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What makes a good logo?

I love New York logo
Milton Glaser’s I Love New York logo

When it comes to seeing a logo that makes you wonder, “Why didn’t I think of that?” what is it about the design that gives that impression?

My good friend Lee Newham taught me about five important design elements when it comes to brand identities. Iconic logos are:

  1. Describable
  2. Memorable
  3. Effective without colour
  4. Scalable i.e. work when just an inch in size
  5. Relevant to the industry in question

Points one and two go hand-in-hand, because if you can’t describe what a logo looks like then how will you be able to remember it?

Point number three is important because colour is secondary to the shape and form. I always leave colour to the end of the design process, because if the mark doesn’t work in black only, no amount of colour will rescue it.

Point number four is vital for collateral, such as office stationery (pens, pin badges etc.) — all those little things that can easily be overlooked.

Lastly, the design must be relevant for the business it identifies. This is accomplished through indepth research into the industry involved, and helps to differentiate from closely associated competitors.

I’ve chosen a logo to illustrate the five points:

Open University logo

The above logo is for Open University (OU), “the UK’s leading distance-learning organisation.” You can view the OU website here, where you’ll see the design used in context (and much smaller in size).

Open University logo

There are a number of text layout variations, which gives greater freedom for those reproducing the logo in different formats. For example, the top right mark (above) wouldn’t fit on the side of a pen as well as the centre right version (above).

What I enjoy most about this design is the simplicity (the ‘O’ inside the ‘U’). The OU logo has evolved over the years, and didn’t always have the ‘glass’ effect—a common trend amongst today’s logos. You can . It’s important to remember, however, that trends don’t last, and by designing using the latest fad, your logo will become dated, fast.

Take a look at how the OU logo appeared in the past (below).

Open University logo

The typography leaves a little to be desired, but the same dinstinctive, memorable, scalable, describable, reproducable mark was used to set the Open University apart from its competitors.

Do you have a favourite logo that uses these five universal elements? Perhaps there’s another factor you think should be shown.

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167 comments about “What makes a good logo?”

  1. The OU logo also works well across all their collateral – course information, TV adverts and direct mail are clear, recognisable and easy to understand which adds to their simple and classy logo. It’s also based upon a ‘shield’ which is common among university designed identities, hailing back from the heraldry designs of old.

    The KeepOpen.com logo is great, definitely one of those ‘wish I’d done that’ designs :-)

  2. Point 1 makes me think of the Astra Zeneca logo:

    http://www.astrazeneca.com/

    I don’t like it particularly but I have a very clear picture of it in my head. However, I could only describe it as, “a funny squiggle”, which is of questionable value and is certainly less than accurate. So, to me at least, it’s memorable but I can’t really describe.

    What it has got it the thing that I think you haven’t listed which is idiosyncrasy or uniqueness, which is a little different to being memorable.

  3. Thanks for the additional description, minxlj.

    Richard, I don’t like the AstraZeneca monogram either. When you look at it, it’s obviously an ‘A’ and ‘Z’, but there’s no way I could tell someone how to draw it.

    Personally, I don’t think it will last.

    Uniqueness is a great point. Sometimes I wonder how possible it is to create an entirely unique logo. Sure, you can create one that’s unique to you, but to create one that no-one else has never created is another thing altogether.

    I often see new logo ideas batted around forums for critique. Quite a few times there’ll be someone who replies with an image of an established logo that appears almost exactly the same as the new idea. The designer will be adamant that they hadn’t seen the older logo before.

  4. I am fascinated by this topic. I particularly like the example you’ve chosen in the OU logo- simple yet interesting. Do you ever read the Brand New blog? (http://www.underconsideration.com/brandnew/) Lots of good discussion there about what makes a good logo and the differences between old corporate brand identities and new “improved” ones.

  5. Hi Randa, I’ve taken a look at that blog before, but not in the past month or so. Thanks for the reminder. Now I realise that one blog I commented on today has just ripped off a post from Brand New, with no reference. Poor show.

    I find the HOW forum a good source of design conversation.

  6. Lots of “designers” rip stuff off, others are influenced, often we’re subliminally informed. I do believe similar forms can result legitimately, especially where there’s clear, logical rationale involved. I think what’s important is that we strive for uniqueness and that we don’t believe “ripping off” is in any way acceptable.

    (Except in advertising?!!?)

  7. Thank you for this article on logo design. I love the logos that you focused on. I think the simple logos are the ones are the best, but I agree with the above commenter that it is almost impossible to be completely unique as there are millions of logos out there. There is a fine line between ripping a design off of another designer and just being influenced. Good article.

  8. In the last few months Suntrust Bank re-did their logo, and I definitely took note of the new one far more then the old one. https://www.suntrust.com/

    I would say all of the 4 pts you mention are excellent!

  9. Excellent post. I appreciate your insights into the important parts of a logo. I’m not necessarily a designer but manage to get by when it comes to web related design. Logo design, however, is one of those things I can’t even get close to. I wonder if people truly appreciate just how hard it is to make a good logo?

  10. There’s surely a fifth critical element? Surely every logo should mean something? It should represent the organisation or individual’s key values and belief, it should tell some kind of story.

    This is where designers can get really creative and express these things in abstract ways.

    That said, you can get too abstract!

  11. “Keep open” is genius and I like the rhino one as well.. Open University? I’m not to sure about that.

  12. Thanks for the great 4 rules! I agree with Aaron about that 5th element, but I guess it’s kind of implied for a logo to represent the organization. Oh, and thanks to Randa Clay for that “Under Consideration” logo before and after website. That was way cool too!

  13. David,

    GREAT question. One I’ve asked myself several times. I can pinpoint amateur design and loath it but what triggers my admiration for good design. I’ve thought about your question and for me I’ve pinpointed 2 techniques for starters.

    One is my appreciation for the principal of gestalt. (this is one where they say is it 2 faces or a wine goblet). This technique appears in the UO logo and many other images that my pique my design senses. I also love the technique where typography is replaced with tangible items that the mind uses to fill in the gaps and still read the message. Ex: Using a hand print to replace the letter W.

    Why do we like something? It’s a tough question – I’m going to think about it some more. Thanks.

    Ed

  14. Bartoneous,

    In the last few months Suntrust Bank re-did their logo, and I definitely took note of the new one far more then the old one.

    I’m not sure what the old Suntrust logo looked like. Can you find it anywhere?

    Bret, I’m far from the greatest logo designer too. It’s something I love doing, but I’ve a long way to go. I’ll be posting about the world’s best logo designers soon.

    Aaron, it’s a point well made. Your logo must communicate your ethos. It needs to say something about you or the company it represents.

    ilker, the KeepOpen.com logo is an interesting idea. I love the negative space, but as I mentioned in the post I’m just not too sure how I’d describe it to someone.

    Ed, thanks for your comments. If you know of any particular logos that you think are worthy of the ‘great’ tag I’d appreciate knowing.

    The same goes for everyone else. Thanks.

  15. i’ll use this info to build my site’s logo
    thanks david…

  16. Great blog! I stumbled upon it while surfing digg. This is a great topic that elicits excitement in many seasond marketers and business owners. I have always been an admirer of OU’s design as well.

  17. I created the logo at blipd.com to mean “exposure exchange” from many to one. I separated Blip |d to get Many=Blip and One=d. I don’t have a degree but I think it will be extremely effective after I launch.

  18. The OU logo looks like a toilet seat with a hole in it. That’s how I would describe it.

  19. Congrats on making it to the front page of Digg! I dugg you and made your article “my #1″, whatever that is…

    Keep up the great work!

  20. Yeh, that allways annoyes me. When you see a logo, and you think why diddnt i think of that.

    But if you really try, you can come up with a really cool logo.

  21. I would say that the FedEx logo, is great
    http://www.fedex.com/
    There is a long back story on it, how it was designed, and of course the hidden sign in it and such.

  22. Very, very helpful, thanks!

  23. Great post, I definitely agree about the OU logo.

    Sorry for the self promotion, but since you asked, I believe my site’s logo fits your 4 points well. http://customize.org/members is a good example of how we are using the logo in different ways, including a heart that is based on the logo and inspired by the “I

  24. your UO has already been done …

    http://www.uoit.ca University of Ontario ;)

  25. I hope you don’t mind I submitted your post to digg. And it looks like your server crashed.

  26. The keepopen logo is bad. When I first saw it I didn’t recognize the negative space and thought it was some sort of weird green boomerang. It only took me a quarter second to realize my misinterpretation but for a logo, that’s no good.

  27. I like FedEx’s Logo. Not to long ago I read an entire article about it and the Sub-Conscious Arrow in it.

  28. I really like the look of the re-designed Cisco company logo.

    http://www.cisco.com/

  29. This page seems to be getting some attention so I thought I’d point out that the I Love NY logo at the top of the article isn’t the true “I Love NY” logo. Check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_Love_New_York. The easiest way to identify the look-alikes is to see if the serifs on top of the letters are flat; the real logo has distinct curves on the outside edges of the serifs.

    You can also see the logo on iloveny.com; despite it being small, the curves can still be made out especially on the “Y.”

  30. You have some major problems with the chosen logo, some that don’t adhere to other things. 1. The initial ‘big blue logo’ at the top of the post is an attempt at ‘web 2.0′. I hate the term Web 2.0 as much as I can’t stand the logo. But who just learned how to use Photoshop. Did anyone notice the simplicity of the I Love NY Logo compared to this crap? Even the following logos were better. There’s no attention to composition. Typeface choice is fine. No complaints.

  31. Kudos to getting on the front page of Digg man, I left comments on there and in the forum for you :) Site is coming along nicely, a lot more than I can say for divspace.com, which I’ve obviously let die off in a slow and painful death due to other priorities in life. Mainly because techies don’t like ads, and ads support everything I do :)

    Cheers, mate, and good luck in everything you do!

  32. Interesting stuff.

    I don’t follow up on design all that closely but I do appreciate the careful thought that goes into creating a logo. Obviously for many companies their logo is their calling card and so it better be good!

    Anyway, this is a very interesting interview I read a while ago on the FedEx logo. I am sure you have seen it but for those who haven’t, it’s a pretty good read.
    http://www.thesneeze.com/mt-archives/000273.php

    Regards,

    Stijn.

  33. http://www.logopond.com is where I get my inspiration from

  34. Great article. What’s always bothered me is the logo of Fortis Bank (http://www.fortis.com/). It’s absolutely atrocious.

  35. Good article.
    I don’t like the 3D style Open U logo – to hard and expensive for print and not great for photocopy/B&W, I guess that is why they have the other designs, much better.

    http://goldcoaster.wordpress.com

  36. Thanks for all your comments!

    I usually respond to everyone individually, but in this case I’m unfortunately pushed for time, so I’ll pick out a few comments to reply to:

    Dick, the OU logo was around well before 2002 when the University of Ontario was first established.

    Jim, I too am a little unsure about the KeepOpen.com logo. It is a nice use of negative space however.

    J A Limberg, thanks for pointing out the difference with the ‘I love NY’ logo.

    Joe (jrupp.com), I know where you’re coming from with the Web 2.0 reference for the most recent OU logo. I think it’s better without. I don’t agree with you when you say there’s no attention to composition. Strip it down to the U (shield) and the O (negative space). Very simple composition.

    Again, to those of you I haven’t mentioned, thank you for stopping by and commenting.

  37. I’m with you there, Charles. The Fortis Bank logo is a poor one.

    You can view it here.

  38. I’m amazed at how often we over look legibility as criteria. It is inferred with describable and scalability – but I’m always amazed at logo’s that are not easily legible.

  39. Another great design is the newer Baskin Robbins logo.

  40. What is it you like about the Baskin Robbins logo, Shaun?

  41. Absolutely true. Scalability and simplicity are the most important factors. I realised this when I was creating alogo for myself.

  42. I dissagree with the criteria.

    1/ It must be describable

    2/ It must be emotive (it must make you feel a certain way)

    3/ It must be based on some form of truth (a usp)

    4/ It must be scalable i.e. effective when scaled down to an inch in size

    It DOESNT have to communicate what you do. A brand mark is a flag. It tells people you are here. And of course your branding is much much more than just your logo. Every element should be unique to you in some way.

    It’s good if your logo works in black and white, but these days its not essential. Just HOW many faxes do you send? It is good if your logo work in ONE COLOUR though.

    The Open University (OU) brand logo is a classic. It is both an ‘O’ and a ‘U’ and it looks like a university badge that is sewn onto the front of a uniform. I cant believe no one here has got that! The photoshop filter element of the logo helps communicate emotivly that we are now part of the computer age (although normally I hate this sort of treatment, but here it has meaning) as the OU is now mostly run online instead of by post.

  43. “3/ It must be effective without the use of colour”

    I would like to complete this idea from a little bit different perspective…

    These days the 3D logos are very popular, but a GREAT 3D logo is which works as 2D logo, too.

  44. Excellent Post! Nice examples & description of logos. Yesterday i passed another great article on Chracteristics of logos. Its worthable to read. Here’s the url…

    http://www.logoblog.org/wordpress/successful-logo/

  45. @leenewham

    Indeed, a logo doesn’t have to communicate what you do. But it should visually communicate what and who you are to your target audience.

    How you visually wrap this should be based on the balance between those two things (1:you[the source], 2:them[the target audience]).

    To me this is the hardest but also the most interesting part.

  46. yeah, the OU logo looks pretty, and makes sense, but i can’t stop thinking TOILET SEAT WITH A HOLE everytime i look at it. i think the shiny bevelling promotes the toilet look/feel even more. sorry OU.

  47. “yeah, the OU logo looks pretty, and makes sense, but i can’t stop thinking TOILET SEAT WITH A HOLE everytime i look at it. i think the shiny bevelling promotes the toilet look/feel even more. sorry OU.”

    You made me laugh… :)

  48. Great tips mate ;) Great example.

  49. Thanks again for all your continued comments. This post wouldn’t be half as good without all your relevant input, so I’m happy you left your thoughts.

  50. Great thoughts but I disagree with you on OU. I think it looks like a toilet seat cover – maybe I’m infantile for thinking that but I’m sure there are others. There is no question the I LOVE NY is brilliant – it says what it has to say – the font is warm & fuzzy – and the others are nice but my vote is NO on OU.

  51. jbelkin, thanks for stopping by with your opinion. That’s fair enough if you believe it looks like a toilet seat. In my opinion, it’s a great example of an effective logo.

  52. I have to agree, I definitely saw the first large logo and thought it was going to be some company dealing with toliets or the bathroom in some way.

  53. I absolutely love the large version of the OU logo, where did you manage to get such a high res picture of it? :)

  54. I found the large version of the OU logo online. You just need to search for it (or copy the one above). ;)

  55. Great post, I definitely agree about the OU logo.
    it really help me to work in finding a good logo for class.

  56. Excellent article! Thanks for the information. Now I have seriously think about redesiging my website’s LOGO.

  57. My personal requirements of a good logo:

    1. Anyone who knows your brand should be able to draw your logo in the sand with a stick. In other words, it must be simple, recognizable, and not dependent on color or 3D shading.
    2. The design must be timeless. Don’t use any pop fad designs (e.g. how many 80’s logos used sweeping paint brush strokes or neon sign looking text?) The logo should look good today and 50 years from now. This can be done by using simple geometric shapes and/or simple contours in creative ways.

    That’s it. Every logo you pointed out in your post fits this criteria.

  58. Totally agree with Darrick.

    If you can draw it or describe it…it’s good.

  59. Good to know. How forum is great.
    Very constructive discussion

  60. i’ll will use these tips for creating my company’s logo. Thanks

  61. Does anybody know what is the logic behind the Fortis Bank logo?
    I am sure there is something interesting. Any ideas?

  62. I agree, there are many things that can affect the perception of a design or a logo. It is interesting that when you look at a certain logo or design you automatically have an opinion or idea of what they are. I was looking at this website that has blogged about the presidential elections and how their logos are affecting their running for office! Check it out (broken link removed in 2014). It is really pretty cool!

  63. I am so glad I found your site.

    Recently I re-did my blog design and the logo was one of the things I really struggled with. Didn’t really go with one at the end in the hope the whole header navbar will become sort of a logo. Perhaps I need to think about this more.

    What do you think?

    RT

  64. RT,

    Definitely go with a specific logo. A logo needs to be memorable. People won’t be able to remember your whole header / navbar.

    Thanks for commenting.

  65. So something to do with the letters like you have with your name?

  66. A monogram is certainly one route to take. Or your business name with a mark, or simply your business name on its own. It depends on what you want.

  67. I’d say try NOT to go with monogram. Everybody does a monogram at some point and there are only so many ways to combine 3 letters together. Many people have similar initials, so therefore you will have similar logo’s.

    Find out what is different about you. A monogram worked for IBM, but only becaue everyone called them IBM instead of International Business Machines…they had no choice, it’s what they were known as (but weren’t called). Apple computers didn’t call themselves AC, Fedex didn’t call themselves FE and when Companies are known by their initials, they tend to include a symbol, like AOL and the wierd triangle thing , MSN have the butterfly etc

  68. I’ve tried to get a logo made for my other site in the past, but I’m waiting for the guy to get back to me with the completed work.

    If I had Photoshop, I’d probably take a shot at it myself…PYSIH – there’s got to be a way to combine those letters in an attractive manner.

  69. These days, you also need a logo that can scale down to a 16×16 pixel favicon. Or at least a portion of of the logo needs to scale down, for use on the entity’s website.

  70. Hi Raj,

    Yes, it’s something I consider too (the favicon).

  71. The Baskin Robbins tagline is ’31 flavors’, and you can see the numbers 31 in the ‘BR’ (in the middle of the name).

  72. Thanks Sam,

    I wasn’t familiar with their tagline.

  73. Yes, I agree with Sam, Baskin Robbins REdesign was very cler indeed. 31 and B/R Brilliant!

  74. The design has a calming effect, but as a chiropractor the hands are not quite representative of the profession. It’s too generic. Most chiropractor place their hands in a certain fashion are place one on top of the other sort of overlapped, palm face down.

  75. Timothy,

    Great to get a chiropractor’s insight into the health centre logo above. Thanks for that. Perhaps the pointed lines used for the fingers aren’t the best idea either, as the last thing a potential customer wants to think about are sharp hands?

  76. Dave,

    I was looking at the logo again and initially I did not really noticed the sharp hands till you mentioned it. Kinda like the heart shape outline though. Below is a picture which may help you if plan to do another logo. It’s a very common hand position called the “cross pisiform.” Hope it helps you with some insight.

  77. Hello,
    Could you advise me a program to create logo.Or Are there any web application you know to create logo
    Thank you ?

  78. I often think of redesigning our logo (asking someone to do it, I won’t be able to do it myself).
    But if it is easy to say “no, I don’t like this one, this is not what I’m looking for”, it is very hard to describe what you would like…

    Someone told me about http://www.logoholik.com/ and I must say I like their designs, but will I go for $350 at the risk of getting nothing I like…

    Any opinion about this site ?

  79. Timothy,

    The hand logo (above) isn’t one of my own. I’ve referenced the creator in the blog post. Unfortunately the link to your image didn’t appear, but I appreciate the thought.

    Kiz,

    I use Adobe Illustrator when creating logos.

    dontmiss,

    I hadn’t seen the logoholik site before, but my first impression is that they keep their logo designs simple, and that they give a much better impression than the majority of logo design websites.

    My advice to you is, if you’re not a designer, don’t create your business logo yourself. Hiring a professional will stand you in good stead, and save you a lot of money down the line.

  80. Is it a good idea to have your logo copyrighted? Or is it more cost and trouble than it is worth. My company is very small, but my logo designer mentioned the possibility of getting a copyright.

  81. No logos I’ve designed are describable – my own [ my avatar ] cannot be described as a shark made up from the letters c, d and n; nor can briks.si’s logo be described as the “word” ‘briks’ made of block-like letters – neither description completed describes the logo in question.

  82. “completed” -> “completely”

    Also, my education resulted in a science degree – I doubt there’s an artistic neuron in my cranium. :)

  83. Hi Marvin,

    As for copyrighting your logo, it’s a good idea if you plan on spending a large amount on marketing. You don’t want to outlay a huge amount of money, then find someone else is suing you for infringement. It all depends on the scale of business you undertake (in my humble opinion).

    Chris,

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

  84. Just stumbled upon your site, and must say that i am enjoying reading your articles. Regarding dontmiss’s comment about my services, logoholik is actually one man band – me :)

    Cheers,
    Bojan

  85. Thanks for the compliment Bojan.

    I just had another look through your logo designs, and I particularly enjoyed the Park City Interactive one. Nice idea.

  86. Thanks David. Your Miskeeto logo is really excellent!

  87. The logo should be instantly memorable as is the New York design.

  88. IMO it’s too generic as well. However, I can see why the chiropractor picked it out. We as a profession tend to be very caring and emathetic so a logo of holding hands that also = a heart would make most chiropractors want to give someone a hug. However, that level of (over)sensitivity only represents about 25% of the population.

    Best advice I could give to someone is to test the logo out on some people with no vested interest in the company. Heck, you could run a random poll through google adwords, I bet and get cheaper results than hiring anyone.

  89. Nice article. Your logos are really excellent. I am a graphic design student in Mauritius and stumbled on site. You’re doing a great job and thanks for your articles. Those helped me a lot during my exams…

    Regards,
    Akshay

  90. Summerville,

    Asking what others think of your design is always a good idea, and like you say, if they’ve no vested interest it leads to a more balanced opinion.

    Akshay,

    I hope you get the results you want in your exams.

  91. Great article. The “I get it!” response is so very important in driving home your points 1 and 2. I try to induce this response with all my logo designs, including my own organization’s logo (www.hardlysquare.com). Sometimes I wonder if my idea will be recognized. But, I think this is a concern most designers have. I always run my ideas by designers and non-designers. This is usually a great filter.

    Thanks,
    Peter

  92. Thanks Peter.

    I like your logo, and feel it ties in excellent with your tagline of ‘adding an edge’. I’m glad you directed my attention to your site.

  93. Hello David,

    What do you think of my logo? I designed it in a hurry but somehow I like the concept of the first letters. Any logo portfolios you would recommend I look to as an example?

    Thanks
    Dave

  94. Stumbled across your blog and have added it to my list of favourites. The logos I create are usually fairly simplistic due to a lack of artistic flair.

    I’ll certainly be using the tips you’ve provided above in my future projects. They seem simple points but they are so true!

  95. My family has an offline business (Construction Company) that uses a similar logo to the example here. One letter inside the other which also happens to be the first letter of the word on all the trucks. People have to take a second and third look to a)figure out what it says completely (Memorable) and it looks clean and simple still. (And if they dont figure it out, most often they will approach and ask which has led to a LOT of business) The memorable part played a huge role in the success of our logo. We also chose a paint color that stands out and is different from any other truck/road traffic. To further add to brand awareness. Since changing over the logo/color business jumped greatly. who’d have thought.

  96. Dave,

    With your logo, I read ‘raditional rish ifts’. The contrast is too faint on the first letters of each word.

    David,

    Thanks for the favourites addition. I appreciate it.

  97. Awesome post, helped me learn a lot. :) Thanks!

  98. Thanks for a nice, simple summary of what a logo should be (and all of the great comments). We have found our own logo has worked for very small (e.g. as an icon in LinkedIn profiles) to very large (projected on the side of a wall when we sponsored an event). It has been printed In multiple colors (for use on shirts) and works with and without our name. Most importantly, it visually describes what the company offers (a representation of our training curriculum). Hope you agree…

  99. Dan, Graham,

    Thanks for reading, and for adding your thoughts. Much appreciated.

  100. Interesting post David. I find that the logos I like best are the ones that are smartly done, like the LG logo for example. These are the kind of logos that I remember.

  101. Nice post David, I like the logos and agree with all your tips. I think that your logo needs to stand out to get people coming back by remembering the logo. This can be a disaster or triumph depending on the liking and quality of your logo. Some very valid tips and definitely some to remember for the present and future.

  102. Josh, Daniel,

    Good of you both to stop by my little corner of the web. I hope you’re keeping well.

  103. Hi David… just found your article this morning and really enjoyed reading your thoughts (about the OU logo and other things), and those of your contributors too. Have to say I never thought of a loo seat with the OU logo but then I suppose as a fellow UK resident I’ve grown up being used to seeing it and it is just part of my subconscious!

    What’s best to me about your blog is the feeling of being connected to others in the field – colleagues!! – which I sometimes miss now that I run my own [sole trader] business. Just having that virtual contact with others is sometimes enough to light the creative spark if the caffeine hit isn’t working one morning ;-) Thanks for sharing your thoughts, experience and good advice… please visit my site if you have a few moments and feel so inclined…

  104. Hi Anne,

    The community around this blog has been a great source of encouragement and inspiration. Have you any thoughts about adding a blog to your website?

  105. Hi David

    Well, maybe I should… I guess I never really thought of my site as being of such general interest, but I might be surprised! Did you take a look at it at all? I know the link doesn’t show up in my post, but I guess you got it as I entered it in the form field for URL…

    Hope your Friday’s going well so far – there was a tornado 10 miles down the road from here in the night, but (touch wood) very localised damage and hope there aren’t any more such summer weather delights to come!

    Anne

  106. Anne,

    You might well be surprised. I certainly was with how this blog has come along.

    I viewed your site, and love the horse painting you show. You’re a talented artist. Here’s hoping you don’t have closer any run-ins with a tornado!

  107. I knew nothing about logo design, but thanks to this post now I at least something! That Open University logo gave some inspiration… maybe I should try putting one initial into another.

  108. I think your 4 criteria is lacking. It fails to take the viewer into any consideration beyond optics. Not to mention any cultural context or meaning. Or any equity the visual equity has earned.

    According to your criteria, Disney could adopt a swastika or a depiction of a middle finger and it would be “great” — It’s describable, it’s certainly memorable, it works great in b/w, and it holds up well at all sizes. It seems to not matter what Disney represents, stands for, or what the visual adopted means or connotes.

    The designers “table stakes” are to make logos that are reproducible in black and white at all sizes etc. That would only get you average grades in my class so to speak. Great designers are able to represent the idea of the company visually in a meaningful, appropriate and timeless way.

    I agree too many designers bypass the basic needs of reproduction etc, but also seem to fall victim of creating overly clever (ego driven) solutions that fail in other ways, esp connoting meaning to the appropriate audience.

  109. JWO, the words missing are emotive and relevant.

    I’d say that goes for almost all branding and design, not just logo’s.

  110. @lee, thanks for the add in – I half agree.

    I’d (personally) leave emotive off the list in favor of something else that’s less specific. I think emotive is misleading to be frank. It’s something we strive for, ultimately, but it’s nearly impossible to design a logo that emotive upon first impression. Emotive value, like trust, has to be built and earned. Relevance, I think, is more in the hands of the designer to translate the essense of the entity he/she is representing.

    just my $.02

  111. I have to dissagree.

    By Emotive I mean how does a logo marque make you feel when you see it. Design and branding can elicit an emotive response from it’s audience. While this can be earnt over time, I believe it is possible to craft emotive design from the outset or in a brands evolution.

    Show an image of Norma Jean Baker and you see a pretty, ordinary girl. Show an Image of Marilyn Monroe and you get an emotive response form your audience. Same person, different emotive qualities. Jaguars leaping cat is emotive, BBC2’s Idents are emotive, Pixars logo is emotive, qualities not earnt but part of the original design.

  112. @ lee. If I understand your point, I’ll have to disagree.

    I agree emotive is something to strive for in a logo, ultimately, but don’t feel it’s a neccesity for a great one, or as criteria for creating one.

    Fedex, IBM, Target, lack any overt emotive nature. But all first-class identities. Any emotive quality you give it has been learned, earned, or built through contexts.

    Emotive to me is still way too personal, too subjective to be considered a criteria to be used for all great logos. Jaguars leaping cat is emotive to you (I’m assuming your British) because of it’s connotation to high quality, fast, and sleek British automobiles. To someone else less familiar with Jaguar automobiles (or anyone who’s not British) might assign other emotions to that visual, like: attacked, panic, or just hate cats. And both answers are right, their totally subjective without context. Jaguar represents something proudly British that frankly doesn’t translate to the U.S. the same way. From a product standpoint: to most (not all) it’s just an expensive Ford, complete stripped of it’s proud British legacy. Blasphemy from the British perspective I realize. The Jaguar logo by itself doesn’t carry the same meaning. It’s everything you already understand about Jaguar that connotes those emotive qualities.
    Images of Norma Jean vs. Marylin Monroe – again it’s very subjective (and not a logo).

    Pixar’s, works because of the context they’ve created. If you didn’t know what Pixar did, or had other context in which they’ve wisely created.
    In fact I purchased a Pixar tshirt from a tradeshow many years ago (1994) and it had the Luxo Jr. in place of the “I”. My mom thought it was a shirt for a lamp manufacturer. From the logo, she had a legitimate, and completely unemotional reaction. From this point of introduction (looking forward) there wasn’t any other context for her to perceive or feel any emotion or meaning from the logo. Looking back, quite different story, the Luxo jr. represents a cute, emotive character esp part of Pixar’s history (or any other character or treatment they incorporate into their logo). But ONLY when you’ve gain other knowledge or experience, aka context.

    And my point is we don’t have that luxury of looking back when designing logos, we can only look forward. As designers we can set it up for success in many ways – Pixar being a great example. But I wouldn’t impose emotive as a criteria upon the designer. If I were to choose another replacement criteria, I use words like appropriate or meaningful instead because they imply more implicit connection with the audience, or the start of one anyway.

    Again, thanks for commenting. I always love the debate (and don’t think there’s one right answer).

    J

  113. I should say if the Jaguar logo is a great one, it’s not because it’s emotive.

  114. I think the vast majority of people who see the Pixar logo will know who and what it’s about. You will always get someone who doesn’t know what a logo is about. I’m sure you will find someone, somewhere you thinks the Jaguar logo is for a petshop.

    While the actual product has can flavour perceptions of a brand, logos and branding can (and should) have an influence. Whether it’s with wit, science, nostalga, performance, movement etc, the way a logo portrays a company has an effect on the brand and elicits an emotive response from it’s audience. Emotion doesn’t just belong to advertising, it belongs to branding too, beyond just a logo or marque, in its application and all parts of a brand armoury.

    But it look’s as if we disagree.

  115. I think the vast majority of people who see the Pixar logo will know who and what it’s about. You will always get someone who doesn’t know what a logo is about. I’m sure you will find someone, somewhere you thinks the Jaguar logo is for a petshop.

    While the actual product has can flavour perceptions of a brand, logos and branding can (and should) have an influence. Whether it’s with wit, science, nostalga, performance, movement etc, the way a logo portrays a company has an effect on the brand and elicits an emotive response from it’s audience. Emotion doesn’t just belong to advertising, it belongs to branding too, beyond just a logo or marque, in its application and all parts of a brand armoury.

    But it look’s as if we disagree ;-)

  116. I didn’t pick Jaguar because I’m British, no jingoistic flag waving here! As you are probably aware, Jaguar once made very unreliable cars (although in recent years it has bettered even the Japanese). I picked it because of the excellent work done recently by The Partners on updating the marque. I doubt very much if you will find many people in the world who would feel scared at seeing the jaguar logo, just like you wont find many people you look at a coke can and think it contains Colombias finest export!

  117. Practically, a good logo design should also be
    simple and works well in black and white. Why?
    Let’s imagine again examples of excellent logos;
    Nike’s swoosh, Sony, Dell, and BMW. Can you
    recognize them in black and white? From a
    distance? or even just a part of it?
    That is why your logo needs to be simple to work
    well in all mediums. Clients often make the
    mistake in thinking that more is more, when in
    actuality less is more. The simpler your logo,
    the easier it is on the eyes and the faster it
    will register in your future customers’ minds.

  118. J, Lee,

    It’s been good to follow your discussion from the sidelines.

    Since publishing this article over a year back I’ve learnt a lot about what makes a good logo. An updated post is long overdue, and I do agree the four points are lacking. A good design must be appropriate, that’s for sure.

    Thanks for the interesting read.

  119. Hi David ~

    I enjoy your writings, and get a lot out of them including the comments by your other readers. Although I follow the discussion, I haven’t yet contributed, and thought that I’d offer my online portfolio of logo/identity marks as part of the discussion should anyone care to offer feedback.
    http://perfectcirclemedia.com/print-design/logo/

    Cheers,
    Scarlett

  120. I linked to your article as a good start for logos. I hope you don’t mind.

    Just trying a new tact in life. Hopefully, you agree.

    Cheers.

  121. I do love the “Open University” logo. It accomplishes all the points that you defined. It’s totally memorable and descritible, you don’t even need the typographic part to remember. Also I’m sure it work with small sizes and one color and bad reproduction systems as fax machines. The only down part it’s the vertical texts. I understand why you use them, but I’d ratter not use it.

    Victor

  122. Scarlett,

    Thanks for joining in the discussion and offering your portfolio link.

    Jason,

    I appreciate the link. No, I don’t mind one bit.

    Victor,

    I have similar thoughts about the vertical text. Legibility isn’t as strong than with horizontal placement.

  123. Hi..
    I enjoy your writings and get a lot out of them. I am a student pursuing graphic design. I love the discussions which happen here..
    Just wanted to ask something.. Why do you think , companies need to change their logos after a certain point of time??

  124. Srishti,

    Companies don’t need to change their logos after a certain time period. It all depends on the strength of the design. Sadly, timeless logos are few and far between. I’m glad you enjoy the discussion here.

  125. Great tips. I like the idea of “effective without color”. Very important point David.

  126. Hi..
    I agree..timeless logos are very few..But do you think logos follow trends? As in..do they have to change according to the present generation’s likes and dislikes ??

  127. Srishti,

    Those logos that do follow trends are the ones you’ll find need refreshing as soon all too often.

  128. This is a gem, thanks so much. I’m not yet at the point where I can afford a professional designer, so it’s nice for a do-it-yourselfer to see a bit into the mind of someone who does this well.

    Of course, I’ll get the results I’ve paid for, but my logo will be better for having read the article.

  129. Thanks David for the useful tips , I”ll keep them in mind and see if I can come up with a logo that says it all.

  130. When you say that a “good logo” is effective without colour, do you mean that it is effective as a 1-colour job? I admire your logo design and you have several that are in different shades of grey. Are those shades of grey representative of different colors or are they variations of 1 thus making it 1-colour job. I see a conflict in advice if they represent different colors….Thanks in advance!

  131. You’re very welcome, Bill, Sadia.

    Josh,

    Thanks for posing the question.

    A logo that works using just one colour is more adaptable than if it requires more, although I realise that some designs are created for a solely multi-colour purpose, where reproduction costs aren’t an issue.

    Those grey tones you mention are created using different transparency settings of black, so can be printed with a single ink.

  132. hi David,
    I like your five points. I would add a 5.5 in today’s web2.0 world to expand on your point that it should be scalable. And that is it is a bonus if you can make an a favicon out of it (that little thing in the browser bar). I am really struggling to come up with something that looks good that small.

  133. Hi Steve,

    Offering a favicon is one of those extra little touches that clients really appreciate. It’s not possible with every logo, but you can always make the favicon consistent, be it through colour, or a relating shape.

  134. Absolutely true. Scalability and simplicity are the most important factors. I realised this when I was creating a logo for myself.

  135. I’m a first year in college, and were required to redesign a logo the lecturer picked for us.

    Mine is for a Video store. Your website, i found while googling logos. And I got to say you have great information, and your website is just plain awesome!!!

    hey, it would be great if you can give me some pointers on what to do for redesigning video store logos.

    <3 dza

  136. Its interesting.. i assume simplicity is the best factor that you need to consider when creating a logo.

    Regards

  137. Thanks for the article.

    I came upon this by accident. The list of elements of a great logo design stuck to my head.

    Definitely bookmarked.

    Thanks!

  138. One other element I think is important is the logo should give the client a proprietary visual space. One example that I would use to illustrate this is a national company that adapted the “ enso” for their logo. The enso, a brush stroke circle, has been a common graphic image in Buddhism for hundreds of years and in general use as a visual element in Japanese society probably as long. I have a tea bowl with an enso on it which is over 100 years old.

    Now I do not think it is necessarily wrong to visually borrow, and the example I use is solely to present an example with a visual we all know. Tthe following incident prompted me think about logos, their proprietary visual space and responsibility of the designer to the client.

    One day at my son’s aikido dojo, which had a brush stroke circle for a logo (and had it long before the company) the mother sitting beside me asked me why the aikido dojo had used the same logo as the company. On further talking with her I found that she could not visually distinguish between the two, and at that time she was looking at an ad with company’s logo on it.
    I could distinguish but they were very similar and I have seen hundreds of ensos and drawn hundreds with a brush myself.

    What bothered me about this concerns the visual role of the logo in establishing and maintaining brand, which is the proprietary visual space I am talking about.

    It occured to me than that behavior by individuals from the aikido dojo who might be wearing a shirt with the dojo logo on it might be ascribed to the company, and vice versa.

    Again, I am not being critical of the company or their logo, this is just an example of what prompted me to think about this subject of proprietary visual space and the repsonsibility of the designer to the client.

    This is different from creativity, not seperate but something in addition. When the designer creates something it can appear to be visually unique to the creator, to the friends, to the client—this is in the act of creation. But the professional logo designer needs to go beyond that and be aware of the outside world, do some homework, etc. If the logo cannot give the client a proprietary space it cannot correctly do the work of establishing and maintaining the client’s brand. If the audience experiences a logo and thinks its a different company than the designer has not created a proprietary visual space for the client.

  139. I’m not sure what you mean by ‘proprietary visual space’ but I think you have used about 2000 words to say ‘I think it’s important that you don’t just use generic shapes or symbols, you have to make your brand marque unique to your business’!

  140. I don’t know if you noticed, but this site has copied your your criteria (“describable,” “memorable”) near-verbatim without crediting you:
    http://justcreativedesign.com/2008/01/08/how-to-design-a-logo.

  141. Er, and didn’t the original ‘describable, memorable’ bit come from a certain post on myspace David? nudge nudge wink wink?

    :-)

  142. Thanks for letting me know, Margot.

    Oh god, did they really, Lee? Sorry about that. I couldn’t remember where I originally learned those pointers. I’ve inserted a little addition in the post, and if you want me to list your job title or link to your agency website, by all means let me know and I’ll update straight away.

    I enjoyed those old days in the graphic design forum. Learned quite a lot.

  143. thanks for the great tips.

  144. Awesome tips! It’s amazing how much people really need to think about their logo and often times they unfortunately think very little about it.

  145. I just stumbled upon your website in search of my favourite logos to provide my designer friend, as I have been tasked to direct the redesign of my company’s logo. Well written and very helpful tips… Thank you.

  146. thanks for this david!

    i always end up coming to this website when i’m researching logos and it’s always good for me to get as many of these base rules in mind when i’m starting a new project. it’s been really interesting reading the comments section for the last couple years since when this was originally posted.

    i always thought that the open u logo looked like a door knob template or even a shield guard because on the u shape. i can see why people were saying it might look like a toilet cover. i always liked the key/doorknob aspect of this because the u is filled out making it seem like the university is the place you go to learn and the o which isn’t filled out is representative of me and my life…because it’s not yet mapped out, so it’s the unknown. it’s actually a pretty neat, interesting, and strong design especially with the strength in the shapes and the colour and lack of colour chosen.

    these rules were really good for when i was working on projects for my graphic design class, because i tend to overanalyze and make everything too complex. i have an aversion to minimalism, but i’ve been working on that in my life and it’s gotten me to think a little more about why that is and fix the noise that exists. right now i’m working on putting together a portfolio of my works for school applications and i’m stuck on creating a template and the first page, but i have an idea…which was more complex, and i’m working on making it simple. i figured that i could do just simple text layouts like i’ve seen some other artists do…and it’s more professional, but one of the schools told me to be interesting so that i can stand out from the rest…so i’m trying to figure out a way to do that in a way that is acceptable, recognisable as the first step to creative people…and something that has just a little bit of my personality in it. i already thought about it completed and with colour…but that’s being too complex so i’m editing down the objects involved, how flow of movement and how the eye will move with the image(s) and best of all i’m thinking in black and white.

  147. oh and i finally used that text (i think it’s called corbis) that you use for your logo for the first time in my graphic design class, but although it looked so interesting without the serifs and fun, it didn’t fit the client assignment i was working on. someone else in my class used it and it was much better suited. lol. i atleast recognized that emotional connection i made with that font, but i also realized it wasn’t suited for what i needed.

  148. Glad to know you continue to get some help from my site, Mertz. And I agree about the comments. I’ve learned plenty from what people say here.

  149. any one knows of a good site that shows logos.
    and not stuff like logopond or things from google.
    it really puzzles me that when you search for graphic design related stuff in google it always gives you the ugly cheap stuff first and all the good sites are really hard to find…

  150. In reference to the “I Love NY” logo, I seen this T shirt in Nancy, France based on the logo. What do you think?

    http://www.counterfeitchic.com/Images/I_Heart_NancY.jpg

  151. I’m interested to know your advice on using typography when creating a logo.

    There are sites out there offering free fonts, and others where you need to buy the font.

    Is there any legal problems that you are aware of if you were to use a free font, or even use a font without buying it for your corporate logo?

    Great web site with great information! Just discovered it tonight :-)

  152. Ian, DO NOT USE FREE FONTS.

    You can’t use them commercially, they are for private use only (most of the time). This means you can’t use them for a client, paid or otherwise which renders them useless.

    They are a pain and often don’t work or corrupt.

    Stick to websites like myfonts.com or fontfont etc

  153. Welcome to my blog, Ian. I second Lee’s sentiments about free fonts (thanks, Lee).

  154. Thanks Lee for your advice (and David for agreeing :-)) Very much appreciated.

    I am thinking of starting up my own company but I have a lot of questions in my head (and not a lot of money) and I don’t seem to be able to find a reliable or knowledgeable enough source to get the answers….. until now!

    Regarding the fonts again. So does it mean that each time I want to use a font I need to purchase it? I have been looking at some sites and the prices are hundreds of euros for each font family! How can an individual starting up afford that? and that’s just for one font!

    Also, if you are creating ideas for a client and are experimenting with fonts, what do you do? Is there an option of taking a free sample for proofing and then if the client likes it then you buy it?

    And finally (for now), IF the font used costed you 300 euros to buy, do you charge the client this directly, or is it a cost that you need to cover yourself?

    Thank you thank you thank you for this website! It is a real treasure with people who actually know what they’re taking about.

  155. David,

    I came across our website just by chance last night, and spent hours, reading your design processes on the logo designs. It really is very generous of you to allow other people an insight into how you arrive at an idea, and how you execute that idea into a professional logo. You have really gave me some much needed inspiration and motivation.

    I’m from Belfast, but have been living in France for 2 years now, so it’s fantastic to see a fellow Norn Irn’er making a real success of his talents, and being kind enough to share that talent with others.

    Thank you again and I wish you continued success in your career.

    ps. Is Bangor REALLY top of your list after travelling the world?! :-)

  156. Perhaps David should create a post on how much things cost for clients. Price of a computer, printer, each print, how much a font family costs or a whole font library (about £1500-6000 for 1000+ fonts for a couple of computers) plus the software which gets updated every few years, and you get clients who want creative work for free and try to outsource the artwork.

    So Ian, my advice if you are starting out is:

    NEVER work for free. Even for friends. It doesn’t means a hefty fee up front, you could get at least a favour in return, or a royalty, a deferred fee etc. Always let the client know how much work costs for work like this. Don’t say it’s 24x£80 per hour. Say to design something like this for a client like you I charge x amount. Clients should pay us for our expertise. Unfortunately they are viewing us in the same way as someone selling paperclips. Always round quotes, never say it’s x amount and 24 pence. That means the amount is accountable. CLients always quibble over the $50 bill, the small things. Never the large amounts. I’m not saying that you should rip clients off, just make sure that the creative part of the process has a value. It’s not really a x amount of hours fee. Artwork however is.

    Secondly, always be transparent what the client is getting for that fee. Then over deliver. So stage 1 (creative) they will get research, 3 concepts on x packs or logo design, stationery, shop sign for instance. This means that when the client wants other items you can charge extra as it wasn’t included in the quote. The creative stage also includes 2 sets of client revisions. This stops the client from changing the design endlessly. If they do that they have to pay more.

    When you present, tell them the idea BEFORE showing them what it looks like. Get them to agree with the concept. Then if they don’t like execution of the idea you still have a really good steer on one route. It also stops you looking like you design wallpaper. There is a reason why you have done something.

    Good luck Ian

    Lee

  157. Wherever I’m living I focus on the positives, Ian, and believe me, there are many places worse-off than Bangor. It’s proving a good base while I write my book. After that’s done, who knows? My feet itch.

    Lee has a lot of experience, and knows what he’s talking about. He’s given you some great advice again. You factor the cost of fonts into what the client pays, whether you’re buying a new family, or using one you bought in the past.

    I typed “fonts clients” into the search box on my blog, scrolled down the results a little, and found your question had already been answered in the comments of my Henri Ehrhart post. The people who read my blog are pretty unbelievable when it comes to offering advice, and with 15,000+ comments on my posts, I’m sure you’ll get some more help using the search box. If you don’t, though, feel free to leave questions as a comment on a relevant post.

    Pricing isn’t straightforward, that’s for sure. And there are a lot of factors involved.

  158. David, Great article.
    However, I disagree with you that OU logo is great.
    It gives me a feeling of a “hole in the pocket”.
    Overall I think you should add “evoked positive feelings” to the list of traits you mentioned above.
    thanks

  159. David ive just finished my first year studying Graphic design at college and thoroughly enjoyed. I have also just gained a part time job in a local Design company which i start next week (soo nervous), i was wondering if you have any tips or advice for me to be successful in this industry? and also what i should expect on my first day because i have no idea how design companys work. thank you

    p.s nice website

  160. Hi Andrew, here’s a post you might appreciate:

    I wish I’d known that

    The comments are also worth a read.

    Don’t be nervous. Just be humble. Good luck.

  161. Why did you use the OU logo if you could have picked a lot of others?

  162. IMO, aside from being recognizable and memorable, a good logo makes you want to look at it and gives you some degree of pleasure. When I’m working on a logo I tend to agonize over typefaces and will often cycle through 100s for each word involved. Some words look right in certain fonts and others just don’t. Once I find the font, or combo of fonts I want to use I base the graphic elements on those.

    It’s a bit crazy and I’m lucky I don’t have a boss to breath down my neck about the time spent, but I really like the results I get. A good logo intrigues and gives pleasure and a great one has a life and personality of it’s own.

    I can think of many cases where a company’s visual identity has become far more important than it’s products or services. I am confident that 90% of business owners underestimate the importance of their visual identity and their logo, specifically. Bad design hurts credibility and helps the competition.

    Great article, BTW!

  163. What companies visuals identities are more important that what it does? If that is the case ( I can’t think of any) then that company seriously needs to look at what it does.

  164. Recently I’ve read a post. It went something like this: “My business is high end. I need a designer to use the “Virgin” logo’s font to write my business name and create a unique, iconic mark for my business. My budget is $50″.

    My reply was: There is no “Virgin’s font” the word Virgin was custom written. If your business is high end, you need a high end logo not some clip art crap slap together like all these “logo sweat shops from India make for $149 and less”. Client’s reply was “your estimate is unrealistic. Bye”. I laughed.

  165. I think the most frustrating thing about clients asking a designer to create a logo is this: “You’re the designer, but I wanna stick my fingers in your pie.” They want control of every little thing, but they want us to push buttons on the computer to make it look pretty. Designers need to clearly explain that they are in control and the client has 3 options . Period. There are milestones, of course, but the client does not make design decisions. If they do, the hundreds of thousands of dollars designers spent on education mean nothing.

  166. Thanks for the help!!

  167. The Open University logo reminds me of a computer mouse, which seems good if it’s a distance-learning school.

Anything to add?

Comments may be edited or deleted if I don't like the cut of your jib, but that's quite unlikely.