Design Blog: Logos, Part 1
So a lot about me has changed over the years, but one thing’s been consistent: I like making things. I like designing things, figuring out how things are made, and breaking it down so anyone can understand the things.
It’s gotten to the point that these thoughts need their own space, so here we are. Design blog.
Some up front disclaimers: I was educated as an electrical engineer, not a designer. I’ve done a lot of design work for my small business, but there’s probably something here and there that I’ve missed. If you see something you think I’ve overlooked, let me know! I’d be glad to start a discussion.
Logos: Why Should I Care?
Logos are everywhere. They’re on our phones, our cars, our clothes, even our breakfast cereals. They’re a unique form of identity that we see everywhere, so common that they’re like seeing someone’s name in a news story: that’s just how you know who or what you’re talking about.
Put another way, logos are identity. They’re names in visual form, and as the old saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. A good logo instantly communicates what brand this item is from and what it’s all about.
You can look at a good logo and instantly know everything you want to know about the brand and what they’re trying to sell you. Or, at least you instantly know what the brand wants you to know...
An empire of evil hides behind this mouse, but you’d never know it.
What is a Logo, Anyway?
I mean, we all know what logos are. They’re everywhere, after all. Still, if we’re gonna design them, it helps to define them.
Logos are Identity
As discussed above, logos are a quick way to identify yourself, your products, and your brand. A good logo even becomes your brand, in a way. Look at Apple, for example. That logo is already in your brain, isn’t it? I don’t even need to post a picture of it, it’s just there now, living rent-free in your head.
That’s what an effective logo does.
Logos are Icons
I’ll be doing a separate piece on icons later, but the long and short of it is that logos do a lot of the same things that icons do. They are little symbols that you can instantly recognize and understand, no matter what size they are or what angle you’re looking at them from.
Logos are Names
Okay, yeah. This one’s a bit of a gimme. Apart from the analogy I gave above, you see companies just take their name, give it a fancy font, and call it a day all the time.
Only that’s not quite fair to those poor designers. Text-based logos can be just as effective as icon-based logos at showing what your brand is all about, just in a different way. Text-based logo design shares a lot in common with the arcane art of font design. And hey, if logos are supposed to identify your brand, why not cut to the chase and just make the logo your name? It’ll help people Google your brand (see what I did there?) when they get home and want to find that thing they saw in the mall parking lot.
Logos are Trademarks
This one’s a bit more circular than the others, since trademarks are basically just logos with legal protection. Still, it’s worth mentioning that there’s a whole legal industry attached to the art of logo design. You can’t point at all the John Smiths in the world and say the same principle applies for your fruit-based computer products logo.
Enough Ranting, How Do I Make a Logo?
Unfortunately, making a logo isn’t as easy as picking a fruit for most of us. There’s a lot of design decisions that go into even the simplest logo design, and frankly, I can’t tell you how to infuse your logo with your brand’s personality. Instead, I’ll take a look at some logo fundamentals and use my own logo as an example.
1. Make a Unique Silhouette
Matt Groening once said that the key to memorable character design is to give them a unique silhouette. The same applies to logos, with an extra caveat: don’t add a bunch of wingdings to your logo just to make it special. The ideal logo is unique and simple at the same time. This feeds into the next two points.
2. Make it Scalable
If your logo needs a magnifying glass to decipher it, I’m sorry, but you’re doing it wrong. Think of your logo like clickbait: the more work someone needs to understand your logo, the less likely they’re going to bother. The ideal logo works no matter how small or large it is.
In practice, this usually means keeping your logo simple. You don’t need your logo to include all 12 points of your company’s motto in iconographic form.
3. Make it Monochrome
This doesn’t mean make your logo black and white - not necessarily, at least. If your logo only has one or two basic colors though, it makes it far easier to remix that logo for whatever you want to plaster it onto. Plus, if your logo only uses one or two colors, that means you’ll be putting more effort into the shape of the logo, so this feeds back into point 1.