A Logo is (almost) Forever: Dos and Don’ts of Logo Design

So you've decided you need a new logo, or a redesign of an old logo. Great. You've made a decision that is going to directly benefit your business.

At least it should benefit your business, depending on the integrity of your designer. But there are a few pitfalls. So, in no particular order, here are some tips toward getting the best of your logo designer:

Is your logo unique?

If you thought this logo had anything to do with Google, you'd be wrong. Perhaps it was deliberately ripped-off for reasons I cannot fathom. But if the designer tried to pass it off as "original" the business owner should be very disappointed. No-one is ever going to see anything but Google in this image.

Sounds kinda obvious, but it's worth asking: does your logo designer warrant that their work is original and not copied (i.e. ripped off) from another design.

A logo should be original. You want your logo to say something about you, and your business. When people see your logo, you want them to think of you. Copying someone else's logo is the antithesis of what logo design is all about. Same can be said of off-the-rack template logos and the do-it-yourself logo makers that churn out the same clipart for multitudes of customers.

Think of the Nike swish or the Apple logo: straightaway people know what company they represent. By contrast, what business, do you think this logo (above) represents? If you said Google, you'd be wrong.

As a business owner, how would you feel if your logo represented someone else's business? If, in people's minds, your logo was consistently mistaken, misinterpreted and misidentified as advertising a business other than yours. That's the danger of using plagiarised or clipart logos — at the end of the day, it doesn't identify you. At best it's visual white noise, neither beneficial nor harmful to your business, the visual equivalent of a five-day cricket Test without result. At worst, it triggers misrepresentation or even ridicule. (And of course, a copied logo can get you in a lot of copyright trouble.)

A designer should be able to show you their development cycle of a given logo, from initial ideas, through rough-outs to first concepts. For example, should a client ask, we can show them pencil sketches of several different ideas for any given logo, and its progression from sketches through digital art to a point where we'd show it to that client as a first draft. If your designer can't show you that progression, be skeptical of its authenticity and originality.

Is it a visual cliché?

You solve puzzles, right? Provide solutions? The logo is as clichéd as your pitch. Unless you're a jigsaw manufacturer, this clichéd graphic should be tossed to history.

I get it. I really do. You're a dentist so you need a set of pearly whites on your logo. And that globe thingy in the top right corner means you're all, you know, international and global and stuff. And that sneaky transformation of the S in your business name into a dollar sign hints that you've got something to do with finance. As I say, I get it.

What we've got here is visual cliché. The big molar in dental logos has been so done-to-death that it has even acquired its own name: Murphy the Molar. And what's with the weird one-legged person ubiquitously representing the health and fitness industry? And for a while there it didn't seem that a local tech enterprise could exist without some sine wave across their logo (what's that about?) or some random dots hovering above, beside or through (again, what's that about?).

Cliché, of course, is easy. It requires little to no imagination and little to no analysis of a given client's brief. Tech company? Right, you need a sine wave, some hovering dots, and a splash of electric blue. (That description took me all of 20 seconds to formulate and write and I'll bet I could google 10 such logos for tech companies in about as much time.) Fitness company? We've got the one-legged man in a dozen different poses, ready to go. Dentist? You really can't go past Murphy the Molar.

If your designer turns up the equivalent of Murphy the Molar, run away. There is no way your logo is going to appear original, nor is it going to represent your business well, if it's built around such a cliché.

Is it 'trendy'?

No, gels, glows and glass do not make it OK. Like fashion, trends in logo design are fleeting and this already feels dated.

The popularity of Facebook and Twitter ushered in a web design trend known as Web 2.0. It ushered in a range of  design approaches and tools that had not previously been possible on the web. Problem was, much of the resulting design in both print and web design was powered by what could be, rather than what should be. "Glass" and gel effects, reflections (Apple has got a lot to answer for here), bevels and glows, gradients and shadows, swooshes: yes, they were groovy for a while but, like bellbottoms and body shirts, they've had their day and it's time to move on.

What's interesting to note, here, is the application (or misapplication) of an effect to define the logo, rather than having a strong logo to start with and then adding an effect to meet a specific business need. Apple started with an already-strong logo and added glass effects and reflections on some of their products to signal a paradigm shift to internet-based computing and consumer electronics; their corporate logo, the one they use on letterhead for instance, remains unchanged.

That's how it should be. There's nothing wrong with these Web 2.0 effects taken on their own; indeed, in some instances they're an appropriate solution to meet a given need.

But most Web 2.0 style logos draw attention mainly to their perceived hipness, and say little about the business they supposedly represent. It locks your logo into a fleeting fashion statement that may well be over by the time you read this. And, of course, you've done your design dough on a logo that took the designer, oh, five whole minutes to execute, and was relevant for about as long.

Do you want cheese with that?

Just add cheese. Say No, okay. Just say No.

Combine cliché and trendy and you've got cheese. And the problem with people — designers — who like cheese is that more is never enough. If it looks good with a gel effect, it'll look even better with a gel effect AND a drop shadow. More cheese? Okay, what about a gel effect, a drop shadow, AND an inner glow? And a meaningless swoosh. Gimme even more cheese, you say? Okay, okay, what about a gel effect, a drop shadow, an inner glow, a meaningless swoosh, AND we add the latest typeface from CheesyFonts.com which is, frankly, illegible. Now that's a logo!

Please. Don't make me barf.

Is it boring already?

Trick question. Logos aren't supposed to be the visual equivalent of a pinball machine. A logo is not supposed to dazzle and spin and twirl and ring and buzz every time you look at it. In fact, if this is the effect your logo is having, it's drawing too much attention to itself and not saying enough about you and about your business.

Think for a moment about some of the business world's strongest logos: Apple, Coca-cola, Nike, Volkswagen. According to research, the average person sees the Apple logo at least ten times a day, and sees the Coke logo even more frequently. If these logos dazzled and captivated every time we gazed upon them, we'd have little time for anything else. No, the strength of these logos is that, in our mind's eye and without any further documentation, they signify something else: cutting edge computing and home electronics; refreshment and fun; fitness, strength and determination; reliability. (This is a little-known field of study called Semiotics, a field that this writer majored in and, Wow!, didn't it get him a long way.)

Okay, so maybe "boring" is not quite the right word. Maybe "comfortable" is a better fit. Is it a comfortable logo? Is it a good fit for your business. Does it say the things you want it to say? That doesn't sound boring at all.

Don't go changin'

Okay, so ... you've got your new logo and applied it to your signage and stationery and website and business cards and, well, doesn't it look fab. Your customers love your new look and so do your staff, and you can't help but feel just a little damned pleased with yourself for overseeing such a vital project and getting such a great result. It's almost like you've breathed a new lease of life into you brand (which, of course, you have).

Fast forward six months. You're reviewing a draft of a customer newsletter that second cousin Curtis has prepared because Aunty Lil says he's a bit of a whiz on Microsoft Word. And bugger me if he hasn't put some random dots hovering over the top of your new logo, and a swoosh encircling it. Says it's the 'new thing' in design circles and gives your logo 'a bit of pizazz' and that it needs 'updating'. And now that you look at it, that swoosh does make your logo look, you know, racey and international and stuff...

Don't do it. Take a break. Have a lie down. Second cousin Curtis is a doofus.

Part of the value in your logo is its immutability, its changelessness. Over time it is building up recognition that identifies your business and its values. Start fiddling with it and you lose some of that hard-won recognition.

Pepsi-Coke-comparison

Coca-Cola hasn't changed its logo at all in the past 100 years or so; Pepsi has changed a dozen times or more and, except for a brief jink in the 50s and mid-80s, has lost market share each and every time.

There are, of course, circumstances which demand a change to a logo. It might be growth, it might be a change in business direction or service offering, it might signal the amalgamation with another business, it might simply be time to throw off the old logo you started the business with (and which was the best you could do at the time with limited resources). Pepsi decided a change was needed in the 50s to more clearly position themselves and to throw off the old script logo that was too intimately associated with their competitor, Coke.

But don't change just for the sake of change. Chances are you'll lose more than you gain. Pepsi have recently changed their logo again, to much criticism and the sound of no hands clapping.

Don't fiddle, leave it alone, ¡ya basta!

Are you the problem?

As a business, it's heretical for us to say this but it has to be said: sometimes the customer is not always right.

Exhibit A:

We were once contracted to provide the logos for a medical company that needed a corporate brand as well as a number of child-brands for different divisions of their company. We provided several which, by our own strict criteria, were good logos and which met the brief we'd been given. But the process just wasn't progressing. Whatever it was the client wanted, they just weren't expressing it, and we were becoming increasingly tetchy with each other.

Finally we cracked it: they'd seen a logo we'd designed for another medical company and they wanted that logo. We explained that (a) that we couldn't and wouldn't rip off a logo we'd designed for another client —on business and ethical grounds it just wasn't a path we were willing to tread, and (b) the logo they coveted just wasn't a good fit for their company anyway, for a number or reasons which we happily elucidated.

There are a number of problems in this scenario, but one stands out: we can only design to what we are briefed on. Sure, part of the design process is interpretation, research and analysis. But no one knows your business like you do, and if you can't express it verbally then chances are we can't express it visually.

In brief

  • What's your logo?

    Your logo stands for your business — it's not a pictographic add-on or gimmick that just kinda looks cool. It's a critical component of your brand, of who and what your business is.

  • A good logo is ...

    Simple.
    Memorable.
    Versatile.
    Timeless.
    Appropriate.

All original. No cheese, guaranteed!

If you need a new logo, or redesign of an existing logo, get in touch.

Our cross-discipline background in marketing, advertising and design means we drive logo design from research and analysis, not from current (and fleeting) trends in graphic design.

We work toward meeting your business needs, not toward shoehorning your brand into our preconceived ideas about what simply looks kinda groovy. A logo has to have more going for it than just good looks.

We warrant our work as original. We don’t follow trends just for the sake of following trends. And we promise: No Cheese!

Please enter your name.
Please enter a message.