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How to Design Your Own Logo

So you want to design a logo, but you don’t know where to begin. You are not alone!

Logos mark our shopping bags and billboards, our digital apps and our airplanes. But what is a logo, exactly? And what design elements make them most effective? Before you dive into an Adobe Illustrator logo tutorial or drop big bucks on art school logo design classes, here are some fundamentals you should know about how to design a logo that is beautiful, memorable and brand-appropriate.

 

Understanding logos

At its most fundamental definition, a logo is a relatively simple, easily understood 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 single, but important, tangible part of a brand’s identity. Logos should be unique, memorable and appropriate so customers can accurately recall and identify a brand as they begin to associate (hopefully positive!) experiences with it.

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If you survey your environment, you’ll likely come across a wide variety of logos. Some are abstract graphic symbols while others are more literal. Some feature type, or use a monogram as a symbol and others are images without any letters at all. You can style a logo wildly differently; 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: the kind of logo you create doesn’t matter, as long as it is consistent and appropriate for your brand.

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

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

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

Lettermarks: Lettermarks are similar to wordmarks, but operate more like a monogram. They combine two or more letters to create a single symbol. McDonald's, EA Sports and Procter & Gamble all rely on lettermarks.

Combination marks: 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: 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.

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 create logos that showcase what they offer. 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 a pleasing way. Some are geometric, and others organic. There are great logo examples everywhere you look. Let them inspire you!

 

Designing your own logo:

By now you might think you’re ready to begin your first project, but hold tight! There’s a bit more to consider before you fire up that logo design software.

Before you begin your first sketch, make sure you know exactly what you want to communicate about the business or product you want to visually represent. Ask yourself (or your client) about the history of the brand, the industry it is in, the product or service it provides and the goals you’ve set 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. 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 often connote 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, often the most pleasing marks 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 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: Although your logo should work just as well in grayscale (to give you or your client maximum flexibility when using it), 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. Think about the following as it relates 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 aquamarine colors 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/cold 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. It shows that you didn’t spend extra money on custom colors at the print shop!

Shade: While you consider your color palette, you may also want to decide on an appropriate tint and shade for your project. Pastel colors seem calming or unconfident, while the audience usually consider brighter tints 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 how you use them. Every detail counts when you create a logo, so make your creative choices intentionally!

Hierarchy: List all of the information that you want or need to incorporate into your logo. Is it simply a symbolic graphic or company name? Do you want to include when a 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 chock full of information as long as fonts or colors signal what your audience should best remember.

Consistency: Because your logo often 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 angled 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 least-commonly used grid, but they feature triangles/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.

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 overcomplicate your work! The more clear and concise your logo is, the more people will recognize, read and understand it easily.
  2. Keep it unique. Your logo should stand out from the crowd, so it’s 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. Keep it 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. Keep it grounded with research. Look around - logo inspiration is everywhere – and be especially 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. Keep it legible. Pick the right typefaces to communicate your brand’s values, history and/or principles to your target audience.
  7. Keep it 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 it in the long term!
  8. Keep it colorful! Colors evoke emotion and provide audience appeal. Choose colors that relate to the business or product you represent, and you are 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. Keep it timeless. Fads fade, and they 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!

Implement these best practices to create a final logo that represents your brand accordingly while communicating your brand values in an effective way. If you find yourself stuck along the journey, keep these rules in mind!

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