Five useful logo design tips

Advice contributed by Australian designer Jacob Cass.

1. Learn what a logo is and what it represents

Before you design one, you must understand what a logo is, what it represents and what it is supposed to do. A logo is not just a mark – it reflects a business’s commercial brand through the use of shape, fonts, colour, and / or images.

logo design collage

A logo is for inspiring trust, recognition and admiration for a company or product and it is our job as designers to create an identity that will do its job.

One must first know what a logo is before continuing.

2. Know the rules and principles of logo design

Now that you know what a logo is supposed to do, and what it should represent, you now must learn what makes a good logo aka; the basic rules and principles.

McDonalds logo design

As David says:

  1. A logo must be describable
  2. A logo must be memorable
  3. A logo must be effective without colour
  4. A logo must be scalable i.e. effective when just an inch in size

For further reading on the principles of great logos I highly recommend reading these logo design tips before continuing.

3. Learn off other’s successes and mistakes

Successful Logos

Now you know what the rules are, you can distinguish the difference between a good and a bad logo. Knowing which logos have succeeded, and why, gives an insight into what makes a good logo.

logo design mistakes

For example, let’s look at the classic Nike Swoosh (shown above). This logo was created by Caroline Davidson in 1971 for only $35, yet it’s still a strong, memorable logo, effective without colour and easily scalable. It is simple, fluid and fast, and represents the wing in the famous statue of the Greek Goddess of victory, Nike (something perfect for a sporting apparel business). The Nike logo is just one of many great designs, think about other famous brands that you know about and check out their logos. What makes them successful?

For more quality, lesser known logos I recommend browsing LogoPond or visiting your local book store or library and reading some books on logo design.

The Not So Successful Logos

We can also learn from logos that have not been too successful, such as the ones on the right of the above picture. Some logos can depict things that may not always be noticeable to the designer (as in the middle logo above) or they could just be plain bad design, as in the logo to the right (above).

4. Establish your own logo design process

Now that we know what a logo is, what the principles and rules of logo design are and what makes a successful logo, we’re now prepared to begin the design process. This is the hardest part of these 5 tips, and is a whole topic in itself. Each person’s process is different and experience is usually the key factor when creating your own logo design process. For an example of a well established method, take a look at David’s design process.

logo design process

In short, a logo design process usually consists of:

  1. The Design Brief
  2. Research and Brainstorming
  3. Sketching
  4. Prototyping and Conceptualising (See Step 5)
  5. Send to Client for Review
  6. Revise and Add Finishing Touches
  7. Supply Files to Client and Provide Customer Service

If you ever get stuck before or during your design process, I’ve provided some tips on How To Boost Your Creativity.

5. Learn the software and complete the logo

After you have got your design process sorted out, it is usually a good time to begin mastering your software. But before I get to that, I want to point out that Step 4 and Step 5 overlap, as it’s a catch 22 situation – you can’t design a logo by just hopping straight onto the computer, nor can you complete a logo design without knowing your software (the Adobe Creative Suite is a popular choice with professional designers).

Adobe Illustrator

Putting this aside, once you have arrived at your initial ideas and sketches from brainstorming, you can then move onto the computer to start digitizing your logo. After you have digitized the great concept(s), your client is ready to review your work, ask for possible revisions, and complete the design project. Thus, you have successfully created a professional logo.

Jacob is an Australian freelance designer, seen online at Just Creative Design.

39 responses

  1. also, in addition to the previous comments above, I would like to add that a good logo goes along with creating superior brand equity.

    by means of creating and having a distinctive logo or design (symbol as well) you are in the position to build up a competitive advantage: if your brand (logo) is easy to remember and people connect things to it – it remains in their evoked set and influences follow-up decisions such as purchases.

  2. Hi, This is a great post, like a refresher course. It almost brings me back to my College days…

    I’ve tried in the past to explain this process to “non-designer” friends and colleagues, but they don’t get it. They don’t understand why all the design steps you mentioned are important and how in the end, if their logo is successful, they will have a strong corporate identity like Mcdonalds and Nike.

  3. Hi all
    A really good read, thanks. It has made me think again about the design process and I am sure we all follow a similar one. Perhaps the only thing you didn’t mention was the AWKWARD client factor. What they have in their mind is a branding disaster waiting to happen and persuading them otherwise can lengthen these points in the process:
    5. Send to Client for Review
    6. Revise and Add Finishing Touches
    Of course, you finally manage to persuade them away from their terrible ideas and save them from themselves ;)

  4. Natasha, it can be frustrating having to explain the process over and over, which is why I like to show project detail in my portfolio. It’s easier to direct potential clients to a specific page than to regurgitate the same message.

  5. That is really essential article that every designer should read. It is true that it takes more than just PC/Mac and software to design. Understanding of what logo is about, how it works, accuracy as well as effectiveness of a logo are some of the fundamental principal of logo design. First impression last forever.

  6. @Natasha
    Well, that is a surprise because I am actually in my 2nd year of University at the moment and have been studying logo design, so I suppose a refresher course is always good. I get that thing as well about trying to explain what a designer does or even what ‘graphic design’ is. People answer, is that with ‘computers and stuff?’. Makes me want to show them ‘ make my logo bigger cream‘ (if you haven’t seen it, I guess you should).

    Thanks for the compliment… I agree, selling your ideas is and work is another job in itself, and a designer must master these to be successful.

    100% Correct.

  7. Jacob –
    Awesome post ! Pretty cool to see a post from you here at heh – I ran across your blog just the other day and already have it bookmarked right beside Airey’s :)
    – Keep up the good work

    David Airey –
    Cool of you to share the floor with a fellow designer! Thanks for introducing your readers to another talented bloger & designer!

  8. Congrats with the first successful guest post here, Jacob. I started reading it in my Thunderbir’ds feed reader and somehow skipped the italicized paragraph, heading straight for the tips… after reading a couple of paragraphs, something felt different about the style of writing and I scrolled back up. When I read that it’s Jacob’s guest post, I realized why it felt different ;-)

    A very nice break down of the important things to keep in mind when designing a logo. Those 4 rules in your #2 tip are crucial. How many times do I get logos from clients that become illegible when resizing them down.

  9. Thank you very much, this one is a very nice article, not too long and all to the point…

    One thing though, #3 reminded me of what my art director once said: “If you see something that sucks, just close it right away! Don’t you ever stare at bad design for any considerable time, cause you might get infected!” This statement has something in it, don’t you agree?

    So maybe your point 3 could look like “Learn off other’s successes! (and mistakes [in tiny gray thin letters])” :)

    Anyway, great read, thanks again!

  10. @Azakers
    Thank you – I will keep up the good work :)

    Thanks… I hope I have a nice style of writing, is there anything I could improve?
    I agree, I think learning the tips in step 2 is probably the most important part of logo design.
    Oh and I think you should use your name when leaving comments, you get to know people more on a name basis rather than a website basis, but that is my opinion

    I really like your art directors quote! However, I also think learning what bad design is, helps you to judge your own work and have a better idea between good and bad design.

  11. Nice article. I find myself hopping right on the computer to design a logo a lot of times. I don’t know what it is, but the creative juices seem to flow more when I’m on the computer rather than when I have a pen and paper. I guess I need to practice that more.

  12. Just for randomness, I thought I would let you know that the Amazon logo at the top is incorrect. On an article featuring the designs of logos and their importance, the significance of the error in the logo of Amazon is actually quite large. The “smile” is supposed to stretch from “a to z.”

  13. Im actually currently in a graphic desing internship and this is great for me to read. Its actually really helpful and gives me some good ideas for future projects. So thanks a lot.

  14. Logo design is a most important part of graphic design. It should be perfect and according to the company services because the logo represents companies brands or corporate identities.
    Your logo should be attractive and massage conveying.

    I am impressed with your post nice TIPS!

  15. Great article! My students are enjoying the fact that you reinforce what we talk about in class.

    As for the IE6 issue, IE6 isn’t compatible with the new CSS created in Dreamweaver CS3. I had a client who was unhappy about the problem it created (and it was driving me nuts trying to figure it out) and the only solution was an upgrade to IE7 or redesign the entire site downward. It’s hard to keep all of this straight!


  16. The fact that Nike got such a legendary identity for so little money, and that people keep on mentioning how much it costs, gives cause to unreasonable clients who think they can pay us way too little for our work. They don’t understand its true worth – Nike got lucky with a successful mark from a talented designer whom they paid way too little, but also over time they put millions & millions of dollars into the branding and marketing of that simple mark. A logo can be utterly stunning, but if it’s not branded and carried through correctly it will mean nothing.

    I love the tips overall – No.1 & 2 should be mandatory for all CLIENTS too :-) And the ‘phallic’ mistakes – I’ll bet there are some mortified designers out there now. (LOL – always get someone to cast a fresh eye over it, just in case!!) Great stuff.

  17. Emjay, Jeff, minxlj,

    Thanks for commenting. minxlj, I agree about the Nike logo cost. It was also a long time ago, and as far as I’m aware, the payment was for a sketch (which looks different in form to the logo you see today).

  18. I agree with minxlj, people often use the nike logo to belittle logo designers and their importance in creating a strong identity / brand for a business. I just wish I had thought of it!

  19. Great article! I especially agree with points #1 and 2. If you don’t know the purpose of your logo or how it should function, then you’ll never get past planning stages to establish any real kind of branding. I don’t have my own logo design process, but I should start working on one, haha.

  20. I guess there’s no point in finding more logo design resources elsewhere because the sources here couldn’t be more comprehensive. I like the idea that the design process is done systematically. Thanks for all these.

  21. Cool article. The tips were really helpful. I particularly like: “A logo must be scalable i.e. effective when just an inch in size.” Definitely learned something new.

    I’m currently shopping for some online logo design sites to design a logo for my project. Do you know of any sites which offer good designs at an affordable price? I’m quite tight on budget and was looking for something that wouldn’t hurt my wallet. I’ve googled and there were simply too many sites…

    Does anyone have any recommendations of sorts? I saw a few: LogoBee, MyCustomLogo, LogoDesignStation, etc. and did like their portfolio. Would appreciate some suggestions. Thanks.

  22. Love the tips, very informative. Just a quicky though, what company is the “bad” logo for in number 3 or was it made specifically? Cheers

  23. Nice article, I’m finishing my studies in graphic design (major, I guess, I’m from SA), this article was written on 2008 five years later here I am. Amazing, isn’t it?

    So I have like 3 years of freelance experience during my university years, and logos are always hard to do, I consider myself “average”, but I can say I have a great “theoretical knowledge” in GD basics, but it continues to be a pain in the ****, maybe because I’m my worst judge always trying to amaze myself. haven’t done it yet, so do you think more years of experience will get me there? I’m really worried, jajaja. Any more tips? Hope it’s not too late.

  24. Hello Jacob, first of all, I would like to congratulate you for putting up such an informative article. I’ve been a graphic designer for the last 7 years, I would like to include some thoughts of mine — hope it will enrich your content. Personally, I think that a logo is the mirror of ones brand name. So the logo should be unique and convey a short message to the viewers. Some people would like to design some jerky logos to attract viewer’s concentration, but as per my thought, one simple logo can attract your viewers. So keep it short and simple — design your logo in such a way where it will look simple as well as attractive at the same time. What do you think?

  25. These are all great tips! Here’s a few more:

    – Proximity: If two elements are close to one another it implies they have a relationship.
    – Gestalt: The combined parts of your design should work together to communicate as once voice.
    – Concept: As Petrula Vrontikis likes to say “Practice safe design: Use a concept.”
    – Practice adjusting the leading and tracking on your type. The default settings are seldom ideal.

    Thanks for posting, I enjoy writing about this stuff too : ) If anyone is curious my profile has more info.

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