Criteria for logo development and evaluation

Logo design goes way backCertainly there’s quite a bit of subjective opinion being expressed when it comes to selecting a logo for your brand. Branding is more than designing a logo, but the logo is an important branding element, so it should be evaluated with the same thoroughness as the brand name itself.

Don’t just rely on opinions: Someone doesn’t like a certain color, another thinks the type isn’t distinctive enough, and you think the proportion is all wrong. Well, everyone has a right to their opinion, but for brand elements, professional criteria should reign.

A better way to evaluate and select a logo:

That method is based on setting an objective, or objectives, for the logo before a designer even opens a job folder. And those objectives must surely align with the branding strategy and the desired positioning efforts. And they must be communicated to the designer, along with any “sacred cows” that will save her or him time and frustration.

It is not just alignment with strategies and objectives, though. The logo should be assigned a specific role in the mix of elements. For most logos, the role is to give the brand name a distinctive and appropriate image that can become a memory jogger.

The perils of inexperience and mediocrity:

There are third year design students who will design a great looking logo for a couple of hundred dollars. That’s fine until you begin to use the logo.  Then you find the problems because it won’t translate well. How does it look at the bottom of a one-column help-wanted ad in black only? How does it translate onto a four-by-six sign?  Or standout in the company of another 12 logos  sponsoring  a charity event?

Students and novice designers tend to look at logos as if in a vacuum: pristine and unrelated to the real world of commerce.

Run of the mill graphic designers are also notorious plagiarists. They want to be “hip” and follow the latest trends. Beware: Logos designed in this fashion will soon look dated. A logo should have timeless appeal. Sure, over time a logo may need to be brought up to date, witness the progression of “Betty Crocker” and of the “GE” monogram. But those changes were made over decades, not years.

Aesthetic and mechanical criteria:

Aside from the obvious (i.e., a logo design that enhances your marketing objectives and identity) it should also reflect the brand professionally and be pleasing to the viewer in all its venues and variations. In Guerrilla Creativity, Jay Conrad Levinson’s recent book, he warns about mistakes some marketers experience with poorly designed logos. We’ll paraphrase some of them and several other criteria for judging logo candidates.

Does the logo rely on color to communicate? If so, newspaper and yellow pages ads will lose impact and continuity. A rainbow doesn’t work very well when converted to black and shades of gray. Make sure you review a black ink variation when judging logos.

Is it so abstract that your prospects won’t understand it? There’s a community south of Denver called Highlands Ranch which has adopted a flying eagle or hawk as their symbol. In signage, this figure is cut out of a bronze metal background and you cannot recognize the symbol as a bird, even when you know that’s their symbol.

Is it a cliché If so, there’s a good possibility your brand will be considered a cliché. Consider a physician who has committed to a personalized, friendly family practice utilizing the universal caduceus in her logo. It defeats the purpose of differentiating her practice because people think of the symbol as representing the cliché or caricature of today’s doctor – too busy, too impersonal, too money-driven. She just gets lumped in with the rest.

Does it employ a fad typeface? Often this will be the element that dates a logo faster than anything else. And today there are plenty of fad type faces, thanks in part to the ease with which designers can create fonts and visual effects with their computers. Particularly prevalent today are the  “grunge” fonts which many movies and TV shows and some “leading edge” brands have adopted. Tomorrow this fad will fade and another will take its place for a year or so. Remember, we’re striving for longevity.

Does it exaggerate your business? In other words, does it generate credibility or does it arouse skepticism? Be honest if not modest and focus on what and how you’re different from competitors and how you provide a customer buying advantage. Going beyond that, you’re in the realm of ego and people recognize that for what it’s worth. ‘Nuf said.

Does it disappear when it’s only an inch wide? This is of special concern if you’re running newspaper classified ads or in-column yellow pages listings. It’s also important if you are asked to be one of a dozen sponsors of an event and all twelve business logos are arrayed along the bottom of a program or ad.

Is it just a pretty design? Unless it helps convey your brand’s personality, a consumer benefit or a differentiator, a logo is not carrying its weight. Often today we see logos with a half oval “swish” surrounding part of a brand name. Sometimes there are two ovals. When first used, they where thought to convey “orbits” and speed. Today they are clichés. The next design fad? Seems to be a row of dots above or below a name. We’ll give this one about a year more.

Is it too busy to communicate quickly? You see this a lot with restaurants and beer labels. Curly-ques and circles of old-world type faces compete for attention with the illustration and the name. People just don’t and won’t get the message even if one is hidden in there. There’s an admonition that applies here: K.I.S.S.

Does it rely on initials instead of the brand name? Well, that’s all right to do if you’re prepared to spend and spend and spend to establish a meaning to those initials and to make them your own. Initials connote or denote nothing. We’d rather have the name represent the brand, and if the name is too long, get another name.

Does it lack imagination? Yes, uniqueness is a good thing. We’d say it’s vital. If possible, you want your logo to elicit an “aha”, or at least a little smile, because it expresses your difference and a buying advantage in a way that’s fresh, stimulating and honest.

Any logo candidates that have successfully passed through this screening process will make fine logos. If it’s more than one, you can be confident which ever you choose will serve you well.

Martin Jelsema

One thought on “Criteria for logo development and evaluation

  1. This was extremely helpful in the process of determining our logo. Extremely grateful.

    Regards,
    From all the way in South Africa

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