If you're starting a new business, introducing a new product or planning a major event, at some point you're going to need a logo. Whether you choose to create it yourself, ask a friend, hire a freelancer or engage a branding agency, there are certain design principles that must be adhered to for the logo to be successful, or even usable. As a startup founder, you're the one who will ultimately approve the logo design. By checking that these basic design benchmarks have been met, you can be more confident that you're making the right choice for your business.
Less is more
A good logo design achieves its communication goals with the fewest elements possible, and what you take away is just as important as what you leave in. Aiming to have a simple, clear logo with no unnecessary elements or clutter will make all of the following design considerations easier to achieve.
Clarity is key
It's important that your logo design communicates the personality and tone of your business, product or event, but trying too hard to create something eye catching and characterful could make your logo messy and difficult to comprehend. If your logo requires more than a moment of study in order to be understood, for whatever reason, then you've sacrificed clarity in the name of style. When it comes to presenting your brand, clarity should always be the primary goal.
An effective logo needs to be designed with the understanding that it will be displayed at a variety of scales - anything from less than an inch wide to a few feet or more. You need to view your logo at a variety of scales before signing off on it to ensure that it's readable at the smallest scales, and neatly composed at larger scales. With the ubiquity of mobile devices and the increasing popularity of wearable tech, logos are being displayed at smaller scales than ever before, making scalability and clarity more crucial today than it's ever been.
Proportions matter too
Your logo will ultimately be displayed in a variety of contexts and formats, some of which will not be suitable for a logo that is either very wide or very tall. An effective logo tends towards a square shape for this reason, although of course a perfect square is not required or even desirable in most cases. If you do choose to go with a logo that's very wide, which is fairly common, it's important to have an alternative configuration available that tends towards a square. This can be used in situations where a wide logo is unsuitable.
Balance customer expectations with differentiation
Your logo needs to stand out from your competition and communicate the unique qualities of your brand, but if you go too far then you risk confusing and alienating your target audience. The example I always use is a firm of solicitors; the public expectation is that a firm of solicitors should be relatively sombre, serious and professional, which is why every solicitor's logo reflects those characteristics, and thus why they all share certain design traits in common. Your logo should be differentiated from your competitors, but should also be respectful of the characteristics your customers expect of an organisation in your niche.
Choose the right colours
Colour theory is highly complex, but at the very least you should ensure that the colours you select for your logo meet the following criteria:
- The colours stand out clearly against a white background.
- The colours complement each other visually and are easy on the eyes.
- The colours don't create any uncomfortable or distracting visual effects when placed side by side.
- The colours are appropriate to the personality and nature of your business.
- The colours are appropriate to the nature of your industry or sector.
- The colours look consistent in both printed and on-screen formats.
- The colours have positive connotations (or at least no negative connotations) in the market being served.
- The colour palette should be limited. If in doubt, go for fewer colours rather than more. Any logo with more than three or four colours needs to have a very strong design justification for doing so. Remember, less is more.
Single colour option
There may be times when it isn't possible to print or display your logo in colour. You need to ensure that your design works in black and white as well as in its standard full colour format. As a bonus, achieving this probably means that your logo has a strong silhouette that should be instantly recognisable at a glance.
Choose the right font
As with colour, selecting an appropriate font for your logo is fairly complex, with many practical and aesthetic considerations to take into account. The minimum requirements for an effective logotype are:
- The font should be clear and readable at any scale, and in both printed and on-screen formats.
- The font should be instantly readable at a glance.
- The font should be appropriate to the personality and nature of your business.
- The font should be appropriate to the nature of your industry or sector.
- The font should be licensed for use by your business (if you're not creating a bespoke font from scratch).
- Never use more than one font in a logo unless there is a strong design justification for doing so. Rarely is there any justification for using more than two.
Design for the customer, not for yourself
It's not critical to the design of an effective logo that it suits your personal tastes as the business owner, although in reality it's much easier to promote your business enthusiastically when you have a design that you can get behind. The crucial thing to remember is that your personal taste should always be secondary to the communication objectives of the logo, the needs of the brand, the needs of the market and the expectations of your customers. Sacrificing any of these considerations for the sake of personal taste would be doing your business a disservice.
Effects are (usually) bad
Everyone knows that graphic design software is capable of producing effects such as drop shadows, glow, gradients, etc. When it comes to logo design, there are at least three very good reasons why these effects should be used sparingly (or not at all). They tend to make a logo look cheap and amateurish, since everyone knows that all you need to do to produce these effects is click a button. They add visual clutter to a logo that undermines its clarity and can make the logo unreadable at smaller scales. You'll probably also find that there are certain circumstances in which these effects simply don't work or can't be used (such as a drop shadow on a black background), which will mean that your logo appears inconsistent from one format to the next. Sometimes effects (particularly gradients) can enhance a logo, but they should be subtle.
Don't use stock images
It's very easy to find ready made logos online. Some of them even look fairly respectable. The problem is that they haven't been developed with your unique brand identity in mind, and could even end up being used by any number of other organisations. The same goes for using stock images or clipart in any shape or form. If stock images are used as the basis for a logo (and I absolutely don't recommend it), at the very least they should be heavily modified.
Be aware of intellectual property issues
Never use a font, image or design element that you don't explicitly have the right to use. Find, print and retain a copy of all relevant licenses so that you can be 100% secure in the knowledge that your logo doesn't infringe somebody else's intellectual property rights. Never design a logo with the intention of piggy-backing on the popularity and awareness of another brand - not only do you risk being taken to court, but it's simply bad design, bad business and weak branding.
There are many other crucial factors that are key to effective logo design, but most of those are solely in the hands of the designer. A good designer will of course also be on top of all the considerations listed above, but as a business owner or startup founder, now you can be on top of them too.
Do you need a logo design for your business, organisation, product or event? I'd like to invite you to consider Brandsworth's logo design packages - affordable branding for ambitious startups.