A couple of thoughts on logo design

12 Nov

logo

(Note: that I use the terms “logo” and “visual identity” interchangeably here. While some would argue that a visual identity is a whole suite of visual solutions of which a logo is only one component, most clients begin with the term “logo” and are usually thinking only of a word mark, symbol, or word mark/symbol combination. It’s usually up to designers to broaden their client’s  scope to understand what is fully involved. But to stay with the vernacular, “logo” will do it.)

I had a former client contact me recently. The client was scheduled to be interviewed for a publication and her new logo would be the focus for discussion. She asked if I could provide some information on the thinking that went into the visual identity I had designed for her and which concepts and elements I considered most important in that development.

Readability

A visual identity has to be, above all, readable. Why above all? Well, if a viewer can’t read it, all other considerations for its design are meaningless. I have to admit that I’m “old-school” here as I had a thorough exposure and training to Swiss graphic design while studying visual communications for my undergraduate degree in university. Various designers may begin by throwing in all of the latest graphic styles and trends, colour and illustration use and technical virtuosity right at the beginning in order to impress the client and then deal with the necessities of production for actual implementation later. I, on the other hand, will usually work only in black and white to start and immediately begin testing any concepts at a very small size. If a visual identity can work at a small size (I’m talking about a 1/2 inch here at the widest dimension), it can always be embellished for use in larger sizes. However, the opposite is often not possible.

Personality of the company, business, individual, product or organization

The visual design for a symbol and the selection and use of typography have to present the personality or “brand” of who displays it. Now, of course, a brand is a lot more than a logo, but often a logo is the first thing seen that represents your business, long before clients get a chance to judge your product, service, professionalism, etc. Consider how a logo can become a dominant part of a brand such as BMW’s building headquarters in Munich.

To start, you must ask yourself a few questions to try to identify how a logo might present personality. Is the visual identity you have chosen traditional or modern, wild or conservative, systematic or carefree, rough or sharp, fun or serious, or reserved or bold? Many other questions of this type should be running through the designer’s mind when trying to evaluate a solution for a visual identity.

The visual identity that is successful will be like making a custom suit for your client, and like a suit, it should meet certain criteria. It should fit really well; it should make a statement to those who see it; and the client should feel good and professional each time they are seen with it. Not only is the product good because the creator of it thinks it is, but because it “suits” the client perfectly (see what I did there?) and is based on the client’s needs. The reverse of course is true. A poor logo won’t fit the client well; the client won’t feel very good every time they use it; those who see it won’t understand what statement is being made; and the whole thing may only have been produced to satisfy the creator of it, not the client.

I think a lot of designers would do well to ask themselves often: just who are you working for? Are you only furthering your own interests, or those of  your client?

Consistency

Finally, the use of a logo (in order for it to become an actual visual identity) has to be consistent. When used in all applications, it should still look like it’s from the same individual, product, business or organization. So the original design work and all of the applications of it on various items have to be well thought out.

Consistency is also important in that the logo should be maintained in its original form so as not to confuse the viewer. I think we’re probably all familiar with companies who “get bored” of their logo fairly quickly and start to tinker with it. Colours change. Maybe shapes change. Text might change formats or font styles. We had a logo that had a human figure in it and the client thought that they’d “dress it up” for the Christmas season by giving it a scarf. Cute, but doesn’t bode well for consistency in most cases (unless your brand is substantially engrained in the public’s consciousness).

It should be considered that while employees of the company see the same logo day-in and day-out and begin to think that there is a need to change it, the fact is, the public may only see it very few times. If a potential customer of yours only sees your logo twice, there’s little chance they will remember it. The magic number here is seven (this comes from advertising circles where this is the working rule for advertisements). It’s only after seeing your logo seven times that the public will start to put it to memory or choose to act upon it. (Keep in mind that “putting it to memory” isn’t always a positive thing, and the choice to act upon it may be to disregard it, confirm that they hate it, or just say “no” to it—in the case of it being a product for sale).

Keep your logo intact and present it consistently. If you change it occasionally, you’re missing the advantage of building up recognizability with your audience. If you find you do need to change your logo for legitimate reasons, please work with a professional designer (I would also recommend starting with the designer who produced the original work). You’ll have a much better chance of getting something that will maintain the professional image that you’ve attempted to reinforce.

Two cents

So, there’s my two cents on this. Believe me, I could go on with nuances on individual aspects of visual identity design, but I think this covers my original answer to the question of what I consider important. Readability. Personality. Consistency.

Finally, I’d like to reiterate my analogy of a logo being like a custom suit and, we, as designers, are like tailors. If we create something for someone else that only satisfies our own needs, we are doing a disservice to our customer and industry. If we work at being customer-centric and truly listen to our customers so that what we create is that magical combination of meeting their needs through the contributions of our talent, skill and experience, we are doing everything we can to provide a valuable service to others, and then design works.

Alberta Graphics
Edmonton, Alberta

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