color that is true to your original design. It also has to be cost effective to reproduce. So if you want to add color, do it. But make sure that you do it responsible and keep the number of colors in check.
LOGO DESIGN SPECIFICS: FONTS Proper font usage is another important consideration when building a logo. There is no right or wrong font for any particular logo. There is no logo god that will come down from the heavens and smite you if you choose the wrong font. But there are some considerations to take into account.
Script fonts are usually bad. Usually, script fonts are used to convey elegance or sophistication. Quite often they are detailed and use very fine lines that will disappear when printed at smaller sizes, and even at larger sizes (for signage and display materials) the fonts typically wont have enough thickness to be easily read from a distance. So if your logo calls for a script font, choose carefully or modify the font so as to make it easier to read. Thicken the paths, add a stroke or use the bold font style if available. Never do a script font in all caps (this applies to everything, not just logos). Its ugly and very difficult for the human eye to read, especially when you have but a moment to capture the readers attention. If it looks jumbled or messy, the reader will just move on to something more appealing.
Serif fonts offer a more versatility than script fonts. They can be elegant or reserved, playful or traditional. Depending on the goal, I like using serif fonts in my logos. You still have to be very mindful of reproduction issues. Shrink the font down, blow it up, and look at it from across the room to check that it is still legible from varying distances.
Sans Serif fonts are often a safe bet for logos. Fonts like Helvetica, Impact, Gill Sans and Frutiger will generally reproduce well at all sizes. The thing about sans serif fonts is that they often arent as visually expressive as serif or script fonts. You have to cheat a bit to get them to show their inner character. An easy way would be to kern them out and increase the spacing between the letters. You can also play with case. Capitalize everything but leave only a particular letter as lowercase. Decrease or increase the horizontal scaling to make the font thinner or wider than it was intended to be. Just make sure that it isnt too bold or too thin so to ensure that the ink doesnt bleed together and create a huge blob instead of text, or so thin that enough ink doesnt stick to the page.
Another consideration is font usage. There are fonts that are extremely overused. Fonts like Zapf Chancery, Brush Script, Comic Sans, University and Lucida usually come standard on most computers and/or are installed with common programs like Word. Everybody has access to them and as such they find their way onto a whole range of projectsespecially logos. Be original. Be unique. Make your choice of font one of logic and design, not of convenience.
LOGO DESIGN SPECIFICS: ELEMENTS When you create a logo, you have an almost limitless array of options available. The important thing to keep in mind is that a logo is a unique symbol of a company, and as such it must look unique. Dont fall prey to the pitfalls of repetitive elements.
Repetitive elements are images like swooshes, stars and digital fades. It seems that when anybody wants to make something look exciting, futuristic or technical they add one of these three elements. Be original people. Really dig deep and stretch the limits of your imagination. A logo doesnt necessarily have to be a logical or literal interpretation of what a company does, produces or promotes. This all goes back to doing your research and letting your newfound knowledge of the company fuel your creative juices.
Another thing to consider is using a repetitive regional element. For example, I live in Colorado and we have a mountain called Pikes Peak. Many companies and individuals want to tie the mountains into their logo. A good 80% of the local logos you see along the Front Range have a mountain of some sort intertwined within the image. Do you know how many ways there are to do mountains in a logo? Three. You have the traditional snow capped triangle(s), the realistic detailed renditions (which never reproduce well at smaller sizes) and you have the stylized outline (which resembles a caterpillar with a calcium deficiency). This particular element is so overused and so prevalent in local logo design that any logo that uses a mountain ends up looking like a hundred or thousand other logos. I sure people in other parts of the world will easily identify with what Im saying. People in New York are probably sick of seeing logos with the Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn Bridge or Empire State Building in them. People in Paris probably see their share of logos with the Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triumph. People in San Francisco have probably had their fill of logos with the Golden Gate Bridge or Judy Garland (sorry all, a cheap joke). A companys location is not nearly as significant as the service it performs. Keep your focus on what matters, not what looks pretty, because I can guarantee that a hundred, less talented, less inspiring designers have probably already thought of and used the same thing long before you.
ZEN When designing logos, look around you constantly for ideas. Look at other logos for inspiration, maybe theres an element or technique that will spawn a sudden flash of brilliance on your part. Walk away from a logo design; come back to it later if something doesnt feel right with it. Dont be afraid to completely delete the logo from your system. Sometimes letting go of a troublesome design can be a very cathartic experience and allow you to cleanse that idea from your mental palette and start anew.
Its always been my philosophy that a good logo is just waiting to be found. To paraphrase Michelangelo: The stature was already in the marble, all I did was to clear away the unneeded stone. This may sound a bit funny, but I stare at a blank Corel Draw screen. I let the waves of the monitors refresh lines wash over my eyes until I see in that white nothingness of my digital canvas, the logo thats meant to be on that screen. From then on, all I have to do is create it. Its all about detaching yourself from your conscious, logical mind (the one that worries about time tables, font usage, image orientation, etc) and letting the artistic mind come to the forefront and show you what needs to be done.
A few corrections... since I know a few people in the forums like to nit pick things to death, I'd like to offer up the following two corrections in the hopes of stemming the tides of public ridicule:<br /><br />1) The last line in <B>Logo Design Specifics: Color</B>, the word "responsible" should be "responsibly."<br /><br />2) On line 8 in <B>Zen</B>, the word "stature" should be "statue."<br /><br />I apologize for any confusion these two errors may have caused. <i>Mea culpa, mea culpa</i>. <g>
You also have to get your logo B.S. Flowing. There was a great spot on
comedy central about the homeland defense logo (can't find the comedy
central link ) http://www.dhs.gov/dhspublic/index.jsp
They claimed that the eagle was breaking out of circle to symbolize how the
deparment would break through the bureacracy.
I knew I'd forget something. When you're right, you're right. The ability to B.S. your way through a logo presentation when confronted with a "why-did-you-design-it-like-this" question from the client is very important. Ideally, of course, you'd would WANT to have a reason for why certain things are designed a certain way, but sometimes it those "pull-it-out-of-your-butt" last minute rationalizations that sell the client.
Long time no see, we've missed you---hopefully you've been "good busy". (Meaning the productive, non-stress and profitable kind!)
Thank you so much for your logo dissertation. I learned more from reading this than I did in the two weeks in illustrator class dealing with logo design. It's printed out and filed in my graphic/photo reference drawer labeled, "Blu's Logo Design Wisdom".
The most "memorable" thing I learned in logo design---(and it's probably common knowledge to most), but I wasn't aware of it. When you have a capital letter "E" followed by a lower case "x", the space between the "Ex" forms a forward arrow indicating movement.(not in this type font, but the bold ones you discussed).
Anyway, thanks again for the way cool,
I believe the type in that logo was either hand rendered or scaled to produce the arrow in the negative space between the "E" and the "x." I don't know of any typeface where the lc "x" height of the face equals the height of the top of the middle finger in a Cap "E." Also, the Kerning of the letters was tightened up to close the gaps between the individual letters, again, brilliant design. It pretty much does exactly what Blu describes a good logo needs to do...
Thanks Blu - as a print person it's a joy to read a designer who knows about print limitations, consistency of spot colours over process, the practicality of reproduction of squarish shapes, why to use a vector programme, why it HAS to work as line art - I'd like to hand your ?disquisition? to sooooo many so-called designers I have to wrestle with.
... or customers who already have an expensively designed multi-colour, photographic type logo and come out with 'the sign writer needs this as something called a vector, it's going to be about five feet high, can you do that by this afternoon?"
In fact, I propose a new law - no-one is allowed to design a logo until s/he has read, understood and thoroughly digested everything Blu said. Anyone who says 'you can just grab it off our website' to be sentenced to five years as an ink-boy (sorry, when there were ink-boys there weren't ink-girls) and have their mouse/tablet surgically removed and re-inserted.
Nice job Blu... There was an article in Before & Ater magazine (http://www.bamagzine.com)that features logo designs & elements - some tips actually.... however, yours is much more in-depth & thought provoking. Thanks for sharing it... Is there a way I can I save it to disk & print it later?
BLUDVLZ's first rule of Graphic Design is that before you can break the rules for graphic design, you must first know the rules of graphic design... and make no mistake about it, there ARE rules.
Think of the entire logo manifesto as some sage advice and general points of consideration that have been honed through years of experience, trial and suffering. There's not a thing in there that isn't true and hasn't been proven through countless hours/years of experience. Sure there are exceptions to every rule and different considerations that must be taken into account on a per-project basis, but that doesn't change the fact that what's written above is good, sound advice based upon real experience.
As I said in my opening statements, feel free to disagree. But if you do, I think it would be for the benefit an education of all of the participants in the forum if you would provide detailed reasoning alongside your objections.
I'm curious as to what your level of experience is. I, for one, am the creative director at a $13 million/year agency.
>BLUDVLZ's first rule of Graphic Design is that before you can break the rules for graphic design, you must first know the rules of graphic design... and make no mistake about it, there ARE rules.
Don't worry, Blu, I think Zeb and r's posts were more T-I-C than anything. I agree, you MUST know the rules, before you can violate them. I like the word "violate" better than "break." It just sounds more deviant! ;-)
b  Bwaaaah Haaa Haa Haaa! ;-)
BTW, Blu, I wouldn't mind a PDF of that also. Just click on my name above to get my e-address. Thanks!
Knowing the rules so's yuh can break 'em....same goes for improvisational music performance as well. It's magically liberating when you get to that point, then to break the barrier and travel into the great unknown beyond.....
>before you can break the rules for graphic design, you must first know the rules of graphic design
I must disagree strongly with this premise. You may be pulling down $13 million/year as a creative director, but my credentials are impeccable. (Try and pecc them, betcha can't) I don't know squat about graphic design yet I'm confident that I have violated many if not most of the rules. Some people are born with a bad eye and no taste, but others of us have had to work very hard to rise to that level.
Please don't take any offense. I do not mean to slight your experience, talents or skills... I do my best to respect all creative minds and talent, no matter how they came to achieve their success--until, of course, they prove themselves inadequate. In the time I have been here, I have seen nothing from you to suggest that you are anything but an extremely knowledgeable and capable talent.
All I really mean by my "rule" is that there are guidelines and "do's and don'ts" involved with good, competent design layouts. Some people (as you well pointed out) do have the natural gift. Some learn from trial and error. Some learn from formal education. Some don't learn at all.
My point is that however you come across your knowledge of graphic design, you invariably find out through experience, tutorials, colleagues and classes that there are things you do and do not do with a layout. THEN, once you know that and choose to break on of those guidelines, at least you know how and why you're doing it and that you are doing it for a specific purpose.
BTW, I'm not pulling down $13M/year, far (way far... too far) from it. Donations anyone? Help a poor, starving creative director out? Anyone? Anyone at all?