A logo is a pretty pivotal part of your brand identity. But what makes a particularly great logo? There are two different ways of viewing a logo as successful: 1) It achieves the true purpose of a logo, and 2) It is technically usable.
The purpose of a logo
Legendary identity design firm AdamsMorioka put it best when they explained the purpose of a logo:
“[As people] we are identified … with names like John, Maria or Frank. We prefer not to be called ‘the guy who lives on Maple Street and works at the pharmacy’ or ‘the woman who has a beehive hairstyle and runs a trucking company.’ This is a long-winded, confusing, and forgettable. In the same way, a logo should not literally describe the client’s business; a logo is an identifier. Many clients would like their logo to describe every aspect of their company. This is natural, they’re proud of their achievement. It is problematic, however, and may lead to a restraining identity. The logo is a signpost that identifies the company and reflects its attributes and values.” It shouldn’t be an illustration, but “a shortcut, a visual language that is quickly recognizable and memorable.”
To put it simply, the purpose of a logo should not be to literally portray what your company does, but rather, it should be a visual hallmark that sets the proper tone for what your company is about at its core.
A logo does not need to literally describe your business; a logo should simply be an identifier.
A technically usable logo
Since there is no such thing as the logo police (although sometimes I wish there were!), there are technically no hard-and-fast technical rules of logo design. However, the way a logo is crafted can either save or cost you money when it comes to reproducing it across print, web, and interactive media. As a small business or startup, there are things to keep in mind that will enable a high degree of usability in your logo (and hopefully a low cost of reproduction!).
1. Your logo should be vector format
It’s the most basic of logo design principles. Your logo design should be created in vector format. With a vector logo, you have the ability to scale the logo up or down with no loss in quality. To create a vector logo, your designer should be working in a program such as Adobe Illustrator or Corel Draw. If your designer is creating your logo in Photoshop, you may want to inquire if it can be created in a vector application instead. A logo created in a Photoshop is really just a photo. The problem with having a photo for a logo is that when it is scaled up in size it becomes pixelated with yucky, blurry squares that will not give your business the professional look you desire.
2. Your logo should work in all black
Many business owners (and, unfortunately, designers too) get one step ahead of themselves worrying about logo colors. Color is important, but a logo should first and foremost work in all black. There are plenty of times you will need to use your logo where only black (or one color) can be used.
3. Your logo should work very small
Marketing is not all signs and billboards. In the course of your marketing, your logo may very well need to be used in some pretty small areas. Take something as simple as your business card: a business card is only 3.5″ wide by 2″ high, and typically the logo should take less than half this space. Merchandise tags are usually more petite than a business card, and often imprint areas on promotional items are even smaller yet. It is important not to get too carried away with the complexity of your logo and remember that all elements need to be clear and readable at a very small size.
4. Keep logo colors to a minimum
Sure, this might not sound like much fun, but neither is a whopping printing bill because your stationery had to be printed in 4 custom colors. Additionally, we need to keep in mind the purpose of a logo as a hallmark for your company—”owning” one or two colors in the mind of your customer is much easier than trying to own a broad spectrum of colors. A streamlined palette is simply more technically usable and also more memorable. You can always integrate additional, coordinating accent colors into the surrounding design of your marketing pieces to achieve additional color and depth.
5. Keep the overall shape in mind
The overall shape of of the logo should be roughly equivalent to a standard shape, such as a square, rectangle, circle or triangle. This doesn’t mean your logo needs to actually be one of these shapes, but that it’s overall layout should group together as a whole, rather than spreading out into a nebulous shape. The reason it is important that the logo unites into a strong shape is so that it can be placed next to other content and copy and still stand strongly on it’s own. If the overall shape of your logo is nebulous and awkward, it will quickly get lost among other elements on the page.
If you follow these overall guidelines, you’ll create a logo that stands the test of time and can be consistently reproduced across all media.