Very nice Kelly, you gave me much to ponder in developing a logo for my business. I especially liked your comparisson to the Starbucks mermaid. I don't drink Starbucks, and have only visited there stores a few times. They sure did a great job in the logo choice, because as I read your article and you mentioned them, I had to stop and think for a minute but the image of the mermaid popped into my head. I was just a little surprised that in all the advertizing Starbucks does and I didn't pay any attention to, it stuck. Well the mermaid did. Thanks Bob
The Do's and Don'ts of Logos
Your logo is the cornerstone of your corporate identity. How do logos work? What should a good logo do? What should a logo not be? How do you make it great?
Your logo is the cornerstone of your corporate identity, which in turn is one of the three most important aspects of any strong brand. If you skip the logo, you ask prospective customers to skip remembering you.
Every day, I come across logos that fail to communicate anything compelling, and it's truly startling how often I see logos that fail to make people think. Here are some basics to help you design a strong logo.
What should a good logo do?
1. A good logo makes people think.
What happens when we make people think? Their imagination is engaged, and they tick over your logo in their mind, making sense of it and finding ways they can relate to it.
2. A compelling logo connects.
Your logo is the most fundamentally important element with which you can connect with your customers. The logo is often the very first interaction people have with you. Interaction? Yes, exactly. Your logo is an interface. When people see it, they know exactly how to begin an inner dialog about you.
3. A good logo has presence.
When you can't be there in person, your logo can be. That's one of it's primary jobs. Your logo can help people to know you and feel your presence in their life or business. If your water cooler runs out of cups, you think of the Dixie logo. See how that works? For millions of people around the world, the Starbucks logo symbolizes coffee, good feelings, warmth, energy. How can a logo have that kind of presence? It engages the imagination and it connects with emotional epicenters.
Try looking at it from a social media angle. How many blogs do you come across which have no logo? So many blogs are titled by nothing more than a plain font. Do you remember the names of all of those blogs? Now think about your favorite blogs that you read every week. The blogs that have a logo are much more likely to come to the forefront of your mind when you are thinking about what to read or where to get information.
4. A good logo exudes personality.
Take another gander at the Starbucks logo. In addition to all of the characteristics mentioned above, the famous serpent lady is one sexy character. A mermaid is a fantasy, a legend that captures the imagination, is talked about, recreated in movies and novels, usually in a sexy manner. You can capture that mermaid sexiness, fish scales, blond hair and all, in a cup of coffee. Imagine that.
Your company probably has just as much personality laying in wait to be captured in a compelling logo. I'd stake my name on it. Now, you might be thinking, 'Nah! Not me, I'm vanilla, plain Jane (or John), my business is selling the most boring thing in the world. There is nothing compelling about it. A logo won't make a difference to my business.' I'll bet you're overlooking something. It's there, waiting to be coaxed out, waiting to inspire you and your customers.
5. A good logo builds confidence and trust.
Does your logo look professional? Does it tell me anything about you? Do the colors connect with my sensibilities? Is it consistent? These are all questions people subconsciously ask when they see your logo. The more your logo communicates and connects, the faster you build confidence and trust in prospective customers.
Your logo effects far more than just your customers. It builds your (and your team's) confidence, and it can truly mean the difference between being perceived as a hobbyist or professional. The most successful professionals communicate with confidence. Their logos help them do that.
6. Your logo should have meaning.
Does your logo have meaning, or does it just look pretty or cool? Looking cool is great, but each and every element in a logo should have actual meaning. If you have a circle here or a butterfly there that does not add meaning to the logo, get rid of it. Do you know why? People attach meaning to the things they see. It's in our nature. It's how we understand things, and how we learn.
If you have meaningless elements in your logo, chances are that people will have a harder time connecting with your logo, or getting right down to it, they won't understand what they are looking at. What happens next? They forget you and your logo because we forget things with which we cannot connect.
What should a logo not be?
1. Your logo should not be boring.
Ever find yourself in a conversation that puts you to sleep or sees you looking for a convenient exit? How many of those conversations do you remember? That's exactly what happens when you logo fails to engage people's imagination. They pass right over it, not taking note, not connecting, not remembering. In the span of the half a second that your business card gets when you hand it to someone, if your logo is a non-factor, it's game over. How many times have you seen your card go straight into someone's pocket without them studying it?
2. Your logo should not be an off-the-shelf font.
Some companies use type (or a font) as their logo instead of an icon. If your company is called Groovy Purse, and you have chosen your favorite typeface to use as the logo, guess what? You don't have a logo. You have your name written in a font. Why is that not a logo? Glad you asked! If you use an off-the-shelf font as your logo, any other company can legally use the exact same font for their logo, meaning that a company called Great Purse could have a logo that looks exactly like yours.
Sound confusing? I'll make it simple. You can use an off-the-shelf typeface (or font) as part of a logo design, but a standard font by itself is not unique, not ownable. In short, it's not a logo. A logo by its very nature should be unique. It's role is to set you apart and make people think. A font by itself is not unique because anyone can use it.
3. A logo should not contain a photograph.
Which one do you think is easier to remember, a photo, or an icon? Now, before you answer that, think about this: A photo contains millions of colors, whereas a logo typically contains one to four colors. If your eye has to process millions of different colors to remember a photo in your logo, it's going to take some serious time to remember that logo. Contrast that with remembering one color, or two, three or four.
Photos represent three-dimensional data and require interpretation to make sense of them, which is not ideal when you have half a second to be remembered. Two dimensional data is much easier to remember.
Also, photographs cannot easily be reproduced in one color without resorting to using a halftone, which will not be available in many reproduction circumstances.
4. A logo should not be too complicated.
Keep it simple. Sometimes that's easier said than done, but with a little effort, even the most complex ideas can be condensed into a simple, highly communicative logo. Resist the temptation to try to define what you do in your logo. Save that for the tag line or brochure, or the About page on your blog or website.
When people try to put too much into a logo, it usually results in a poor logo design. Also, the more complicated the logo, the harder it is to remember. When people see "genius" in your logo, they have an aha! moment, also called connection. That's the type of connection you want because it leads to much bigger things.
5. A logo should never be squished or stretched!
This seems so remedial that it should not need to be said, yet we see it every single day. Companies routinely squish their logo or stretch it rather than proportionally size it. This may sound like the persnickety rambling of a perfectionist designer, but nothing could be further from the truth.
Do you know how logos work? They create familiarity. If you stretch or squish your logo, you are in essence breaking down the familiarity. The more variations in which people see the logo, the more data they have to remember. After a few variations, they no longer know how it is supposed to look, and they can't remember it correctly.
Your logo holds the capacity for so much communication. Few solopreneurs and small businesses harness that potential. You can harness it with a little hard work.
Your logo can be incredibly powerful, whether you are trying your hand at logo design for the first time, or you are working with a seasoned designer. Make it great!
Learn more about the author, Kelly Hobkirk.
Comment on this article
Posted by Robert Nelson, Renton, Washington |
Mar 03, 2009
Posted by Peter Chee, Redmond, Washington |
Mar 03, 2009
Seems like too many companies just opt for something simple like a special font for their logo. One little company in Redmond (msft) seems to get away with this. I'm certainly much more a fan of a real logo, one that has meaning.
Posted by Paul Sweum, Bellevue, Washington |
Mar 03, 2009
That was really informative...it seemed to summarize those thoughts we already had about logos, but hadn't quite put into words yet. I might end up using this as a rubric when I launch into ideas and mock-ups for my permanent company logo. Thanks!
Posted by Hideki Aono, Rego Park, New York |
Mar 03, 2009
As a fellow brander, you make a valid point... Although I see this message is often lost with many smaller companies & businesses. I think the logo is the first thing most people see and the last thing a potential client remembers, so it should definitely have emphasis given to it. Great article!
Posted by Kelly Hobkirk, Seattle, Washington |
Mar 03, 2009
Peter - Yes, many companies do opt for using a typeface only, but rarely do successful companies use an off-the-shelf font as their logo. Logotypes, also called 'Wordmarks,' are often used effectively in place of a logo, however the most successful logotypes utilize either custom or customized typefaces or other design elements in combination with the type.
Microsoft for instance, contrary to what many people may think, does not use a simple off-the-shelf font. Their designer custom-kerned the type, created an often questioned yet memorable symbol with the 'o' and 's', and combined the 'f' and 't' characters to make a symbol which closely resembles pi, a widely recognized mathematical constant, which arguably relates to their goal of having people use computers all day and all night. Wikipedia states: "pi is one of the most important mathematical and physical constants." Not a bad way to position a software brand.
Thank you for reading and commenting.
Posted by Kelly Hobkirk, Seattle, Washington |
Mar 04, 2009
Hideki - You hit the nail on the head. That is exactly why I wrote this article. Small businesses frequently do not understand the significance of their own logo, nor how to make the best use of it. Often times, they don't know how to work towards a great design, or are afraid of changing or redesigning a mediocre logo.
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