What makes a good logo? A successful design may meet the goals of your design brief, but an enviable mark with the potential to become iconic will also be simple, relevant, distinctive, and enduring.
The simplest solution is often the most effective, because simplicity makes a design more versatile. A minimalist approach enables your logo to be used across the broadest possible range of media, from avatars to billboards, from business cards to favicons.
Simplicity also makes a logo easier to recognise, so it stands a greater chance of enduring. Think of the marks of Mercedes, Apple, Target, Shell. Their simplicity makes them easier to remember after a quick glance, and often, a glance is all the onlooker gives.
A lawyer’s logo will look different from that of a kid’s entertainer. A travel agency will look different from a funeral director. The design should always be relevant to the industry and the audience.
Keep in mind, however, that a logo doesn’t need to say what a company does. Often, the less a logo says the better. The BMW logo isn’t a car. The Virgin Atlantic logo isn’t an airplane. The Nike logo isn’t a shoe. Yet they’re all relevant within their respective markets.
Distinction means separation within the market. A strong trademark will have a unique quality or treatment that, after a period of use, can be directly linked to the business it identifies without being mistaken for a competitor.
But how do you create a logo that’s unique? You initially focus initially on a design that’s recognisable. So recognisable, in fact, that just its silhouette gives it away. Working in black and white before adding colour can help to create a more distinctive mark, since the contrast highlights the idea. Colour, although important, is secondary to the shape and form of the design.
An iconic logo is one that people remember after one quick look. Imagine you’re on a bus, and you notice a billboard as you travel past. Or you’re walking through town and a branded truck drives by. Quite often, a second or two is all the time a logo has to make an impression.
It can help to picture the marks you remember when you think of the word “logo.” What is it that keeps them ingrained in your memory? You’re likely to find that the more detail included in a particular design, the less you remember.
Ideally, a logo should work at a minimum size of around one inch without loss of detail. The only way to accomplish this is to keep it simple, which also makes it much more likely that the design will endure throughout the life of the business.
While a logo on a billboard has visual impact, the design also needs to accommodate smaller, necessary applications — an app icon, a zipper pull, an embroidered badge. A logo that adapts to all sizes can save a substantial amount of money on brand implementation meetings, potential redesigns, uniform costs, and more.
While a mark is crafted in isolation, whether through a sketch or a blank Adobe Illustrator document, the final application will have very different surroundings. In the words of Paul Rand, “A logo derives meaning from the quality of the thing it symbolises, not the other way around.” With careful consideration of relevant applications, and a focus on just one differentiating feature, you go a long way to giving your design every chance of gaining that elusive, iconic status.
Apple logo, by Rob Janoff, photo by Medhat Dawoud
FedEx logo, by Lindon Leader, photo by Dano
BMW logo, photo by Markus Spiske
V&A logo, by Alan Fletcher
London Underground logo, photo by Chris Jones