Logo Design AdviceLogo, Design, Advice
ServiceScape Incorporated
ServiceScape Incorporated
2016

Seven Steps to a Better Logo


Whether you're a novice designer or a branding veteran, logo design remains a deceptively difficult practice. What looks like a simple icon to the general public took a designer or team hours of concepting and revising to execute. The most effective logos take the heart and soul of an organization and summarize that essence in a distinct, easily-recognizable visual. It's easier said than done, and it takes a lot of practice to successfully develop great logos, even under tight deadlines or limited budgets.

In my experiences as a freelance designer, I've discovered that the best tool for developing logos, whether for a huge corporation or a small local business, is devising your own process. This process can be used as a guideline to help steer you in the right direction for the logo you're designing. However, don't be too worried about rigidly sticking to the process as flexibility can allow for more creative concepts to arise.

Below is my own personal process for logo design which I've developed through my freelance practice along with some agency experience. I've discovered that utilizing this process as a guideline has been extremely helpful no matter what kind of organization I'm working with or what deadline I have. Spending time on each step has helped me to focus on creating a logo that my client will be thrilled to use.

My logo design process
My basic process for designing a logo.

Step 1 — Do your homework

Before you start picking typefaces, sketching, or looking for inspiration, you need to know for whom you're designing. This first step seems obvious, but it's a crucial step that many designers forget. To make a logo truly represent an organization, you need to understand what the organization does and who it does it for.

For example, let's say you're designing a logo for a restaurant. When did the restaurant first open? What type of food do they serve? How many people do they employ? What kind of people generally eat there? What are the restaurant owner's goals for the business? Directly ask clients these types of questions if you can, and scour their website or promotional materials to get to know their current brand. You just may learn something during your research that will completely change the visual choices you make. If you find out that the restaurant is popular among young people but the owner wants to start appealing to families, then you'll want to design a logo that is more appropriate for a family-friendly place rather than for a hip new cafe. This will not only help you create a more effective logo, but it will also make clients happier because you took their goals and needs into consideration.

Step 2 — Complete a wide visual audit

After researching the organization, look at the competition. Start with a narrow focus and widen as you go — this will help you have context for what already exists. In our restaurant scenario, first look at the branding of restaurants in the neighborhood, the city, and surrounding areas. If the restaurant serves Japanese food, what do other nearby Japanese restaurant logos look like? What local restaurants are the most popular — and what does their branding look like?

After you look locally, explore relevant branding on a wider scale — this is the ideal time to look for restaurant branding or logos in general that inspire you. By collecting these logo ideas, you'll not only have a visual bank of inspiration, but you'll also avoid designing anything too similar to what already exists. You may notice that many logos you find in your audit are very similar or employ the same overused clichés — a quick Google search for "Japanese restaurant logo" reveals pages of logos with red circles, chopsticks, and brushed calligraphy. Being aware of common visual tropes can help you develop a logo that stands out among the competition while still feeling appropriate for its context.

A Google search reveals what designs are overdone
A Google search is a quick way to reveal what designs have been overdone.

Step 3 — Mood boards

After you've researched the company and the competition, it's important to sum up everything you've learned into something you can build on visually. I like to do this by choosing a handful of specific words or phrases that describe the brand to create a foundation for the rest of the process. If your client has given you any style requests for the logo, be sure to include those words here too. If you're a literal thinker, then doing an image search can help you find pictures of things that connect with your words — these can be abstract or literal. For example, if you find that one key aspect of the restaurant is "fresh," then searching this word results in numerous pictures of water, organic forms, and the color green. You may not use these images in a literal sense for your logo, but they'll give you a starting point to start sketching from.

An example mood board
A snapshot of an example mood board which uses words and images that describe the brand.

Step 4 — Turn off your computer

When you're on a tight timeline, it can be tempting to open Illustrator and start working digitally right away. Taking the time to sketch with a real pen and paper, however, helps you to produce ideas quicker and gives you more immediate freedom to explore. When sketching, think about the visuals you found in Step 3 and use them to generate ideas. At this stage, don't worry too much about making the most perfect mark or finding the "solution" right away–the point is to make various marks that you can refine later.

Step 5 — The fun part

Now that you have a few pages of sketches, pick a couple of your favorite ideas to build digitally. Some designers find it helpful to scan in their sketches, but I prefer to eyeball them and tweak as I go. Just like sketching on paper, don't be afraid to make lots of digital iterations. You may end up with something completely different than your original sketch, but that's okay! Stay open to the process, and try doing something new. If you get stuck, print out your digital logos and view them on paper. Cut them out, draw on them, or fold them. Refer back to your mood board. At this point in the process, there's no right or wrong way to develop ideas.

As you start to refine your logomarks, here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • Remember that your logo needs to look good at all sizes and dimensions, so try enlarging and shrinking the marks to see what happens to their visibility.
  • Avoid using very thin strokes or fine details, as these might get lost if the logo is printed from low-quality printers.
  • Your client will most likely be using the logo both printed and on-screen, so make sure it plays nicely in both realms.

Generally, the simpler the logo, the better — if you can draw the mark from memory, you're on the right track.

Step 6 — Add color and type

Once you have developed a few marks, move on to type and color. These two aspects are their own disciplines, but a few rules of thumb can help you find what works best for your logo and the brand it represents. For color, keep it simple — use as few colors as possible in the logo. You might be tempted to use a plethora of bright hues, but this can result in a logo that's hard to use across different applications. Lots of color can also distract from the effective mark you've already developed, and since the logo has to work in a single color, don't make color the backbone of your concept.

For type, I've found that picking typefaces that contrast with your mark can create a nice balance. For example, if your mark is built with organic shapes, try a sharper, more rigid typeface. If the mark is intricate and complicated, choose a simple sans serif. Make sure that the type and logo look harmonious together, and give each enough breathing room by sizing each element so neither feels too overwhelming. Choose colors and typefaces that feel relevant to current design trends without being too trendy — think about how your logo might look in five or ten years. A good logo is an investment for an organization, and if a logo is timeless enough to stick around, it's going to create a lot of equity for the brand it represents. This process will take a bit of trial and error, so give yourself enough time to refine each concept before you present it to the client.

Step 7 — Be bold

Deciding on how many concepts to present to a client can be difficult. I've found that this depends on the client, the timeframe, and the budget. Presenting too many options can overwhelm a client, while presenting only one or two may result in many revisions if the client doesn't see what he or she wants. However many concepts you choose, make sure that each one looks distinct and independent. Presenting a diverse array of concepts can help you to get a better feel for what a client likes and doesn't like, and in this situation it's usually easier for a client to have strong feelings towards a single concept. And, don't be afraid to present an option that's a little bit more "out there" — while a safe, expected logo may initially satisfy a client, presenting a bolder approach can inspire the client to envision something bigger and better for his or her organization, and it can foster a more comprehensive understanding of the importance of good branding.

Finally, letting clients see a little bit of your process and explaining the thoughts behind each concept can create more meaningful interaction with them and spark real interest in the work. Speak to how each concept relates to the goals of the organization and how it fits into the context of the research you conducted in the first two steps. And, be enthusiastic! Show the client that you care enough about your work to put some thought behind it. Regardless of what concept they choose, carefully considered work goes a long way in an industry where careless design is all too common.

It's easy to get overwhelmed by the mere idea of creating a brand-new logo from scratch, but following a few guidelines can be a huge help in designing a great idea. And lastly, don't put too much pressure on yourself to create the best, most clever logo the world has ever seen. After all, as the legendary Paul Rand once said, Don't try to be original. Just try to be good.

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