The cost of an identity crisis

What is the most valuable asset to your business? Is it your employees? Is it your product? Is it your building? Your location?

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

Too much negativity to start a column? Sorry about that. The most powerful and valuable asset to any business is …

…. its brand.

So what is a brand? Most often, people look at a brand as one thing:  the logo. Most often, when clients approach me about designing their logo they just say “give me a logo that works like the Nike logo … or the McDonald’s logo … or the Coca-Cola logo. Give me a logo that provides my business with instant notoriety; something that will sell my product, market my company and cure cancer — all before breakfast.”

The problem to that line of thinking is that a logo is just a picture. There is no single image, that when introduced, will be instantly effective in communicating every product, service or message a business wishes to introduce to the public. Many people see the Nike, McDonald’s and Coca-Cola logos and are instantly reminded of their products, services and messages and, to put it bluntly, they see the logo as the vessel of the message and not the product of a consistent marketing and branding effort.

Truth is the Nike swoosh was nothing more than just an image when the first shoe introduced to the public back in 1971 (ironically it was just a design element on a shoe — the original company – Blue Ribbon Sports – it wasn’t until 1978 that the company changed its name to Nike). It took 7 years of branding and marketing efforts to tie the swoosh with the name Nike (founderbios.com). So even one of the most recognizable logos in the entire world took seven years to reach a point of prominence where it Nike was recognized by a mass audience.

There is more to a brand than just a logo. A brand is the product you sell and the quality of its performance; it is the service provided by the people who sell to or service the customers; it is the innovation and intellectual property that spurs the ideas the company introduces; and it’s the philosophy and approach to business. In time, a logo — like Nike, McDonalds and Coca-Cola — can come to embody all these elements, but it is not an overnight solution. A solid brand identity is the result of a quality product consistently reinforced by a thoughtful message, quality product and marketing effort over a an extended period.

Let’s briefly look at how to build a brand, and let’s start with the obvious…

THE LOGO

In my time, I have seen some beautifully created logos; true works of art. Elegant, eye-catching and creative. And I’ve seen the businesses with these logos fail quickly. I’ve also seen the most hideous, drunk-sketch-on-a-greasy-napkin logo become an iconic symbol of a successful company (Two Men and a Truck). A successful, effective logo is timeless meaning that it does not changed year-to-year, but rather is consistently reinforced and pushed into the public arena.

Every time a company introduces a new logo, it effectively destroys or at the very least, degrades any headway the previous logo had on the public consciousness. I’ve seen too many companies believe that simply changing their logo will boost their fortunes, and I’ve seen too many ad agencies advocate a logo change for no other reason than they don’t like the design.  If  a business does decide to change its logo it needs to be part of a bigger strategy; one that designed to reintroduce the new look and reinforce the existing messaging so that the new look becomes intertwined with the existing marketing message.

I could spend time going into great detail on what makes for effective logo creation, but this article is about branding so to keep us on topic, so instead I’ll refer to my personal blog entry about logo creation. It is decidedly written to help graphic designers develop effective and versatile logos, but still provides valuable ideas and information any business owner evaluate his existing logo design or the ideas provided by the designer or agency.  You can read it by clicking here.

CONSISTENCY

One of the biggest mistakes businesses make — particularly small businesses — is that they do not promote themselves in a consistent manner. Any marketing message, and advertising product (brochures, business cards, print ads, television, web sites, blogs, flyers, posters, packaging, etc…) must follow a consistent design standard.  Too often, people get caught up in looking at a brochure as being a standalone project than their business card or their print ad; each one with a different set of criteria and as a result the visual representation or messaging across an entire campaign differs from one project to another. This diminishes your brand effectiveness.

It’s important that design and messaging standards are established at the corporate level and enforce the consistent application of those guidelines to every product, every employee, every storefront and every product.  A few of these include:

  • Colors – Pick specific Pantone colors or set specific color builds (your agency or printer can help with this).
  • Logo size and application – Dictate the where, the size and how and your logo to be used in all applications (ask your agency or graphic designer to develop a written set of logo standards).
  • Tagline – Pick a specific tagline and stick to it, do not change across multiple projects.
  • Fonts – Choose specific fonts to be used in all your marketing, advertising and packaging — I recommend having a single Serif and Sans Serif font choice and the option for a Script font; once set, do not deviate.
  • Images – Identify and select what time of images can and cannot be used in your marketing. If you have an artistic, hand-drawn style, do not mix in photography; if you cater to high-end clients, use quality photography, not clip-art.

Ideally, a consistent brand results in the continual reinforcement of your identity across your entire product line and marketing efforts, with each project providing support and feeding identical messaging to every other subsequent process. This is how to build brand awareness and consistently reinforce your product or service.

MESSAGING

Maintaining a consistent message is very important to building a strong brand. The easiest application of this concept is through a tagline (a short, 3-7 word phrase which sums up your service, the founding ideals of the company, or the benefit to the customer.

A recent discussion on the Marketing Design Group on LinkedIn asked for contributions as to the most overused and cliché ideas. It’s a pretty entertaining list to be sure and a good litmus test to ensure that your company isn’t recycling an overused concept employed by other businesses — or worse, your competition. Read it here (Note: You may have to create/log-in to LinkedIn to view the discussion).

It is important that a company distances itself from its competition through a unique and relevant marketing proposition. If the message is similar to that of another business, or if a company changes its message project by project, the end result is that mixed or conflicting messages exist in the public arena. That company can no longer be identified by a unified idea or thought, but will more likely be seen as a business with no sense of self-identity – and it’s hard to trust a company who is unsure of who it is, or what value it brings to the table.

EMPLOYEES

Have you ever considered that your employees are probably one of the biggest contributors to your brand’s value, or the biggest contributor to your brand’s decline? It’s absolutely true.

Your employees are often the front line defense in protecting your brand (and a big element to brand value is your reputation). If your employees are involved and take a personal investment in providing the highest-level of service and exemplify the ideals of your company, your brand and reputation is strengthened; if they provide inferior service or reflect upon your company in a negative light, your brand is diminished.

Your employees get more face time with customers than does ownership. It’s critically important that their approach to your business and delivering your message is consistently reinforced.

BRAND IS EVERYTHING

The one thing that will always follow a company is the value of its brand. It’s the most important asset a company has and contributes more over a length of time than any other factor.

Employees may leave and can always be replaced. A building doesn’t speak to the value of a company and a location can always change.  Computers and furniture can be easily replaced when damaged or broken.

Damage to a brand can take years to recover from, or may prove to be a fatal blow to a company’s success. Your brand is the heart of your company and is a vital living, breathing component which feeds all future success. Take care of it. Develop it. Nurture it and take whatever steps are necessary to protect it.

The ultimate logo manifesto (part 8)

Part 8: The Price of Logo Design

In the 15+ years I’ve been in the graphic design field there is one phrase I have heard more often than any other, and that is “I have a neighbor who do to that for $50!” With all due respect to all those neighbors out there (and those who feel that $50 is an acceptable amount to pay for a logo), here are a few considerations to keep in mind when pricing and paying for a logo.

Agency vs. Freelancer
Matt’s Rule of Graphic Design #42: ‘A good designer can be effective without wearing shoes, but not without wearing socks (this is one of those deep, philosophical statements).’

There is a choice to be made with regards to whom you decide to develop your logo. Both have positives and negatives. The issue for you to decide is what factors are an issue for you and which ones are not. Here is a breakdown for some of both:

Agency Pros:

  1. Agencies tend to have higher-quality designers
  2. Agencies are often more diligent about meeting deadlines
  3. Agencies carry a clout (bragging rights)
  4. Agencies typically have a wide-range of experience to draw from
  5. Agencies are more established; more entrenched in the community – they have a reputation to maintain

Agency Cons:

  1. Agencies can be very selective about who they take on as a client
  2. Agencies might not provide as personal a service as a freelancer
  3. Agencies are more expensive
  4. Agencies have payroll to consider and therefore are a bit more rigid with regards to office hours
  5. Agencies don’t always value the low dollar account as much as the big spenders; your work might get bumped should a large account comes calling.

Freelancer Pros:

  1. Freelancers are often cheaper than agencies
  2. Freelancers have fewer customers so are able to provide more personal service
  3. Freelancers need your account more than agencies, so they are more accommodating to small requests
  4. Freelancers have more flexibility with regards to working hours
  5. Freelancers (the good ones at least) take a personal investment in your business, product or service

Freelancer Cons:

  1. Anyone can freelance; the choice to freelance is sometimes (but not always) due to a lack of options, not a choice
  2. Freelancers are not always of the same caliber of designer as those employed by agencies
  3. Freelancers do not always have the wide-range of experience available at agencies
  4. Freelancers can leave or go out of business at any time; with an agency such a move is seldom without warning
  5. Freelancers are their own boss; they might not be as diligent regarding deadlines/availability

The ‘neighbor’ factor
Matt’s Rule of Design #36: ‘Just because you have a computer and a program does not automatically mean that you are a graphic designer.

When you are talking about the neighbor who can build you a $50 logo, you are likely talking about someone who dabbles in graphic design, but doesn’t do it professionally. No self-respecting, professional designer would ever charge so little for a logo — especially in light of everything that is invested into logo development (research and design time). I see it all the time, when a business owner brings in a neighbor-designer logo (also applicable are logos designed by your kid, your neighbor’s kid, or the ever-popular ‘I know a guy who knows a guy’) only to find out that it can’t be used for the purpose he intends, or that it cost too much to reproduce.

Bargain shopping for a logo is never a good idea, primarily because the odds of you getting a logo that is A) well designed, B) represents your company in the manner you desire, C) is built using the proper programs and D) will reproduce effectively across an array of media – are against you. Your brand is the single most important asset to your company, you don’t want to skimp or cut corners when it comes to your brand. An investment here reaps dividends down the line – dividends which far outweigh any one-time expense.

I’m sure this all sounds like I’m buttering you up for some big payday; quite the contrary. What I am doing it to help define some general considerations that would establish an acceptable range for professional logo development of a small business (a small business in this case being $5,000,000 or less in annual revenues, 50 or fewer employees, local or limited regional reach, etc.). Mid- to large-sized businesses can expect to pay four- to -seven figures for their logo development.

Time in Development
Matt’s Rule of Graphic Design #4. ‘Always build in a little extra safety time when determining project deadlines; just in case something goes wrong or breaks.’

The thing about logo development is that it’s a very time-consuming process. To do it right and generate enough distinctive and unique logos for a client requires a hefty amount of research, brainstorming, client meetings and design time. Logo development is not an overnight process.

One of the big keys to logo development is diversity. Though you may have a good idea of what the client is looking for, you don’t know how those ideas and concepts are going to take form. You have to present the customer with options, allow him to consider the merits of each and then, if necessary revise, adapt and sometimes (though I never recommend it), merge elements of different logo concepts into one.

Whenever I develop a logo package, my standard approach is to develop around 8-10 concepts for client review. Fewer choices doesn’t provide enough variety and more choice simply gives too many options and you’ll find the client liking none of them – more as a result of being intimidated by the number of choices available and then they are unable to reach a consensus (especially if there is more than one decision maker involved).

When you take just the research and design components of logo development, I’ve found that it takes on average about four hours to design each logo concept. Extrapolate that further, any 10 logo concepts equals about 40 hours of hands-on work. That’s just for the first draft developments; it doesn’t count for client meetings, revisions, and final file prep and logo brand usage (LBU) guide.

So what’s the timeframe for logo development? How soon from the bid acceptance will it take to see the first round of concepts? I would say a minimum two weeks (unless the designer or agency has nothing else on their plate). Two weeks isn’t an unacceptably long time to wait – especially when you consider that the initial development takes roughly 40 working yours; that’s five full business days of doing nothing else. As mentioned in Part 6: The Zen of Logo Design, it’s important to step back and walk away from the logo development process to gain clarity and perspective. Additionally, if you work for an agency, there are likely internal review processes in place before the concepts are presented to the client.

Given that logo and brand development is so important to a company, you will likely have to budget significant time for adjustments to at least one of the original concepts, maybe two or three, so you need to make sure you account for those considerations when providing pricing. To accommodate potential changes, I typically incorporate 50% additional time to the original development period. If we base on the 40-hour initial development period, you should also allow for an additional 20 hours of revision time.

Setting the Rate
Matt’s Rule of Graphic Design #58: ‘Never accept less for a job than you believe your time and effort is worth and get it in writing.’

So how much should you as a designer charge, or you as a customer expect to pay? That all depends on the market in which you reside and who you choose to develop your logo. As was discussed above both the agency and freelancer routes have merits. It’s not uncommon for agencies to charge $150+ per hour, where freelancers will typically come in around $75-$125 per hour; the range you choose to pay depends on your personal choice and rationale of balancing the risks versus rewards.Could you pay more? Yes. Could you pay less? Of course.

The key as a customer is to shop around … and not just for price, but for quality. The choice to choosing an agency or freelancer is not primarily one of cost, it’s about quality. You want a good logo; one that incorporates all the concepts discussed as part of this manifesto. Make sure you ask to see samples of other logo designs; you are looking for impact, originality and most importantly a style that represents what you want to convey as a business.

The key as a designer is to provide value for the service you offer. If you think that price will be the sole determining factor, you’d be wrong. A customer will be looking for a deal, but if you think about the relevant benefit – the true motivation of the clients, you’ll be able to add enough value to your services that your customer will not see price as being his primary decision criteria.

Let me put it this way… if you are looking to buy a new car, is your sole motivation transportation? No. If it were, you could buy the cheapest thing on the lot and your criteria would be met. When you’re buying a car, it’s as much about prestige and how you look driving the car as it is about getting from point A to point B. It’s also about quality. You could buy the beat up-rusted out-primer stained-missing-the-front-fender-junker your neighbor has sitting on his lawn, or you could pony up more dough for something that you know will run and serve you well not just today but also into the foreseeable future.

It’s the same thing with logo design (and graphic design to a greater degree), you’re not looking for the cheapest junker on the planet, you want something that represents who you are and how you want to be perceived by the rest of the world. It has to have personality. It must be memorable. It absolutely must be versatile.

If you are a designer, make sure you present your logo development services as a value-added package that addresses all the client’s needs; and not just an issue of bottom line pricing. If you let your service become all about price, you’ll lose money – not only this time, but in every dealing with the client. Be fair, be flexible, but don’t give away the farm.

So now that all that has been said, how much should you charge for a logo design? Let’s keep the math simple: If the initial development takes 40 hours for 10 concepts, and you anticipate another 20 hours in revisions, you’re looking at a total of 60 hours of your time invested in the project. If you or your designer has a billing rate of $100 per hour, you’d be looking at a price range of $4,000 – $6,000 for the logo development package. Is that a fair price for a logo package? Yes. Will you as the designer always get that rate? No. But without a solid baseline to work from and value your time and talents, you at least have a starting point from which you can negotiate. Will you as a client always pay that much? Doubtful. But you should at least go into the process anticipating a certain price range – at least now you can go into the process with a clearer understanding of all that’s involved in logo design.

When I say ‘logo package’ I truly look at the logo development process as a package situation. It’s a package because – along with the design – you are also including your knowledge, your advice, research services, and your time.

For a designer, a true logo package means being available to address concerns of the client and walk them through the development process – it also means educating the client as part of the project. Customers will almost invariably ask for changes that work to the detriment of the logo (reproduction, conflicting elements, color, etc.), you need to be able to explain the consequences in plain, understandable terms so that they can make an informed decision. If they still insist, make the changes. It is, after all, their money and their logo. Give them what they ask for.

You also need to provide the materials the client will need to reproduce his logo with the highest quality and consistency; this means a logo disc and creation of a Logo Brand Usage guide that dictates how the logo is to be used. Clients – especially small businesses – won’t always understand all that goes into logo development. You’ll need to be able to intelligently explain and rationalize the costs if you ever hope to get your fair market worth. Remember, your clients are businesspeople too. They will be able to understand what it means to get fair pay for a product or service – make sure you relate your position to them in those terms; terms they are familiar with.

For the customer, the important thing to remember is that the price you pay is an investment in your company and its future. A logo is far more than just an image on your letterhead. It is a public symbol; it is your 24/7 representation of your quality, your brand, your livelihood. Just as you would consider paying for a new cash register, or new building as a means of advancing your business, so too must you consider a logo as an investment in your future success.

For the money you spend, you need to feel comfortable enough with your designer to ask questions, make suggestions and even outright reject a concept. You will be paying a decent chunk of change to get your logo developed; it had better be what you want and you need to feel free to provide you input. Still, it’s important to be open-minded; if you’ve chosen well, your designer will be more knowledgeable than you about branding and logo development. Similarly, if your business is to make widgets, you are the expert in widget production. You wouldn’t let someone from the local burger joint tell you how to build widgets, so give credence to what the designer says. If you don’t buy what he’s saying or he doesn’t make a good case for a particular design decision, it’s okay to hold your ground. This should be a collaborative project, not an adversarial one.

As was discussed in part 7, you should expect to receive a disk with the logo in its many file formats as well as a LBU to ensure that you have the tools to maintain your brand’s identity long after you finalize your logo design. Another consideration – and it may sound silly – is to make sure that you ‘own’ the logo and its files. Some designers/agencies might have you sign documents that allow you to use the logo, but they retain ownership of the files. Don’t do that. With logo design, you need to own the files.

I hope you have found this series to be informative and helpful. It’s been a pleasure to read the feedback and comments each week and to see how well-received this Great Logo Manifesto has been. Hopefully you will be able to take the knowledge found in all eight parts and apply it to your daily use – either as a designer to help you create the logo, or as the customer who will receive the perfect logo to help brand and promote your company.

The ultimate logo manifesto (part 7)

Part 7: Setting the Brand Standard

Once the logo is developed and approved by the client, that doesn’t mean that the designer’s work is done. There are two critical tasks that remain before you can call it a wrap on any logo development project. The first is relatively obvious…

Create a logo master disk
Prepare one or more master disks of the logo in various formats to give to the client.

The master disk is an essential part of enforcing a brand standard because it provides the customer with a hands-on resource that he can use to access the logo for any purpose needed. What I’ve unfortunately seen is that designers will only provide customers with one or two formats of their logo; or worse, only provide the client with a printout of the logo and retain the logo files for themselves (forcing the customer to request the logo files from the designer). The result is that the customer ends up scanning a printed version of the logo (rather than pay the designer his fee for formatting the logo) and provides that reproduction to any vendor needing the file. Not only does this provide a less-than-ideal copy of the logo, but it also diminishes the color integrity of the brand.

When I prepare a logo disk, I give the client high-resolution files in at least 10 different file formats. I’ve learned to anticipate how and when a certain format will be used and I provide those formats to the client – along with a briefing of which file is good for what purpose – so that they have the resources they need to protect and build their own brand identity.

I give them vector versions of the logo for professional applications (AI, EPS, PDF, WMF and CDR), I give them high-resolution raster versions of the logo – a minimum 5″ x 5″ @ 300 ppi) for more general use (PSD, GIF, PNG, JPEG, BMP and TIFF). If they have specific needs other than those formats (for example SVG or SWF files), I make sure to provide those as well.

What I don’t want is for the client to be stuck looking for, or requesting someone else to make a format conversion of their logo. I’ve learned that it’s unwise to trust other designers to faithfully and accurately work with the files I create. Don’t get me wrong, there are many talented, wonderful graphic designers out there, but for every good designer, there are a hundred bad designers — designers who aren’t up to snuff on the latest programs or techniques; designers who are cheaper than I am, but also far less talented and not as attentive to detail.

As a design and marketing professional, I (and you) will want to make sure that I build in as many control mechanisms into the logo creation process as possible so I can help the customer help himself (and others) maintain brand consistency.

Logo and Brand Usage Guide
The second and final obligation a designer has to the logo creation process is the development of a logo and brand usage guide (LBU).

Quite often, logo development doesn’t come as a standalone project; it’s usually tied to a corporate identity package with envelopes, business cards and letterhead. The LBU serves as written documentation for the accurate and effective use of the logo, colors and fonts. All of which are critical components to building a company’s brand.

The LBU is designed to be a thorough document and account for as many uses and applications of the brand as possible. Below is a breakdown of the many areas the LBU covers:

Logo usage:

  • Specifies the minimum size and proportions of a logo
  • Dictates how much white space must be given around the logo to separate it from competing elements
  • Covers how the logos is to be displayed when used with other logos

Color usage:

  • Specifies the spot and process color breakdowns of the inks used in the logo
  • Provides complementary colors/schemes that can be used in conjunction with the logo
  • Dictates how a logo (and which version) is to be used in black & white, spot, full-color and reverse layout situations.

Fonts:

  • Details, with samples, the fonts used in the logo and those typefaces to be used for any corporate branding, marketing or online purpose.
  • Provides size restrictions on how small or in what proportion any one font can be used in conjunction with another
  • Specifies what styles of fonts (italic, bold, black, semibold, display, etc.) can be used for branding, marketing, and online purposes.

Secondary elements:

  • Provides samples of any alternate images or icons that can be used to supplement or enhance the brand presentation (this may be a separate image like a dingbat or design element).
  • Dictates proportion of those elements in respect to the logo and other elements so as to not overshadow the brand.

Want an example of what a Logo and Brand Usage Guide looks like? Just click the link at the end of this paragraph to view Allegra’s LBU. You can use it as a reference for when you are developing your own corporate branding standards. Allegra Branding Guide

Both of the above components serve as a critical piece toward ensuring effective and long-lasting reinforcement and use of your logo. Clients, publications and designers alike won’t understand the proper use of their logo unless it is spelled out and that you instruct them as to the importance of consistency when it comes to building a ‘Brand with Bite.’ Most savvy clients understand the importance of brand stability, but some don’t. The best you can do is to enforce it as long as you’re attached to the account and to give them the tools and information they need to do it themselves.

The ultimate logo manifesto (part 6)

Part 6: The Zen of Logo Design

Logo design is one of those things where you really have to be in the right head space (at least I do) to really develop a quality product. It’s not like typesetting a brochure or color correcting photo. Logo development is as much an exercise in design as it is a journey through the abstract. It really helps if you can shut off the analytical side of your brain and just let your consciousness be your guide.

If you’ve done your thumbnails as was discussed in Part 1, you have a good start and can get the juices flowing by transitioning those sketches into digital reality. But often those sketches don’t always translate from the page to the screen; invariably something is lost and you find yourself staring at the monitor wondering what went wrong, or what is missing that will make that logo the dynamic, impactful design you originally intended. Here are a few tips to help you sort things out:

Shut out the world.
One of the things that’s hardest to do, whether you work at home or at an office is to remove yourself from the daily activities that surround you. I’ve found that in logo design, it’s important to isolate yourself from any distractions. Logo development is a very right-brained, creative activity and often works best if you can devote several hours straight to the brainstorming and creation of logo concepts. If you are constantly interrupted — especially with analytical, left-brained activities — you’ll lose any of the good creative rhythm you may have established.

It’s best if you can just close the office door, or if you don’t have a door, shut out the world by putting on some headphones, cranking up the iPod and drowning out all the distractions. I cannot emphasize how important it is to create an environment that is free from distractions to achieve that creative, inventive workflow that is critical to logo development.

Walk away.
As strongly as I preach the importance of being able to create an environment where you can string together several uninterrupted hours of design time, it is also important to back away from the computer and let your mind breathe.

This doesn’t mean you have to remove yourself from the creative environment, but instead allow you some time to gain some perspective and think about what you have done; reflect on the effectiveness of the logos you’ve created. A few minutes or hours away bring clarity and fresh eyes to a project that allows you to see your work anew and make sure that you are on the right track with your thought process and identify any possible areas for improvement.

Let go.
Sometimes letting go of a troublesome logo concept is a very cathartic and cleansing experience. I’m not talking about saving it and trying something else. I’m talking about making the bold step of deleting the file in its entirety; trash it and move on. Make a decision to get that one particular concept out of your head for good; don’t give yourself an out or a safety net to go back to it later. Just delete it.

This is a very common practice for me. During the course of logo development, I may permanently delete several concepts from my working files; ideas that just don’t seem to translate or that I’m spending too much time on. There’s something to be gained from a fresh start and I’ve learned not to be afraid of what I might be losing in a concept, and embrace the possibilities of what the next idea may bring. Sometimes an idea just isn’t worth it, but you have to explore it for a time to get the concept out of your head so that you can make a clean break and move on to better things. In many ways, it’s akin to living like there’s no tomorrow. Design with no regrets

Draw inspiration from everything.
I like a clean, organized office. I hate clutter. But when I design logos that’s when I bring out the junk. I bring out toys, photos, old magazines and I lay them around my workspace; no order, no logic.

I do this to give my mind something to do when I’m stuck or searching for new ideas to try. You never know when inspiration will strike you and from where it will come. It could be the curves of an old Hot Wheels car, or an odd crease in a back issue of Sports Illustrated. Contours, lines and shapes all have ways of tapping into abstract thought and allowing someone in a creative head space to see things not as they are, but how they will be.

Go ahead, stare.
It’s always been my philosophy that a good logo is just waiting to be found. To paraphrase Michelangelo: “The statue was already in the marble, all I did was to clear away the unneeded stone.” This may sound a bit funny, but it’s not uncommon for me to stare at a blank application workspace for extended periods of time. I let the waves of the monitors refresh lines wash over my eyes until I see in that white nothingness of my digital canvas, the logo that’s meant to be on that screen. From then on, all I have to do is create it. It’s all about detaching yourself from your conscious, logical mind (the one that worries about time tables, font usage, image orientation, etc.) and letting the artistic mind come to the forefront and show you what needs to be done.

All of this may sound funny to some, but to a designer being creative is serious work. To achieve a desired result it’s important that you put yourself in a position to be creative and sometimes this means shutting out the world, or simply telling your co-workers not to bother you for extended periods of time. The zen of logo creation is a very real component to effective logo development and something not to be dismissed or overlooked. So set aside some time to get your head right and develop an environment where a wandering mind is a critical component to focused work.

The ultimate logo manifesto (part 5)

Part 5: Iconography & Elements

But when you think of a logo, it’s usually an image that pops into mind; a graphic element that is associated with a company. Here’s a little exercise to illustrate my point. Below are six images, sans any descriptive wording. Can you correctly identify which companies below to which symbol?

Company Logos - Symbols only

Okay, so I didn’t say it was a hard exercise, but it does serve to emphasize my point that one of the most powerful components of a logo isn’t the name beneath the image, but rather the symbol itself. People are very visual creatures and the association of an image to a product is a very valuable tool in building and maintaining a strong brand identity.

(For reference, the correct answers of the above logos, from top left to bottom right, are: McDonald’s, Mercedes-Benz, Pepsi, Microsoft Windows, Nike and Cadillac)

As discussed before, the iconography or elements of a logo when first introduced are nothing more than a picture; a visual graphic. The image gains value when used consistently and is supported by both a quality product or service and a dedicated marketing/branding effort. The above images have been used for many years and supported through consistent advertising. The element have largely gone unchanged for years — even decades — and it is that consistency that encourages familiarity and builds a strong association to the company. Any revamp or alterations to a logo or brand must be done deliberately and for good reason as any changes means discarding all the value and brand recognition that has been accrued up to that point; it means requiring your customers to ‘forget’ what was and ask them to learn something new — an action that is very difficult and requires a great deal of faith on both the part of the company and the audience to undertake.

But what is involved with choosing or developing that image in the first place?

When you create a logo, you have an almost limitless array of options available. The important thing to keep in mind is that a logo is a unique symbol of a company, and as such it must look unique.

As discussed in Part 1 of the Great Logo Manifesto, the selection or development of any image comes as part of the research phase of logo creation. By the time you sit down to actually create the logo, you should have a pretty good idea of what image or images could be used to help complement and describe the nature of the business, service or product. You should have a good feel for the tone, the ideology and presence a company wants to convey.

Avoid clichés and repetitive elements

Repetitive elements are images like swooshes, stars and digital fades; nondescript and generic images that do little for setting the tone of a company or distinguishing a logo from any number of unrelated company. It seems that when anybody wants to make something look exciting, futuristic or technical they add one of the aforementioned elements. Be original people. Really dig deep and stretch the limits of your imagination. A logo doesn’t necessarily have to be a logical or literal interpretation of what a company does, produces or promotes. This all goes back to doing your research and letting your new-found knowledge of the company fuel your creative juices.

The generic ‘swoosh’ …

Example of a generic swoosh.

The ‘digital fade’ …

Digital fade

The generic ‘fade’ …

A generic fade element

Random ‘stars’ …

Random use of stars

Another thing to consider is using a repetitive regional element. For example, in Colorado Springs, the dominant regional element is Pikes Peak. Many companies and individuals want to tie the mountains into their logo. A good 80% of local business logos you see in Colorado Springs, and to a greater extent along Colorado’s Front Range have a mountain of some sort intertwined within the image.

Do you know how many ways there are to do mountains in a logo? Three. Yes, just three.

There’s the traditional snow capped triangle(s)…

Snowcapped peaks

A detailed and photo realistic image…

Realistic photo of Pikes Peak

An abstract illustration that looks like a caterpillar with a calcium deficiency…

Abstract representation of a mountain range.

This particular element is so overused and so prevalent in local logo design that any logo that uses a mountain ends up looking like a hundred or thousand other logos. It is increasingly hard to distinguish a logo for a tax attorney from that of a plumber.

I sure people in other parts of the world will easily identify with what I’m saying. People in New York are probably sick of seeing logos with the Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn Bridge or Empire State Building in them, just as people in Paris probably see their share of logos with the Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triumph.

The point being made here is that a company’s location is not nearly as significant as the service it performs. Keep your focus on what matters. Make an effort to be distinctive and develop a symbol that represents your business, not it’s location. If you have any ambitions to expand or grow a company beyond your current location, tying your logo in to a local landmark will ultimately create a situation where the reasons for choosing the image in the first place, actually works against your branding efforts as you expand outward. If you expand to New Mexico or Kansas, will the image of Pikes Peak help ingratiate yourself to customers in the new areas? Will it foster the sense of understanding, familiarity and homespun quality? No.

The only exception is if your business has something directly related to the landmark in question. For example, I wouldn’t fault a local visitor’s bureau from associating itself with a landmark, an organization dedicated to preserving a park, or a ski resort marketing itself to potential customers both in- and out-of-state. But if you sell widgets, you have to ask yourself what is more likely to draw in a customer? Is it an image of the widget or a picture of a mountain?

Be unique and be relevant to your business and avoid the pitfall of associating your company with an unrelated symbol that is likely to be used by a thousand less-talented, less imaginative business owners and graphic designers.

Avoid photography or detailed illustrations

As was discussed in Part 2 it is strongly recommended that any images used in a logo are vector-based and not raster-based. This means do not choose a photograph or complex illustration/drawing for your image. An example would be the photo-realistic image of a mountain shown earlier in this post. Logos incorporating a detailed photo or illustration are not as versatile as vector images that are more simplistic and use selective color.

An example is a true story from a radio station. They had a very attractive full color logo which looks great on print advertising and on their website. But the day came where they wanted to imprint their logo on candy jars to hand out to their customers for the holidays. What you see below is an example of how that beautiful illustrated logo translated when converted to the vector-based, one-color graphic.

Full color meets vector black and white

The importance of maintaining consistency across all reproductions is critical in building an effective logo brand image. As was discussed in Part 3, it is important to design logos in a pure line art form (solid values of black and white) first and then develop the color versions to ensure that the logo will maintain its integrity on all reproduction. What happened here is that the designer of this logo did not consider all possible applications of the logo when developing the concept. The result was that the client saw and bought the beautiful full color logo, but when it came time to apply it for a particular application (the candy jar), the logo did not maintain its integrity.

As a designer, you must anticipate the reproduction needs when constructing a logo, you cannot expect that the client will understand all the ramifications of their choice. The logo for the radio station, despite its pretty appearance in full color must ultimately be considered a ‘lemon’ as it hurt the client’s brand because it was unable to translate across all mediums. Ultimately the station had to re-brand itself at additional cost and the company producing the candy jars had to eat the cost on the order, even though they had nothing to do with the initial logo design nor it’s conversion to the black and white vector format.

Using fonts as the logo icon

A logo does not require an image to make the logo effective; it can be a text-only logo. In this case the treatment of the text become the icon. As discussed in Part 4 the choice and application of a particular font or typeface can have a profound impact on the effectiveness of a logo.

A perfect example of a text-only logo used as an icon is Federal Express.

FedEx logo as an icon

While the FedEx logo is very simple, it does contain a hidden icon. The tight kerning of the individual characters has created a ‘hidden’ arrow between the E and the X. Given the nature of the service that FedEx provides (the transport and delivery of packages), the arrow implies a sense of motion and progress without being a dominant element of the logo.

Just as a means of comparison, assume that the designer of the FedEx logo had chosen a serif font, instead of the sans serif typeface used. The image below explores that idea, and even though the font size is the same, the colors are the same, and the bold nature of the font is the same, the impact of the font itself is significantly different than the original logo.

The use of text as a means of creating an identifiable and iconic logo proves that an image is not necessarily required to build an effective and memorable brand. What is required is some forethought and planning to ensure that the font creates an indelible and impactful image that supports the intent and messaging of the brand.

There are many factors involved in choosing the right image to represent a company. There is the messaging component that helps provide — without words — the intent, application or purpose of the company or product. There is the avoidance of cliché ideas or overused design concepts to create a unique a powerful symbol that does not become too similar to the icon used by another company. You have to choose the right type of image to ensure the versatility and reproduction of the logo across any possible application. Font selection can make a big impact in the development of a solid corporate image.

Finally, it is worth stating that any logo, no matter how beautifully designed is only as good as the support it receives through effective branding and marketing efforts, including the consistent application of the logo in all its forms.

The ultimate logo manifesto (part 4)

Part 4: Font Usage

Proper font usage is another important consideration when building a logo. There is no right or wrong font for any particular logo. There is no logo god that will come down from the heavens and smite you if you choose the wrong font. But there are some considerations to take into account.

There are three primary classifications of fonts: Serif, sans serif and script. See the image below for the visual samples and descriptions:

Script fonts
Reasons to use:

Typically, script fonts are used to convey elegance or sophistication. They are often very detailed and attractive, and provide a sense of upper-class, femininity or charm.

Reason NOT to use:

The very thing that makes script fonts attractive for use in logos is usually the biggest reason to avoid them, that reason being the intricate and fine line detail. The problem with script fonts in logos is that the fine lines and details have a tendency to disappear when the logo is reproduced at smaller sizes. The other issue is that even at larger sizes (signage and display materials for example) the fonts typically won’t have enough thickness to be easily read from a distance. The connected nature of the individual characters and many looping ascenders and decenders reduce the legibility of the word.

Ways to overcome these issues:

If your logo calls for a script font, choose carefully or modify the font so as to make it easier to read. Thicken the paths, add a stroke or use the bold font style if available. Never do a script font in all caps (this applies to everything, not just logos). It is an ugly effect and very difficult for the human eye to read – especially when you have but a moment to capture the reader’s attention. If it looks jumbled or messy, the reader will just move on to something more appealing.

Serif fonts –
Reasons to use:

Serif fonts offer a more versatility than script fonts. They can be elegant or reserved, playful or professional. I prefer serif fonts for logos for their versatility. As mentioned earlier, studies have shown that serif fonts are the easiest for the human eye to distinguish, and when space or legibility are premiums, you want a font that makes it easier to be seen.

Reasons not to use:

There aren’t many reasons not to use a serif font. You still have to be very mindful of reproduction issues. Some serif fonts have very fine lines, particularly in the “feet”. At smaller sizes, the serifs may disappear or blur into other characters, which reduces legibility.

Ways to overcome these issues:

Planning is the key here to avoid any reproduction problems. Shrink the font, blow it up, and look at it from across the room to check that it is still legible from varying distances. I typically design most of my logos to be effective down to 1 inch in size (width or height, depending upon the logo). There may be situations that call for smaller than 1 inch, but for most applications like print advertising, letterhead, business cards and promotional products, the 1 inch size is a good rule to follow.

Sans Serif fonts –
Reasons to use:

Sans Serif fonts are often a safe bet for logos. They are usually crisp, clean and offer straight even lines. Fonts like Helvetica, Impact, Gill Sans and Frutiger will generally reproduce well at all sizes. Sans Serif fonts can lend themselves to a wide array of uses ranging from industrial to high-fashion. They can be very bold and commanding, or very thin and elegant.

Reasons not to use:

The thing about sans serif fonts is that they are not often as visually expressive as serif or script fonts. At first glance, sans serif fonts may be dismissed as being too plain or uninspiring.

Ways to overcome these issues:

With sans serif fonts, you have to cheat a bit to get them to show their inner character. An easy way would be to kern/track them out and increase the spacing between the letters. You can also play with case. Capitalize everything but leave only a particular letter as lowercase. Decrease or increase the horizontal scaling to make the font thinner or wider than it was intended to be. Just make sure that it isn’t too bold or too thin so to ensure that the ink doesn’t bleed together and create a huge blob instead of text, or so thin that enough ink doesn’t stick to the page.

Font choice:

Beyond deciding whether a script, serif or sans serif font is the right style of font for your logo, another consideration is the actual font you select. There are fonts that are extremely overused. Fonts like Zapf Chancery, Brush Script, Comic Sans, University and Lucida Calligraphy usually come standard on most computers and/or are installed with common programs like Microsoft Word. Everybody has access to them and they tend to find their way into an excessive array of projects — especially logos. The result is overuse. Be original. Be unique. Make your choice of font one of logic and design, not of convenience.

To sum everything up, fonts can have a substantial impact on the effectiveness of your logo design. There is no font that is 100% suitable for any situation (though it’s a good idea to avoid the fonts shown above to maintain a distinctive logo). Any font can help set the tone and convey a desired message or theme. It is important to be selective and choose carefully; customize the font when needed and design for impact and reproduction.

The ultimate logo manifesto (part 3)

Part 3: Use of Color

One of the biggest mistakes many professional and ‘weekend’ graphic designers make when creating a logo is their use or choice of color. It’s easy to get enamored with the idea of creating a bright, full-color logo that is just destined to jump off the page, make your clients fall in love with you and cure cancer … all in one fell swoop. But if you do that, odds are that you’d be setting yourself up for failure. Here’s why…

Start with lineart.

So what is lineart? When I ask customers to provide me with a lineart logo, what I get is a mix of puzzled expressions and a flurry of emails with attached graphics and messages like: ‘Is this one lineart?”

To put it simply, lineart is black ink on white paper. No halftones, no drop shadows, beveling, embossing or tints of color. Check out the image below for an example of what a lineart logo looks like compared to a grayscale logo.

When you compare the two images, you’ll notice the differences between the two immediately. Yes, both use just the black color to define shape, but the lineart version lacks all the subtle tints and shades of black. With a lineart image, it’s all or nothing.

The reason you start with a lineart version of the logo is because you need to make sure the logo will function in its purest, most basic form. If you look at the lineart and grayscale logos, you may prefer the shading of the latter, but when you compare the visual elements contained within, the logos are essentially identical. The lineart version doesn’t rely on special effects, colors or shadows to define its shape. It’s bold. It’s simple. And it will reproduce anywhere.

So why is this important?

When you design a logo, two things are critical:  reproduction and versatility. The logo must be able to be legible at any size and you have to be able to be able to put it on anything. The simplest application of the need for a lineart logo comes from the promotional products industry.

Ever seen a pen with a company logo on it? Lineart.

A t-shirt with an embroidered logo? Lineart?

One of those foam can holders to keep your beer cold? Lineart.

The primary reasoning goes back to what I wrote about using a vector illustration program in Part 2. It’s about versatility. Engravers, coffee mug printers and sign makers need to work with solid images. Their craft just won’t allow for the use of halftones, so if you’ve spent hours creating a really pimped out logo with bevels and drop shadows you might find yourself frantically trying to reproduce the logo in a lineart version when the client asks that the logo be engraved on a crystal trophy, bronze plaque or applied to a coffee mug. So it’s best to design a logo from the ground up.

The lineart logo is the foundation of your branded house; your corporate castle. You can easily build upon it and add color later, but if you don’t have a solid base to fall back on your corporate branding strategy could crumble around you.

Adding color: Spot color

Once you have your solid lineart version of the logo, you can then build upon it by adding in color. When talking about color, you have two options: Spot and Process. We’ll cover spot color first.

Spot color refers to a single solid color made up of a single ink. A logo can have multiple spot colors. The benefit to spot color is that usually it allows for faithful and accurate reproduction of color. Most often when a designer refers to spot colors, he has the Pantone Color Matching System in mind (PMS). The Pantone system is an industry-standard way of naming colors so that one printer can reproduce the same color over and over again — even if the files came from a different source.

So why is this important?

Think of how people typically define color. They assign some sort of name to it … Navy Blue. Plum. Chartreuse. Canary Yellow. Problem is that no one sees color in the exact same way and no one classifies their colors by the name names. You might say Chartreuse and I might call the same color Lima Bean Green, but what you would classify as Lima Bean Green would be vastly different than my definition.

So what the Pantone system does is provide a printed book of set colors. These colors each have unique numbers. If you specify a number from one of these books, it eliminates the guesswork. So if you have you letterhead printed at one place, and your business cards printed at another and both files call upon the same PMS number, the reproduction from one place should match the results from the other. Your choice of paper stock (i.e. glossy versus uncoated) can affect the way the ink appears, but with the Pantone system you can account for those variances during your color selection process.

Keep in mind that a logo should have one or maybe two spot colors to it. The most common is a 2-color application; usually black plus one spot color. The image below is indicative of a 2-color logo. In this case Pantone 300 (blue) and black.

There’s no print limitation that says you can’t do more than two colors. What you will find is a financial limitation. The more spot colors you add, the more that logo is going to cost you to reproduce. Each color requires a separate ink well on the press. Most presses have 4-5 colors, with some specialty presses able to do more. Your local print shop likely has presses that max out at five colors. I say max out your spot color at two and then go process if you want the logo to have more colors, but we’ll get into process color in just a second.

I had a client that insisted that we put twelve different spot colors into his logo. He pulled out a Pantone book and marked all the colors that he said HAD to be in his logo. I tried to warn him about the cost. He wouldn’t listen. He wanted a good, consistent image and he wanted all the colors. I pointed out that we could process out the colors and save money, but that he could experience color shifts. He wanted to make sure that all the colors were identical across all media. So we printed his business cards, just 500 of them. He paid $2,000. That’s $4 per card. Hardly a cost effective approach. Still, he liked his cards and the price didn’t seem to matter. Okay, no big deal for me. I had a happy client and received a greater profit from the markup. His true awakening came when he wanted to get his logo embroidered on some golf shirts to shell out in his company store. Each time he embroidered logo on a shirt it cost him $35. The shirts themselves cost $40 each before the embroidery. So just to break even, he would have to charge $75 for each shirt. Who here would pay that much for a t-shirt?

Since a logo is part of a good consistent corporate image, you want to make sure that it always reproduces the same way. The use of spot color is a great way to ensure that.

Adding color: Process color

Process color is more commonly known as full color. Process color mixes four primary colors (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black [also known as CMYK]) to achieve a nearly-full spectrum of glorious color. Magazines, newspapers and brochures — anything with color photography — are printed using process color.

If you design a logo and you want more than a single spot color, you might want to create a process color logo rather than adding a second or third spot color. Typically it’s cheaper to make the jump from a 2-color job to a process color job, than it is to go from a 2-color to a 3-color job.

The caveats to process color is that unlike spot color, where the inks used are based off an industry standard, process color isn’t so predictable. Process color often only invites press, registration and color issues as each vendor may lay the ink down differently. Your logo may come out too light, too dark, be muddy or, as mentioned earlier, not have color that is true to your original design. It also has to be cost effective to reproduce. So if you want to add color, do it. But make sure that you do it responsibly and keep the number of colors in check.

You can see from the above example, that the logo has the full effect of process color working for it. There is tone and shading as well as depth and variation of color.

As I mentioned earlier, process color does come with some liabilities depending upon how the press is run. If the ink is run too thin, the image looks light or if it’s run too heavy, it looks too dark. Compare the full color images below with that of the “true” branded corporate colors above.

The other issue is problems with registration. Registration refers to the alignment of all the individual colors on the press. If one or more of the plates used to apply the color are off in the slightest, you’ll see some color shifts. The best place to see a color shift is in your daily newspaper which are typically plagued by registration problems given the speed and medium on which they print. An example of poor registration is shown below:

Notice how you see some shading of the cyan and magenta plates? It makes the logo look blurry and is harder to read, which ultimately lessens the impact of your logo.

I tell you all this so that you know what to look out for when printing. Most printers are very capable and take great care when reproducing your logo to ensure the best possible output, but the onus still falls on you for the reinforcement of your corporate brand; it’s your job to make sure that your color is faithfully reproduced from project to project. Work with your printer to set standards and expectations up front for what constitutes acceptable color.

Gradients
The use of gradients in logo design is a slippery slope and one that I tend to urge other designers to avoid. If used properly, they can add to the effect of spot and full-color logos, but more often they are used poorly as a substitute or a means to generate definition of a logo.

Properly used, as in the examples of the above Health Advocacy Partnership logos, they add some dimension to the depth and feel of the logo. If you have followed the steps so far regarding logo development and created a solid lineart version of your logo that stands alone, then you should feel free with experimenting and including gradients in your spot and process color logo version.

One of the places where designers go wrong with the use of gradient is to create a fade effect where a solid color fades to nothing. The intent is to create the appearance that a color starts solid and then fades to nothingness. Problem is that it actually fades to white.

As an example, take a look at the images below. The top image is a sample of a common fade gradient against white. It looks like it fades to nothing. But when that same image is placed on top of a color, the effect now stands out like a sore thumb and doesn’t produce the intended effect.

If the intent of designing a logo is to ensure a quality reproduction in every situation, then the use of a gradient in this instance works against that goal. Keep in mind that a gradient is not achievable in a lineart environment, so any logo designed to use a gradient will not effectively reproduce in pure black and white.

Another issue to watch out for with the use of gradients in called banding. This results from a limitation in the output capabilities of the printer or device used to produce the final project. Banding happens when the printer cannot reproduce the smooth, stepped gradient desired. The image below shows an example of a banding effect.

Color choice
Many a business will obsess over which color or colors to use in its logo. In many cases, color choice is nothing more than a preference and it’s not necessary to read too much into your choice. The important thing is to ensure that whatever color or colors you choose complement each other and create an attractive visual presentation.

You can get into color psychology and choose colors based on the feeling and emotions you wish to convey. Warm colors such as red and orange are good for creating a sense of “action” where as blues and greens instill a calming or soothing effect. If you have a particular sense of how you want people to feel about the colors in your logo, then pursue a palette that complements your intent.

It is important, however, to not pay too much attention current trends in terms of color. Trends come and go, and you’re building a logo that needs to be timeless and works in all situations both now and in the future. Concentrate on choosing a color palette that suits your company’s needs and not one that become enslaved to a current fashion.

In today’s marketing environment, colors tend to be primary-based; bright and vibrant yet still respectable. Look at the Google logo for example. Primary colors tend to be timeless and hold up well over time. Earth tones, though a bit overused in the late 90′s still hold up in today’s market and will likely hold up for the foreseeable future.

Pastels and fluorescent colors however, are examples of fleeting trends that quickly rise and fall out of favor — I would suggest avoiding these colors when determining your brand’s scheme. Pastels are not strong colors and are difficult to achieve in process environment. They also tend to instill a sense of apathy so it’s best not to use them for any situation where you want an impact to be created. Fluorescents, while eye-catching cannot be reliably reproduced in most color environments without the use of specific Pantone colors, and their bright nature — while good for attracting attention — is difficult for the human eye to tolerate for extended periods.

There are many different philosophies with regards to the use of color in logo design. The important thing is to remember the basics for building a design that will work in any situation, and that means starting with a lineart version. That’s your foundation. You can build from there and add to the logo, but you can rest assured that if your logo works in pure black and white, it will work anywhere.

The ultimate logo manifesto (part 2)

Part 2: The Basics of Logo Design

PROGRAMS
An overlooked, yet critical component of good design is the program in which you choose to build your logo. The choice you make will greatly determine the level of editability and reproduction.

To achieve the maximum level of versatility (in terms of size, reproduction and format conversion) it is very important to design your logo in a vector design program like Adobe Illustrator (the industry standard) or CorelDraw (my personal favorite). For Illustrator you can expect to pay around $600, or $1,800 when purchased as part of the excellent Adobe Design Premium Creative Suite (includes Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Flash, Dreamweaver and Acrobat). CorelDraw is slightly cheaper at $500, but every bit as capable as Illustrator.

The difference between the two I’ve found lies more in the interface. I tend to prefer CorelDraw because it’s more intuitive for people like me with an illustration background. Illustrator’s interface follows similar to the other Adobe programs, so its strength is in its familiarity — if you know one program like Photoshop or InDesign, the transition to Illustrator requires a relatively small learning curve. Both have robust feature sets and can import/export virtually any file format (with a slight edge going to CorelDraw, which also comes packaged with a healthy set of fonts, clip-art and stock photography).

Choosing the right program is of paramount importance when beginning any project. A vector program when doing logo design is akin to using an image editor to touch up a photo, or a layout program to design an ad. Sure, one can use an image editing program like Photoshop to design a logo or create an ad layout, but it really isn’t what the software is designed to do, and as a result, you will encounter limitations.

So why would one use a vector illustration program instead of an image editor or layout program when designing a logo? One word: versatility.

An illustration program uses a series of mathematical points and lines to create images. This gives the logo the ability to be scaled to any size without any loss of image quality. Additionally, an Illustration program offers the ease of simplicity when converting to any other graphics file format. For example, a native Illustrator file can be exported or saved to TIFF, JPEG, PSD, EPS, GIF, PNG, SVG, BMP or PDF file formats. It’s easy to go from vector to raster, but in many cases it’s very difficult to go from raster to vector. Illustrator (using LiveTrace) and CorelDraw ( Power Trace) have built-in functionality and do a decent job in converting simple raster images to vector file, but struggle in maintaining realism with more photorealistic images. Vector files usually also result in smaller file sizes when compared to their raster counterparts, which serves as an added benefit when storing or emailing files. Since vector images also use mathematical points do define the image, output to printing devices will yield sharper images at all sizes than identical raster images.

Image editors, like Adobe Photoshop or Corel PaintShop Pro uses pixels to define an image. The plus side to this is that a greater range of photorealism is achievable and a variety of specialty effects can be applied. The problem to using an image editor in logo design is three-fold:

  1. The first problem is that photorealism and special effects actually work against good logo design (as will be discussed a little later).
  2. Secondly, since an image-editing program depends on pixels, not mathematical points, it cannot be scaled without loss of quality. One can shrink the logo to a fair degree and still maintain image quality, but the logo cannot be scaled upwards without losing integrity. Doing so can result in image blurriness or pixilation (both of which are not desirable). Since one would need to create a logo that would be the most versatile, that logo would need to be initially created with such size and resolution that the mere file size would likely prohibit effective utilization on most computers and applications.
  3. Raster images aren’t easily converted to vector-based formats. This limits the logo to formats like TIFF, JPEG, PSD, BMP, PNG, GIF and PDF formats. These formats will work for most print applications (newspapers, magazines, posters, websites, etc.), but not so well for things like vinyl signs, embossing/engraving or promotional products, where the vendors work almost exclusively with vector images.

Though it doesn’t happen very often, some choose to use a layout program like as the primary means of logo creation. This just adds difficulty to an already challenging undertaking. Where TIFF, EPS, PDF, JPEG, PNG and BMP files will pretty much work in any layout application, files designed in Quark, PageMaker, In Design or (gasp) any of the Microsoft products (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Publisher) are pretty much only good in the program that created it and generally not as versatile. One has to jump through hoops in order to get a layout program-based logo into formats that can be utilized by other programs. Of all the layout programs, InDesign is probably the layout program best suited toward logo creation because it has some of the basic illustration tools available in Illustrator and has the most file format export options. Quark Xpress and the discontinued PageMaker do offer an export to EPS option, but experience has shown me that to be a somewhat unpredictable experience. One really has to know a great deal about all the individual program capabilities in order to get a layout program to export its creation to a format that can be utilized by other programs. Sometimes the only way is via a screen capture, scanning a printout or printing to a PDF file, which adds just another unnecessary step to an already time consuming process.

The bottom line is that for any project, one should choose the right tool for the right job. For logo design, that tool is a vector illustration program.

LOGO ORIENTATION

It’s been my experience with logo design that the best logos are typically those that are square(ish) in nature. There have been many good horizontal- or vertical-oriented logos, but the best and most versatile logos are square in nature.

Now, don’t take this too literally. I don’t necessarily mean that a logo has to be a square. Quite the contrary, it can be whatever shape you need it to be, a circle, an oval, a rectangle, and a diamond whatever. What I mean is that when you measure the logo end to end, it is roughly the same size as it is when measured from top to bottom.

The reason for this is pretty simple. When a logo is designed, you need to design it for any possible application and space. For example, if a company does a lot of corporate sponsorships, its logo might be placed at the bottom of a print ad alongside other sponsor logos. If the logo was designed as a horizontal format and is placed in a vertical ad, the logo might be reduced to such a small size (if there are a number of sponsors) that it isn’t as legible. This is because the overall size of the logo is limited by the amount of available width in a particular layout. If there isn’t sufficient width available, the logo never achieves enough height to be legible.

The same is also true for vertically oriented logos. To be legible, a vertically oriented logo is dependent upon having enough height to make up for the lack of width. If an area is too small, a vertical logo can suffer the same fate as a horizontal logo.

The squarer is in its design, the less space it needs to be legible. It can fit in any area, and do so without sacrificing either height or width. It’s a little trick really For example, if you take the same instance of a corporate sponsorship as given earlier, a square logo can actually become more visible, more legible in less space than either a vertical or horizontal logo.

Look at the three examples below. Specifically the “Cheerleaders, Inc.” logo which I developed specifically for this example. I created the logo in three different orientations:  square, horizontal and vertical. In this situation, assume that we’re looking at the logo as part of a sponsor strip like one typically found on the bottom of event posters. Also assume that each logo only has a fixed space available to it (which does happen). The other logos in the example are fixed position. See which orientation of the Cheerleaders, Inc. logo makes best use of the available space and is most legible (the dotted lines represent maximum vertical space in a horizontal sponsor strip).

Which one represents the Cheerleader, Inc. logo best? The square version easily competes with the McDonald’s, Coca-Cola and Thrifty logos. The horizontal version gets lost as it doesn’t have the necessary width to achieve the height needed to achieve impact. The vertical version does an OK job, but it isn’t as legible as the square and still seems diminutive when compared to the other logos.

Next look at a vertical sponsor strip. Same conditions apply. There is a fixed maximum width and height for each logo.

In the vertical format, the square logo still does the best job at displaying the brand. The horizontal logo still gets lost and even the Thrifty logo, which is also a relatively horizontal format starts to suffer from the size constraints. The vertical logo does a better job than it did in the horizontal sponsor strip, but it still isn’t as strong as the square logo.

As the above images show the more square a logo is, the better it is able to compete in all situations. Many businesses and establishments only consider the use of their logo design to the extent of how it will appear on their business cards, letterhead, envelopes and building signage. Such an approach is a shortsighted one and is one that can be avoided at the initial concept stage. More on this in upcoming sections of the Great Logo Manifesto.

The ultimate logo manifesto (part 1)

Part 1: Preparation

Before you even do so much as a thumbnail, you need to do your research. Examine the intent of the logo, the company, its product or purpose in as much detail as possible. Talk to members of the company’s marketing department or ownership if possible. Listen carefully to what they say about their company (and HOW they say it). Get a feel for the excitement they have towards their product or service and adopt it. Immerse yourself in the intricacies of the business. Don’t just know what they do; UNDERSTAND what they do. Ask whatever questions you deem important to help you comprehend the public identity they wish to convey through their logo (and subsequent print materials, i.e. corporate identity items like business cards, letterhead and envelopes). Believe me, it will help in the long run when it comes time to actually sit down and design the logo.

Research the name of the company. Usually it means something, whether it is a person’s name or a word pulled out from a dictionary usually that word or name was chosen for a reason. Find out why it was chosen, what it means and where it came from. Research the logos of the competitors. See what they’ve done. See if their logos hit the mark or miss the point. Teach yourself to learn from their wisdom or their mistakes. You can find a lot of inspiration and direction with a little dedication and willingness to put some time in on research. It doesn’t matter if the company is a brand new startup, or has been around for 100 years. Either way, there’s no way you can know a company better than those who run it, so take the time to learn what you need to learn in order to understand the task at hand.

Once you’ve done your research and have a good idea of the message the logo needs to convey, you’re ready to sit down and start your thumbnails. Do at least 50 thumbnails; more if necessary and sort out the different variations and design elements you have in your head. It will help you in the long run to identify the attributes and designs that you will use when building your logo. It’s a good idea to show a client several different logo options. I will usually show no fewer than ten distinctly different designs to a client. From that initial presentation, the client may choose a logo out right. He may ask for some revisions … or he may ask to see a whole new set of logos. Either way, you should have enough information from that first presentation to hone your approach and better define your strategies for the particular logo.

The research portion of logo development is not only critical, but it is often the most time-consuming aspect of the logo development process. If you question the cost of the logo development process, consider how many hours go into the research phase alone. It is not uncommon to spend several dozen hours engaged in researching the company and its competitors. Is it time well spent? Absolutely. If you don’t understand the business, its goals, its mission or its completion, how can you expect to develop a logo that adequately conveys or contributes to the brand identity?

In short, do your homework.

The ultimate logo manifesto (intro)

As I am sure you’ve noticed, I spend a great deal of time discussing the importance of branding, and how the consistency and quality of a company’s branding efforts can go a long way toward name recognition and delivering a sustained marketing presence. One of the easiest and most important elements to any branding effort is the development of a company’s logo.

A good logo must do the following things:

  1. Serve as a recognizable symbol for a service, company, organization or product
  2. Convey that entity’s image, message or process in less than a second
  3. Must be instantly recognizable – it should be unique and stand apart from competitor logos
  4. Must be memorable and familiar – it should feel as if you’ve seen the logo a thousand times, even if it’s the first time you’ve actually looked at it.
  5. Must be versatile – it must work on any format and in any space or color required for any project that may arise

It is very easy to create a bad logo. Just look around, bad logo design is everywhere. It’s on the side of plumbing trucks; on billboards; on bus benches; on restaurant menus; in print ads; on TV commercials … they’re everywhere. And even though they’re all around you, how many do you really remember; how many made you stand up and take notice? If you saw the logo again, would you remember it? Would you associate that logo with a quality service? Would it make you want to call upon that company or organization?

A logo is an organization’s public identity. It does so much more than just serve as an image that states a company’s name. If a logo looks cheap or ill-conceived, I guarantee you that it will reflect poorly on that company’s public image. It doesn’t really matter how good the product is or how well a service is performed, if a company’s primary means of branding and corporate identity looks like a cheap afterthought, the message sent to the public WILL BE tainted and the impression of the company will suffer.

Think about all the good logos you’ve seen. You think of iconic symbols like the Nike Swoosh, the Golden Arches of McDonalds and the prestigious Mercedes emblem. These are just three logos picked at random, yet instantly identifiable in your mind’s eye. If I were to mention Apple, Coca-Cola and Starter I’m sure their respective logos just popped into your head. You think of these logos and you think of quality; you think of reputation.

Sure there’s a lot of money behind these logos. There is a lot of history and tradition that accompanies these corporate symbols. But you need to remember that these logos once started out with no huge amounts of financial backing or tradition. At one point they were new designs fresh off some artist’s drafting table or sketchpad. And though the years have passed, these logos have remained virtually unchanged and true to their original form. Why do you think that is?

There could be many reasons, not all of which are related to good logo design and theory. There have been many good logo logos designed throughout the years that have symbolized failed companies and ideas (think about the dot.com boom and bust from the early 2000’s). It’s true that a good logo won’t single-handedly make a company successful. It also won’t be the reason for an organization’s downfall. But a good logo is an important piece to a company’s public face, and in a world where perception is often more powerful than fact, it’s important to make to make sure that your outward appearance is doing all it can to convey quality, integrity, reliability and reinforce your business’ message.

There are a lot of considerations involved with the development of a logo. One of the things I am accustomed to hearing from small business customers is an objection to the cost of logo development. Spending $1,000 on a logo is a shocking expense and usually results in a response like “I could pay my neighbor’s kid $50 to design me a logo, why would I pay you $1,000?” And yes, you could pay $50 for a logo design – there will always be someone out there who can do a job on the cheap – but are you getting a better logo, or are you just saving money? What will that $50 say about your company? Will it say that you are interested in delivering a quality product? Will it impart respect? Will it instill trust and a sense of professionalism?

Or will it say that you are looking to save a buck wherever you can?

Cost is a factor that you, as a designer or you as a business owner, will need to view as a necessary expense toward the development of an effective symbol designed on a custom level to represent the business. The reality is that companies routinely shell out many thousands of dollars to develop a logo. It is not uncommon for larger companies to shell out four, five or even six figures to develop a corporate mark. That just goes to show how important a logo is to a brand. It doesn’t mean that a small business owner has to shell out five-plus figures for a logo, but it should consider a logo an investment in its continued success. How much do you think the Nike brand is worth? How integral is the ‘Swoosh’ to the identity of the company. If Nike switched to a different logo tomorrow, what do you think the damage would be to its identity? It’d be substantial. No matter what Nike originally paid for the design, the value of that logo has increased far beyond the initial investment.