Even though they’re often just small images, logos carry a whole lot of meaning — and designing one comes with a whole lot of responsibility, too. Logos are usually the most recognizable representation of a company or organization. And with more information available to the average consumer today, logos also have to quickly and effectively communicate on behalf of their brand.
To tackle such a complex challenge, many brands choose to hire outside help. But for those of us who are brand new to the logo design process, working with freelancers to design a logo can be a challenge in itself.
We thought it’d be interesting to talk to a few of these designers who know what it’s like to create logos from scratch. From the concept stage to the final product, what goes into designing a logo? How are designers able to capture an organization’s mission and personality into a single, simple image, especially when they aren’t a part of the organization themselves? Read on to find out.
What’s in a Logo?
When a designer first takes on a new logo project, he spends a lot of time trying to understand both the organization and its audience. We’ll get to the process of learning what a logo needs to “say” later, but first, let’s talk about what makes a great logo in the first place.
Most logo designers follow some iteration of these principles of great logo design:
- Simplicity: Is the design simple and clean enough to be flexible and easily recognizable? Is it not too busy, distracting, or confusing?
- Memorability: Is it quickly recognizable? Will people only have to spend a second or two thinking about it to get it?
- Timelessness: Will it still be a great logo in 10, 20, or even 50 years?
- Versatility: Does it scale to different sizes without losing quality? Will it work across various media and within different contexts?
- Appropriateness: Does it resonate with the desired audience?
Graphic Designer Tyler Littwin, who creates logos for HubSpot and other organizations, says these five principles are great for keeping designers from going too crazy when designing a new logo.
“Designers have a tendency to get excited about the prospect of designing stuff that looks cool and uses cool new styles,” Tyler told me. “But when you’re designing a logo, you’re ultimately solving a problem. You’re trying to convey something simply that gets across the core tenets of an organization and what that organization does. Keeping these five things in mind prevents you from getting carried away with the flash of what you’re doing. It keeps you honest.”
Example 1: Evernote
Evernote’s logo is a great example of a logo that follows all five of these principles. It’s an elephant, which is a reference to the well-known saying, “An elephant never forgets.” The elephant’s folded ear cleverly resembles the popular document icon.
Not only is the logo simple, memorable, and appropriate for its audience, its physical and digital attributes work perfectly across different media variations and usages. “There is not one application I have seen where the logo fails to fit perfectly, all the way from the 16px favicon, the browser extension icons in both colour and mono, the iOS icons, Macintosh dock icon, and so on,” writes Graham Smith, a freelance designer of logos and brand identities. Plus, elephants will never go out of style. But it took six weeks of conception to come up with the simple elephant logo. Here are other initial ideas that were produced before the elephant was chosen.
Once the elephant was chosen, it went through another series of iterations before the final design was chosen. The whole process took six weeks, and it’s become one of the most compelling logos today.
Example 2: Icon Snowskates
On a smaller scale, we have Icon Snowskates, a small snow skateboard company operated by a son and his father in Massachusetts. (Full disclosure: The son in this father-son duo happens to be Matt Plays, who also works on video and design projects at HubSpot.) Seven years ago, he set out to create a logo for his young company that had to look good on a website, but that could also work when stretched across a 33-inch, snowboard-like base.
“I was inspired by brands like Element Skateboards and Plan B Skateboards whose logos are geometric and fare well on boards and on the web,” Matt told me. “I chose to use a tightly tracked Century Gothic for the type, and paired it with a slightly abstract, inverse water droplet logo mark.” Here’s the iteration that appears on the website:
Why the water droplet? “While rain and other precipitation usually means bad news for snowboarding, that’s not the case for snow-skateboarding,” says Matt. In other words, the water droplet is exactly what differentiates his snow-skateboarding company from snowboarding companies that have a similar vibe and audience.
Plus, the tightly tracked type and geometric logo work well at different sizes and in various applications — especially the bottom of a snowskate. “It holds up when screen-printed, die-cut, or simply saved for the web, all of which are crucial for our brand,” says Matt. Here it is on the bottom of a snowskate:
The folks at both Evernote and Icon were able to come up with logos that keep the cornerstones of logo design top-of-mind. Now, let’s delve a little more into the design process itself and create the best logo design.