January 14, 2014

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At First Sight

Just Say No to Bad Logo Design

By Pamela Olson

January 14, 2014


Bad logos: They make graphic designers grind their teeth and potential customers turn up their noses.

Logos that appear to be glued together from clip art, use inappropriate fonts or even contain misspellings can repel customers even more than a bad product. Strong, compelling logos, on the other hand, can attract and welcome customers who would never otherwise be interested in a company’s brand. Such logos appeal in a way that goes beyond communicating what the company is about—they get at what the brand might mean to the user.

Tyler Sohm, vice president of creative and brand development for Rumor Advertising, and Traci O’Very Covey, freelance graphic designer and illustrator, offer advice for developing an appealing logo that will represent your company well.

Define your culture. “How I approach a project is to get a feel for the culture of the company, what they stand for, what they want to show the world,” says Sohm. “Customers feel the logo is the brand, but we feel the brand goes much deeper. The brand gives you a flavor of how the logo should look. Is the brand fun, reserved, bright, airy, subdued?”

Sohm says clients will often bring in another company’s logo and ask him to copy it. “This is a mistake. You must start from inside your own culture.”

Hire a professional. You may have some mad Photoshop skills, but these don’t qualify you to design your company logo. “A good logo design takes a lot of time spent by a good designer,” says O’Very Covey. “The seemingly simple and compelling designs are the ones that take the most effort to create.”

Sohm adds, “It’s a mistake to think that you’ll get the same quality from a $99 online logo shop than from a personalized designer. A good logo takes more contemplation than an off-the-shelf ‘company name here’ product.”

Consider versatility. How and where will your logo be used? It must be able to stand on its own in any size, from a smart phone to a billboard. O’Very Covey says, “A good logo needs to be readable at a small size (1 or 2 inches) so simplicity in the design is good. If it has fine detail, make sure it will hold up at a small size. It needs to work well in one color. A bad design is one that is not clearly readable or has too much going on in the

design and doesn’t communicate well.”

Learn logo anatomy. Logos are comprised of two elements: typography, or language, and the mark, i.e. the icon, picture or any visual element that is not language based. Many good logos use both, Nike being a stellar example, says Sohm. “Nike uses the word and the swoosh,” two highly recognizable elements of one logo, both of which can stand alone. On the other hand, Sohm says, “many successful logos don’t need a secondary type if the type can capture the culture of the brand.”

Aim for timelessness. Think of a company that has been around for more than 30 years and then envision its logo. Chances are that it hasn’t changed much in those decades and if it has, it has been altered or modernized subtly to communicate the same identity. “We like to design something that will stand the test of time, that is not too trendy,” says Sohm. Rebranding is sometimes necessary, he says, but the logo must stay true to the original design. “Logos need to evolve and grow with the company.”

Avoid these “don’ts.” Sometimes companies that are just starting out choose their company name based on the URL they can get. This is not the way to choose the name and branding of a long-lasting company. Another “don’t” is to implement a nonsensical process when it comes to selecting the logo. “We have a joke around the office that when a client says that he wants to ‘run it by a few people,’ he really means his wife,” Sohm says. “I have no problem with that, but the decision-making process should be a little more relevant.”  

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