Saturday, March 22, 2008

One Thing About Logos

Update: This post has proven to be so popular that I've followed it up with another post. This post is largely about what logos should be, while Designing the Puzzazz Logo is more of a hands-on practicum that might help you design a logo.

Logos are ubiquitous in company and product names, each of them fighting for a little piece of mindshare. The best are memorable, but most are not. How do you make your logo one of the memorable ones? A friend recently asked me for advice on a logo. Here's (roughly) what I told him.

The best logos have one thing that makes them special -- not two things or three things or seventeen things. One thing. Take a look at these great logos:

If you want your logo to become iconic -- if you want your logo to be instantly recognizable and instantly associated with you -- you have to pick that one thing and make sure it stands out. In addition to the one thing, logos sometimes have something else that gives them flavor. This can be a font choice, a border, a divider, or something else like that. This second element can give your logo extra "body" but it has to be subservient to the one thing. Dole's bottom line and Goodyear's diamond shape are examples of this second element.

Some other key things you might want to think about:

  • Your logo should reflect who you are -- this doesn't mean it should reflect every aspect of your identity, but it should match it, not contrast with it.
  • Your logo must look good in black and white, for the laser printer, newspaper, faxes, etc. Color is great, but you can't rely on it. Don't use a gradient unless the same element looks good in a solid color.
  • Avoid tiny detail that won't look when the logo is shrunk to 1/8", like perhaps on a business card.
I don't know how many times I've seen logos where they took half a dozen good ideas and glommed them all together to create something atrocious. Or they just make it overly complex. It's like the designers didn't know when to stop. They think "if this is good as it is, adding more will make it even better."

Here are some logos that I think don't work:

Note that these are all successful companies and the logos aren't complete failures (for example, you probably recognize the Wendy's logo on sight). That brings up another important thing about logos -- they can't make or break your company. It may be easier to build an image with a good logo, but it's not the logo that does it.

I'm tempted to show you some really bad logos and tear them apart, but I'll leave that as an exercise for the reader. All you have to do is search for one of the many companies on the web offering $199 or $299 cookie cutter logos. Browse through their gallery and you'll find plenty of overworked examples. Then, when you need a logo of your own, you'll know what to avoid. And you can find the one thing that makes your logo right.

Finally, two bonus logos. These are the original logos of two famous companies. If you start with a dud, you can always change it.


Unknown said...

Hi Roy,

You make a great point that I find myself repeating to clients quite often — that special distinction should be just one thing, not two, or three.

Miles Newlyn's Unilever design is a contentious one, and I find the detail appealing in some respects.

Great reading.

(David Airey)

Lucky Stars said...

This is my favorite "busy logo" because of the negative space--it makes a whale's tail or mermaid.
Very nice.