Designing a logo from scratch can seem like a daunting task. In this article I’ll walk you through the process of creating memorable, unique and distinctive logos that exceed your clients' expectations.
From what you need to think about before you even begin drafting ideas to how to integrate market research into your design process and how to refine your final logo design, I’ll take you through the whole process from A to Z.
Using this handy logo design checklist, you’ll always feel ready to tackle a branding project head-on, and produce results that fit the bill every time.
1. Before You Hit the Drawing Board...
Remember: A Logo Isn’t Just Any Ol’ Graphic
A logo brings together the ethos, legacy, ambition and values of an organization, and gives it visual expression.
You want your logo design to reflect the company faithfully. Keep in mind that the latest trends in logo design might not be suitable if the design doesn’t add anything significant to how the company is perceived by a consumer.
Get to Know Your Client
Learn everything about the company before you begin designing.
A questionnaire can be a helpful place to start—pose questions about the managers’ and employees’ impressions of the company, and try to extract the essence of what it is like to work for and buy from that company. You’ll find that the client is more likely to see you as trustworthy as a result, and be much more likely to get on board with your ideas.
Once you have the completed questionnaires, you can put together a design brief for the logo project, which you can have to hand while you brainstorm ideas.
Do Your Research
Look at the logos of companies in similar industries, and your client’s competitors—do they share any traits in common*? It’s good to get a broad overview of the industry, to help channel your creativity down the right track.
* A word of caution—avoid reinventing elements of other logos just to make something look slightly different, and it goes without saying that you should never copy somebody else’s logo. Your research should inform your creative process, but treat it as background research, not direct inspiration for your own designs.
2. Start Brainstorming!
Arm Yourself With a Pencil and Sketchpad
This is not the time to be staring vacant and drooling at a computer screen—your creativity will be at its most fluid when you work with old-fashioned methods.
Pull out some big sheets of paper and seek out a calm, quiet spot where you won’t be disturbed. Give yourself a couple of hours to let your ideas flow. When you start to get tired or frustrated with a particular idea, step away from the paper and step outside for a break. You’ll come back feeling more refreshed and with your creative juices ready to flow again.
Explore Lots and Lots and Lots of Ideas
Dedicate a fresh sheet of paper to exploring one design concept. Fill up each sheet with tons of rough sketches and written words that will help prompt you later on.
When you’ve filled up the page, move it out of the way and start with a completely new concept on a fresh sheet. Even if you loved the first idea you came up with, force yourself to consider the brief from a completely different angle. Aim for the opposite of the idea before—for example, if your first idea was more illustrative, draft some ideas for a typographic logo instead.
Aim for Symbolism and Distinctiveness
Every great logo will have both of these qualities. If you’re drafting ideas for an illustrative or abstract logo style, think about how that logo can behave like a sort of pictogram. Can you connect a visual symbol to the services offered by the company?
Take inspiration from some of the best symbolic logos, like the Tour de France design (spot the cyclist!)...
... or the tech-inspired cleverness of the Sony VAIO logo.
You also want to make sure that your logo designs are distinctive—that is, they are both memorable and unique.
Successful logos are instantly recognizable. If someone tells you to think of McDonald's, you can picture the logo in your mind right away. That cheerful yellow ‘M’ is lodged in the brains of millions of consumers. It’s hugely memorable and it doesn’t look quite like any other logo out there—it’s utterly distinctive.
For more symbolic logo inspiration, take a look at this round-up of some of the weird and wonderful logos that have turned out be successful branding examples:
The McDonald’s logo is successful for another reason—because it’s also incredibly simple...
Repeat This Mantra: Simple Is Best
Fussy photos or complex illustrations simply don’t work for logos. When scaled to small size they become unclear, and they lack the symbolic punch of a simple graphic- or type-based logo.
When drafting your logo ideas, aim to keep the designs minimal, simple and fuss-free. Remember that awesome logos owe more to great ideas than great artists.
Let's take an example. Say you’re designing a logo for a coffee company. Rather than drafting a complex sketch of a coffee cup, try focussing on the simpler elements that make up that coffee cup. How about the swirl of cream in the cup, or the curved stem of the handle? These are simple elements that could interact well with the company’s name, and help to achieve that desirable pictogram style.
Note That Symbols Aren’t Always Suitable
For big companies that have a wide consumer audience and a national or international circulation, symbolic or ‘abstract’ logos can work really well. But they often need to be supported with ad campaigns and marketing exposure.
Sometimes, a simple type logo will meet the brief more successfully than an abstract design. Typographic logos may not be reinventing the wheel, but they can be just the ticket for local companies or sole traders.
Designing for a law firm, for example? Setting the firm’s name in a serious serif typeface will communicate a sense of trustworthiness and credibility, without the need for a supporting image. Setting the name of a bakery in a jaunty script will give consumers the immediate impression of a friendly, community-facing local brand.
Learn how to use typography effectively in your logo designs with this tutorial:
3. Refine Your Ideas
Take a Time-Out
Once you’ve done your brainstorming, set aside your sketches and have a breather. If you can afford the time, only come back to your sketches the next day. You’ll be able to see your work with a clearer mind; after a break, it’s often immediately apparent what works and what doesn’t.
Commit Your Ideas to the Computer
Choose your strongest sketch from each page of ideas, and refine it further. Create more sketches by hand before you scan the designs into your computer. At this initial stage, use the software that you feel most comfortable with using to create refined versions of your sketches, whether that’s Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop or CorelDRAW, among others. You can vectorize the final logo at a later stage.
At this stage, you don’t want to be spending huge amounts of time on perfecting your logo designs; after all, the client will only choose a few to proceed with. Now is the time to experiment with easily changeable elements like color. Ensure your designs work just as well in black-and-white (silhouetted), grayscale and full-color. If your designs work equally well in all three colorways, you’ve got a design that’s going to be ultra-flexible and easy to work with.
Present Your Ideas in a Clean, Uncluttered Proposal Document
Aim to refine five to eight ideas that have variation between them. Don’t simply rehash the same idea into five separate logo proposals—if the client doesn’t like it, that’s five wasted logos. But also don’t be tempted to include second-rate designs, or designs that you personally don’t like—there’s always a risk that this will be the logo the client chooses.
Create a PDF proposal document, and give a whole page to each design. Don't be tempted to crowd designs together on the same page; they will be too distracting for the reader.
If you want to subtly support a favorite design, place it at the front of the proposal. The image will stick in the client’s mind as they read through the rest of the proposal. Have two favorite designs? Place your other preferred logo at the end of the proposal—images seen on the final page will leave a lasting impression on the reader.
Arrange a meeting with the client so you can discuss, face-to-face, the ideas behind each design. This also gives you first-hand knowledge of how the client reacts to each design, which can be helpful if you need to defend a particular design, or suggest refinements to a design that you like but they are less keen on.
4. Get Accurate Feedback and Use It
Be Prepared for Disappointment... But Make Critique Constructive
The client is paying you to produce a good logo design, but that doesn’t mean they need to listen to all your advice. If they simply don’t like a design that you’re pushing for, don’t feel downcast. This is just a necessary part of the design process, and it may actually lead to focussing on a design that turns out to be a better reflection of their company identity.
On the other hand, if you feel strongly that a particular design is perfect for the company and the client is not seeing eye-to-eye, be prepared to confidently but politely fight your corner.
After all, you are the designer, and a client lacking an eye for design might need a bit of guidance. Explain your thinking behind the design, and justify it. Explain how the logo would present the company in a fresh light and reach a wider consumer market.
Are there minor elements about the design that are off-putting to the client? Will a subtle change of color or type style make them change their mind? Don’t clam up and feel gutted if they don’t like a design from the outset; instead, offer constructive solutions to negative critique.
Your final logo design will ultimately benefit from discussions like this and will be an accurate reflection of both your design skills and the client’s instinctive knowledge of their own company.
Get the Opinion of Many
It’s not just the CEO, managers or employees of the company who need to have an opinion about your logo before you finalize it. A logo design will be judged a success or failure by the target consumer, so make market research a key part of your refinement process.
Work with the client to narrow down your designs to a few options, perhaps just three, in a range of subtly different colors and typefaces (if used), and present these to a sample of potential consumers. If the company has a dedicated market research team, make use of it!
Try to gauge the emotional response of the test sample to your logos—how do they feel about each design? Does it seem exciting or dull? Does it inspire trust or suspicion? Does the logo make the company look luxurious or budget-friendly? Is it immediately clear what industry the company is in, and what services they are likely to provide? If you adjust some design elements like color or typeface, is the response from the sample radically different?
Avoid Family and Friends
Not in your daily life, of course, but in simply showing them your logo designs at this stage. Individuals who have emotional investment in you are less likely to be completely honest in their critique to spare your feelings.
Your mum might be so bursting with pride that she’d even say that Yahoo's logo is amazing (when it clearly is not).
It may be tempting to share your work with people you love, but try to keep it between you and the client for now.
Come to an Informed Decision
Based on both the client feedback and the feedback of the market sample, you should now be in a position to decide which logo design you’re going to refine further and develop into the final logo.
Yes, you are the designer, but it’s the client who will ultimately have the final say (they’re paying you after all!). Your market research should lend support to the right decision and help to narrow down to one logo design.
5. Perfect Your Design
Your logo needs to be scalable, and elements like color need to be easily editable by the client’s in-house design or marketing team. You should make sure your final logo design is in a vector format (.EPS or .AI), and you should use vector drawing software like Adobe Illustrator or CorelDRAW to achieve this.
You can use your original design as a template for creating the final vector logo. Place the original design on a locked layer in the program and build your vector on top of this, using the image as a tracing aid. Although it’s not ideal, if you’re lacking in confidence with vector software, there are ways of ‘cheating’—try out the Image Trace window (Window > Image Trace) in Adobe Illustrator. The result might not look quite as fluid and natural, but it’s not bad at all.
For more in-depth advice about which software to use for designing your logo, take a look at this article:
Discover how Roberlan Borges vectorized the logo for our in-house Design and Illustration team, 'Team Awesome':
- Logo DesignTeam Awesome: From Hand-Lettered Logotype to Vector in Adobe IllustratorRoberlan Borges
Incorporate the Company’s Branding
If the company has an existing brand, don’t dismiss it—try to adapt the logo to work seamlessly alongside the other brand elements, such as brand colors and fonts.
On the other hand, a new logo might be an opportunity to give the company’s whole brand identity a makeover. A client on a tight budget might be looking to avoid this, but others might be open to the idea.
Either way, your logo is an integral part of the company’s brand identity, so you need to either adapt to an existing brand or propose a new one is created, using your logo design as a starting point.
Polish, Polish, Polish
The devil’s always in the details, and with logo design this is certainly the case. Perfection doesn’t come easy, but continuing to refine your design until it's the best it’s going to be is the only way to make sure your logo will stand the test of time.
Look at making subtle tweaks to the logo, and create multiple versions of the same design. Tiny changes to color, typeface, and even kerning (see Google’s 2014 logo redesign) can transform your design for the better and make it absolutely perfect.
Expand Your Design
If you want your logo to be used successfully by the client, you should provide them with multiple versions of the same design that can be used for different purposes.
Expand your finalized logo design into a horizontal format, which will work for letterheads and web banners...
... plus a vertical or square format for business cards and promo items...
... and finally see if you can transform your logo into a very simple icon, which will be perfect for favicons and social media.
The more flexibility and versatility that you give your logo design, the more likely it is to become indispensable to the company. They will be less likely to seek out a rebrand after a short time... which leads us to the sticky issue of rebranding, but it needn’t be a disappointing prospect...
6. Your Logo Design Checklist
Designing a logo can seem like a daunting task, but don’t panic! Follow this fail-safe checklist every time you tackle a new logo project, and see your designs come to life...
- Get to know your client and research their industry and competitors before drafting ideas.
- Brainstorm ideas with pencil and paper, and develop one unique idea per sheet.
- Aim for symbolism, distinctiveness and simplicity in your preliminary designs.
- Avoid abstract logos for local or small-scale businesses.
- Refine your ideas on the computer, using software that you feel comfortable with.
- Present a proposal document with your initial ideas to the client for feedback.
- Encourage constructive critique and test your ideas on a market sample.
- Vectorize your final design to make it scalable.
- Incorporate the company’s existing brand identity into the final design, if they have one.
- Polish the logo, making subtle tweaks until you are happy with the final look.
- Expand your design into a set of flexible, multi-use logos and icons and hand these over to the client.
- Don’t be afraid to rebrand if the logo dates or doesn’t meet original expectations.
Explore logo design in more depth with our selection of helpful tutorials: