5 Branding Basics Every Logo Designer Should Know

Jan 12 2010 by Fatima Mekkaoui | 67 Comments

While many articles try to dissect the process of designing a logo itself, I will attempt to share tips from my experiences with branding-focused logo design for the real world.

5 Branding Basics Every Logo Designer Should KnowPhoto by lpwines

With the surge of "stock" logos, the quality of branding for new companies is literally going downhill. Many new designers fail to see that a logo, unlike any other design element, is literally the face of a company, and hence attached to a much larger beast. You can’t peel it off from a book and slap it onto things like a sticker.

A logo versus a brand

Let’s begin with the fine difference between a logo and a brand:

Logo

"The logo (ideogram), is the image embodying an organization. [...] Logos are meant to represent companies’ brands or corporate identities […]"

- Logo as defined by Wikipedia

Brand and identity

"[A] burning scar [with] bankable value"

- From BusinessWeek

1. Research, research, research…

Research, research, research…

Research is everything. It’s your first and last name, as well as your food and bed, when you are creating a brand.

Research is the most important part of designing a logo, and branding as a whole. Logo design with strong branding focus can easily push the limits of a five-figure budget primarily due to extensive research.

Whether you are a solo freelancer or part of a branding team, your client’s target audience will heavily influence the decisions you make and the direction your design goes towards. Understanding a company’s marketing strategy is as important as placing the keystone in a building foundation. Research encompasses everything from typography selection to presenting to a focus group.

2. A strong name is recognizable

A strong name is recognizablePhoto by Stuart Chalmers

Giving an identity a name and then giving the name a face. These are your bottom line goals when planning out your design. In that order. A strong name, with or without a mark, has to be recognizable without any taglines. It must carry weight of its own.

For the life of me, no one can remember my last name, much less how to pronounce it (it’s Mekkaoui by the way). But, say for example, I had you write it and pointed out that it included all the vowels in the alphabet, then you might remember me next time you come across it.

In branding however, we don’t have that luxury. I would have to be able to catch your attention as you zipped down the supermarket aisle. Hence, I made a short, rare name that I identify myself with and use persistently all over the web: Imokon.

When Coca-Cola briefly changed their formula in 1985, people flipped over sabotaged history. Can you imagine their reaction if Coca-Cola changed their name to Sanscoca Fizzola? Exactly.

Coming up with a strong name can either be fun or a complete burden. Regardless of whether it’s made up (Skype), a misspelling (Google), or a simple word (Borders, Apple); it all goes back to marketing strategy. You can read more about brand name types here.

3. A good logo builds trust

A good logo builds trust

The logo is the first impression, of not just who a company is, but how trustworthy it is – and in turn, how much a consumer will open up.

Let’s say you point your browser to go.com.

A good logo builds trust

It is very probable that one of three thoughts will go through your mind:

  • This place has a crappy Disney-esque logo.
  • Is this a Disney company too?
  • What’s the point?

…to which I’ll answer: the first two possible answers are exactly what I mean about "face". That bubbly calligraphy used in the signature Walt Disney logotype is so well branded that the word "Disney" is all that you would think of.

This is the difference between "This is a trustworthy site because it’s obviously Disney’s" or "This is a spam site and they couldn’t have made it more obvious".

4. A good logo is distinctive and unique

A good logo builds trustPhoto by pshutterbug

A strong logo, like a handsome face, does not tell you what’s inside; rather, it is a strong distinction amongst the masses, despite impersonation.

Another way to look at it is:

Branding basics

So…

  • You probably didn’t read the word cup in the second logo. Your eye stopped at "Coffee".
  • The first three, especially if rendered in grayscale, look very similar.

    The green caught your eye more than all the brown.

  • You blinked at the Starbucks logo because it wasn’t really a Starbucks logo … but you still heard Starbucks in your head.

The creativity in designing a logo is not focusing on the subliminal—or the art—it’s in making an impact. The subtle hints (like the FedEx arrow for example) come naturally after the fact.

5. Details can make or break your design

Details can make or break your design

Now that we got the big items out of the way, let’s focus on the nitty-gritty stuff. You can waste a lot of time going back and forth with ideas, but in the end, simplicity is always a win-win solution. If you’ve never applied the KISS principle (keep it simple, stupid), you can be rest assured that you will in your logo project.

Typography:

If you have it made as a branding firm, you will have a very experienced typography expert on your team. If not, you’re still not completely out of luck.

Reflecting back on the client’s target market – you’ll want to see what kind of fonts are common in that industry and what fonts are used by top competitors. Hint: one of the best ways to do this is looking at movie posters and magazine covers.

For example, the Bank Gothic typeface is mainly seen in action or sci-fi movies like X-men Origins: Wolverine or Hancock, but it’s been used in bad taste in Chipotle and Capital One Bank buildings.

Now the ITC Avant Garde Gothic typeface is almost a default fashion industry standard. Yet, I’ve seen Bank Gothic font used for a designer swimwear brand. Go figure – the fact that it was active clothing in nature might have made all the difference.

For a more "antique" impression, many go with Trajan Pro, which traces back to ancient Roman columns and works wonders anywhere from Micheal Jackson’s "This is it" to law firms or universities. However, you would never want to use this on packaging for baby products. It’s simply doesn’t give off a good vibe.

Details can make or break your design

Another note on picking out a font: you want to implement some form of customization such as kerning (see Fedex example above). At the same time, you want to be able to provide your client with a font they can use to make matching items down the road, such as presentations, invitations, and brochures.

A full branding package includes a chosen font family as well as recommended measurements that are eventually enforced on all branded objects/materials such as folders, envelopes, business cards, etc.

Type is everywhere. Make sure your choice ties in psychologically with your client’s goals.

Color:

If anything, the "Starbucks green" example we discussed above must have given you a clue that color is a very huge deal. You don’t make a logo a certain color because of the obvious product, but you choose based on—yet again—psychology. There is no straight to the point color picker for logos, but researching the target market will get you there.

Blue, for example, is a favored corporate color because it buys a calming factor, yet when asked to make a sexy logo for a stylish company, I’ve pulled in the reds and blacks. This combo makes your blood rush and gives off an aloof aura all at once. Even so, the actual hue of red can make a huge difference in impact when it comes to print and paper stock.
More on color psychology here and see it in action here.

Shape:

Speaking of blue, boxes are also ever so popular (make sure to read the comments on that page). As well are circles. In fact, it has unintentionally become too easy to assume that the letter ‘M’ in a circle can indicate a public transit service. So, you might want to think hard next time you think of working with a logo that consists of a letter in a shape.

Another note on shape, aside from standard geometry… please make sure there’s no phallic undertones in your logo. Unless that is indeed your intention.

Scale:

Scale matters. When you are going to make a logo, you have to assume that it will be blown up to the entire side of a building wrap and printed as small as a quarter of an inch in height.

Now you can’t satisfy everybody, but…

Please do yourself and everybody a favor and design in vector. Regardless of your opinion on this, it will cost you and your client down the road if you don’t.

Make sure all of your art is clean; no extra and unnecessary points. If you see it, then it will be seen by someone else.

Gradients are a new trend, but don’t abuse them and make  sure it can be replicated in one color. Some things just won’t play nice with them.

Conclusion

Many of the above principles affect more than just logo design, as branding encompasses everything that has to do with a company’s image. Yet, everything else seems like another extension of what the logo does for a company. Information is beyond plentiful and you have no excuse not to do your homework.

Other good reads

Show and tell

What are your experiences with designing logos? What other tips and thoughts would you like to share? What are some of your thoughts on current branding trends?

Related Content

About the Author

Fatima Mekkaoui, aka Imokon, strives to help small businesses develop a commanding brand and online presence and educate them about it. To get in touch, visit her site or send a tweet @Imokon.

67 Comments

Tony

January 12th, 2010

A good logo is also timeless. A good logo has that special “element” that you just know exists but can’t figure out exactly it is. Thanks for the article!

Jason

January 12th, 2010

Not a bad article, but given that:
“With the surge of “stock” logos, the quality of branding for new companies is literally going downhill.”

I have to ask, which literal hill is it that the quality is going down?

ThisIsInspired

January 12th, 2010

Very well written piece. I appreciate you covered all relevant topics on logo design succinctly and well. It’s amazing how often we still see poor logo creation.

Thx!

Raja Sandhu

January 13th, 2010

Nice write-up on logo vs brand design, Fatima. Really loving they way you make point 4, you totally got me with that one.

- Raja Sandhu

Robert Anthony

January 13th, 2010

ATT: admin!!! Sorry if this is double, I’m on an iPhone and it lagged when I submited it, feel free to disregard one of them.

Imokon,
Wow. This was the most informative and well written article I have read in a while. I thought it was going to be basic info but how I was wrong. I honestly have nothing to add, but I have learned some valuable insight. Thanks for the post.

Tom Simpkins

January 13th, 2010

Fantastic article Fatima.
While logos primarily represent the visual manifestation of brand identity, they are most often the first point of contact with the brand experience. If the logo creates an initial image that isn’t consistent with brand identity, the organization starts off the brand experience by sending mixed signals.

Matt

January 13th, 2010

Very interesting read, thanks !

designfreek

January 13th, 2010

Thanks for great tutorial.. These tutorials help in making sometimes awesome stuff.. one i found here.. http://www.webdeveloperjuice.com/2009/12/31/20-logos-with-clever-use-of-imagination/

Thanks once again.

Graham

January 13th, 2010

Thanks for the great article!
I found it very insightful!

Michiel Ebberink

January 13th, 2010

aaah. that was funny. I immediately thought about disney with the go.com logo.

Craig

January 13th, 2010

That was a great read, thanks.

Nic da Costa

January 13th, 2010

Great article! Thanks for the refresher! Definitely agree with you that some new designers these days forget these basics!

Jordan Walker

January 13th, 2010

Great article, enjoyed reading.

Mike

January 13th, 2010

Thanks for the article, Fatima! It’s full of good, thought provoking ideas.

Shannon

January 13th, 2010

Great article, I whole-heartedly agree that designers need to be educated in branding and not just how to make something look good. Logos are a representation of your whole company, your products, philosophies, your mantra. All of that has to fit in one tiny logo.

@Jason – I completely disagree that quality branding is going downhill. I think if you fall into the trap of thinking that everything cool has already been done and stock logos are quick and easy, then yes the branding work you produce will be poor. But if you strive to create something great that fits your customer’s company, and targets their audience, then your branding work will be successful.

Copperplate

January 13th, 2010

Overall a nice list of general guidelines. Although I was a bit upset that you didn’t use Copperplate Gothic Bold as one of your recommended fonts. It’s an honest mistake, but really it’s the best font in the entire world.

Imokon

January 13th, 2010

Glad to hear you are all enjoying the article thus far, thanks!

@Jason

The hill basically stands as timeless originality and character of a brand at the peak, with duplicated over-worn methods at the base.

For example many fonts don’t distract you from the brand/logo, but say for example using the Scriptina font from everything to header copy on fliers to logos of high-rise living and restaurants, well those logos have now lost their edge. They are no longer at their peak.

Shawn Hooghkirk

January 13th, 2010

It’s amazing how much information you can gain by doing your research through magazines. You can not only find typefaces like you mentioned, but can be used to research a niche (if there’s a magazine for it, there’s a market for it.) — Ed Dale is a great proponent of this.

Thank for sharing Fatima, as I’ll be adding these to my checklist.

Gonzo the Great

January 13th, 2010

Hi Fatima,

thanks for a great article: a recap of all the things a logo designer should research, do and implement when designing a company logo. It’s a pity so many ‘forgot’, or just don’t know, these (old school) principles!

And you got me with your Star Wars Coffee, funny and good example! Your article also explaines why a good logo can never cost 95-200USD, you’ll probably get some clipart and free fonts!

Great read, Cheers & Ciao ..

Just...B

January 13th, 2010

Great info and good refresher. Thank you very much. So glad you mentioned the “gradient” thing. Gradients and reflections appear to everywhere and on everything – and not always a good choice.

Mike

January 13th, 2010

Great piece. Research, research, research…it can’t be said enough.

Melody

January 13th, 2010

On the topic of a good name, sometimes companies don’t choose names that are…the best for design, it really takes a good designer to be able to “put a face” to a company name that is no way related to what they do..It’s unfortunate because good logo design should be a reflection of a united marketing plan..

Imokon

January 13th, 2010

You’re welcome everyone!

@Shannon Good answer! Though the plethora of such stock logos is what is causing branding to go downhill, as many younger companies do not consider this fact, they only look at the price tag.

@Shawn Hooghkirk I couldn’t agree more! I will be elaborating on this as well in a future article at some point.

@Copperplate Well to be quite frank I am partial to sexy Avant Garde Gothic myself, but every font has its time and place, and Copperplate is definitely on the list of first fonts to go through.

Matt

January 13th, 2010

Go.com is indeed owned by Disney, so it seems that the logo has done just what it was supposed to do.

gweb

January 13th, 2010

is big work to have good logo

Gabriel

January 13th, 2010

Thanks for the article, Fatima!

José Ramón

January 13th, 2010

You don’t imagine how useful I find this article! Thank you!

Ivan Ereiz

January 13th, 2010

It’s a great list for designers and clients. It shows the value of the work that goes into the development of a logo.

Inside

January 13th, 2010

Logo design is not as easy as it seems! It takes a lot of work and dedication to learn how to design classy logos which fit themes, and these are some great tips here

Justin Moore-Brown

January 14th, 2010

I think I’m just gonna print this out and show it to my clients lol.

Thanks!

Sarah

January 14th, 2010

Going through my inbox and filtering through my much anticipated design feeds…I must say, this is the first one in a while that I have read in it’s entirety and plan on keeping it to share with others (maybe slip it to my clients) GREAT article, you have no idea how useful I find it! Thank you!

On a side note, it’s refreshing to have articles from a female designer!

David

January 14th, 2010

I think Jason is merely pointing out that the quality of branding is figuratively, rather than literally, going downhill (unless of course, Pentagram are moving to a valley).

Good to see the research you put into this. I think a lot of designers get caught up in the clichés we always repeat without understanding the thought behind them. Being introduced to a company is much like being introduced to a person – you might go on to have a great relationship, but it’s the first impression that creates that opportunity.

Jarad Johnson

January 14th, 2010

I stopped reading when you promoted Trajan Pro.

Imokon

January 14th, 2010

Thanks everyone!

@Justin Moore-Brown, @Sarah Thanks for the encouragement :)

@David I do see your point, thank you.

@Jarad Johnson I’m sorry to hear you thought I was promoting Trajan Pro. I personally push Colaborate in such themes personally, however Trajan Pro is a more obvious example for all readers to see without thinking too hard.

TonyT

January 15th, 2010

“literally the face of a company”

No. Virtually, or figuratively, but not literally.

And again, “the quality of branding for new companies is literally going downhill.”

Huh?? Quit. Stop it.

To quote Inigo Montoya, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

ryanMoultrup

January 15th, 2010

I happen to really like the second coffee logo. You are right I did not catch the word cup. It is very cleverly designed to look like a cup. I think it is a great play on the word and is fun for people who do pick up on it.

Imokon

January 15th, 2010

Good observation!
I suppose that’s why I haven’t pursued writing as I have other things, will keep it in mind :)

Nikhil

January 16th, 2010

Really amazing read.
Everything is perfectly explained! Type, Color, Shape — EXCELLENT!!

Kevsgreat

January 16th, 2010

With point 4 how much is the recognisation of the ‘Starbucks’ logo is because of the millions and millions that particular company spends on marketing its brand?

Konstantin

January 17th, 2010

Sweet article, thanks. I’m actually just past a logo design for a new startup, and I think I met all the points listed above, except maybe one ;)

Thanks again,
~ K.

Walter Werzowa

January 17th, 2010

..and then there is the world of audio logos, which works (ideally) in tandem with the visual logo….

Imokon

January 17th, 2010

@Kevsgreat Spot on. If you look at a generic brand at the grocery store, or a knock-off perfume package you’ll notice that many try to feed off of whoever marketed better, saving themselves money so to speak.

@Walter Werzowa Absolutely right! A definite must in branding. I think I might cover that next :)

Ludovic

January 18th, 2010

Very good read. Thank you so much for the article.

Simon Carr

January 18th, 2010

@Imokon – Great article on branding, appreciate your insights – especially the starbucks logo part.

SoulTraveler

January 22nd, 2010

Great Article! So thorough and informative. Good job Fatima! :-)

Roberto Blake

January 31st, 2010

Great article on branding. This is very straight forward and to the point, its completely spot on.

Mike Healy

February 4th, 2010

I have to object to the use of the word literally as well (going down hill, the face of a company). This is the complete opposite of what literally means.

It’s always annoyed me when TV presenters do this; turns out it’s annoying on the internet too :)

Turbo W. Trash

April 7th, 2010

Would love to see a logo design for my site!

waaab crew

April 15th, 2010

interesting article…thanks for sharing…chears

cameron white

May 27th, 2010

The logo people realize the fact that a successful logo design helps a rock group to achieve recognition, trust, admiration, and most importantly gain a high fan base. A Band logo design is a crucial element of a it’s commercial brand or market entity. Music doesn’t always just sell itself; a music group must also be marketable and appeal to the masses. If an upcoming band can prove this, they will be more prepared to acquire a recording contract. The shapes, colors, fonts, and images that are used in creating Band Logo design are kept unique and usually different from other identity images in a similar market.

fiona

June 29th, 2010

branding basics true, godd stuff!

Nathan Smith

July 15th, 2010

What people fail to mention when discussing ‘good’ logos is the strength of the company/product/service that is offered. All of the examples that you have mentioned represent a strong product or service, and that is why they mean something.

chris

October 20th, 2010

great write up!
This will be very helpful in my logo creation!

LITHOSPARK

January 10th, 2011

Good article! :)

Bea

January 26th, 2011

Great article. Better than a lot of textbooks. Thank you!

sonny

February 16th, 2011

great topic! must read for every one in the design industry

Ray

April 9th, 2011

With all due respect, because you wrote a good piece, however Jason is correct. Design can not litteraly go down hill, unless it is magically transformed into a physical object capable of going down an actual real hill. A line on a piece of paper, is just a line on a piece of paper. It may represent a hill, but it’s not a real hill, and even if it were, “design” as something that is an abstract concept can not literally go downhill the way a car or bicycle can.

Darren

August 18th, 2011

It’s also important that a logo be clean and distinguishable in black and white. Not grayscale, but pure B&W. Logos get faxed, printed on receipts, and etched into glass. If your design is some elaborate photographic image, it won’t look good in simplified media.

Olayinka Falase

August 25th, 2011

That was a great piece! thanks

Balogun Olalekan

October 9th, 2011

is really useful. thanks

Malaama

October 20th, 2011

I’ve read a few articles on logo design and branding but none as clear and straight forward as this one. Many thanks.
Now I’ll go design a logo for myself!

Aniket from Tech-Magneta

October 28th, 2011

Really nice post.
Im new into logo designing.

Have understood that research about an entity is very important when creating a logo for it is.
For me, a logo should be simple, distinct & captive in nature.
Thanx fatima.

Cyprus

November 25th, 2011

Great article. It should be remembered that a logo can sell, but only if it is a good one. This is a matter that should not be taken lightly. Research, take your time, invest in a good designer and your efforts will pay off.

Randall Street

November 29th, 2011

Its a great article Fatima, very informative for graphic artists and new businesses alike. Good luck on your career.

R. Street

Linda Clark

August 29th, 2012

A good logo tells everything about company/ organization. It should be unique, decent in colors and descriptive in nature. Thanks Fatima for sharing this great piece of writing with us.

Miguel Olivera

September 3rd, 2012

You’re cute, and you know very good how to make a logo. Nice.

Roberto Blake

June 5th, 2013

Great and straight-forward overview of what logo designers need to know and do. It’s even a very good refresher and put things in perspective for us more experienced designers and gives us a good way to communicate the process to non-designers. This is probably one of the better overviews on logo design that I’ve seen in a while. Great post!

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