Your brand is so much more than just your logo. We all know that.
But your logo is usually one of the first things your customers see, so logos do matter…a lot. If your logo doesn’t make a good first impression, you’ll have to work twice as hard to convince people you’re worth their time and attention later on.
Subconsciously, here’s what a well-executed (and a not-so-well-executed) logo says to a customer:
A well-executed logo says:
• A company I want to do business with and tell my friends about
A badly-executed logo says:
• Not a legitimate company
• Low bar for excellence
• Has bad taste
• Can’t be trusted with my money
Whether you’re DIY’ing your own logo (totally legitimate first step if you have basic design skills and good taste) or you’ve hired a designer to help you, here are some principles to follow to ensure you end up with something you (and your customers) love for years to come.
1. Don’t jump into logo design without defining your brand's vision first.
Part of what makes logos great, is that they reflect a company’s deeper purpose (or “WHY”) and often carry hidden visual meanings that point to the mission and vision of the company. These extra “surprises” give your logo more meaning and make it something people want to talk about. Check out these examples:
When you have a business idea, it can be tempting to jump past the planning and vision stage and dive right into content and design. But if you haven’t nailed down your brand’s core essence (your mission statement, core vision, brand tone, etc.) you may end up with a logo that’s visually pretty, but lacks meaning or contradicts your brand’s tone completely.
Take the time to think through the fundamental vision of your brand first and then push off of that work to design your logo and visual identity. This way, you’ll end up with a thoughtful and deliberate brand.
2. Keep it simple & add a unique touch.
This is pretty much the winning formula for a great logo. Companies like Dunkin Donuts, MasterCard and Uber are all simplifying their logos as our tastes evolve towards minimalism. If you nail the balance between simple and unique, you’ll have a timeless logo that grows with you and fits a wide range of uses.
Most people want to overcomplicate their logo design because they think adding more detail will make it special. But remember this: simplicity is confidence.
You’ll have to stare at this logo for years to come, and if you pack it with too much detail or rely on a fleeting design trend that happens to be cool right now, you’ll find it doesn’t stand the test of time and becomes a nuisance to you year after year.
That said, you also don’t want to make it so generic that it looks like you typed it out in Microsoft Word using a system font and called it a day.
My favorite logos strike a delicate balance between simplicity and a little touch of something special.
Here are some examples that come to mind:
3. Consider letting the name speak for itself.
Sometimes the most unique part of your logo isn’t how it looks, but how it sounds. I’m talking about the name of your company. If you hit upon an amazing name (that isn’t already trademarked), you may want to go for an extremely simple logo just to give your name the spotlight.
Here are some examples of well-named companies and their ultra-simple logos.
If you don’t yet have a name and are struggling with what to call your new venture, here are some of my favorite articles about the naming process used at Lexicon - the leading agency behind strikingly noticeable brand names like Sonos, Swiffer and Blackberry:
4. Don’t make it too literal. Need I say more?
No, but seriously. You may not be as oblivious to inappropriate references as these poor souls were, but it can still be tempting to play with the most obvious execution -- and not in a good way.
Logos like this can send a very strong message that your company lacks sophistication and innovation, or you were just plain too lazy or indifferent to come up with a more clever solution.
If you find there's a specific literal execution that's screaming "use me!" like in the case of Pinterest (Which was able to pull off a pin reference in their logo, tastefully) - make sure to keep it clean, subtle and pleasing to the eye.
5. Consider how it will look in a group and from far away.
As you’re evaluating your logo design or picking between several options, imagine it in a group of other logos at a conference or on a banner that people need to see from across the street.
Ask yourself: will my logo be the most legible and recognizable from a distance?
This is why our very own charity: water logo has always bugged me. The yellow Jerry Can is great, but the words “charity: water” are in Baskerville - a very thin font that doesn't have much body. The words themselves make an awkwardly long, skinny rectangle which is hard to read from far away. But I'm slowly working on convincing Scott that it's time for a redesign.
6. Always Include your company name inside your logo if you want to be recognized.
Only a handful of companies have achieved such market dominance that they can afford to detach their company name from their logo mark.
Nike, Starbucks and Target are so well known that we recognize their logo from a mile away and it doesn’t have to say “Apple” under the apple icon, or NIKE under the swoosh anymore.
Chances are, you’re not there yet. And won’t be for a long time. Even Uber made this mistake early on when they started with an obscure letter "U" as their first logo. They've since redesigned their logo to include the entire word "Uber" because if they want to keep growing, they need the name to keep brand awareness.
Remember, it took Nike 15 years to achieve the kind of global awareness that allowed them to start using the solo swoosh.
So for now, do yourself a favor and keep your name and your logo bff's and choose from one of these three standard logo setups (and stay away from the 4th).
1. Logomark + name (design speak: combination logo)
2. Just the name (design speak: wordmark)
3. Monogram + name (design speak: lettermark)
4. Just the mark (design speak: brandmark) <--- stay away from this one if you're just starting out.
Finally, please remember that while your logo IS important, your brand is so much bigger than this little mark. What's most important is the feeling your customer gets when they see that mark.
When I see the target logo, I'm flooded with feelings of happiness and warmth. When I see the Enron logo, I think of scandal. Starbucks = coziness & community. Nike = grit. Apple = innovation. Amazon = convenience.
Do follow the principles above to create a logo that's visually pleasing and multi-functional, but Don't forget that the most important work is still ahead -- building a positive (and accurate) association to that logo in the mind of your customer.