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How to Design a Logo When You’re Short on Time!

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Read Time: 18 min

Being tasked with designing a logo or complete brand identity for a client is a dream job for any designer. However, the reality can be that you’re really pushed for time, with the client wanting ideas within a few days or, if you’re short on luck, within the day.

While this may seem an appropriate time to push the panic button, you shouldn’t let time restrictions dampen your creativity. This guide is based on my approach to a client project which I had to turn around within 24 hours. Some methods worked well, and others I now wish I’d done differently. Here I’ll share with you what I believe to be a sure-fire seven-step method for approaching short-turnaround brand design projects.

So take a deep breath, relax, and let me walk you through the most time-efficient way of approaching that challenging design job.

We'll take a look at how balancing your own creative output with outsourcing help will help you make logos that will really impress.

Make a Schedule for the Day

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You’ve picked up the phone to a panicking client wanting a polished brand identity within the day. Time to panic, right? Before you pass out or burst into tears, you need to take a moment to put your time management skills into practice. 

Remember back in school when you had a limited amount of time to revise for an exam? The best way to approach revision was by making a schedule. Breaking down the time you have into manageable, realistic chunks helps you make better progress. Being disciplined with your time also means you can’t spend too much time on one task while neglecting another. So whether you have one day or one week, allocating your time effectively will ensure you’re able to concentrate on one task at a time, and do as much as you can in the hours that you have. 

This schedule is a failsafe approach for any logo or brand design project. Take ten minutes of your day to draw it up, and you’ll reap the benefits all the way through the process.

  • Task One: Brainstorming (1 unit of time*)
  • Task Two: Refine sketches (1 unit of time)
  • Task Three: Vectorize the strongest logo idea (2 units of time)
  • Task Four: Vectorize two other logo concepts (2 units of time)—outsourcing optional
  • Task Five: Think about extras (e.g. colour, type) (1 unit of time)
  • Task Six: Create mock-ups (1 unit of time)—outsourcing optional
  • Task Seven: Put together a proposal document (1 unit of time)

If you have one day for the project, and, for example, put in 9 hours of work, 1 unit would be equivalent to 1 hour. However, you should also allow for breaks. Even if you’re taking on a time-pressured project, you’ll still need coffee, lunch and fresh air to keep your creative juices flowing!

Write out or print out your schedule, and pin it up in your workspace. Make a note of the times you’ll begin each new task, and be strict with sticking to them. Now you’re ready to dive in with the design process...

1. Get Brainstorming!

If you received that client call in the morning, you’re in luck. The morning is the best time of the day for creative thinking—your brain is refreshed, recharged, and ready for thinking outside the box.

If you have an hour, divide your time between blue-sky thinking and actual sketching. It might be helpful to step outside or simply find a quiet spot to think away from your computer. Take a notepad to jot down ideas. 

First, consider the client’s brief carefully—do they have any initial ideas for the brand? Do they have a target market? Do they have any logos or brands they’d like to emulate? There’s no point beginning your design process without understanding what the client actually wants.

Then move on to thinking about the brand itself. What words do you associate with the brand’s name? Can you make word associations or a play on words with the name? What visual symbols come to mind when you think of the brand name? Aim to think of ways in which you can visualise the logo in a symbolic way (e.g. when designing for a honey brand, can you symbolise the brand with images of honey, bees, honeycomb, etc.) and ways in which you can turn the actual name of the brand into a logo using a typographic design. 

For now, just jot down words and phrases as they pop into your head—you can use this as a springboard for sketches a little later.

Then consider how you can merge the client’s aspirations for the brand with your own creative ideas. Perhaps they want to look like a competitor’s brand. To make your design appear more unique, is it possible to lift elements of the competitor’s brand (e.g. type style, color) and refashion them?

If you’re able to walk outside, take your phone with you and see if you can find inspiration in the world around you. Adobe Capture CC is a fantastic app for sourcing logo ideas from everyday scenes and cityscapes. 

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You can even skip straight to the vectorizing stage if you see something that really captures your imagination.

2. Refine Your Sketches

When you have a couple of pages of notes, you can move on to sketching. Take out a big sketchpad (A3 or A2 landscape is ideal) and give yourself plenty of space to spread out paper, pens, and pencils. Set yourself a target—30 minutes to sketch out as many ideas as you can, using your notes as a reference. 

Don’t worry about making your sketches appear in any way good or developed—what’s important now is to create lots of visual cues, some of which might lead to more refined ideas. 

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Don’t dwell on any single design for more than a couple of minutes. Once the first page is filled up, rip it out and keep going. Annotate your sketches with ideas about how you could develop the design, such as refining the style, shape, and colors. 

When you’ve filled up two or three pages, give yourself a break and walk away for ten minutes. This is a good opportunity to get a coffee or water and switch off for a moment. When you return to your brainstorming efforts, you’ll be able to look at them with a fresh eye.

Review your sketches and pick out maybe five or so of your strongest ideas. Take a fresh page in your sketchpad and refine those sketches further. It can be helpful to switch from pencil to a black ink pen to help you get a better sense of shape and silhouette.

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Once you’ve refined some of your ideas, making them appear stronger and more graphic, you’re ready for another round of review. Grab a friend or colleague if you can, and take a good look at your designs. Are there any that really stand out over the others? Take a colored pen and number each design—1 for strongest and 5 for weakest, as you judge them. 

3. Vectorize Your Strongest Idea

Take the design you’ve marked with a ‘1’ and scan it into your computer. You can also take a picture on your phone and email it to yourself if you have a good hi-res camera. 

If you need to increase contrast in the image and make the design appear bolder ready for tracing, open it up first in Adobe Photoshop. Click the Levels button in the Adjustments panel, or go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Levels. Move the sliders to increase the levels of white and black in the image. A crisp, silhouetted image will be much easier to trace.

Save the image as a high-res JPEG, and then open up Adobe Illustrator (or your vector program of choice). Go to File > Place, and choose the JPEG image. Lock this onto its own layer, creating a new layer above where you can begin to trace the image. 

If your image has relatively simple lines, you might find that using the Pen Tool (P) and your mouse will be enough to trace the silhouette. If your design has more complicated lines, you might want to use a graphics tablet to give yourself more control and flexibility.

Work your way around the silhouette gradually, switching to the Smooth Tool to perfect any curved lines.

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If you’re really short on time, or have a very simple shape to trace, you can use the Image Trace function (Window > Image Trace) to select the original image and trace it instantly. Go to Object > Expand to make the vector editable once traced.

Once the design is traced in black and white, you can also Edit > Copy, Edit > Paste the vector onto a different Illustrator artboard and start experimenting with color. Browse on Google or Pinterest for popular logo color combinations, and use the Eyedropper Tool to pick out combinations of color that you like and feel to be appropriate for the logo.

Rainbow brights can look incredibly effective teamed with more conservative black or white text…

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Colorful Bird Logo Template
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World Travel Logo Template

… while simple icon-inspired logo designs might suit several tones of one color or a simple complementary colour combination, like blue and green.

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Fox Icon Logo Template
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Corporate Logo Template

If you feel that bright color won’t suit the brand’s sector or the style of the logo, stick with classic and elegant tones of grey, black or brown. Or bring in metallic textures like copper or gold for a more luxurious look. 

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Letter 'A' Logo Template

If you don't have the time to vectorize a design from scratch, you can always customize a logo template. Search for designs that match the sector or theme—you can easily switch up colors or tweak 3D styles to look more flat, to make your logo feel instantly unique.

4. Vectorize the Other Designs

Rome wasn’t built in a day… and it certainly wasn’t built by one person either. If you’re trying to pull off an amazing brand design with limited time, you should consider calling in some support. This is obviously completely optional, but if you're a sole freelancer trying to do a huge amount of work in a short amount of time, it makes a lot of sense to create a mini 'studio team' to help you turn the job around.

While you focus your energy into refining your strongest logo design, you can enlist help from other designers for vectorizing two to three of your other logo concepts. Why bother vectorizing so many? You want to give the client a range of choices—this will allow them to feel as if they’ve got their money’s worth, as well as making it less likely for them to want more designs if they don’t like the first design you propose, which is time-wasting for both parties. It also gives you the opportunity to show your ability to create a complete brand proposal in a time-pressured scenario, making it more likely for the client to return to you when similar jobs come up in the future.

But goodness, vectorizing three or four logo designs is a lot of work. What you need is to find trusted designers who can do the job well in a short amount of time.

These are not only specialists in vectorization, but talented logo designers too. All that’s required is a quick message and brief, and they will have your back. Delegate some of the vectorisation work and let that tick over while you get on with your next task…

5. Think About the Extras

When you’ve finished vectorizing your strongest logo design and have the other designs being polished by your team of Studio helpers, you can take a step back from the logo for a moment and think about the brand identity as a whole.

Whether you’ve been briefed to design a logo or a whole brand concept, a client will always appreciate it if you consider how the brand design will work as a whole. It helps them to visualize the brand in use, and provides more food for thought for going forward. The more enticing titbits you can give to the client at this stage, the more likely it will be for them to spot something of interest and want to pursue it further… which adds up to more work (and bucks!) for you.

Take a moment to think about the ‘extras’ that make up a brand design. It’s not just the logo that creates a brand identity—it’s the color palette, the fonts, and the graphics. At this stage, colors and fonts are a little easier to tackle, but will look incredibly professional in your proposal.

Lift colours using the Eyedropper Tool from your logo, from an image you took on Adobe Capture CC (see Task 1, above), or from an image you found on the internet that appeals to you or has connections with your logo design. This can form the basis of a brand color palette. 

You can also use the Adobe Color CC app to generate complementary palettes based on themes, like ‘colorful’, ‘bright’, ‘muted’, ‘deep’, or to lift colours from your logo design or another image.

color cc appcolor cc appcolor cc app

Whichever colours you decide on, you can save the colour palette as an ASE (Adobe Swatch Exchange) file in Illustrator (choose Save Swatch Library as ASE from the Swatches panel, once you’ve created a range of CMYK swatches). You can use this later when putting together your brand proposal document (see Task 7, below). 

Take 15 minutes to browse a font site like FontSquirrel (which has a useful edit of fonts that are popular or trending) or GraphicRiver (fantastic for really one-of-a-kind, on-trend typefaces) to source a couple of options for a brand font. 


You might want to incorporate a tagline or subtitle into your logo design using one of these font options, to demonstrate how the font would link to your logo design. 

These brand ‘extras’ shouldn’t be prioritised over your logo design if you’re very short on time, but it’s certainly something worth thinking about—they will help to flesh out your design proposal and give both you and your client more food for thought going forward.

6. Use Mock-Up Templates

By this point you’ve got at least one logo vectorized in different colorways, and perhaps a few more heading your way from Studio contractors. If you really want to add an uber-professional touch to your designs, you should strongly consider feeding them into a logo mock-up template.

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Weathered Logo Mock-ups

If you had plenty of time, you might want to create your own branded mock-ups which felt more uniquely tailored to the client’s brand. However, with time of the essence and the minutes swiftly ticking by, a template is a high-impact and economical way of presenting your logo ideas.

car mock-upcar mock-upcar mock-up

Why bother mocking up your logo designs? 3D mock-ups help the client to picture the possibilities of your design. Often, mocking up a logo into signage or a vehicle wrap is much more persuasive than showing the 2D logo design alone. It’s a clever way of making a simple 2D design feel much more real and tactile, and will help to get the client to bond with your design.

Choose two or three logo mock-ups that fit well with the brand. Designing a logo for a craft beer brand? Coasters and neon signs will be a perfect match.

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Coaster Logo Mock-up Template
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Signage Logo Mock-up

Designing for a brand that’s a little more corporate? Vehicle wraps and 3D metallic renderings of the logo will add a luxe touch that helps the client to envisage how the logo would look across promotional items and in-house stationery.

Logo Mock-up Template
Logo Mock-Up Template

7. Put Together a Presentation Document

Everything’s starting to come together—you’ve got a couple of refined logo designs and have even thought about some of the branding ‘extras’ that will make your design feel more solid and appealing.

You’re reaching the end of your day, and probably the end of your energy resources too. The good news? You’ve got your logo designs sorted out, and all that’s left to do is present them to the client.

Some designers will happily send JPEGs of their designs attached to an email if they’re short on time. But if you have even just half an hour left in your day, it will be well worth your time presenting your work in a proposal document. 

Phew, the email option certainly sounds easier (and quicker!), so why bother? Presenting your designs in a proposal document is a way of communicating to the client that you really know what you’re doing. It’s professional, easy to digest, and makes it simple for the client to show your designs to their colleagues. Imagine viewing a masterpiece painting on a  gallery wall in a beautiful frame—it’s much easier to appreciate and analyse the image in this context because it’s presented beautifully.

A logo proposal document is similar to a brand guidelines document, but with much less detail. This tutorial will give you some great tips for creating a brand presentation document in Adobe InDesign if you have the time to produce the document from scratch. 

It’s not difficult to make a logo proposal document look professional and polished. Keep the pages minimal, stick to a landscape layout (which gives images more breathing space than a portrait format), and use the fonts that you selected for the brand identity earlier. Make sure to include a contents page for easy navigation, and keep text to a minimum—you want your logo designs to be the principle focus. 

The order in which you place your logo designs can also influence the client’s reaction to the logos. If you have a logo design that you personally feel is stronger than the others, place it either at the start or end of the document, and team it with more mock-ups (see Task 6, above). This will help to keep the design at the forefront of the client’s mind.

There’s no need to slave over creating a proposal document for hours. Presentation templates are already set up with pages, masters, running headers and contents, and they’re really easy to edit and adapt to your own content. You can find templates adaptable to a range of software options, such as InDesign, PowerPoint, and Keynote. I love this minimal Swiss-style template...

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Swiss-style Minimal Presentation Template

... and this modern photo portfolio will be super easy to adapt to logo designs instead.

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Modern Photo Portfolio Template

Once you’ve finished the proposal, export it to a PDF format (keep the file size small to avoid demolishing your client’s inbox, but make sure the logo images are still really crisp and high-resolution. File > Export to Adobe PDF [Interactive] in Adobe InDesign for a format that’s compact but great quality). 

Attach to an email, hit send, and breeeeaaaathe. Amazing work! Not bad at all for such a short space of time!

Time to Kick Back!

You've had a long and exhausting day, but you've done it—a set of polished logo designs have been sent off to the client. Give yourself a pat on the back, that's fantastic work. While you kick back with a well-deserved refreshment, let's review our seven-step plan for creating brand identities when you're short on time. You never know when you'll need it again!

  • Task One: Brainstorming (1 unit of time)
  • Task Two: Refine sketches (1 unit of time)
  • Task Three: Vectorize the strongest logo idea (2 units of time)
  • Task Four: Vectorize two other logo concepts (2 units of time)—outsourcing optional
  • Task Five: Think about extras (e.g. colour, type) (1 unit of time)
  • Task Six: Create mock-ups (1 unit of time)—outsourcing optional
  • Task Seven: Put together a proposal document (1 unit of time)

The best lessons to take away? Planning your time carefully is essential for keeping your creative side focussed and helping minimize stress during the process. Outsourcing for help when time is short is not defeatist, it just makes good design sense.

When time is short and you need to produce a professional logo design, Placeit is the perfect tool. Check out their logo templates that cover just about every industry you can think of. The best part is you can create a great logo design right in your browser in a matter of minutes!

Do you have any other tips for designing logos or brand identities when time is limited? I'd love to hear about your experiences. Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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