What makes a good logo?

Chris Lane / Design / / 1 Comment / Like this

Much of design is fairly subjective amongst designers and clients alike. But there are certain things that will lead to better designs for logos. Those traits are

  • Simple
  • Memorable
  • Effective
  • Original
  • Timeless

Though these traits are not mutually exclusive, they really go together well and one will lead to the next.

Simple design

Just because a design is simple, doesn’t mean it was simple to design. What I mean by simple is that if you were to look at a logo for just a brief amount of time, you could still describe it later. Take the Nike logo for example. Without even showing you an image of the logo, likely you could describe it fairly accurately. It is a swoosh that leads from left to right, with the bottom left being heavier and then tapering off. It is round in the bottom of the swoosh but pointy and straight at the end. The typeface is heavy with all upper-case letters, you may remember that it is skewed, but maybe not. Regardless, that is a simple logo.
Nike Logo

Logos also need to be versatile across many aspects of the business’s branding. A logo should work equally well when very small on a business card, or very large on a billboard. It should be just as effective when reduced to a black and white embroidery or in full glorious (and sometimes animated!) color on the web. This versatility often only comes when the logo is designed in a simple fashion. This doesn’t mean that it should be reduced just to a wordmark with a boring symbol either. Starbucks has an intricate siren within the circle, but the illustration is simplified into it’s most important marks, making it simple. They have since dropped the circle and went just with the siren, but here is the older version:
Starbucks Logo
And with a simple logo, it often leads to the next trait…

Memorable design

Memorable design isn’t always simple, either. A memorable design could be fairly complicated, or terribly ugly, which makes it stick in the mind. So memorable logos, as their only trait, aren’t always good logos. But most good logos are memorable. Just like with the Nike example I made in the simple topic, it is also memorable. Part of that is due to use. Branding for Nike places that logo everywhere. It is difficult not to see it if you are looking at anything sports related.
Another aspect that can lead to a memorable logo is if it has a catch. For this example, we will look at the chocolate Toblerone. Look closely at the mountain. Do you see a bear?
Toblerone Logo

Once you see something that was originally hidden in a logo, it is difficult to not see it again. There are many logos that follow this, just google hidden logos and you will see what I mean. This adds to the memorable aspect of a logo which makes it much more …

Effective for Business

But just because a logo is memorable doesn’t necessarily make it effective. The logo still has to be appropriate for the business. It wouldn’t make much sense to create a logo with a hamburger on it for an animal rights activist group, for a silly example. But you just as much wouldn’t want a logo with a childlike font used on a political newspaper. Logos need to be effective for their business, but do not need to overtly shout what the business is. Panasonic, for example, is just a wordmark, but it is a highly recognized one at that. Nowhere in that logo does it show a TV, or a camcorder, or anything like that. It is just clear and concise.
Panasonic Logo

Original Designs

For a logo to really be effective and memorable, it should be original. One of the worst things a designer could do is rip off a design by someone else. Also bad is to use cliched imagery or design. Stock clip art also should be absolutely avoided. Not to say that some logos may be similar. This is especially the case with wordmark logos, where the font may be the same. But ideas can be very similar from designer to designer, even across the world. So it is a good idea before going too far into a design project to try search to see if that idea has been used before. If it has, try something else.
As a designer I also tend to stay away from current trends. Trends come and go, which prevents your logo from being a truly …

Timeless Logo design

A logo should be able to stand the test of time. Good logos should be able to last with your business for decades. Some of the trendier logos will use a fad that is only passing or relevant for a short amount of time. Logos aren’t a cheap endeavor and it isn’t good business to have to update a logo every year, or even every five years. Look at the logo for Fender guitars for example. That logo looks as great today as it did back when it was designed.
Fender Logo

So that is a little insight into the workings of logo design. If you have a design project for me, let me know through my contact page. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below. And if you are new to the site, please hit the subscribe button in the left sidebar for more updates and advice.

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