When you look at a great logo, what you see is shapes, colors, and maybe some text. What you don’t see is the hours of research, planning, crafting, and refining that it took to get to that final logo in the first place.
Designing a logo seems easy until you actually have to do it. Suddenly, you’re stumped, lost, and don’t know where to turn to for help.
This is why we put together this guide—the ULTIMATE guide for logo designing. Both graphic design newbies and industry pros can learn a trick or two from this guide, from the elements of good design to color theory. Join us as we go deep into the art of logo design!
Why Are Good Logos Important?
Logos are pretty much the first impression many people will have of your brand. When they encounter you in the store, online, or anywhere else, your logo will be front and center. Customers will often make assumptions about your company based on your logo alone…even before they’ve seen your products or services! A good logo will let your audience know:
- Who you are
- What industry you’re in
- What values you are trying to promote
A professionally-done logo will make your company look more trustworthy and credible. On the other side of the coin, a poorly-done logo could make your brand out to be something it’s not: low-quality and substandard.
Ultimately, logos are important because they help communicate a clear message about your company to your customers. It tells them “we’re fun and playful, come work with us!” or “we provide excellent products to people like you”. Logos can say a lot and help your customers make decisions, so it’s definitely one of the most important business decisions you’ll make.
What Makes A Logo Great?
Unfortunately, there’s no magic formula to a great logo. There’s no specific mathematical computation, no set of colors or images or fonts that definitively make up “good design”. That means online logo generators will never create logos to the same standard as a creative professional. A lot of what makes a logo awesome are intangible things. Sometimes, you just know it when you see it.
However, there are some ways you can “measure” how effective a logo is. Here are the ways to tell if a logo is great or not.
Even at first glance, your logo needs to strike a chord with your consumers. The message must be loud and clear for it to be powerful. You somehow have to blend a logo that feels current but also timeless, forward-looking.
Impact also covers the visual appeal of your logo. The colors should work together, the lines should be polished, and the elements shouldn’t feel cramped.
The next question you need to ask is, “is it memorable?” A great logo is immediately recognizable. When someone sees your logo, even if your company name isn’t attached to it, they should still know whose logo it is.
Take a look at Nike’s logo, the famous swoosh. If you see this logo anywhere, even if there’s no mention of the brand Nike at all, you know exactly what company it is.
If your logo can be associated with your brand easily and quickly, it will stick in people’s minds. Why does this matter? Studies have shown that the more memorable a brand is, the more likely consumers will be to support it.
Your logo needs to represent your business and what you stand for. As one of the first things you come up with (probably second only to the name of your company), your logo sets the tone for the rest of your brand identity. The logo needs to fit the right mood, tone, feeling, and message that you’re going for. It sounds like a lot to put on a logo, but the best ones are the ones that simply make sense for your brand.
The only thing worse than a bad logo is a bland, unoriginal one. You don’t want a cookie-cutter logo that could be confused for any one of your competitors. A unique logo, one that really thinks outside the box, helps you stand out. Plus, you’ll never have to worry about copyright issues or trademark laws!
Logos come in all shapes, colors, and sizes, but if there’s one thing they have in common, it’s that they’re all simple and easy to remember. Great logos don’t try to overwhelm the customer with flashy images and special text effects. Too many design elements just get in the way of effectively communicating with your target audience.
Trends are all right and good, that is until the trend dies. If your logo is designed with only the present in mind, you’ll end up having to reinvent it in a few years just to keep up. A great logo will stand the test of time and last 5, 10, maybe even 50 years.
Having to redesign your logo isn’t the end of the world. Major brands do it all the time, but sparingly. Companies like Apple, Coca-Cola, and Microsoft have all seen multiple logo redesigns in the last few decades, but they merely updated an already-great template.
Your logo is going to be used on everything from business cards to stickers to billboards, so you have to make sure it works no matter what the medium is. Regardless of design constraints, your logo needs to have the same impact and readability on the internet as it would printed on a t-shirt.
Types Of Logos
To the untrained eye, all logos look and feel the same: just a symbol with the company’s name in it. However, there are actually different types of logos you can create, and each has their own advantages and disadvantages.
If you have a long company name that you abbreviate into an acronym—think IBM, NASA, HBO—a lettermark logo might be your best bet. These are typography-based logos that are simple and easy to read and very memorable. These work best for established businesses that already have high recall, but that doesn’t mean a start-up can’t use a monogram logo. Just include the longer business name along with the initials to reinforce your brand.
Logotypes also play with typography to create a lasting, memorable brand. While these may incorporate symbols or images, the focus is still on a font that shows your company’s personality. Companies with short, distinct names like Google or Coca-Cola are great examples of this.
To create a logotype, find a font that captures the very essence of your business. Is it serious? Classy? Traditional? Modern? From there, you can scout for a font, make edits to one, or even create your own!
These are probably what you think of when someone says the word logo. Popular with small start-ups and big businesses alike, literal logos are an easily-recognizable visual representation of what the brand is. Think of Apple’s iconic…well, apple or Twitter’s bird logo. Instant recognition.
Because there is a direct association with your company and the image you use, your customers won’t have to guess what it is that you do. However, it’s a bit tricky to get right because it can easily veer into generic territory. Plus, if your business model changes, your logo may soon become irrelevant.
Instead of using direct, literal translations of what your business is, abstract logos use a unique combination of abstract geometric forms. These evoke a mood or tone. Some good examples of abstract logos are the Nike swoosh or Pepsi’s logo.
Abstract logos are great for international businesses or companies that offer a diverse range of products/services. Because these are symbolic, it can be easy to miss the mark and come up with an aesthetically-pleasing yet nonsensical logo that doesn’t fit your brand.
Putting a face to your brand is an effective way of getting people to relate to your company. From cartoonish to quirky to friendly, there are many ways to execute a mascot logo. This character must represent the company’s most important values while also being distinct and recognizable. Famous mascot logos include the Kool-Aid guy and Colonel Sanders. These are best reserved for family-friendly businesses.
The biggest problem with mascot logos is that they don’t replicate as well over a variety of mediums. Because characters can be quite detailed, fitting them on small assets like business cards will be difficult. Mascot logos can be inherently ethnocentric too. Does the KFC logo create the same family feel in the eastern World? Consider combining a mascot logo with other types of logos (especially the typography-based one) to support the brand identity.
This kind of logo combines picture and text to create a powerful image. Both work together to reinforce your brand by associating the name with the symbol and vice-versa. The common way to do this is to integrate the text into the symbol, rather than placing them next to each other. For inspiration, think of logos like Burger King’s or Doritos’.
Emblems are much like combination logos, except the logo resembles a seal, badge, or crest. It has a very classic, traditional feel to it, which is probably why this is the favored logo type of schools, government organizations, and the like. The most popular emblem logo is perhaps Starbucks’, which encases both text and image in a round seal.
Emblem logos are more highly-detailed and usually built on a strong story, but because of this, they are also often more rigid and less versatile. Get the best of both worlds by creating a simple yet still striking emblem logo and minimizing the design elements.
Color Theory for Graphic Design Newbies
Play with colors effectively, and you will have a visually-appealing, distinct logo that your customers won’t have trouble remembering. However, colors do more than just grab your attention.
As humans we have evolved to react in certain predictable ways to certain colors, so we unconsciously associate certain meanings and emotions to specific colors. The right colors will highlight your business’ personality while the wrong colors can accidentally send the wrong message.
Without going too in-depth with color theory and psychology, here’s a breakdown of some of the most popular associations with colors:
- Red: Red is the color of excitement, passion, and adventure. If you have a loud brand that wants to stand out, choose red.
- Orange: Orange is less bold compared to red but still very invigorating. Add vibrancy and energy to your logo with orange hues.
- Yellow: Yellow is known to be very cheerful, happy, upbeat, positive, friendly, and accessible.
- Green: Green is the most versatile of the colors. It’s most often used to signify something natural, down-to-earth, or calming, depending on the shade.
- Blue: Half of all logos use blue as a main color. It’s a classic color that looks calm, cool, and mature. You’ll find tons of blue logos in finance, tech, and healthcare industries for this reason.
- Purple: Purple is the color of royalty, so it’s no surprise that companies use it to denote luxury and elegance. There’s also a hint of femininity with this color.
- Pink: Even more feminine than purple, pink is often used with products/services marketed towards women. Pink is also quite youthful, so you can find it on a lot of kids’/teens’ items.
- Brown: For a more earthy, masculine edge, do your logo in brown. You could also use brown for a brand that feels vintage or handcrafted.
- Black: Sleek, modern, and minimalist are the trademarks of black logos.
- White: White is clean and youthful, but more often used as a secondary color to help your primary color pop.
- Gray: Gray is the halfway point between black and white, both literally and symbolically. Go for gray if you want something mature and serious, yet softer than black.
Single color logos are always popular. Combining colors adds texture and depth, tells a story, and makes your logo look much more appealing. But be careful, don’t go overboard!
But how do you get the right color combination? You can use a palette generator online or you can experiment with the color wheel. Generally speaking, there are 3 main ways to use a color wheel to determine the optimum color combination for your logo design.
Complementary colors are those that sit across each other on the color wheel. These are good contrasting colors that work well together while looking bold and dynamic. Common complementary colors include orange & blue, red & green, and yellow & purple.
Take any 3 colors that are placed next to each other on the color wheel. Analogous color combinations work to give a sense of harmony and unity to your logo. These colors blend well together and are easy on the eye.
Get 3 colors from different yet equal sections on the wheel. This is your color triad. It’s the right balance between contrast and complements to create a bold, stimulating, and interesting design.
Fonts also have their own stories to tell. Combined with an image or even on its own, the right choice of font will communicate your brand’s unique personality. With hundreds of thousands of fonts available online (and more getting added every day), it would be impossible to look through them all.
You can narrow down your search by building up a personal library of fonts that you like. Narrow it down even further by choosing from one or two of the following font styles for your logo. Make sure you have the correct licenses too. Many fonts are free for personal use but not for commercial.
The word “serif” pertains to the little feet or edges at the end of the letter. Serif fonts can be pretty versatile but are generally regarded as more serious, elegant, classy, and old-fashioned compared to non-serif fonts.
Sans serif fonts are the younger, hipper sibling of the serif. Because they do away with the decorative feet/edges, sans serif fonts look more modern, clean, and sleek. They are also easier to read on digital screens, so are commonly used in body text on websites.
Script fonts mimic the style of handwriting, which means you can find script fonts that evoke wildly different personalities. From elegant to fun to relaxed, you can find a script font for any mood you’re going for. These can also lend a bit of an individualistic, handcrafted vibe.
Display fonts are different from other kinds of fonts because they were developed with a completely different purpose in mind. Unlike most other fonts where readability is paramount, display fonts were created, first and foremost, to be beautiful to look at. These will give your logo a unique touch. You can even create one yourself!
How To Design A Logo
People who have never designed a logo in their lives may think that logo design is simple. Just come up with a few ideas, add a fun font, and voila! You have a logo. But logo design is one of those things that technically everyone can do, but only a few are actually great at.
Just think about the most iconic logos you’ve seen. You’re probably thinking along the likes of Apple, McDonald’s, Starbucks, and other big multinational brands. The most powerful logos seem so simple, so intuitive, so…obvious. Many people only ever see the final product. It’s easy to forget how much thinking and creativity is involved in simplifying an idea into its purest unique form. Simplicity in an ever-increasing sea of complexity is beauty. That’s the magic of logo design—it comes off as effortless, not betraying all the work that went into it. It doesn’t try hard, it just works.
Getting it to “just work” is a long process. Here are the steps to designing an awesome logo.
Step 1: Do Your Research
Find out everything you can about the company—its history, its goals, its values, its previous logos, who their target market is, etc. You need to know it like the back of your hand. Remember: you can’t be over-informed!
Understanding the brand is the first step in creating powerful, relevant work. If you’re working from a brief provided by the client, make sure what they want is clear so you don’t waste time designing and revising something they don’t like.
Part of researching means looking into the competition as well. Look at their logos and derive inspiration from them. This doesn’t mean you should copy their logos, but you should learn from their mistakes and successes. If you understand the visual vocabulary of the industry you’re designing for, you’ll better be able to work with it or subvert it as you need to. Always aim to make a logo better than your competitors.
Step 2: Define the Style
Figure out who the brand is. If the brand was a person, what would they look like? How would they talk and behave? What would their hobbies and interests be? What makes them unique and special and different?
Come up with all the words or phrases that relate to the company. This is pure brain fart territory, there are no right or wrongs. Anything that comes to mind, write down. Filter out what doesn’t work when you’re done. This is a great way of finding unique angles to approach your designs from. The words will help guide all of your decisions when making the logo to ensure that you’re not straying too far from who the brand is.
Making a mood board can further help you zero in on what style to go for. Compile images, fonts, photos, and colors that remind you of the brand. A visual representation will ground your design and help you work towards a design that is more coherent.
Step 3: Sketch Out Your Ideas
Without worrying about details or quality, just draw out as many different ideas as you can. The important part here is to get everything out on paper and sort through it later. Sketch out wildly different concepts or variations of the same concept. Bad, good, great—it doesn’t matter.
Don’t censor or criticize your ideas at this stage. Think inside the box, think outside of the box, or destroy the box altogether. Your first idea won’t be your best one, so you have to push yourself to make original associations and clever combinations.
Even after this step, do not toss out any of your sketches. They are valuable sources of inspiration and give you great insight into your creative process. If you get stuck at any of the later stages, you can always go back to see if you’ve missed anything new or exciting.
Step 4: Refine Your Best Logos
Pick the logo sketches that you like the most. Try to get different styles or vibes with each one. These are the ones you will flesh out and mock-up into a full-fledged logo. Don’t be afraid to combine the best of your ideas together for something even more powerful and unique.
Refine the sketches on vector software. Smooth out the lines, add color, and put it all together. Get helpful feedback from friends, family, and trusted colleagues. How they receive it (especially if they’re the target market) will help you tweak your logo and make it better.
Make sure the logos have the right proportions, symmetry, consistency, and balance. Always double-check your work to make sure that it looks good in color, grayscale, black & white, and dark/light backgrounds.
Step 5: Present It In A Friendly Format
It’s important to render and export your logo in a format that best shows off its design. Present it in an organized, hassle-free way so that the clients can focus on giving feedback. Show off the logo in a variety of contexts, against different backgrounds, and on mock-ups of their packaging, website, or business cards to help them visualize what it will look like.
Step 6: Finalize The Logo Design
Once the final round of comments are in, use those to refine the design even further. At this point, you might need to change the colors, find a different font, or make other minor tweaks to please the client. Once you’ve adapted the logo according to their specifications, test it out again. Go through this checklist before submitting a final logo design to a client:
- Does the logo follow what the client wants? Does it incorporate all of the comments from Step 5?
- Does the logo look good in color, grayscale, B&W, and in its single color variations?
- Does the logo look good against a variety of light and dark-colored backgrounds?
- Was the logo done on a vector program? Is the final logo clean, polished, and not pixelated?
- Is the logo currently saved at the right resolution and the right file type?
- Is there a style guide, as required by the client?
If you’ve answered yes to all of these questions, congratulations! You’ve just finished creating a logo.
Tips For Creating Awesome Logos For Any Business
- Use the right tools. There are dozens of design applications that you can use to create stunning logos. The most common are GIMP, Adobe Photoshop, and Adobe Illustrator. Adobe Illustrator is the most popular because it’s an intuitive, feature-packed program that lets you create vectors and logos with ease.
- Less is more. Good design is not when there’s nothing left to add. Good design is when there’s nothing left to take away. Do not overcomplicate the logo. Reduce it to the absolutely essential elements needed to convey your message and nothing more.
- Make more active or dynamic logos by adding motion (or the illusion of it). This means depicting animals, people, or even objects in a state of movement rather than just sitting idly by.
- You may not have to do this, but including brand guidelines and rationale with your logo is a value-adding service for your clients. It doesn’t have to be a multi-page handbook. Just 1-2 pages describing how to use it, how not to use it, and a brief explanation of what the logo means to the brand.
- Take your time. Good work is never rushed. If you need to take a break and get some distance for your work, go for a walk or sleep on it. You’ll be able to look at it with fresh eyes and make better work.
- Be sensitive to cultural differences or any secret double meanings your logo might have that you didn’t notice at first. This is why it’s important to show your logo around to multiple people; they might notice something you missed.
- Keep learning. Look up online tools and resources, experiment, and practice, practice, practice! Great designers are made, not born. Keep working at it and hone your craft.
Common Design Mistakes That Beginners Make
- Don’t use too many fonts! Use 1 or 2 AT MOST. If using more than one, make sure the fonts play off each other well. Take your time choosing the right ones and getting the combination just right.
- Don’t put too many design elements in one logo. Too many colors, effects, or symbols will muddle your message and make your brand seem confused and unfocused. To avoid having too much going on, start working on the logo in black & white with no special effects. It needs to stand on its own before you can start introducing colors and the like.
- Avoid visual cliches. They make sense (they are cliches for a reason), but they are overused and unoriginal. It will make your company look generic. The logo won’t stand out, do something different, or contribute anything new. If you must include one (like a cup for a coffee shop or leaves for an all-natural product), play with the images. Find a fun way to spin them to stand out from the rest.
- Never ever copy or steal someone else’s work! Getting inspiration is one thing, but blatantly grabbing someone else’s design, making a few alterations, and passing it off as your own is another. Not only is this unethical, but you can face legal consequences for this.
- Don’t submit unpolished work. Always smooth out the curves and clean up the lines in the final design. It needs to be absolutely flawless. Even the smallest imperfections will be obvious when the logo is blown up on a billboard, so make sure you go over your work before you hand it in.
- Do not submit non-vector logo files. Vectors can be scaled up or down as needed without looking grainy or pixelated.
- Do not get too caught up in trends. Trends come and go, but good design is timeless.
There you have it, the ultimate guide to designing a logo. The process might seem like a lot, especially to a first-timer, but go slowly and you’ll be alright. Follow these steps (and our handy do’s and don’ts) to create remarkable, stunning, powerful logos in no time!