Logo design is probably one of the most complicated projects a graphic designer can take on, and yet the perception is that it is so easy to do. More work can go into the design of a great logo than goes into a corporate brochure.

Logos are unassumingly simple. A small canvas. Some fancy typography. A touch of PMS 180 and PMS 211 and there you have it... a logo! If only it was that simple. Sorry to disappoint, but great logo design, not unlike good website design or corporate collateral, has little to do with picking a fancy font and some colors you think work well together. It’s all about creating meaning, not something the everyday person can achieve.

Figure 1: What meaning to you intend your logo to exude.

Aweful and downright negligent examples of logos abound. What I have come to realize is that a cute design without any meaning is much like a sandcastle: easy to build and fun to play with, but with no real-world value to it. One strong gust of wind and you can kiss your sandcastle goodbye.

But designing with meaning is not as simple as just putting down your spade and stepping away from the sand-pit. It’s about infusing your design with meaning instead of just adding color or a fancy font. And just like when designing and coding a responsive website, you need to make sure the logo looks good no matter what, be it large or small, in color or black and white..

TIP | A logo should be part of your larger plan and not something you slap on at the last minute because it looks “cool.”

What Makes A Logo Great?

Simple, minimalistic. You should be able to look at a logo for a split second and instantly get a feel for what that company does or it's purpose. The best logos convey the most about a company effortlessly. Folks shouldn't have to think too hard about it. You want them to understand and respond emotionally to your message.

Basic shapes. These can affect how your logo is perceived. Not to be underestimated, lines, circles, curves, and even edges say more about your design than you may realize.

Want to portray stability and balance, go for a square. Strength and efficiency, go for a straight line. Community and positive feelings, friendship and love come from circles, ovals, and ellipses. Squares show stability and balance. Triangles are great for showcasing power, their upthrusting nature associating them with masculine brands in particular.

Shapes affect your logo, but go beyond shapes and consider the direction of line elements. Vertical lines are rising and aggressive. Horizontal lines are more mellow and calm. Typeface also requires considerable thought. You’ll want an angular typeface to match an aggressive logo. A softer typeface will be more youth-oriented and soothing.

Avoid Making These Logo Mistakes!

You might be feeling inspired now and you have a basic foundation for what it takes to work on a logo, but here's some tidbits on what to avoid when designing a logo for your client.

1. Be Cautious With ALL CAPS.

ALL CAPS scream at you, appear LOUD and invasive, but the fact is that we are used to reading and seeing upper and lower case letters. Studies show that road signs that use upper and lower case letters are indeed easier and faster to read than all caps letters from a distance. That's because we see the shapes more than we actually read the letters, so having all caps makes it harder to read and less recognizable to the human brain.

2. Allow Great Typography To Do The Talking

Unless you're an established and well known brand, you'll need to incorporate your company name in your logo. The wrong font can completely misconstrue your messaging. Your brand might be classy and professional, but your font choice could impart something else altogether. And try to avoid using something safe like Helvetica, remember that these safe choices are always stale and dull.

3. Be Careful With Negative Space.

FedEx is a prime example of how to effectively use negative space in logo design. The negative space between the 'E' and the 'X' to create an arrow is so simple, yet genius. That simple arrow emphasizes what the company does, it conveys meaning. It says they're fast, expeditious.

But using negative space incorrectly can also be disastrous. The Child Care Resources logo used negative space to show a road leading to a home. Innocent enough the logo consists of a child, an adult and a house. But if you look closely, the lewd hidden meaning created by the adult's negative space interacting with the "road" has a profound hidden meaning, as unintenional as it may be.

4. Be Considerate Of Optical Illusions.

Once again the FedEx logo is a prime example with the hidden arrow emanating from the negative space between the 'E' and the 'X'. And the ingenuity of the Pittsburgh Zoo logo, with the black tree, can also be interpreted differently if you look at the white spaces on the left and the right under the canopy of the tree.

Nothing wrong with well conceived optical illusions, but poorly executed and unintended ones can ruin it. The logo for Junior Jazz Dance Studio features two dancing people. OK? Look at it again and you'll see something completely different from the outstretched arms and two dots for heads. Try unseeing it now.

5. Does Your Logo Say What You Intended It To Say?

Does your design communicate the message you initially intended? It comes down to many factors including font choice, color selection, mood and other things. As hard as you try, it might not tell the story you had in mind. Best option is to have someone else, a neutral party, review your work before you send it to a client. That way you'll avoid any suprises. Here's some aweful examples.

6. Be Careful Of Colors.

A logo that relies too much on color is doomed to failure. Your logo should make sense in color and black and white. The Apple logo uses one color. And you can do anything with it color wise. If you photocopy or fax it, shrink it down in size, it doesn't lose its meaning. Try doing the same with a logo that uses multiple colors and gradients and you'll quickly see how innefective it is.

How Can You Avoid Logo Fails?

Let’s condense it down to five main takeaways:

  1. Your logo, your first chapter into your brand.
  2. Your logo has to say something about your company.
  3. Use basic shapes as a starting point, and elaborate and explore from there.
  4. Your logo has to convey the emotion you want.
  5. It has to be simple.

Follow these guidelines and you should be on your way to having a great logo. Make sure to show it to as many friends as possible before it goes public.

Keep designing until you have a logo that in its simplest form gets a reaction from people, moves them in a way that persuades them to engage with you. Keep designing until you find the combination of shapes, fonts, colors, and simplicity that punches people right in the gut with your brand story.