Secrets the Master Designers Don't Want You To Know
Have you ever looked at a company's logo and thought, “I could do that!”?
Some are so straightforward that it seems like a school kid could draw one up in five minutes.
Maybe the logo design process doesn't seem very difficult —
But in reality, these deceptively simple designs are the product of weeks of intense work, creativity, and testing.
Consider this —
The world's largest companies have many billions of dollars at stake, every single day.
They need to maintain their reputations and their brands.
And their official logo?
That's often the first thing customers see when they encounter the company.
But what if that logo is ugly?
Or worse, confusing?
Or worst… forgettable?
“Everything is design. Everything!”
- Paul Rand
Let's play a game.
Let's imagine that you're starting your own company.
Pick whatever name you like.
One day, your empire will take its place among the Fortune 500.
It will do business all over the planet, in every country and every language you can think of.
You know you need a killer logo.
But it's not just about finding a great logo.
You need the perfect one for you —
You need something that tells people who you are. And what your company does.
Something that makes people interested in finding out more about you…
But doesn't hit them with too much information right away.
The logo needs to be something people will always remember.
But it can't be so shocking that it drives the market away.
The shapes, the colors, and any words you use have all got to convey the personality, the values, and the industry of your company.
It has to do all of that…
And oh, yeah, we're gonna need you to keep the whole thing from getting too complicated, too.
A great logo does all of the things we've just mentioned, often in the space of a single, simple image.
And the designers behind their creation are masters of artistry, business, and subtle psychological messaging.
In order to understand how they work, let's take a look at some of the worlds most famous logos —
Apple has one of the most famous logos in the world. It draws on the cultural associations the apple has, and that it is a symbol of knowledge.
The bite that has been taken out of the apple encourages the viewer to participate and suggests that there's still more to be done.
The logo is, in a sense, an invitation.
As it happens, Apple originally had a very busy logo.
Back in 1976, the logo was incredibly complicated, with a banner, a slogan, a tiny floating apple, and Sir Isaac Newton sitting under a tree —
Yeah, there's a lot going on here.
We could try to unpack it… but instead, let's just be thankful that this one belongs to the history books.
Can you imagine this logo on the side of a skyscraper?
Amazon.com is another company that saw its logo drastically change since the early days of the business.
The original logo was a letter “A” with a river running down the middle.
Amazon got the simplicity part right, but the design didn't really capture the imagination.
Nowadays, Amazon is so well known that the primary job of its logo is to remind customers to keep coming back.
The real secret in the current logo is in the arrow sitting underneath the word “Amazon.”
Notice how the arrow starts at the letter A and ends at the letter Z?
They're reminding you that they sell everything from A to Z.
The arrow also suggests speedy delivery, and it is intentionally shaped with a soft and curved design to look like a smile.
Irv Robbins and Burt Baskin founded this ice cream shop way back in 1945, and since those early days, the chain has become a thriving success.
But it wasn't until 2006 that the company adopted their now-famous “BR” logo.
The pink-and-purple color scheme suggests childhood, summer, and cotton candy.
Meanwhile, the number 31 ––a reference to Baskin Robbins “Thirty-One Flavors”–– is cleverly folded into the design without making the letters difficult to read or understand.
This logo is so famous it even has its own nickname: “The Golden Arches.”
These arches originally served a practical purpose.
In the days before Google Maps, these tall structures were a way of enticing hungry motorists off of the freeway and into the fast-food establishment.
In the 1950s the arches were two separate structures,
but in 1962 the company combined them to form a giant “M.”
They've been associated with McDonald's ever since.
Brand New World
Each of these logos is an example of successful branding.
This topic gets a lot of air time in today’s world, at every level of business.
From mega-companies to individual freelancers trying to build their personal businesses, everyone knows the importance of building a brand.
But when we boil it down to the basics, branding has two major goals:
You want to get people's attention, and you want them to think about you even after you've left the room.
Have you ever watched a hilarious ad, only to forget what product it was selling?
That ad was not very successful, was it?
But that's a mistake that gets played out again and again.
The previous logos are all immediately recognizable as belonging to *that* company.
McDonald's has the giant M. Apple has… well, an apple.
And if you saw another company trying to imitate those logos, you'd know it.
“Design is the silent ambassador of your brand.”
- Paul Rand
The second goal of branding is trust.
Once you have people thinking about you, you want them to think of you fondly.
That way they'll come to you and not the competition.
The logo is a huge part of what sells that feeling.
The logo helps reinforce what the company does and what industry it's in.
The better it does this, the more confidence people will have.
Baskin Robbins' color scheme and playful type will work great for the world of ice cream… but not so much for something serious.
You wouldn't want to establish a cybersecurity firm with this aesthetic, for instance.
There are many other things that branding can do, but they won't matter without these first two.
Especially when it comes to the logo, these are the goals.
Is Hiring a Designer Really Necessary?
If you're starting a business, you need to get someone who has a good eye.
Some people, when they are getting a company off the ground, will try to save money by cutting corners however they can.
This is one area where it's really better not to try it.
Unless you have several years of professional training yourself, you should bite the bullet and hire someone.
Even if you are a designer, having another opinion will give you an outside perspective that you wouldn't have during the logo design process.
Additionally, most professional designers will start sharing some ideas for a logo in fairly short order, and will work with clients' feedback over the course of the design phase.
“Design is thinking made visual.”
- Saul Bass
It will matter in the long run.
People will notice the difference — especially potential customers.
Random people on the street might not be able to design a great logo.
They might not even be able to articulate what makes a logo “instantly memorable” or “forgettable.”
But potential customers are able to tell when something feels wrong.
They'll know when the logo design process was handled by someone who didn't have a designer's eye.
Even if they can't express why they feel that way they'll pick up on it.
And the message that conveys is: the company didn't have the funds, savvy, or the confidence to hire someone.
Which is building a brand that doesn't inspire trust —
Pros of Hiring a Designer
Cons of Hiring a Designer
Logo Design Process From A to Z
Let's assume that for our new company, the CEO has made a wise decision and put the job in the hands of a pro.
We're going to follow our designer from the initial stages through to the end, to see what happens during the logo design process.
The first thing a designer wants to do is find out info from the client.
Different clients have different aims when creating new logos
- Why does the company need a new logo?
- What are the objectives with this specific logo?
- And if it's not a new company, how does it need to differ from the previous logo?
- What business is the client in?
- What are the expectations of this industry?
- Where does the company see itself in five years? Ten? Fifty?
Then, the designer will need to dive into studying the clients' industry, their competition, and their audience. A little planning goes a long way in this situation.
In fact, it's essential —
The designer will look to answer these questions
- What is the target audience?
- What companies make up the competition?
- What logos already exist in this environment?
- What do we want the target audience to know?
- What emotional reaction do we want the audience to have?
Start With Why
Why does the company need a new logo?
In this case, the purpose is going to dictate the approach.
If this a completely new company, the designer will be helping to create the message that will introduce the company to the public.
That's not the only time a logo gets made, however.
There are a few other instances where a designer would be brought in.
The Company Has Grown
In some cases, what was a small operation has grown quickly, and ownership recognizes the need for a more recognizable brand and logo.
This will often look to establish the growing company's reputation, and create a logo that will last for a long time as they solidify their place in their industry.
A Change of Leadership
If the company is changing ownership, there may be a complete overhaul or just a few touch-ups to what already exists.
It really will depend on how involved the new ownership wants to be.
A merger may necessitate the blending of two previous concepts (this is difficult to pull off).
A New Leaf
Perhaps the company is taking a new direction, or trying to overhaul its image. In this case, the designer may want to have some reference to the previous logo, or they may scrap it entirely.
Once the designer knows why, he or she will be able to target the logo effectively.
The next thing they need to do is understand the specifics of this individual market…
Mind Your Business
During this early phase, there's a lot of research. The designer will ask:
What Is the Target Audience?
The company's desired audience is the next big question that needs to be established.
Usually, the customer is high on this list.
The brand may also want to communicate trust to potential investors and the industry as a whole.
But the customer demographic is big here.
What Are We Trying to Say?
You want a logo that says something, both about what the company is, and what the company does.
Even if it's at a very subconscious level, the McDonald's logo doesn't come out and say “we sell hamburgers!”
But do you think it's a coincidence that the red-and-yellow color scheme evokes french fries and ketchup?
What Is the Competition?
A well-designed logo will stand out from its competition in the same industry, but not so much that it seems out of place.
A designer will want to make sure that other leading brands have been studied —
So that they don't simply re-invent a logo that's already in use.
Where Does the Company See Itself in Five Years? Or Ten? Or Fifty?
A designer will also want to check to make sure that the logo fits with the company's long term vision.
This can have serious consequences.
Even if the short-term design fits the company now, it may not always work for them in the future.
As an example: Amazon got its start in the mid-1990s by primarily selling media; DVDs, CDs, and books.
But the long-term goal of the company was to be a market for a wide selection of goods.
In this case, if a designer had created a logo that used the image of a book or a CD, this would not have represented the company very well in the long haul.
Brainstorm Frenzy Time
The next piece of the puzzle is coming up with lots and lots of ideas.
A designer will want to have a portion of the process where the imagination flows freely.
Sketching shapes and ideas on paper is a common method, as it gives a great deal of freedom early on.
During this phase, the designer may sketch dozens or even hundreds of ideas, trying to find a shape and pattern that fits all of the research that they've done.
After identifying which ideas are best, the designer will eventually head to the computer to put together a detailed version for their client.
The Shape of the Logo
The shape of the logo is the first thing that a person notices.
Consider: if someone took Apple's logo and changed it to purple, or gold, or green… you would still recognize it as the Apple logo, wouldn't you?
That's because the mind most closely identifies shape as the main factor when it comes to consistency.
A good designer may have a color palette in mind from the early stages, but the shape is what usually gets the most attention early on.
A good designer will probably be trying to do the following:
Create a shape that's scalable —
The logo's shape should work in any size, whether it's on a business card or a billboard.
Create a shape that is memorable for the brand —
The logo's shape should connect with the company and remind the viewer what they're seeing.
Create a shape that is minimalistic —
This is important, as it allows for variation.
Create a shape that can be changed —
This is another consideration for the longevity of a logo.
Timeless logos can be reworked decade after decade to fit the trends of the time —
But without having to toss the entire logo in the process.
Timeless logos can be reworked decade after decade to fit the trends of the time,
but without having to toss the entire logo in the process.
The Color of the Logo
Color says a lot about the tone and emotion of the company.
Some things to keep in mind here will include:
First, design the logo in black and white.
If someone makes a Xerox copy, sends a fax, or uses a B&W letterhead or business card, it will still look great.
Then experiment with the logo in different tones.
If a logo becomes the image of the company for long enough, it will probably be used with a few colors. Make sure the color doesn't unnecessarily trip people up.
If Coca-Cola abandoned the color red, for instance, this would confuse a lot of customers.
Pick an ideal color that conveys the right message.
Ultimately, the “official” logo will want a color scheme that fits the brand of the company.
The Text of the Logo
If a designer uses text (and many don't), they will usually want to pay attention to a few basic rules.
- The font should work for the industry and the brand
- If a logo does have text, the fewer fonts, the better
One is ideal — More than two and the design becomes cluttered
“A typeface is an alphabet in a straightjacket.”
- Alan Fletcher
The Loose Ends
Finally, designers will check to make sure they've kept the last few points in mind before they send their product for review.
- Blending in won't help you
- You want to stand out — Make it different
- Be aware of trends — beware of copying
- If there is a design trend that's just a fad, this will eventually trap the company image in the past
- Convey a deeper meaning
- Seek to send a message
“I never get tired of looking at it.”
- Carolyn Davidson
(talking about her most famous design––the Nike “swoosh”)
Logo Design Process: This Year's Trends
A good designer is aware of the major trends going on at any given time.
Whether they hop on the train of buck the trend will be a matter of preference, and the specific job requirements.
But they always have to know what else is being done.
Here are a few of the major ways in which designs are taking shape in 2019.
Gradients have been popping up more and more on movie posters and album covers.
The trend will be around for at least another year, as it allows for variety without overly taxing the eye.
Retro 80's and 90's
These decades have been enjoying a big nostalgia boom in the last couple of years, in fashion, entertainment, and design.
There's a drawback here, though —
Nostalgia is cyclical, and there will come a time (again) where these styles appear dated.
So if you're creating a logo that will be expected to represent a company for many years or decades?
Be wary of leaning too heavily on retro design elements.
Responsive logos have been around for a while now, but they are seeing increased use recently. Put simply, a responsive logo is one that changes when it gets resized:
These are very much a product of the digital age, as they're specifically designed to change as they are scaled up or down on a computer.
Using Bright Colors
This is another idea that's been around for a while.
But as the market becomes more and more crowded with different companies and logos, designers are looking for ways to stand out.
Bright colors are in favor right now.
“Color does not add a pleasant quality to design. It reinforces it.”
- Pierre Bonnard
One thing to keep in mind is that color may be more important than text or type —
But it is still second to shape in terms of what is considered vital for a good logo.
There will be instances where black and white is the only option (letterhead, for instance) and the logo cannot rely only on color.
The minimalistic approach helps customers “get it” right away.
You want them to understand who you are and what you do.
The preference for simplicity has been even stronger in recent years.
With so many brands competing for customers' attention, the eye will often wander to the logo that requires the least work.
Simpler = easier = more people will see it.
“I strive for two things in design: simplicity and clarity.
Great design is born of these two things.”
- Lindon Leader
Seriously, don't do these —
Terrible color choices:
Red and green? Is it Christmas? No? Good, so leave that combo alone.
Accidentally making a shape that looks like something comical or obscene.
A while ago Airbnb faced backlash when their logo update looked like a very particular piece of anatomy.
This is why you do your research. You don't want to even look like you're copying someone else's work.
Step One: The Brief
The designer and client meet, get to know each other, and figure out some basic ideas for the logo.
Step Two: Research Time!
The designer gets to work!
Time to research the market and figure out what's already been done.
Step Three: Totally Sketch
The designer creates lots of images, and continues to discuss ideas with the client.
Step Four: Refine the Logo
The designer takes the best ideas and starts shaping them into a powerful, meaningful logo.
Step Five: The Presentation
Now for the stressful part! The designer shows the client the design for the logo.
Step Six: Development
The designer listens to client feedback, and they revise the logo until it is completely finished.
Step Seven: Complete Logo
The logo is finished!
The designer takes a moment to savor success… then finds the next client.
The Image is Everything
So there you have it!
The logo design process from start to finish.
This back-and-forth between the designer and client can take just a few days or months, depending on the size of the company and the number of revisions made to the logo.
But in the end, the designer will create something that will be seen by millions, and in some cases billions of people.
Not such a bad gig, is it?
“There are three responses to a piece of design: yes, no, and wow! Wow is the one to aim for.”
- Milton Glaser