Welcome back to “Branding and Logo Design!” In Part 1, we discussed a bit about branding and its history. In Part 2, we’ll explore some ideas about how to create an effective logo for your business.
The most visible manifestation of a brand, of course, is its logo, which we’re going to discuss next. There is a huge number of excellent nuts-and-bolts guides and “how-to” videos available online, particularly on Lynda.com, which will take you through specific design steps from beginning to end, so I’m not going to attempt to reiterate them here.
Instead, I’ll touch on the overall philosophy and thought process involved in creating an effective logo, gathered from some of the experts in the field, with a few reflections of my own thrown in.
The word “logo” is an abbreviation of the word “logotype,” from the Greek logos (“word”) and typos (“imprint”); in other words, a single imprint representing a word (or words) or an idea. Logos in one form or another have been around since the beginning of history but became popular in their modern form in the 1870s when modern printing presses made it easier to combine graphics and typography on a page.
Most logos are a combination of these two elements—graphics and typography. Ideally, they work together to create a symbol, which will forever be identified with a particular company or product.
A good logo tells a story—in a single image—of what this company or product is all about. A good logo can, over time, evoke powerful impressions and emotions about the product.
Think, for example, about the feeling you might have gotten as a child on a family vacation, barreling along a freeway at night, tired and hungry, when all of a sudden a pair of golden arches appears in the distance.
As the designer Bill Gardner puts it, “Clients build empires; consumers build lifestyles.” Billions and billions served, indeed!
Gardner, of gardnerdesign.com, has been in the industry for several decades now and has laid out his design process neatly in a series of videos on Lynda.com. A good many designers use variations of this same process.
Do Your Homework
Your first order of business is to research the client’s company as thoroughly as possible even before first meeting with them. You’ll then be able to have a good understanding of the company’s needs, and you’ll be able to ask intelligent questions. Some clients already know what they’re looking for, down to fonts and colors. Others have no clue and you’ll be starting from scratch, but if you’re properly prepared and ask them the right question, you may be able to get them to articulate what they want.
Now, it’s time to start the actual creative process. Chances are, you’ll be using a combination of words and images, as stated earlier. Some extremely large and well-known corporations (e.g., those folks with the arches) can get away with a simple image, but those logos took years to develop—they didn’t start out that way.
The client may have told you what type of font they prefer—decorative or plain, serif or sans serif, etc.
Typography is generally key to success in logo design. The font can make or break it—and there are a lot to choose from.
Gardner estimates that there are between a quarter- and a half-million fonts out there in the world.
The website www.logolounge.com has a myriad of examples. Just make sure that you’ve purchased a proper license for whichever ones you end up using. No one likes to be pursued by angry lawyers.
Gardner and another designer, Nigel French, both emphasize the value of word associations early in the process; making a word cloud can be a good exercise, uncovering ideas that may not otherwise have occurred to you.
Now comes the fun part. Drawing.
Draw what comes to mind. Knock out as many ideas as possible. Now is not the time to get married to just one idea—play the field! Fill page after page with sketches.
Gardner says, “No idea is as dangerous as the ONE idea.”
French adds, “Get the bad ideas out of your head to make room for the good ones.”
I recommend using pencil and paper for this—I’m “old,” after all—but some might prefer to use digital tools even at this stage.
Eventually, you’ll get to the point where some ideas strike your fancy more than others and you’ll start narrowing them down.
At this point, it might be good to share your ideas with colleagues or other people you trust.
They might have additional ideas or insights that you hadn’t thought of.
Consider Your Competition
Find ways to be different from them. Color is an important brand differentiator and a good way to convey emotion and meaning.
Layers of Symbolism
Gardner tries to put at least three layers of symbolism in his logos to convey a variety of ideas within one symbol.
A good example is the logo for Clifton Square, a shopping center in Wichita, Kansas. The first impression is that of a sun with a smiling face in the center, but as you look more closely you can see a square denoting the shape of the mall—a square city block. One side of the square represents the entrance, which opens onto a main street; the other three sides form a letter C (for Clifton).
Negative space is as important as positive space in a good logo.
The darks and lights can work together to create an interesting image, as well as hide symbols in plain sight.
The arrow hidden in the FedEx logo is a good example.
After you’ve narrowed your multiplicity of ideas down to around three really good ones, it’s time to begin refining them.
At this point, you’ll probably want to begin using a design tool such as Adobe Illustrator. Illustrator is an extremely versatile program, and since it’s vector-based, it’s easy to move shapes around, resize them and combine them in different ways. It’s also resolution-independent, so the images can be scaled up and down and formatted for either print or web with no loss of quality.
Hopefully, you’ll be able to keep a good dialogue going with your client throughout the entire process.
You’ll most likely have several meetings with them, during which you can show them your ideas at various stages and receive constructive feedback. The client will likely indicate which concepts they prefer, so you can narrow them down and arrive at the best solution. Sometimes they still don’t know or are unable to properly express their desires (a bit like dating).
I once had a client with whom I thought I was on the right track; however, when I sent her what I thought was the finished piece, she complained over the phone that she didn’t like it at all! What I then did was to go over each and every piece of the design with her—colors, shapes, fonts, and so forth—to find out specifically what she did and didn’t like. Eventually we arrived at a satisfactory result.
But the most important things to remember, according to Gardner, are the following:
1) Be prepared!
2) Approach the client with enthusiasm;
3) Pre-address potential objections; and
4) Show only concepts in which you have complete confidence. You should be able to defend every decision you’ve made.
Once the client signs off on the finished product, make sure you deliver it according to the agreed-upon specs. Then—it’s Miller time!
This is just a quick overview of the logo design process but it should be a good jumping-off point. For further information, I’ve included a list of resources. Thanks for reading, and have fun designing!