A logo (which is an abbreviation of “logotype”, meaning “word imprint” in Greek) is a graphic emblem used by organizations to promote public recognition. What we understand today as a logo is the culmination of numerous branding and identification processes that can be dated back to 3500 B.C., and the discovery of engraved cylinder seals that were used as a form of signature. The concept of a logo as a validation or authorization can be seen across a wide spectrum of history, including currency (printed impressions on coin faces identifying the country of origin), genealogy (unique coat of arms for each individual household), and printing (mill identification watermarks embedded in paper).
Brand vs. Logo
In today’s marketing world, many people incorrectly interchange the words “brand” and “logo”, using the two to mean the same thing. To better understand the role of a logo for an organization, it’s important to differentiate between the two concepts.
When we talk about a brand, we are talking about the overall “look and feel” that people have when they come into contact with a specific business. It’s the sum total of all of the experiences, impressions, and knowledge that a person has about the business and its products or services. Many different elements go into building this brand, including the business’ positioning, messaging, language, visual aesthetic, voice and culture.
A logo is one design element (albeit a very important element) of your business’s brand identity that helps people recognize who you are, differentiate you from your competitors, and recall why you are important. It expresses the characteristics that you have built up as part of your brand.
As the face of your brand, and as a reflection of the value and quality of your business itself, it’s important that you invest the proper time and resources into the design of your logo.
Types of Logos
There are three major types or styles of logos: typeface-based, icon-based, or a combination of both.
Typeface-based logos use only letters to spell out the business name.
Although this style of logo can appear to be the most basic, and perhaps even the easiest to design, in reality it is the most difficult to get right. As we discussed in “Brand vs. Logo”, your logo is the visual representation of your brand to the public. Typeface-based logos have fewer design elements to work with than other styles, and therefore have to rely heavily on choosing the font and colors that accurately convey the brand’s messaging. You also have to consider how the logo will adapt to other alphabets, as the business expands internationally.
Icon-based logos use only an abstract icon to represent the entire brand. Most businesses do not start out by taking the icon-based approach. In fact, many of the most well known icon-based logos have evolved over time into the forms we see now. This is primarily because these brands have become so well known in the public consciousness that they have cemented the association between their icons and the brand itself.
For this reason, it is not recommended that any new business start by trying to take the icon-based approach, unless you are going to support the effort with a healthy marketing campaign aimed at creating that association.
The last logo style is a natural extension of the previous two, and is the most common style seen in the modern business world. The combination style uses both a typeface to spell out the business name and an icon that somehow represents the business or its brand.
Features of a Good Logo
There are five generally agreed upon principles when it comes to the design of a good logo. These are:
Simple – Your logo should allow people to quickly and easily recognize what they are looking at. Everything (and every one) moves quickly in today’s world, so you’ve got only a few precious seconds of someone’s attention before they move on. If that time is wasted on playing the “what am I looking at?” game, you’ve lost your opportunity.
Memorable – If a person can’t remember what your logo was, or what product or service it was for, there was no point in getting the logo in front of them in the first place. If your logo has too many elements, is too complicated in design, or does not make its meaning clear, it won’t be remembered.
Timeless – Any symbols used or references alluded to in your logo should stand the test of time. If you are constantly chasing social trends, your logo is going to continuously cycle out of relevance, forcing you to redesign your logo frequently.
Versatile – Logos can, and will, be used in a wide variety of applications: from a 2” x 3.5” business card, to a 14’ x 48’ billboard, from a black and white photocopy, to a full color print advertisement. All critical design elements of your logo should still hold up when used at a variety of sizes or color variations.
Appropriate – Your logo should always be a reflection of your overall brand. A childish font may be appropriate for a children’s toy manufacturer, but not for a law firm. It should also be free from cultural, racial or other biases.
The Do Nots of Logo Design
Given the importance of your logo for the overall recognition and brand establishment for your business, this article would be remiss if it did not mention a few “do nots”.
Do not design your logo yourself. When it comes to marketing, there are definitely ways you can help keep your marketing budget to a minimum by performing the grunt work yourself. But the design and production of the face of your business should not be one of them. Let this important work be handled by a designer or agency with experience, industry knowledge, and the proper tools to create something worthy of your business name. Just as you wouldn’t try to fill your own cavity, don’t try to design your own logo.
Do not use clip art or stock imagery. You may have found some swoopy design on a stock photo website, or love that clip art image of the guy at the typewriter, but chances are there are at least 100 other businesses using the same imagery. One of the main purposes of your logo is to differentiate yourself, so to use stock imagery would be to undermine the entire effort.
Do not hold a design contest. Design contests became popular as a way to mask asking logo designers to provide logo options with no promise of pay for the work done. Guised as being a way to engage people with the brand, design contest are nothing more than asking strangers to dictate the future of your business (and asking them to do it with little to no chance of being paid).
Do not pay $5 for a logo. We’ve all seen them out there – the websites where you can get a “unique” logo for less than the cost of a Happy Meal. How much thought do you think someone being paid $5 will give to the importance of this logo for your brand? These $5 deals almost always end up providing you with a plagiarized version of someone else’s logo, or a stock photo image with text attached.
Logo Creation Process
The logo creation process is often a very personal process, different for every designer. But there are some major milestones that every professional designer worth their salt will address:
Discovery – During this phase, the designer will work with the business to learn everything they can about the business: what their products and services are, what their history is, who their target demographic is, what branding they have already established (or what branding they want to establish), what their main message to potential customers is, etc. This can be a lengthy process, but is incredibly vital. This is where the concept of the business is extrapolated from someone involved very deeply, and is shared with a professional designer who will shape how to present that concept to the world.
Research – The designer will research the branding and logos of competitors, both locally and nationally, and for other businesses that market to the same demographic. Through this research, the designer will see industry trends (such as iconography, typography, or color palettes) and opportunities for differentiation.
Brainstorming / Sketching – Putting the pencil to the page. This is the phase in which the designer lets their imagination take over, sketching every idea that starts to form in their head. Although most sketches will never see the light of day, it is through this iterative process that the designer can start to see shapes, textures and alignments that work cohesively.
Prototyping / Conceptualizing – Once the designer has several logo concepts they feel are in a more advanced stage, they will often produce mock ups of the logo being used in various formats to see how it stands up. For example, if the logo was for a beer bottle company, the designer may print the logo to see how it looks wrapped around a bottle.
Review – Once the designer is confident in the direction of one or more of their sketched logos, it’s time to involve the client to receive their feedback. At this stage, the designer and client work together closely to identify features the client likes or dislikes.
Finishing Touches – Based on feedback from the review, the designer will make any needed changes, and and prepare the final artwork in vector format.
Most people understand the importance of a strong brand, but often eschew investing in the professional creation of a logo that supports that brand. Whether you’re starting a new business from the ground up, or think it’s time to re-approach the logo you already have, get in touch. At Grid, we have extensive branding and logo experience that can help you put your best business face forward.