Logos 101: Designing Your Business Identity
Creating a unique and polished logo shouldn’t be the province of only large companies with big marketing budgets or in-house creative teams. As the primary image that represents your company in the marketplace, a successful logo is the distillation of the very essence of what your company represents. It’s almost as important to your company’s identity as its name. But how do you get there? What are the key ingredients of a good logo and what identity creation tools are available to companies on a shoestring budget?
Characteristics of a good logo
Simple: Successful logos are founded in simplicity. In a marketplace filled with competitors and store shelves brimming with products, the goal is to get the consumers’ attention and convey a host of complex product or service information with clarity and speed. Refining the design down to a simple, yet memorable and unique visual statement, as discount retailer Target has done, is half the battle.
Memorable: Still, a good logo shouldn’t be so simple that it’s rendered unremarkable. Balancing simplicity with uniqueness helps to strike a chord with consumers and create a visual imprint that can be recognized later. The Apple logo is immediately recognizable due in part to its ruthless simplicity and how that simplicity is leveraged in a unique and memorable way.
Timeless: The very best logos stand the test of time and transcend the ephemeral notions of fashion and trends. Coca-Cola’s logo is an example of durable design. Since the goal of your mark is to create some equity in the marketplace, constant change and updating shouldn’t be required. As you consider and develop your logo, ask yourself, “How will this look in 20 years? Are there any elements which might not age well or could seem outdated in a decade?
Flexible: Potentially, your logo will be produced on large and small scales, in print and online. The best marks can adapt to any media and still look great. Consider FedEx, the overnight package delivery service. Its logo must be identifiable across scores of media and contexts, from Web banner ads to airplane wings. Specifically for print considerations, think about how your logo will look in a single color, in black and white, in reverse color, and reduced to thumbnail size. Can it adapt and still be clear and easily recognizable?
Adaptable: We all know businesses are dynamic and the marketplace is ever-changing. One product line might take off while another withers on the vine. Think about this phenomenon as you brainstorm your logo. The best marks communicate what your business is about today and can adapt to how it may change over time. Marks that are too specific pigeonhole businesses or become irrelevant as products and services evolve. For example, while eBay’s lowercase “e” may link the online bazaar with the early days of Internet commerce, the logo remains dynamic as ever, even as the company has grown and evolved.
Appropriate: Perhaps the strongest design-urge business owners have is to create a logo that’s too literal. A bakery owner wants a rolling pin in the logo; a law firm wants the scales of justice, etc. But great logos don’t have to be self-explanatory to be appropriate. The Starbucks logo is one of the most recognizable on the planet, but it doesn’t feature a mug or a coffee bean. Well-crafted marks use color, scale, font and image choice together to create distinction that’s appropriate without necessarily being literal.
Choosing a logo designer
For a business that wants to create or recreate its identity, there are a wide range designers and online services—like LogoMojo—available to help. Logo creation is big business and the options are as varied as the price point and the results. For the best product, choose someone who will work one-on-one with you to create a mark that’s rooted in an understanding of what makes your business unique. Here are a few things to look for when choosing a designer or an online logo development service.
Portfolio and experience: Does your designer have experience that includes a strong portfolio of work? Pay attention to the ratio of real logos to hypothetical ones. (For example, is the designer creating logos that are actually being used or is he just conceptualizing?)
Customer testimonials: Does the designer or design service offer testimonials from satisfied customers? If so, contact a few of the client companies and check on their level of satisfaction.
Awards, recognition, and affiliations: Has your designer won any awards for identity and branding work? How well-recognized are they in the industry? For talented new designers who may be just starting out, what are their professional affiliations?
Communication: As you research services or designers to work with, gauge their responsiveness and level of professionalism and communication. Do they get back to you quickly? Are they asking questions to learn more about your business and your vision for the logo? Do they protect their work and their clients through sound contracts?
Timing: Ask questions about timing to get a sense of how much effort and customization will be put into your logo. The creation and refining process typically takes three to four weeks, but can last months, depending on complexity.
Price: In identity work, as in most fields, you get what you pay for. The fee for most online logo creation services start around $175. Of course, the cost of working one-on-one with a designer varies by experience and recognition, but there are many young and hungry designers looking to create a body of work who may be flexible on price.
Take a look all around you—what marks get your attention? What labels and logos are on your clothes, on your desk and in your wallet? With a fundamental knowledge of good logo design and by exploring a few creative resources online, your company can develop a lasting mark that represents what it’s all about.
Kentin Waits is a freelance writer and marketing specialist based in Portland, Ore. His work has been featured in US Airways magazine and top-rated blogs such as Wise Bread, the Consumerist and MSN SmartMoney. When he's not writing, Kentin runs a small online antiques business.