The idea of professional logo design is, at least the way I think of it, very similar to that picture of an iceberg, where one can only see the top floating above water. There is more behind the disciple of logo design—which I rather refer as identity design—than the eyes can meet; just as in the bigger part of the iceberg which is hidden away under water.
After working with design for a bit more than 10 years, I lost count of the times I’ve heard that a logo is so simple that a 5-year-old could do it in half an hour. Have you ever heard someone uttering similar words? The truth is there’s a lot of work to create an identity that looks professional; but at the end, it all culminates into one thing, the logo.
A curious fact about professional logos, those we call brands, is that their success has more to do with the concepts and ideas behind their creation, than with the discipline of design itself. Surely design is an essential skill, but even the most accomplished of the designers is doomed to fail if all that he or she cares about is to make a logo look beautiful, and does not think about the concepts and ideas the logo should represent.
Professional logo design is a surprisingly complex discipline and I wouldn’t dare try to cover its entirety here, but hopefully the following tips are going to help you improve your understanding of it or perhaps even guide you to design your own logo.
What is a logo?
One must first understand what a logo is, before even thinking on designing a professional-looking one; and I believe that thanks to the success of Coca-Cola, Nike, Starbucks, and many other internationally recognized brands, people usually tend to develop a terribly wrong understanding of what is a logo.
Many wrongfully attribute the success of these companies to their logos, some may think the logo is supposed to sell the product by using hidden messages and many others think the success of the business is directly correlated to the size of their logos.
Oh, how many times have I heard: —”Can you make my logo bigger?”
They are all missing the point, a logo is nothing more than a symbol of identification; that is its essence, its purpose, and its primordial goal must be to successfully identify a business, a product or a service. This is the most important tip to keep in mind when designing a logo.
What makes a logo look professional?
While I specifically chose to include the word “professional” in the title of this article, I don’t particularly think its a word that says much. If you think about it, what looks professional to some, may not look professional to others. So for the sake of improving the understanding of this post, I’ll present you with my own definition in the context of logo design.
A professional logo design is one that is created by someone whom specializes in the creation of logos, brands and visual identities. These professionals spend a great deal of time working on each project, from weeks to months, to create one single logo. They do a lot of market research and design experimentation, they approach the process of creating a logo not only from a design point-of-view, but also from a marketing and branding point-of-view. More than anything else, their work is to create a logo that will last a lifetime.
I don’t particularly think you need to be a specialist to design a really good logo, but if you are looking to achieve a professional result, it becomes quite obvious that you will need to endure the same relative time and effort, as a specialist would. With that said, more often than not, logo designers look to achieve a combination of relevancy, versatility and iconicity in their work. So let’s understand each one of these features in more detail.
Ultimately, logos are symbols—or wordmarks—with the purpose of identifying a company, a product or a service; so being relevant to what they are representing is paramount.
Beware of potential misunderstandings, I’m not suggesting that logos should include pictograms of what they are about. Actually, in most occasions that would be disastrous. Think about it, the Nike logo is not a shoe, the IBM logo is not a computer and the McDonald’s logo is not a hamburger; but still, they are all very relevant.
The Nike logo is a fluid swoosh, on a deep abstract level it says “movement”, and that has a lot to do with the business of shoes and the activity of running. The IBM logo, in contrast, is quite static and sharp, defined by interspaced blue lines, denoting the binary nature of computers; once again, a deep conceptual connection. Finally, the McDonald’s golden arch is the gateway that leads to fast-food happiness, a concept that has been continually explored throughout the years.
A professionally designed logo will, on most occasions, be scalable to any size and perfectly adaptable to any sort of material. Here’s where the specialists in identity design tend to spend a good deal of time experimenting, as they are commited to foresee any potential use to guarantee the logo will not disappoint in the future.
Reflect on this, what happens if you need to apply your logo on the side of a building or in a promotional pen? Will you be able to do it? If you don’t think about that while you’re creating the logo, the chances are, you’ll not end up with a professional looking one.
Lack of adaptability is one of the biggest mistakes in logo design. On a matter of fact, I’m constantly approached by entrepreneurs looking to rebrand their business, simply because their logos are not versatile enough to fulfil their current needs. They didn’t think about that when they started their businesses. They went for the cheap solution and consequently all their branding efforts have been literally wasted because of a badly designed identity.
Iconicity is the characteristic that is constantly present in successful logos. Just picture the examples I mentioned above: Nike, IBM and McDonald’s, and you’ll understand what I mean. They all are made with very strong symbols, with an iconic nature that makes them instantly recognizable and highly memorable.
This is what separates the wheat from the chaff in the world of logo design.
Achieving an iconic look-and-feel is certainly the most challenging factor in the process of designing a logo. Overall, what you need to keep in mind is that less is more. While this may sound pretty counter-intuiive for non-designers, it’s a golden rule for the identity design discipline, and followed by the best specialists in the field.
One does not need to be a specialist in identity design to create a successful brand, but professional logo designers are the ones with tested and proven processes, which they implement on a daily basis, that improve the chances of creating a logo that works.
These processes may change from one professional to another, some are going to be more visually oriented, while others prefer to use a more scientific approach based on strategic data taken out of their market research. I personally tend to use a holistic approach, and look at brand identity projects as puzzles for which I must find a visual solution. Once I have the solution in hand, I usually leave it around for a couple of days, and then get back to critique my own work to be sure it’s checking all the boxes. If it does, it’s a win.
What works for me, may not work for you, but surely the mix of relevancy, versatility and iconicity is a tested and proven method. Even if you’re a designer, you’ll find that ticking all the boxes is easier said than done, especially because one must have a clear understanding of each one of these characteristics on a deep level. If you manage to find that mix, the chances are you’ll have a really good logo on your hands.