Logos mark our shopping bags, billboards, digital apps and airplanes. They’re often the first image that comes to mind when we think about the world’s largest and most successful brands. But what is a logo, exactly? And what design elements make them most effective? 

“We’re successful in creating a symbol if somebody looks at it and thinks it was easy,” explains designer Sagi Haviv, whose Skillshare Original Designing Brand Symbols digs into the fundamentals of good logo design. But that doesn’t mean that designing your own will be a breeze. “In fact, creating something simple and distinctive is the hardest thing. Especially today when so many symbols and icons have been already trademarked around the world, to design something that is original, and that you can own, and is still an effective piece of good design is ever so difficult.”

From Sagi Haviv's Skillshare Original, "Designing Brand Symbols: The Principles & Process of Making Logos that Last"
From Sagi Haviv’s Skillshare Original, “Designing Brand Symbols: The Principles & Process of Making Logos that Last”

Still, plenty of people design their own logos—and if you’re reading this, you’re probably hoping to be one of them. Eventually, you may want to look into an Adobe Illustrator tutorial or drop big bucks on design classes. But first, you’ll need to understand some fundamentals about how to design a logo that is beautiful, memorable and brand-appropriate. Here, we’ll cover the popular types of logos, the visual concepts to consider as you develop your design, and ten basic rules to keep in mind throughout the development process. Along the way, we’ll also share courses to help you design a logo that lasts.

The Principles of Logo Design

Learn the three criteria of timeless symbols and see how a pro designer approaches logo design in Sagi Haviv’s Skillshare Original.

Understanding logos

At its most fundamental definition, a logo is a graphic that communicates key information about a business or product. For a consumer new to a company, it operates as a visual first impression—a standalone representation of a brand’s identity. 

If you survey your environment, you’ll likely come across a wide variety of logos. Some are abstract, while others are more literal. Some feature typography, or use a monogram. Others involve shapes or images without any letters at all. You can style a logo in wildly different ways, but the important thing is that they speak to the nature of the business or product that they visually represent. As you learn how to design your own logo, remember: Regardless of your style choices, the best logo is one that’s consistent and appropriate for your brand.

There are a few main types of logos that most brands rely on.

Logomarks are abstract, simplistic graphic symbols that are abstract. As a general rule, they don’t feature any typography. Apple, Mozilla Firefox, Playboy, and Mercedes-Benz logos all fall into this category.

Wordmarks are symbols made from custom lettering meant to stand on its own as a logo. They don’t feature images. Look to logos from The Coca-Cola Company, Ray-Ban, and The Kellogg Company for excellent examples of wordmarks.

Lettermarks are similar to wordmarks, but generally involve monograms or abbreviations. They combine one or more letters to create a single symbol. McDonald’s, EA Sports and Procter & Gamble all rely on lettermarks.

Combination marks combine typography and visual symbols into a single logo. Companies like Adidas, Domino’s Pizza, Adobe Systems, and Puma use this logo style.

Emblem or “Badge Design” logos can be graphic, use type, or rely on a combination of the two, but the designer encloses the logo in a simple geometric shape to give the impression of a stamp or a patch. Examples include the logos for companies like Starbucks, the National Football League, and Harley-Davidson.

From George Bokhua's Skillshare Original "Logo Design with Grids: Timeless Style from Simple Shapes"
From George Bokhua’s Skillshare Original “Logo Design with Grids: Timeless Style from Simple Shapes”

Learn the Principles of Logo Design

Get acquainted with the basics of designing your logo with designer Jeremy Mura’s Skillshare class, Logo Design for Beginners.

Once you can identify and categorize different types of logos, you’ll start to see other ways designers communicate the nature of their specific business or product. Take a look at some of the logos you encounter in everyday life and think about how different industries rely on different techniques to showcase what they offer through their logos. Sports team logos often feature a mascot or a typeface that expresses aggression and competition. Photography logos find ways to communicate artistry, creativity, and detail. Some logos rely on symmetry to be appealing, while others use negative space in an eye-catching way. Some are geometric, and others are organic. There are great logo examples everywhere you look. Let them inspire you.

Designing Your Own Logo

Before you fire up your logo design software, you’ll want to draw out general ideas for your logo. Make sure you know exactly what you want to communicate about the business or product you want to visually represent. Ask your client—or yourself—about the history of the brand, its industry, the product or service it provides, and any goals for future growth. Truly understanding who and what you are designing gives you a creative launching point and ensures that the logo you make is both appropriate and effectively appealing to your target audience.

Once you have an idea of the brand history and personality behind your logo, think about the ways you can visually express these elements best. There are many visual concepts to consider.

Shape: You can distill most logos down to six geometric shapes—circles, ovals, ellipses, rectangles, squares and triangles—and each suggests different things to an audience. Although there are no hard or fast rules, people are said to associate rounded edges and rings with positivity, community, love, friendship and harmony. Squares and rectangles can suggest balance, dependability and strength, while triangles have cultural associations with science, religion, history, civilization and power.

Harmony: As you think about the most appropriate shape to use, consider whether you want your logo to be symmetrical. Although symmetry isn’t necessary for a logo to be effective, the most pleasing marks often have balance and visual harmony. Your design elements should never compete with one another.

Type: Whether you choose a font or create your own typography for a logo, make sure it is both legible and appropriate for the project. Consider whether your typeface should have sharp angles or rounded letters, and whether your lines should be thick, thin or somewhere in between. If you can’t choose between a few of your favorite fonts, don’t worry. There may be room for you to incorporate more than one into your logo’s final design. Just don’t exceed three in a given project, or you’ll start to confuse your audience.

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Color: To give you or your client maximum flexibility, a logo should always work well in grayscale. But color can be an important way for you to communicate the nature of a brand. According to scientists that study the psychological effects of color, different shades carry cultural associations that you may want to avoid or exploit depending on your project. Consider the following findings as they relate to your target audience.

  • Yellows and oranges make people feel bright, creative, energetic, youthful, and intense.
  • Red grabs attention, and can be used to express excitement, heat, and increased appetite—as well as anger, danger, and warning.
  • Pinks show a playful and romantic nature, but can also connote immaturity, while purples suggest royalty, ambition, luxury, mystery, and creativity.
  • Deep blue suggests peace, loyalty and dependability, while brighter shades of aquamarine suggest healing, serenity, spirituality, and escape.
  • Green is often associated with being fresh, natural, and healthy, but it can also connote jealousy and greed, depending on the context.
  • Gray shows that the brand is conservative, neutral, and secure. But too much of it can make a design seem dull.
  • Black suggests both formality and sophistication—or evil and death, depending on how it is used.
  • White gives Western audiences a clean, clear, pure, snowy, and innocent feeling. But Eastern audiences may associate it with death, mourning, and bad luck.

Don’t forget real-world associations, too. If you want the audience to associate a brand with frugality or practicality, choosing primary or “bucket” colors might be your best bet. (At the very least, it shows that you didn’t spend extra money on custom colors at the print shop.)

Use Color to Connect with Your Customer

Learn how different colors can help you engage with an audience in Dominic Flask’s Skillshare Original.

Shade: While you consider your color palette, you may also want to decide on an appropriate tint and shade for your project. Pastel colors can seem either calming or unconfident, while audiences usually consider brighter tints to be fun and happy (or cheap, in the wrong context). Darker shades connote seriousness or professionalism, but they can also come across as somber or boring if you’re not careful about how you use them. Every detail counts when you create a logo, so make every creative choice intentionally.

Hierarchy: List all of the information that you want or need to incorporate into your logo. Is it simply a symbolic graphic, or does it include the company name? Do you want to share when the brand was established, or where it is from? When you know what you want to involve, think through how you can visually prioritize what you most want to communicate. Logos can be full of information as long as fonts or colors signal what your audience should best remember.

Consistency: Because a logo acts as a brand’s first impression, it is vital that the mark looks professional and well-structured. Make sure that each graphic element is consistent, perfectly shaped, and precisely positioned. To achieve a flawless look, graphic designers often use a technique called “gridding” to order shapes and lines and arrange the design with more elegance, balance and beauty.

There are several types of grids that graphic designers commonly use to draw logo concepts.

  • Dot grids provide structure without extraneous visual distractions.    
  • Square grids allow designers to work with 90-degree angles and lines.
  • Square grids with diagonal lines showcase diagonal as well as vertical and horizontal lines to help designers simplify almost any geometric form. Graphic designer Otto “Otl” Aicher designed his world-renowned Olympic pictograms using this grid.
  • Thirty-degree angle grids are perhaps the rarest grid for designers to choose, but they feature triangles or hexagons that can imbue designs with a three-dimensional quality.

If you begin by drawing your work on a paper grid, you can use a digital one later to clean up any imperfections or inconsistencies that you find. Once you are fluent in gridding, you can also improve designs by incorporating the golden ratio into them or by adding exclusion zones to keep other graphic elements from encroaching on your logo.

Use Grids to Design Your Logo

Learn how to use a grid during the design process to improve your final logo with designer George Bokhua.

Get Started with Logo Design

Do you feel like you have a clear creative direction? Then you’re ready to begin. Have fun with the process, and if you feel stuck, just keep these quick tips in mind.

  1. Keep it simple. Don’t over-complicate your work. The more clear and concise your logo is, the more people will recognize, read, and understand it.
  2. Be unique. Your logo should stand out from the crowd, so make it as memorable as possible. Customize as many details as you can, and don’t be afraid to think beyond literal representations of the brand you’re symbolizing. (After all, the Nike “swoosh” is one of the most recognizable logos on the planet.)
  3. Stay consistent. Your work should always be clean, orderly, and professional. Work with a grid to arrange your shapes and give them a visual logic.
  4. Keep it appropriate. Don’t use bright colors to represent a bank, or deep greys to represent a children’s toy.
  5. Back it up with research. Look around: Logo inspiration is everywhere. Be sure to study what other people have created for industries and brands are similar to your own. You’ll be amazed at what you find.
  6. Make it legible. Pick the right typeface(s) to communicate your brand’s values, history, or principles to your target audience.
  7. Consider how it looks in grayscale. Check to make sure that your logo works in black and white as well as in color. You’ll be able to see negative spaces and design inconsistencies better as you work—and it will give your brand more flexibility to use the logo in the long term.
  8. Experiment with color. Colors evoke emotion and provide audience appeal. Choose colors that relate to the business or product you represent, and you’ll be well on your way to making a powerful, effective logo.
  9. Keep it adaptable. Make sure that your logo can be used in every context, whether it’s on a small pinback button, a billboard, a brochure, or a web page. Your logo should work for both print and digital environments, and should be usable in small and large contexts alike.
  10. Make it timeless. Fads fade, and relying on them in the short term will eventually make your work look dated. Most brands hope to keep their logos for five, ten, or even fifteen years. Stay away from trends and clichés, and your work could last a lifetime.

“The logo is your brand name’s flag,” says Jeff Staple, the founder of Staple Designs and instructor behind popular Skillshare Original The Staples of Branding: From Purpose to Product. “If you’ve got a brand, if you’ve got the DNA. The mission statement and the slogan is the verbal representation of what your brand is; the logo is the visual representation of what your brand is.” Whether you’re an entrepreneur starting a new company or a new designer building up your portfolio, designing a logo can be the first step in a long and exciting professional journey. “Come up with a logo that makes sense to you—that means something to the brand and to yourself,” Staple says. “Take your time to craft it well, and then let’s go: Let’s start this company, let’s start this business.” 

Begin today by enrolling in a course. You just might learn a lifelong skill—and discover a community of like-minded makers along the way.