Anyone can design a logo. Whether it works is another thing. 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.
Keep it simple
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 a wide range of media, from business cards to billboards, and lapel badges to something as small as a website favicon.
Simplicity also makes your design easier to recognise, so it stands a greater chance of enduring. Think of the trademarks used by large corporations such as Mitsubishi, Apple, FedEx, Google. Their logos are simple, therefore easier to recognise.
Make it relevant
A logo must be appropriate for the business it identifies. A lawyer, for example, will have a design that’s different from a kid’s entertainer. A travel agency will look different from a funeral director. Your design should be relevant to the industry and the audience to which you cater.
Keep in mind, 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 Apple logo isn’t a computer. Yet they’re all relevant within their respective markets.
Aim for distinction
A good logo doesn’t just separate itself from designs in other professions. Distinction means separation from competing brands, too. A good logo has a unique quality or style 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? The best strategy is to focus initially on a design that’s recognisable — so recognisable, in fact, that just its silhouette gives it away. Working only in black and white can help to create more distinctive marks, since the contrast highlights the shape or idea. Colour, although important, really is secondary to the shape and form of the design.
Commit to memory
A solid, iconic logo is one that onlookers will remember after one quick glance. Imagine you’re on a bus, looking out the window, and you notice a billboard as the bus rides past. Or you’re walking through town and a branded truck drives by. Quite often, one quick glance is all the time a logo has to make an impression.
It sometimes helps to picture the marks you remember when you think of the word “logo.” What is it about them that keeps them ingrained in your memory? From a design perspective, it also helps to limit how much time is spent on each sketch — 30 seconds at most. Otherwise, how can you expect an onlooker to remember it after a quick look?
While a logo on a billboard has impact, the design also needs to accommodate smaller, necessary applications, such as zipper pulls or clothing labels, branded pens or social media avatars. A logo that adapts to all sizes can save a substantial amount of money on brand implementation meetings, potential redesigns, uniform costs, and more.
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 will also make it much more likely that the logo will endure throughout the life of the business.
Remember the context
A logo doesn’t exist in isolation. It’s never seen on a blank piece of paper. 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 design consideration and a focus on just one feature to help with differentiation, you can give 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