Logo Design. The Art of Simplicity

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You only have one chance to make a great first impression. And as in life, this holds true in business as well. As a creative professional, it is my firm opinion that logo design is one of the single most important parts of establishing a company’s brand. And yet, it is often the most overlooked, particularly by small businesses and startups. I have lost count of the number of times I’ve been asked my opinion of someone’s logo for their new business. Invariably, when I ask who created it, they either did it themselves, or their cousin’s best friend’s girlfriend is a “designer.”

The bottom line—if you hang your hat on a poorly designed logo, your company’s brand will suffer.

Now I’m no Paul Rand, but designing logos is one of my passions, and I have had the distinct pleasure of working on a number of logos in my career. As such, when designing a logo, there are a number of things a designer must consider:

A logo should be simple. When I have an idea that has merit and I begin developing it, one of my main goals is to try and simplify it as much as possible without losing impact. The more detailed a logo, the more problematic it is to produce, particularly at smaller sizes. So as I progress, I print it out from time to time as small as possible, usually somewhere around one inch wide, to see if it still holds up and details are still recognizable and readable. If they are, I keep pushing it until I have reached a proper balance. I work in black and white. Colors are considered after refinement. If a logo works in black and white, it will work in color. But the opposite is not always true.

A logo should be memorable. This is a no-brainer. The more memorable a logo, the more firmly it is imprinted in the mind of the viewer. When sketching out ideas, I strive to create visuals that are compelling and conceptually relevant to the company and what they do. I avoid literal interpretations and prefer to pursue an “aha” moment where a viewer suddenly gets it. A great example of this is the FedEx logo. At first glance, one might not see the arrow that is created from the negative space between the E and X. But that arrow sums up what FedEx does in its simplest form—they go. Simple, yet brilliant.

FedEx Logo

A logo should be functional. An effective design should be functional in all mediums and sizes that a company would use their logo, from digital to print to outdoor. That is why we as designers take great care in considering variables such as color, typography, balance and effects. It should be easily conveyed in color, black and white and reversed out. Again, the more detailed or complex a logo, the more problematic it can be when produced.

A great example of supreme functionality is the Nike logo. Whether huge on a billboard or tiny on the side of a promotional pen, the Nike swoosh is immensely readable and recognizable. Truly a benchmark for simplicity and functionality.

Nike Logo

A logo should be original. Creatives often joke that there are no more original ideas—everything has been done before. Although that’s really not the case, it does speak to the ever-increasing challenge of creating an original mark in this day and age of visual imagery oversaturation. We as a society rely more and more on symbols and iconography, the visual realm of logos, to communicate. As such, the challenges of creating original art grows exponentially. I often look for inspiration by researching existing logos when in development stage. However, there is a clear difference between inspiration and plagiarism. We make sure to never cross that line.

When considering typography, it is critical to select type with the right personality. Yes, typography has personality. Some are contemporary, some are rustic, some are hip, some are timeless and some are dated. I try and match the personality of the brand with the personality of the typeface (I avoid dated typefaces at all costs). Whenever possible, I try and customize the typography by combining letterforms or subtly modifying them so that my client knows, when the day is done, they have an original piece of art for a logo.

So, in the spirit of simplicity, to sum up the logo design process, don’t try it at home and seek professional help. Your clients will thank you, the global aesthetic will thank you, and your company’s bottom line will thank you.

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