This is about designing logos, specifically corporate logos.
A lot of logos today rely on visual clichés and inappropriate imaging, or they are cookie-cutter affairs that could belong to any business. Many are designed by highly-paid graphic designers who believe a logo is a chance to display their creativity rather than their client’s best interests. Several do this to their own businesses. Now I’m not saying all graphic designers are in that boat, but enough are that it prompted this post.
I’ll outline some guidelines for logos so you’ll have some references when evaluating logo designs – both those a designer presents in his/her portfolio, and those logo candidates she/he designs for your approval.
Four basic logo attributes
1) Logo designs should first and foremost identify the business. That’s a no-brainer.
2) Then a logo should convey a style or tone associated with the company. This might be a reflection of a company culture or corporate vision. Or it could just be a style appropriate for the industry/market in which a company performs.
3) A third requirement is that it be unique. And the first consideration here is, a logo should not follow a current, “with-it” design trend.
4) And finally, the logo should evoke a positive response from those exposed to it, particularly for the first time. Remember the old adage, “You have only one chance to make a first impression”. And we all know from our own experiences that first impressions are often lasting impressions.
Elements of a logo
Normally, two elements make up a logo: a symbol and some words.
There are, however, many logos without a symbol. They rely on the word – usually the company name – fashioned in a unique way using a typeface, positioning and color to form the logo. They may be reversed into a colored box like the new JC Penneys logo, or the long-standing American Express logo. A large proportion of luxury brands have only their name in their logos, but in a unique typeface – Prada, Chris Craft, Tiffany & Co and The Greenbrier are examples.
And there are some companies in which only a symbol is the logo. Think Nike here. But not too many others (several prominent ones pictured below), particularly for company logos. Many companies are known by a symbol, yet in their logos the symbol is combined with the name.
So most logos have the two elements – symbol and word(s). I’ve used “word” instead of “name” here to encompass those logos where an attribute rather than the name is part of the company logo. Or more commonly, the initials of the name are incorporated in the logo instead of the name.
Quite often a designer will incorporate the initials of the company name because the initials lend themselves to visual manipulation. They are a version of the old practice of creating monograms.
I believe this to be a big mistake, particularly for start-ups and relatively unknown enterprises. If you’re GE or IBM with a history and big budgets, you can afford to use your initials. And with those to behemoths, they are even able to shorten the names officially to the initials. A small business can’t afford to do this. Remember the first requirement was that the logo identify the company.
So this post introduced the four requirements of a logo and briefly discussed the elements of common logos. In the next four posts I’ll delve more deeply into those requirements and how I approach evaluating logo designs.