A logo is one of the most recognizable elements of a brand and generally has prominent placement on a variety of channels — social media, website, business cards, letterhead, merchandise packaging, etc. We like to think of a brand’s logo like a profile picture on social media or a dating app.
C’mon, you know it’s true. Anyone that’s used a dating app before knows that profile picture plays a huge part in how you perceive that individual and what kind of impression that you’re left with. Most people wouldn’t publish some subpar photo as their profile picture — why should a brand’s logo be treated any differently?
But let’s take a small step back. Before you start logo design, you need to first understand and define your brand identity. Once you know what makes your brand unique — your special sauce, so to speak — you can make informed design decisions. If you haven’t thought about your brand’s identity before you begin creating a logo, you’ll likely end up with a disjointed product that does little for your brand.
Great logo design allows you to communicate what your brand represents and what consumers can expect — it’s a window into your business. After you’ve defined and documented your brand identity, it’s time to determine why type of logo you need. Wait, what…isn’t a logo just a logo?
Believe it or not, there are many different styles of logos. From lettermarks and logotypes to logomarks and mascots, you’ll need to select what’s appropriate for your brand. Often, your brand needs a few different logos depending upon the application.
Getting started is most often the hardest part, but it doesn’t have to be. Spend some time upfront conducting research on other brands’ logos — what speaks to you, what design elements do you like, what would you change about their logo, are their colors you’re drawn to, do you notice any common themes, etc.
Whether you create your own logo, work with a freelance designer, or engage a creative agency, make sure you pay close attention to these six steps to ensure success. Going back to the online dating analogy, remember, you want your logo to make a potential customer swipe right.
DEFINE YOUR BRAND IDENTITY
Brand identity is the visible elements of a brand, such as color, design, and logo, that identify and distinguish the brand in consumers’ minds (source). Before you start working on those visible and tangible elements of your brand, you must first look at some of the intangible elements.
By answering questions like “what makes you unique,” “what’s your value proposition,” and “what do you do better than your competitors,” you can start to define and document your special sauce. Your brand identity is much like your personal identity.
Taking some time at the beginning of the design process to really flesh out these questions — specifically the answers — will ensure your logo is not only a great graphic element but a logo that helps to tell your brand’s story. Diving a little deeper and thinking about why you started your business in the first place, or what words you would use to describe your business will help solidify who you are as a brand.
Once you feel good about identifying these intangible aspects of your brand, you can then begin working on the elements that will help bring your brand to life.
DO YOUR HOMEWORK
Everything is crystal clear in your head now about who you are as a brand, but you’ve hit a creative roadblock. A good ol’ fashioned brain dump is a good place to start, just get everything down on paper. There are no bad ideas or stupid questions — you’ve got to start somewhere.
It’s incredibly important to take a look at your brand’s competitive landscape. Pay attention to other brand’s logos and specifically what you like or what speaks to you. As you discover what you like and what works for a particular audience with your competitors, pay close attention to the things you want to avoid. It’s important to note not only what you like, but also what you dislike as it will help your creative decision-making process.
If you need more inspiration, consider making a mood board. A mood board is a type of visual presentation or collage consisting of images, text, and samples of objects in a composition. It can be based on a specific subject matter or can be things chosen at random. A mood board can be used to convey a general idea or feeling about a particular topic. They may be physical or digital, and can also be effective presentation tools (source). If you’re still lacking inspiration, Pinterest and the opinions of your friends and family are also a great place to explore.
IDENTIFY YOUR STYLE
You’ve defined who you are and you’ve researched your competition, now it’s time to define your unique brand style. Remember when you were defining some of the intangible elements of your brand identity and you asked yourself those three questions that helped describe your brand?
Now’s the perfect time to put those answers to use and start defining your brand style — how you ultimately present your brand to the world. Colors, shapes, graphics, images and typography are just a few of the design elements that comprise your brand style. Some of the main brand styles to consider include:
- Classic: a simple and timeless design aesthetic
- Retro: evoke past memories and feelings of nostalgia
- Modern: a simple and clean design taking advantage of whitespace with minimal details
- Quirky: a fun, positive and friendly vibe that focuses on illustrations
- Handmade: artful, individualistic and focused on quality
Regardless of the size of your business, it’s important to have defined brand guidelines to maintain style consistency with the brand as you continue to grow. Across all internal and external touchpoints, consistency is fundamental in how you look, act, speak and represent your brand — brand guidelines help maintain that consistency.
DETERMINE WHAT TYPE(S) OF LOGOS YOU NEED
You may not have even known there were different types of logos, but there are, and each has its own respective use. Understanding these different logo options will allow you to select the best choice for your brand and your story. You can use one of these variations or combine them to create a memorable and unique logo, just remember and pay attention to your brand style you identified in step three.
Lettermark: entirely made up of text, but instead of the company’s full name, initials are used as the logo. This is a great logo option for minimalism, but it’s not very good at communicating what your brand is about.
- Think CNN, IBM, UFC, HBO and NASA
Logotype: similar to a lettermark, but the entire company name is utilized. This logo option is centered around great typography. Sometimes a graphic element can be included, but always in a supporting role — the name is the star.
- Think Coca-Cola, Google, FedEx, Facebook and Kellogg’s
Logomark: what we generally think of first when we use the term logo. This option is centered around an icon or graphic element and is easily recognizable as long as the iconic image used in the logomark has a connection with your brand.
- Think Nike, Apple, Target, Starbucks and Mercedes
Combination Logo: a combination of lettermark or logotype and a logo mark. The brand name is placed next to or integrated with imagery for this logo option. Both elements are associated with the brand allowing you to use them separately where appropriate.
- Think Spotify, Amazon, Chanel, AT&T and Rolex
It’s not uncommon for a brand to have one logo option for letterhead or business cards and another logo for social media. As long as acceptable use and applications are documented in brand guidelines, you can ensure your logos are used consistently and appropriately.
PICK YOUR COLORS CAREFULLY
Color is a fundamental aspect of our everyday lives. How we interact with and perceive our world is largely based on the colors that surround us. Color subliminally influences our emotions and our state of mind. Your brand’s primary color palette will most likely rely heavily on the colors that you choose to include in your logo.
The color palette is an integral part of your brand identity, and more specifically, your logo. Your color palette will communicate a specific feeling to your audience. Different colors evoke different emotions and responses:
- Red: attracts the viewer’s attention, exciting and motivating them to take action
- Orange: suggests fun, optimism and adventure
- Yellow: is very warm, playful and happy, but can have the tendency to cause agitation, nervousness and anxiety
- Green: promotes clarity of the mind and the balancing of our emotions
- Blue: the most universally preferred color used to express trust, reliability and dependability
While it may seem trivial, choosing the wrong colors can have potentially tragic and unintended consequences for your brand. If you’re having trouble finding inspiration, take a photograph of something of interest (think flowers, sunsets, landscapes, etc.). Then, sample the colors within the photograph and see what speaks to you.
DON’T FORGET ABOUT TYPOGRAPHY
Unless your logo is strictly a logomark, typography will play a significant role in your logo design process. All typographic elements, contrast, font choice, white space, font size, etc., allow your brand’s logo to have a unique personality.
Is your brand conservative and formal, or modern and casual? Does your messaging dictate and educate, or entertain and provide value? Something as seemingly innocuous as a font in your logo can impact your overall brand identity and expression. There are four basic types of fonts to keep in mind.
- Serif: In typography, a serif is a small line or stroke regularly attached to the end of a larger stroke in a letter or symbol within a particular font or family of fonts.
- Sans Serif: The opposite of a serif font, a sans serif typeface doesn’t include serifs in the font family.
- Display Font: A typeface that’s intended for use at large sizes for headings, rather than for extended passages of body text. Display typefaces will often have more eccentric and variable designs than the simple, relatively restrained typefaces generally used for body text.
- Script: Script typefaces are based upon the varied and often fluid stroke created by handwriting, they’re generally used for display or trade printing, rather than for extended body text.
Good typographic design ultimately allows for better user experience. Make it pleasant by ensuring all elements in your logo are well organized, clear and easily navigable. Your brand’s typography can say a lot about your brand and allow you to stand out amongst your competitors.
Keeping these six steps in mind when you’re creating a logo will help to ensure success. A good logo is unique and memorable, can be used anywhere, is timeless and reflects your brand identity and personality. Throughout the entire creative process of designing your logo, don’t be afraid to stand out. Your brand should be unique — lead the pack, don’t follow.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Chris Skaggs is the co-founder of BODDHI Branding, a creative agency with a vision to authentically and creatively construct stories to help your brand grow. Digital and social media, branding, recruitment and content strategy are all functions Chris has developed building teams, processes and strategies from the ground-up. Dedicated to giving back Chris also co-founded Leighton’s Gift, a non-profit with a mission of turning a tragedy into something positive. He also serves on the boards of a variety of different organizations. A natural storyteller, Chris’ work and experiences have been featured on CNN, Marketing Sherpa, Thrive Global, CBS Radio, Recruiter.com and Glassdoor. Get connected online, @chrislskaggs.