Logos matter, they really do. This deceptively simple piece of design might not look much in isolation, but over time a great logo design can come to represent your entire brand or business.
In his recent article, my colleague Marc looked in more detail at how logos work and exactly why they matter so much. After teasing apart the various components that make up a typical corporate logo, he explored the important contributions that the logo makes right across the marketing process. His conclusion was that a great logo design should matter to every business, regardless of size, sector or situation, because having a strong and effective logo will make all your sales and marketing objectives – awareness, differentiation, engagement and growth – that little bit easier to achieve.
But how exactly do you go about getting a great logo design that can deliver these advantages?
What makes a great logo design?
First we need to agree what it is that makes a logo design a great one. I would suggest the following five criteria should be considered:
A good logo aligns to what you are trying to communicate, and to the expectations or your audience. If your value propositions focus on environmental benefits, you might use organic shapes and a green colour palette. If it’s a technology brand then you might favour stronger, bolder shapes and a blue palette. This will avoid creating what psychologists call cognitive dissonance, the feeling of unease people get when existing beliefs (such as our feelings about a brand) are contradicted by a new piece of information (the logo design).
Having highlighted the importance of aligning to expectations, it’s also important to remember to find your own unique and distinct identity in your market. If all your eco competitors are using soft green shapes, you may well benefit from finding something different for your own logo – without straying too far outside market expectations and falling into the cognitive dissonance trap.
A complicated design is often easier to create than a simple one. But it is vital to make sure your logo is easy to read and understand. If it’s a wordmark, it has to be easy to read – and equally difficult to mis-read. If you’re trying to embed a visual cue or message about your brand, it needs to be accessible and understandable by more than just you and your designer. And remember that sometimes less really can be more! A good design can often use negative space to create subtle details in a logo much more effectively than pushing in another shape or colour.
Negative space can be a powerful feature in good logo design.
If you get these first three criteria right, you should be well on your way to achieving the fourth – impact and memorability. Remember that your logo might only have a few seconds to make a lasting impression, so it needs to have impact and be easy to recall and associate with your business.
Finally, a good logo must be practical in use. Among other things this means it needs to be:
- Scalable, with options from the smallest website favicon to a full screen super HD presentation (and don’t forget to make sure that you get the final artwork as a vector file, for ongoing scaling without loss of quality);
- Versatile, with options not just for placing on a nice white background but also what to do over dark backgrounds or photos; and
- Multi-channel, capable of being displayed equally well on a mobile phone as on a high-quality print piece.
Briefing for a great logo design
If these are all the hallmarks of a great logo, how do you go about briefing your designer so they can help you achieve it all?
Well, it’s arguably impossible to provide designers with too much information, but as a minimum we would suggest the brief should include a range of commercial and marketing insights covering:
- Customers: information about the market and the audiences with whom you’ll be trying to communicate.
- Competitors: details about your direct competitors, but also indirect and substitute competitors.
- Company: information about what you do, how you do it, and the brand position and value propositions you want this logo to communicate and/or support.
- Context / constraints: does the designer have a completely free hand, or are there existing brand colours or fonts you would want to retain, or consider doing so? Are there any other logos it needs to work alongside as part of a wider brand strategy? Are you changing from a previous logo or is there anything else within the company, product or service brand history which might be considered?
- Objective: last, but certainly not least, what you trying to achieve with your new logo? If you are replacing an existing logo, why? What don’t you like about your existing logo, and what do you want from a new one?
Designing a great logo
With the brief prepared, then it’s over to us, the designers! So, what do we need to do to get it right from here?
Well first and foremost the designer needs to remember to stick to the brief! Every commercial designer should understand that a logo is a strategic business tool, not a work of art. Good design isn’t necessarily the same thing as great commercial design.
Second, we should provide options – but not too many. Throwing option after option at your client in the hope one might stick isn’t helping anyone, and it’s usually the sign of a lack of confidence in the process. The Paradox of Choice principle explains the fact that too many choices, far from improving decision making, make us all more indecisive, confused and prone to making sub-optimal choices . A small number of well-considered and diverse options will nearly always serve everyone best, providing a strong platform for discussion about which bits work best and how the design process can evolve towards the right outcome.
Third, we need to remember not to overthink it! The brief may call for a hidden meaning or hidden subtext, or we may find one we want to use. But that doesn’t have to be the case. The vast majority of successful logos achieve their objectives by adhering to the good design principles laid out above, not by cleverly hiding subliminal messages. Remember – a logo ultimately derives its meaning by association with the company or product experience, not through its inherent design.
Finally, I would really want to re-emphasise the principle of simplicity. Given the many applications into which the modern logo can find itself pressed – from favicon to HD presentation, vehicle livery to building signage – there is an increasing and welcome trend towards simpler designs which avoid anything which can’t be consistently and reliably replicated in each of these applications. That means no shading, no drop shadows, and no funky colours or patterns.
BT’s new logo, pictured above, has perhaps been the ultimate expression of this trend in 2019, but there are plenty more.
Now get your own great logo design
Above all, I hope that this article has highlighted the fact that good logo design is not something you can simply leave to the designer, no matter how talented.
While doing it right doesn’t have to be painful, complicated or expensive, it does require a team effort. By bringing together commercial goals, marketing strategy and good design, you can be confident of arriving at a logo design which can support your marketing objectives for many years to come.