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stephanie's picture
518 pencils

What IS a logo?

What IS a logo?

Being a fairly active member on several design critique sites, I've come across a number of submitted critiques which at first glance, I'm confused because the title will say something like "Logo for my Design Company" and looking at the actual work, it doesn't appear to be a logo at all. I'm not sure where there were some misunderstandings, but I thought I would make it blunt and obvious for readers of these few steps to know what a logo is and what it is not. It might clear up some people that were under the wrong impression, or it might just be a good brush up for those who already understand the general idea.

First, and probably most important (I see this constantly, and I have requests for this constantly.)
A logo is NOT a Photograph. No, you can't take a picture of your dog with your digital camera and have that be your Pet-Grooming logo. No, stock clipart is not logo material either. If you're confused on this concept, take your magnifying-glass tool, and zoom in as much as you can on your project. If there are little square pixels, it's time to start over.

To continue on that point, Your logo should be in a vector format. What this means is that no matter how big or small you shrink or enlarge your logo, it should never pixelate or blur. Logotypes need to be used in everything from clothing tags to billboard signs - so you'll need a format that can handle the stretch. I've had people make the excuse that they aren't experienced with the pen tool so they can't make vector logos - there are a lot more tools besides the pen in Illustrator, so start there and move up.

SIMPLIFY. SIMPLIFY. SIMPLIFY. I can't stress this enough. We all know the KISS method, (keep it simple, stupid) - but many times designers (and myself) forget to apply it to logo design. Count your elements. If there are more than a few, you probably have too much going on. Remember that consumers will be doing everything from quickly glancing at your logo to staring at it during a red light - make sure that it's simple enough to remember and decipher. Other things I see are gradients, bevels, and dropshadows. These don't transition well in enlargement and printing - stay away from these. Again, remember this is not a photograph or an ad - it's a logo. Drop on needed effects when you incorporate the logo into your designs.

Your logo will NOT tell your story. Your logo is NOT YOUR BRAND. When you create a logo for a company (whether that be for yourself or for another client), remember that your logo is not your brand; it is -representing- your brand. McDonalds for example, does not have a the cheapest, fastest Hamburger in their logo - but everyone knows what the arched "M" means. Just because a company sells a specific product, doesn't mean you have to illustrate the obvious. Just because your company started small and is growing, moved, etc, doesn't mean you have to include that in your logo.

There are a few dos and don'ts from me. I don't know if something like this has already been written, but I was just a little tired of writing out a similar critique response for a good chunk of logos being posted. Commentary is welcome. Also, let me know if there's anything I forgot, incorrect, or wasn't clear on. Thanks! :)

Commenting on this Forum topic is closed.

JimD's picture
2626 pencils

First, read my article; 9 rules to creating a logo. The article covers much of what you said, and a bit more. You've made some very good points.

I can't emphasize it enough when I say "do not create a logo that is dependent on it being on a color background, texture or image." I see this approach a LOT at LogoPond.com. Half the stuff their is really just a show of illustration skills, font use and color combinations. Many of the logos look beautiful, but simply don't "work" for their intent.

I hate logo design, personally. In 25 years in the business, I've yet to produce a single logo that I'm proud to tell people I designed. 9 times out of 10 the client ruins it, the other time I simply lacked motivation and interest ;-)

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stephanie's picture
518 pencils

Ah, well there you go! I thought maybe a similar thing had been written, and I want add that your version is definitely written better. Mine is more of a rant, than anything - I just want to see these mistakes decline.

I agree about logopond. Some of the core illustrations are done well, but there are too many added effects that if you were to take those away, they wouldn't look near as good alone.

Logo design is a love-hate relationship with me. I love illustrating, so I tend to illustrate a bit over-the-top in my logos. When I try to simplify, I simplify too much. It's all about balance. ;) Clients do have a habit of ruining logos, no doubt about that. Heh.

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Perfectly Lost Designs
"…the Web design community is hopelessly distracted by technical fetish." ~Andy Rutledge

JimD's picture
2626 pencils

The Brix House Wine logo in the critique section is a perfect example of what you're ranting about. The guy has a photo of a glass of wine, a pile of grapes and some kind of boxy red border and he's calling it a logo. What????

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Visit Creative Guy for graphics and Mac OS tips, tricks, tutorials and commentary

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stephanie's picture
518 pencils

/sigh I noticed that as well. I think a lot of my frustration comes from the past month, I have seen so many "logos" like this being posted. I've also seen a lot that follow most of the points made, but are overcomplicated or try to explain too much all at once. Hopefully in the near future there will be a greater understanding of what a logo actually is. :)

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Perfectly Lost Designs
"…the Web design community is hopelessly distracted by technical fetish." ~Andy Rutledge

natobasso's picture
3951 pencils

It's the 'powerpointization' of design in action.

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Powerpoint is not a design application

JimD's picture
2626 pencils

One thing everyone should keep in mind is that this site was originally created for "green" designers. The community aspect was put here to help others.

While for many more senior designers who frequent here may become frustrated or bored with the work presented in the critique section, they (me included) should try to remember that not everyone has 5, 10 or 20 years experience.

It's frustrating to keep repeating many of our critiques and advice, but we should remember that we're doing it (whether we think so or not) to HELP new designers, and experienced ones just looking for opinion. We should also keep in mind that many people don't look at EVERY critique, thus, they may not get the helpful advice previously given on another piece that also applies to the one they're currently viewing.

Great advice cannot be over-emphasized - nor can it be repeated too many times.

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Visit Creative Guy for graphics and Mac OS tips, tricks, tutorials and commentary

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natobasso's picture
3951 pencils

Here here JimD! I appreciate your positive thoughts.

It would be nice, though, if certain design principals could be more clearly defined and this post helps achieve that.

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Powerpoint is not a design application

natobasso's picture
3951 pencils

Brilliant post!

Can we also say a logo is NOT a clever mingling of icon and text, nor is it a clever use of the intials of the company/firm/designer name in a standard font? Skewed to the point of illegibility?!

It seems we get so caught up in what to design that we try to say everything all at once. Most logo posts follow this trend...I think the KISS method works so well here.

Thanks for this as it clarified a few things for me too.

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Powerpoint is not a design application

stephanie's picture
518 pencils

Oh, I'm glad you liked it. :D

I definitely think that is a good point - typing the name or using the initials in a standard font doesn't cut it, my Mom could do that in Word. I don't know if it's common in your area as well, but there are countless "logos" in Utah where the company name is just written in Papyrus. :(

Thanks for the comment!

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Perfectly Lost Designs
"…the Web design community is hopelessly distracted by technical fetish." ~Andy Rutledge

natobasso's picture
3951 pencils

Papyrus?! I think I just experienced some reflux...ah, it's back down now. :)

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Powerpoint is not a design application

unitbcreative's picture
3 pencils

I had to smile when I read this point:
"Count your elements. If there are more than a few, you probably have too much going on."
I learned the same rule, applied to editorial design, years ago: if there are more than 2 or 3 typefaces, you've gone 'round the bend. Keep it clean and simple; that's when the underlying message comes through.
BTW, there's too much Papyrus here in Atlanta, too. I used it for a calendar once, BACK IN 2000! Every time you see it, find the owner and hand him or her your card. Good work on your rant!
–Unit B
"Feats don't fail me now."

–Unit B
"Feats don't fail me now."

stephanie's picture
518 pencils

Definitely, the simplify idea applies to most design, and not just logo design. There are styles in InDesign for a reason. ;)

Don't worry, we'll forgive you for using Papyrus - but just this once. :P I don't think it was near as popular in 2000.

Thanks for your comment, I'm glad you liked it. :)

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Perfectly Lost Designs
"…the Web design community is hopelessly distracted by technical fetish." ~Andy Rutledge

unitbcreative's picture
3 pencils

Hey, Papyrus was COOL in 2000! ;) Actually, it suited the job well, and it wasn't used to death back then at all! But I'll wager you this: show me any restaurant that has even ONE healthy item on the menu (vegetarian, even), and I guarantee they'll use Papyrus on the menu/signage.
And regarding simplicity: just because you can bevel/emboss hairline-thin type, doesn't mean you SHOULD do this. Just because my car can roll at 165 mph, doesn't mean I should, right?
–Unit B
"Feats don't fail me now."

–Unit B
"Feats don't fail me now."

brody's picture
2 pencils

I've found that many people that approach me for logo work are confused about the relationship of a logo and a brand. I think you've done a nice job explaining the difference.

Mintsauce's picture
1000 pencils

Although I think this article clearly touches one what a logo consists of in raw bricks and mortar, it still doesn't say what a logo really is.

Quoting Ivan Chermayeff, Tom Geismar and Steff Geisbuhler; "A mark (logo) is both a form and substance, image and idea. To be effective, its forms must be familiar enough to be recognisable, and unusual enough to be memorable. The design must be simple enough to be read in an instant, and rich enough in detail or meaning to be interesting. It must be contemporary enough to reflect its epoch, yet no so much of its time as to appear dated before the decade is out. Finally, it must be memorable, and appropriate to the ideas and activities it represents."

The Construct Agency
Building Creative Brands for People

stephanie's picture
518 pencils

Thank you for the quote reference and the comment - like I said earlier, this is more of a rant on recent habits in posted critiques and work. I was referencing the "bricks and mortar" of a logo when I stated "What is a logo?" Perhaps I incorrectly titled my post, sorry about that. :)

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Perfectly Lost Designs
"…the Web design community is hopelessly distracted by technical fetish." ~Andy Rutledge

natobasso's picture
3951 pencils

Logo

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Powerpoint is not a design application

Mintsauce's picture
1000 pencils

Logo. Also known as trademark, service mark, mark or margue. Logo being the most commonly used form.

The Construct Agency
Building Creative Brands for People

Pete's picture
52 pencils

A logo could pretty much be ANYTHING, couldn't it?

stephanie's picture
518 pencils

Agreed. I didn't go into the dictionary definition of a logo, because, well, I'm not a dictionary. ;)

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Perfectly Lost Designs
"…the Web design community is hopelessly distracted by technical fetish." ~Andy Rutledge

Pete's picture
52 pencils

But JD is right about the client f*cking it up 90% of the time.

What most people don't grasp when they come to me about creating an identity is people WON'T be viewing the logo/icon/symbol in a vacuum. That is, the logo has to be adaptable for ALL media, ALL sizes and ALL colors if need be. It should be strong, simple, flexible, and clever if possible.

I recall one job, when I was first starting out, where I was basically pushed into creating an image of a full-color welcome mat, complete with a bristly texture, brown & orange leaves and part of a shoe stepping on it. The client then had the nerve to ask me why it looked like crap when I shrunk it down to put on a business card.

I became so disgusted with the client and the whole project that I almost swore off freelancing altogether.

natobasso's picture
3951 pencils

Gotta love the client-project disconnect. :)

I try to narrow down direction and potential hazards before completing any logo for just this reason.

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Powerpoint is not a design application

Pete's picture
52 pencils

Sometimes there's nothing you can do about it - the client will have a strong opinion about what he wants for an identity, and no amount of sketches or alternate designs will change his/her mind.

I always try to give the client what they want, even if sometimes it's less than something I would be proud of. A lot of times you just have to roll your eyes, collect the check and move on.

natobasso's picture
3951 pencils

In that case, you could have taken a similar logo and showed the client what would happen when you try to shrink it down...but this is hindsight talkin. :)

If the client has such a strong opinion, make sure you get it into the contract so they can't blame you later.

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Powerpoint is not a design application

Pete's picture
52 pencils

As I said this is when I first started out. Trust me, it's not an issue anymore.

The logo was for a startup company that basically went nowhere, so it really wasn't even used in any fashion (thankfully).

SMQT's picture
8 pencils

I think it might be more productive to talk about function and common uses of logo's. For instance, if I tell you that a logo may need to be faxed, you can deduct the limitations from that.
Also, many definitions and views of logo's can be found to give one a more conceptual frame of the matter.
Not all of the aspects you mention are always true: you could use different versions of a logo for different uses, etc.
The main thing IMHO is to ask questions (what communications will be using this logo) and get the briefing as clear as possible.

Slow Motion, Quick Thinking

carmelknowledge's picture
7 pencils

I'm a beginner designer and we are doing logo design in school right now. When I design a logo they just don't seem complete or together. Do you have any suggestions that would help to make my designs "POP"?

Example:
http://creativebits.org/stylist_choice_logo

olliesan1's picture
288 pencils

I think you basically have to get to the core of the company. What values do they represent? How are they different from other companies? Who is their demographic? How would you symbolize them? You can change the typeface and add decorative elements all day, but until you determine how your logo is going to be representative of the company, you'll just be running in circles. You need a concept first, then you can worry about the aesthetics.

Pete's picture
52 pencils

Hard to say. Making something 'pop' is a pretty subjective process, but IMO contrast has a lot to do with it. I think the one in the middle with the overlapping ovals is a good start.

Then again, it all depends on the attitude of the client. Are you going for more of a 'classy' feel for the product, or are you going for a hipper, punky sort of attitude that would appeal to the younger crowd?

Making something 'pop' always depends on what stands out for whom. One person could appreciate the serif font in the upper right, while other people's eyes might gravitate towards the one in the middle.

I don't think you can work out the visual qualities of a logo until you have a clear notion of what the product and/or client is all about.

phalkunz's picture
49 pencils

great article. I hate to see a photographic image that they would call it a logo.

Leo's picture
4 pencils

I am new to this forum. I want to design a logo for my company ingenious-i. can anybody please suggest me a logo for ingenious-i. Help will be really appreciated. Thanks everyone

natobasso's picture
3951 pencils

If you aren't a designer you should hire one. It's a very involved process creating a logo. No one's going to hand you one here, that's for sure!

For some examples, try LogoPond.com.

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Powerpoint is not a design application

Leo's picture
4 pencils

Hi Nato.... thank you for your response. I am a designer and trying to come up with some idea for my logo. I haven't given a try to designing a logo as of yet and more involved in retouching and web designing. I shall look in the link provided by you. thanks a lot for your reply. Really appreciate it.

Anonymous's picture

I THINK LOGOS ARE FUN TO WORK WITH BUT YOU CAN NEVER FIND WHERE TO GET THOSE PRINTALE ONES .I HAVE A PROJECT TO DO AND I NEED TO FIND LOGOS . CAN YOU TELL ME WHERE I CAN FIND SO POSITIVE ONES. YOU CAN ALSO TELL ME WHERE TO FIND MONOGRAMS AS WELL. OH I ALSO NEED PICTURES OF LABELS .

I REALLY NEED HELP TO FIND THESE .IT IS FOR MY END OF TERM SBA. IT IS FOR A 100% OF MY WHOLE SBA . REALLY NEED IT.

Anonymous's picture

Yes, great article (and follow-ups) ... when we design logos at www.BranditLogos.com, we're often faced with the question of where can we connect 'intentionally bold' (getting people's attention in our cluttered world), 'unique' and 'timeless' ... it's important to have all three I think to maintain people's attention and build a strong, lasting brand.

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