Join Sean Adams for an in-depth discussion in this video The rules of logo design, part of Branding for Designers.
- I followed a few simple rules about logos for most of my career. I use the rules myself, when designing, and more importantly, I share them with the client on every presentation. A client might be a genius with web apps, but few know what makes a logo work, so give them a hand. First, good logos identify, they do not describe. The most successful logos tell me who the brand is, not what it does. This like your name.
I know you might be Jane, but that doesn't tell me whether you're nice or a jerk. This is tricky, most clients want a logo that shows what they do, or what product they make. But consider Apple, if the logo was a little illustration of the first Macintosh, they could never venture into iTunes, iPhones, and all the other products that are now part of the Apple family. By remaining neutral and focusing on a clear identifier, the client can evolve and grow in any direction.
Second, a logo cannot solve every problem. As we discussed previously, the logo is there to reinforce the brand message. It can't fix a company's profits if the distribution process in shipping is flawed. A logo is a good Armani suit, it makes me look professional, well-groomed, and confident, but can't help me if I have an awful personality. Third, the logo must be visually engaging. This is true for all design. The logo must be strong and clear.
This is the place to make sure the viewer can see the logo from across the room. Weak, quiet, and recessive logos disappear. Tiny lines, itsy-bitsy typography, and pastel colors rarely succeed against bold, aggressive, and vibrant logos. Fourth, the logo must have mnemonic value. In other words, it must be memorable. One of the best tools to achieve this is to pose a question. Not, "What is the meaning of life?" But something as simple as, "Why is the "o" in Mobil red?" This engages the viewer, and the more time someone spends pondering, even an unconscious question, the more memorable the logo.
Another tool is to let something read two ways. Once someone sees the arrow in the FedEx logo, they never forget it. Fifth, the logo must be able to exist in a variety of media. 20 years ago, most logos lived in print. Today, a logo will be on-screen, on a website, or a mobile application. It will be in print, on business cards and publications. And it will exist in the real world, on a sign or a billboard. This makes our job a little harder.
We need to make sure fine details won't be chewed up by pixels on a screen, and that the form will be flawless, even at 20 feet tall. Sixth, a logo is not an illustration. Illustrations are illustrations, logos are logos. This goes back to the issue of identifying, not describing. A singular icon and letter forms will last much longer than a complex illustration showing the company's product. Staying away from illustrations is also a good way to make sure the logo is not too complicated to reproduce.
I had a client who insisted I use a specific image as the basis for the logo. I was able to convince him otherwise by suggesting we use that image on the magazine cover, and allow the logo to be a clear identifier. Seven, a logo is the foundation of the visual system. The logo is the entry point to the brand message, but the entire identity system is the whole story. It's easy to get fixated on the logo design, and go back and forth with a client, but they should never be shown any logo out of context.
Always make sure the logo is on an application with the rest of the identity system. How does it work in a letterhead, brochure, or packaging? Of course, rules are made to be broken, and there may be instances where one or more of these don't apply, but I haven't found that yet.
- The history of branding (pre- and post-1950)
- The elements of branding
- Conducting research
- Solving problems and presenting solutions
- Creating logos and identity systems
- Building a visual system with color, typography, and more
- Communicating branding with manuals and vision books