Logo Design Guide 2 of 5: Logo Design

This is the second instalment of this 5-part series featuring chapters from our Logo Design Guide ebook, released every Friday until it’s all gone. Here is Section 1: The Creative Brief in case you missed it. Can’t wait for the next chapter? Download the entire PDF now at https://gumroad.com/l/HmceP


Section 2
Logo Design

Designers don’t sell logos. They sell a process. This process will ultimately deliver a solution to the client’s problem, and should be tailored specifically to each client based on their needs and budget. It may seem like a trivial adjustment to consider the process (not the logo) as the project deliverable. However, we find this shift helps the client recognize the time and effort required to create a simple, effective design.


The logo design process

1. Problem Definition

Put simply, the designer needs to know what problem they are trying to solve. In terms of logo design, this could be a problem with a brand’s position in the market, a lack of existing visual representation, or a logo that is illegible at small sizes. Whatever the case, everyone needs to fully understand the design challenge before any solutions can be tabled.

2. Research

Before a designer can start their creative process, they need to study up on the competitive landscape, audience, and production techniques. A competitive landscape review is essential. It helps prevent the presentation of a design that may be embarrassingly similar to a competitor, or other tangential company or product. It also gives the designer a view of the visual language used in a particular space, allowing them to position the new mark intelligently.

In addition to the competitive landscape, the designer must have some perspective on who will be looking at the logo, and which group of people it is important to appeal to directly. Every human being has their own configuration of visual and cultural vocabularies. the designer’s job is to use their powers of empathy to anticipate how a particular group will respond to certain forms and colours. Once the audience is defined, the designer can research the expectations and preferences of that audience (through an assessment of visual design precedents, audience interviews/surveys, review of social media commentary, etc.), and build that knowledge into their design execution.

We also recommend a designer quickly research the opportunities and limitations of various production techniques that may be applied to the logo design. Are there opportunities for simple and meaningful animation? What are the visual effects of letterpress or screenprinting? Can the logo present a smaller, simpler version of itself in extreme contexts? Investigating various production methods may inspire a particular treatment or other conceptual approach.

Research can be an exhaustive step in the design process, but it ultimately leads to more successful work. Designers should treat research like investing: a greater contribution will yield a greater return.

3. Divergence

This is the sketching (aka braindumping) phase. Once the designer has calibrated their mind for the design challenge (problem definition, communication goals, audience profile), they are ready to let loose with their ideas and creative intuition.

Most importantly, divergence is a time reserved for unedited exploration. We’ve encountered many junior designers who believe sketching equals ‘drawing the solution’ — they try to solve the whole problem in their head and then draw the final answer. We take a different view: sketching is a time for exploring how different key ideas or messages can be presented visually. It’s about seeking various components of a solution, not the final solution itself. Designers should use this stage to experiment without the fear of failure. The goal of this phase is to capture a dynamic range of ideas and expressions.

We recommend that designers stay off the computer and actually sketch during this phase — using pencils, pens, whiteboards, or whatever is most comfortable. Filtering ideas through cumbersome digital tools can interfere with the meandering of the mind, or force a designer’s ideas into too much structure prematurely. Alternatively, using a pen or pencil is like a mainline to the brain.

It’s also important to note that divergence can happen any time, and doesn’t need to be so strictly or linearly defined. Designers may be inspired by a particular piece of research, or even during the creative brief phase. Just remember that design is the solution to a problem — so a solution that arrives before the problem is fully understood might not be the most successful answer.

4. Convergence

The goal of the convergence phase is to measure the effectiveness of the sketches by using the creative brief. What ideas stand out and what makes them successful?

Which ideas most directly communicate the key messages (e.g. bold, established, traditional, innovative)? Which ideas have the greatest chance to resonate with the intended audience? Are there certain components to a sketch that can be successfully combined with the components of another?

The designer needs to isolate the effective concepts and invest more time in their visual execution. This means rendering them in vector, choosing proper typefaces and type treatments, and conducting further exploration digitally with colouration, size and form.

5. Presentation

Creating beautiful, meaningful things is a wonderful ability. But unless the client understands the value and appropriateness of a piece of work, it will not see the light of day. Since the client’s approval determines which idea goes live, the presentation itself can be as important as all the underlying design work.

Presentations are an opportunity to uncover aspects of a concept that aren’t satisfying the requirements found in the creative brief. They can initiate conversations on key issues and provide opportunities to better understand the audience and the task at hand. These deeper levels of understanding lead to stronger work.

We never show up to a logo presentation without some supporting examples of logo application. There is limited value in seeing a logo design floating alone on screen. Logos are applied to things — they live in various printed and digital spaces, surrounded by other information. By taking the time to explore how the various logo concepts look in context, we give the client a more valuable perspective on the proposed logo designs. These unpolished example applications remind the client that a logo is part of a larger identity system, and needs to be evaluated in that way. Section 4 dives deeper into the intricacies and philosophy behind good visual identity presentations.

6. Revisions & Implementation

Collaboration between the client and the designer is an essential part of the logo design process. When approached correctly, it leads to stronger solutions.

How many rounds of revisions are appropriate? That depends on the design team and the scope of the project. But we suggest stating a limit to the number of rounds of revisions in your project agreement. Whether it’s two or 20 rounds, it’s necessary for all parties to agree on the number before the project commences, otherwise this phase of the design process could go on forever (Note: if a client expects 20 rounds of revisions, gtfo).

For identity design projects, we generally scope two rounds of revisions with any additional rounds billed hourly (if required). Section 5 takes a closer look at the revision process.


What makes a good logo?

Good question! It’s difficult to provide a standard for the assessment of logo design. No two design challenges are the same, and different audiences have their own set of subjective criteria. The same design viewed by two different people may evoke completely different reactions. Even so, we believe there are some core tenets of logo design. By adhering to these tenets, designers will be more likely to create a successful piece of communication that stands the test of time.

Good logos are: Simple

Generally speaking, a logo should be simple. As we mentioned previously, the natural state of a logo is in application — it is crafted to be used in various design pieces. Sometimes those pieces have limited space for the logo to appear, or present some other display-related challenge. Overly complicated designs, or logos with extraneous details, are not versatile and perform poorly at small sizes. If a logomark cannot scale down in size (think favicons and mobile social icons) and retain some legibility, it fails as a design. Additionally, if a logo cannot be replicated in a single colour, its potential for success in certain applications (and therefore its value) may be limited.

Simple things are attractive. Succinct visual designs deliver their messages with potency, confidence, and refinement. Brands want to benefit from the positive effects of focused communication. It is for these reasons we believe a logo should be simple, first and foremost.

How can simplicity be achieved?

  • choose one main concept to express in the logo (recognizing the logo is only one facet of the identity, and doesn’t need to say everything)
  • eliminate any superfluous visual elements that don’t contribute directly to the expression of the main concept (extra circles, underlines, hipster Xs, etc.)
  • learn to rely on the beauty of unaltered typography (someone already spent years crafting those letterforms; maybe they don’t need to be messed with?)
  • ensure all graphic/visual elements are sized generously enough to remain visible when the logo is reduced in size, or provide alternate versions with simplified solutions to be used at small scales
  • be mindful of supporting/tagline text sizes
  • make sure the logo design has a 1- or 2-colour fallback option in case certain production methods are required

Good logos are: Memorable

A good logo should be simple, but not without character. There needs to be some expression or identifiable characteristic the viewer can recognize and use to recall the mark later. After all, part of the logo’s job is to help build affinity with a company, product, or service. If it is not memorable in some way, it does nothing to help the viewer recognize the associated brand and ultimately build a relationship.

A designer should ask: how is this logomark ‘ownable?’ The goal is to create a mark that feels like it belongs to the associated brand, and no one else. When viewed from the perspective of ownership, a more tactile dimension is added and it seems easier to ‘feel’ specific visual details.

How can memorability be achieved?

  • explore intentional colouration that helps the logo stand apart in the competitive landscape (requires some competitive research)
  • craft a logo design that enables strong alignments, allowing it to appear confidently and consistently in various layouts
  • don’t be afraid to step outside of the well-worn channels of type selection (maybe everything doesn’t need to be in Gotham?)
  • use clever or meaningful graphic/visual elements that accent the name or key message
  • aim for high visual craft, pleasing forms, smooth curves, and sensitive proportions

Good logos are: Meaningful

A meaningful logo design successfully represents a key characteristic, goal, or value of the brand. This means that each visual component of a logo (like form, typography, and colour) are chosen because they depict, or combine to depict, a facet of the brand.

A designer must also take the target audience’s visual/cultural vocabulary into account when choosing visual components. The forms and colours of the logo must speak to the audience in a ‘language’ they understand.

How can a logo become more meaningful?

  • typography should be selected to present or accent a desired communication objective (friendly geometric sans serif type can feel approachable; condensed uppercase sans serif type can feel mature/confident)
  • specific colours or colour combinations should be used to define or underscore a key message (if the logo needs to feel approachable, perhaps blue is more effective than red; if the logo needs to feel confident, perhaps red is better than green)
  • eliminate all decorative elements in a logo design: decoration is never meaningful
  • look to the use of visual metaphor to communicate with poetic potency (an apple can represent knowledge, a turtle can represent reliability, wings can represent freedom)

Good logos are: Well crafted

Logomarks must be expertly crafted and beautiful to behold. As ambassadors for brands and representatives of the collective efforts of entire organizations, logos should be dressed to impress. Even though the audience may not be equipped to articulate the visual quality of a logo, poor execution still has a negative effect on viewers. Like bad karaoke, the audience can hear when something is off-key, even if they are not trained singers themselves.

What contributes to a well-crafted logo?

  • ensure all kerning (letter-spacing) is specifically adjusted for an optimal presentation of text
  • ensure that the wordmark uses proper typographic marks (apostrophes instead of footmarks, optically sized trademark symbols, etc.)
  • avoid machine skewed type effects by using actual condensed, extended, italic, or bold typefaces when required
  • pay attention to the appearance of curved lines (making sure there are no unwanted bumps, wobbles, or nipples)
  • avoid creating awkward shapes or gaps when overlapping elements by giving each component room to breathe

Tackling the logo design process

Each section of this ebook provides a Good or Awesome approach to a specific part of the logo design process.

Research

Good:

  • Do quick internet searches on the list of competitors provided by the client; build a small reference folder of logo images and site bookmarks
  • Look at the social properties of various competitors and review the audience of people who are engaged in conversations with those brands

Awesome:

  • Research local/global competitors; build image resource folders of their branding assets; take notes on their messaging strategy and other art direction
  • Build a file that demonstrates the primary brand colour of various competitors
  • Look at the social properties of various competitors and review the audience of people who are engaged in conversations with those brands
  • Prepare a questionnaire and conduct user interviews to determine how people feel about a particular product or service

Divergence

Good:

  • Set aside 1 or 2 afternoons for divergence and visual exploration
  • Explore how different ideas can be expressed in sketches; stay off the computer

Awesome:

  • Reserve at least 1 week for divergence and visual exploration
  • Keep a sketchbook on hand at all times
  • Explore how different ideas can be expressed in sketches
  • Push past the initial layer of ideas; find other ways to represent key ideas; combine approaches to create new concepts
  • Stay off the computer!

Convergence

Good:

  • Identify the most effective sketches and convert them to vector
  • Experiment with stroke weight, colour, proportion, and positioning
  • Choose meaningful typefaces that align with the creative brief

Awesome:

  • Identify the most effective sketches and convert them to vector
  • Experiment with stroke weight, colour, proportion, and positioning
  • Isolate successful vector renderings and perform additional cycles of digital divergence; see how else that idea can be represented visually
  • Apply meaningful type selections to each concept; explore a range of options

Presentation

Good:

  • Email a PDF presentation with notes or conduct a screen share to review the concepts
  • See section 4 for suggested approaches and content of presentations

Awesome:

  • Meet with all stakeholders to present concepts; provide print outs or follow along screen presentation; provide a PDF after the presentation with slides and summary notes of each concept
  • See section 4 for suggested approaches and content of presentations

Revisions & Delivery

Good:

  • Include at least 1 round of revisions in the initial project scope
  • Ask for the client’s feedback in writing
  • Make revisions to the selected concept based on client input
  • If additional rounds of revisions are required, estimate and bill for the time required
  • Prepare approved logo files for delivery — see section 5 for tips on building out the final Logo Pack deliverable

Awesome:

  • Include at least 2 rounds of revisions in the initial project scope
  • Ask for the client’s feedback in writing or provide a written summary of revisions discussed in person
  • Make revisions to the selected concept based on client input
  • Continue to refine the mark if an additional round of work is required
  • Prepare approved logo files for delivery — see section 5 for tips on building out the final Logo Pack deliverable

Illustrations by Sam Island

Next: Section 3
Visual Identity Design

See you next Friday for chapter 3 about visual identity design. If you can’t wait that long, download and devour the entire PDF now:

https://gumroad.com/l/HmceP

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