What is a logo? This may seem like a silly question, but I’m finding a good many people don’t really understand the elements which make up a logo or what that unique little graphic can mean to a business. Why is it so important? Some might even ask, “Is it important at all.”
Well yes, it is important. Your logo is like your handshake. It welcomes people to your business and like a handshake a logo can be weak or strong. This is not to say that a bad company which has a great logo can depend on the design of the logo to lend excellence and reputation to the company. A bad company will be a bad company despite its terrific logo and the logo will often take on the negative elements of that company’s persona. A logo can, however, leave a lasting impression and make or break a first impression. Most importantly a logo is an identifier. It should always be unique, distinctive and memorable.
Lifeclever shares some thoughts from the great American graphic designer, Paul Rand, on logos from his book Design, Form and Chaos.
- A logo is a flag, a signature, an escutcheon, a street sign.
- A logo does not sell (directly), it identifies.
- A logo is rarely a description of a business.
- A logo derives meaning from the quality of the thing it symbolizes, not the other way around. A logo is less important than the product it signifies; what it represents is more important than what it looks like.
- The subject matter of a logo can be almost anything.
What a logo is NOT:
- A logo is not a piece of clip art or stock imagery.
- A logo is not a photograph.
- A logo is not your company name simply typed out in Helvetica or Times New Roman (or in Futura, Verdana or Gill Sans either.)
- A logo is not a DIY project nor can it be created by using "special software."
- A logo is not purchased on the cheap for $200.
Rand explains how the quality of a logo is tied to the quality of the company it represents.
Let’s look at the example of the Swastika. Originally this symbol was used by many cultures to represent good things such as power, good luck, life, sun, and strength. The symbol was used for over 3000 years for representing positive connotations. Once Hitler used it (1921) as his symbol for the Nazi party... the symbol will never again regain it’s positive ideology. The Enron logo is a similar example.
The definition of a logo:
Wikipedia nicely defines a logo as: A graphical element (ideogram, symbol, emblem, icon, sign) that, together with its logotype (a uniquely set and arranged typeface) form a trademark or commercial brand. Typically, a logo's design is for immediate recognition. The logo is one aspect of a company's commercial brand, or economic or academic entity, and its shapes, colors, fonts, and images usually are different from others in a similar market.
Designing a logo takes a good amount of thoughtful creative energy by the designer and a process is always required. To be done correctly, logo creation can take anywhere from several weeks to several months. Remember, your logo is your business' face on your business cards, website, invoices, letterhead and other business collateral. David Airey, logo designer, has written about “What makes a good logo design” and lists 5 elements that can be seen in every effective iconic logo:
1. It’s describable
2. It’s memorable
3. It’s effective without colour
4. It’s scalable i.e. works when just an inch in size
5. It’s appropriate
When you decide to invest in your company and hire a graphic designer to create something unique and memorable as your logo, you will be informed of the design process. In fact, logo designers such as David Airey, Jacob Cass and Jeff Fisher will also offer informative articles and details on their logo solutions and processes. The process of logo design usually includes the following along with some outstanding customer support, consult and communication:
- The Brief: The accumulation and organization of materials and information from the client. Thoughts, ideas, missions, goals, personality of the business all are considered. This is the most important first step. From this information the design brief is created. It is information necessary to the creative.
- Research: Researching the business industry. In order to create a branding symbol, the designer must understand the business, its competition, its history. Is the business conservative (banking or corporate) or more cutting edge (music or the arts.)
- Visual Research: Inspiration. Researching other logos in that industry to see what is fresh, new, outstanding. This is not copying other logos! This is researching the look and feel of the industry.
- Sketching & Conceptualizing: The fun part. The creative part. Sketching and conceptualizing the logo using the information obtained in the brief and via research. The designer creates several sketches and concepts which could be used as the final logo product. These sketches are done on anything from sketch books, to napkins, and can take place anywhere from parks to design studios to coffee houses and pubs. When the designer hits on a great concept... they know it.
- Reflection: Knowing when to put down the sketch book and back away from the project for awhile. Fresh eyes and minds can yield wonderous things.
- Putting it all together: A designer once said to me "my most important creative tool is my trash basket". This is the stage where the designer culls together all the good stuff and trashes the initial or "less than desirable" attempts. What works and what doesn't?
- Presentations: This can be a creative art in and of itself. The presentation to the client should always be professional and insightful. Here is when the designer may provide several concepts or perhaps just showcase a few concepts. The designer may take on the role of consultant (and provide suggestions and guidence) or just provide "the facts." You will find that most professional designers act as consult and support for their clients as opposed to design contests where a design is provided and no more.
- Celebration: Yes indeed, after some long hard months at the drawing board and after the job is complete, many designers might take a moment for a bit of celebration. As for myself, I celebrate with a great glass of wine and a clove smoke. After all, a new logo has been born.
I hope this article has helped define what a logo is and some best practices. Some may say that in today's economy, the small business owner can't afford to hire a logo designer. My personal feeling is that you can't afford not to...especially in today's economy. Save money on using both sides of the paper from your printer, reusing folders, energy efficient lighting or buying second hand office furniture but invest in your business personality ID. Here are some additional resources: