The 5 Basic Elements of Good Logo Design

2012_logo_white_385x450A logo is an intrinsic part of any business image. A well-designed logo does wonders for a company’s brand, and a bad one can do a lot of damage.

Logos are a common area of graphic design. Many an art student’s first project is to design a simple logo for himself or herself or a fictional business. The perfect logo can be frustratingly elusive, though.

Some wonder what’s so difficult about creating a good logo. They’re small, they look easy to do, so no problem, right? When you only see the result of a designer’s efforts, the logo creation can look like it was a simple task.

But, it’s not. A logo takes thought and creativity, and many elements combine to make a good one. You know that good logo when you see it. Here’s some of what goes into one:

Branding

Creating a logo that fits a business brand takes a great deal of consideration before the first line is drawn. A designer brings many elements together to capture the essence of the brand, blending it all into an image that will be everlasting through time, just like the business.

A good logo needs to to encompass the brand and marketing message the company wants to send to consumers. For example, when you see the Harley shield, you can sense the “cool” that might be associated with their motorcycles.

Memorability

Unique and well designed logos are unforgettable. Some logos are too plain or not symbolic enough for consumers to easily associate them with the brand. How impactful is a white dot, for example? Now think of Google’s logo – big difference, right?

Memorability means that when a viewer spots the logo, he or she can easily recall which company, service or business owns that image. Think of the World Wildlife Federation’s panda, the “I (heart) NY” logo or the Olympic rings.

Aesthetically Appealing

A good logo is appealing, stirring emotions to heighten the positive image of the business in question. For example, have you ever heard a new song and thought you didn’t like it? What happened after you saw the kick-ass video a week later? Did you start to change your mind about liking the song? That’s the power of visual appeal.

An ugly logo is going to turn people off or attract the wrong kind of attention. One excellent example is the logo designed for the 2012 Olympics in London. It’s a wonder it didn’t cause riots in the street, and it has unfortunately taken away some of the glory that goes into the Olympic games.

Usability

Graphics have to be versatile enough that they can be used in many different mediums. A good logo has to work well on the web, on letterhead, in print ads, and in video. Good graphic designers know that what looks great in a site banner might not work on a brochure or vice versa, so they carefully craft a logo that looks good no matter what.

Size matters. If a logo on the web has too much detail, reducing its size for a business card might give you nothing more than a blob.

Colors are a tricky element, too. RGB is very different from CMYK, for example, and they’re used in different mediums. Where RGB looks rich and vibrant, print colors may pale in comparison, losing some of their punch. A full-color logo may not translate well to black and white or grayscale, either.

Timelessness

A good logo withstands the test of time. It may need some touchups to keep it fresh and prevent it from looking dated our out of style, but that’s all it should require. Changing your logo when it already has memorability in place is bad for your branding. You want one logo that works for as long as it can.

Two good examples are the logos for the Betty Crocker and Aunt Jemima. Both have gone through quite a few facelifts over the years to stay up to date, but the integrity of the original logos hasn’t changed drastically, though both companies are over 8 decades old.

Other logos like those for major television networks in the United States (ABC, CBS, NBC) have been updated over the years, but you can still look at their logos from 50 years ago and recognize the similarities.

If you have a logo for your business, take a look at it. Does it pass these five tests? What are your favorite logos out there? Which do you hate?

Post by Agent X

Agent X is the name many mysterious and intriguing people take on when they guest post at our site. Their mission is to slip in like a thief in the night, leave you with entertaining, valuable and useful content, and slip away again - without getting caught.

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  1. My eyes – the goggles, they do nothing. :(

    Harry, did you have to post that… thing… as the post image?

    Hehe – I didn’t actually realise that was the London 2012 Olympics logo until I googled it while reading this post. It really makes the eyes bleed. If I look at it and then close my eyes I can still see it.

    But enough of that. I have a serious question.

    What’s the difference between a logo and a website banner? For example, does Men With Pens have an actual logo? I can see the site title in the banner, but is that a logo as well?

  2. Harry,

    I only read the article to make sure you were pointing out London 2012 as a bad example. Okay, not only, it is one of my favorite topics, but mostly. :)

    Faves: FedEx, amazon, Nike’s swoosh, the Playboy bunny. They each convey exactly what they’re supposed to, at any size, with utter simplicity and very little backstory needed.

    Hate: Oh, I’d better not get started!

    Regards,

    Kelly

    Kelly´s last blog post…MCE Round Table: Two Kinds of Confounded Expectations

  3. The 2012 logo is certainly effective as a talking point. Massively controversial. I remember seeing the television ad slots which were used to launch the logo and I was horrified! In fact I think the original advert had complaints due to potential dangers for epileptics.

    …however. Great use of the logo Harry. You got my attention :)

    I like logos which carry subtle symbols (like the Fedex).

    Getting from concept to logo can be pretty tough. The logo I designed for TheWriteNetwork has the right concept, it just took ages to get complete. Hopefully some feedback from logo galleries may help :)

    Chung Nguyen-Le´s last blog post…5 Characteristics of Great Editors

  4. Up until now I haven’t needed a logo, but as I begin to expand the brand (like create a Facebook Someday Syndrome fan page) then I will need a logo. And of course you know I’ll pick! ;)

    (I’m just going to pretend that the London Olympics logo doesn’t exist)

    Alex Fayle | Someday Syndrome´s last blog post…Taking Life on the Road: Jim Nelson & René Agredano Interview

  5. Great article! That London 2012 logo… oy. “What were they thinking?” has become something of a cliche, but honestly, what *were* they thinking? I’d love to see the design brief that led to that logo.

    Catherine Cantieri, Sorted´s last blog post…Taming Time: Your to-do list(s)

  6. You’ll never look at the Olympics 2012 logo the same way again once you realise it portrays Lisa Simpson engaged in an activity which is not currently an Olympic sport.

  7. @Patrick: The logo and banner are two different things. You can have a banner without a logo, but you can’t have a logo without a banner on a website. The banner is the area in the code called the header. It’s the block of space at the very top of the page. Whether it’s straight text generated by the WP blog or an image, it’s always going to be there. Logos are an element unto themselves. You can use it in the banner, in sidebar ads, on business cards, etc.

    The Men with Pens logo would be the crumbling letters and the bullet.

    @Kelly: Oh yes, the London 2012 logo is my favorite example of a really bad logo.

    It’s hard for me to think of a favorite logo. It’s one of those things where I can’t remember the image unless it’s put into some kind of context, there’s just too many of them. Like in Saving Private Ryan when Ryan said he couldn’t remember what his brothers looked like and Tom Hanks told him to remember an event rather than just their faces.

    @Chung: A bad logo is just as memorable – but not in the way we want them to be, that’s for sure! It is tough going from concept to finished product, no doubt about that!

    @Alex: I know, I think we’ve all been traumatized by that logo ;)

    @Catherine: That was my initial response too.

    @John: You’re right, I won’t. In fact, I found a few spoofs of this logo that would be considered NSFW.

  8. Wait…those are supposed to be numbers? Not just randomly shaped pink blocks?

    Yeesh.

    When we really started our business at the beginning of this year, we had our designer redesign our logo. I had NO IDEA what all went into the logo creation process, but watching him work was fascinating. I learned a ton about design and logos just from that. I’ll never be a designer, but I have a much greater appreciation for the process now.

    @Kelly- Go on, what logos do you hate? :-)

    Michelle – Word Ninja´s last blog post…We Have an RSS Feed Now!

  9. I think Nike has an amazing logo for its simplicity as well as attractiveness.

    It simply enhances the look of their shoes. An ugly logo would do the opposite.

    Logos are extremely important, they are the symbol of the entire company and when the mind reflects on the company, that logo will probably surface too. It better be appealing.

    You’ve really outlined why a good logo can be so darn hard to create. Definitely something to keep in mind.

    Bamboo Forest – PunIntended´s last blog post…Why You Should Anticipate Things Will Go Well

  10. I admire people who can design logos. It’s all about minimalistismness. See, I could never do it.

    Here’s a question: when is an online business ready for a paid logo? What’s a reasonable price for a logo?

    Kaushik´s last blog post…Acceptance – 7th Awakening is Simple book excerpt

  11. Is a logo different from a symbol?

    My first thought when you asked for favorite logos was the Bat-sign. One of the things that makes it so great in my mind is that it’s adaptable; you can find a different one for each movie, cartoon show, and live-action show, but you can almost always tell that it’s representing Batman. So is it a symbol or a logo? Or is a logo just a symbol used to make money? :P

  12. @Michelle and @Bamboo: I think everyone should sit down with a designer and watch them work for a day if they have the opportunity. Many people don’t realize how much work and brain power goes into what designers do and it’s easy to overlook when all you’re seeing is the spectacular end result. I guess that goes for any profession, though. The pros always make it look easy ;)

    @Kaushik: Any time is a good time for a logo. Sometimes one evolves during the site creation process, other times it takes more thinking and evolves over time. Many people like to do both the site design and the logo at the same time and work the logo into the banner.

    As for price, that’s going to vary from designer to designer. They can start as low as $150 and go up from there depending on whether the designer has a flat rate or works by the hour.

    @Rose: Is that you, Miss Cat? Don’t deny it, Rose+Batman = Cat ;). I think the Batman logo/symbol is what I was telling Kaushik above. I’d say it started out as a symbol and over time became a logo for the franchise.

  13. At least the London logo is getting this much attention that people taking time to discuss its hilariousness :P

    *wondering* : why would they do it as a publicity stunt !!!

    write a writing´s last blog post…The Writing Business : Smart Trade for Smart People

  14. @ Rose – The Batman logo is indeed a logo and was created as such in 1939. A logo is, by its very definition, a symbol that represents something else – a brand, a company, a product, a service, a charity, you name it.

    For a better idea, you can read the Wikipedia definition of logo found here:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Logo

    @ Kaushik – A good, reputable logo designer often charges well above a thousand. David Airey and Jacob Cass would be two designers who specialize in logos.

    Just as in writing, because you write well does not a copywriter make and just as you can use Photoshop does not a logo designer make. Logo design takes an extensive amount of time and research, as well as smart thinking.

  15. These are great guidelines for creating a logo! You definitely make us realize how much talent and effort goes into successful logos.

    Great job!

    *smiles*
    Michele

    Michele´s last blog post…Blogging: How Does it Affect You?

  16. See that is what confuses me sometimes when trying to pick logos.

    Not all websites have logos and it is hard to pick sometimes.

    For example, I do not think Lawfully Green (my site) has a logo – it’s just wordpress generated text. Your current redesign of the site takes it a step further with more fancy text, but I wouldn’t necessarily class that as a logo, even though it fits the site like a glove.

    I do like the simplicity of tect based logos, they just leave me wondering whether they need “something more”.

  17. Hi! Thanks for sharing these guides. I especially agree @ Memorability. A good logo is something that the customers remember.
    Maybe I can apply them someday or once I have my own company. :D

  18. Why would they modify the swastika for an Olympics logo????

  19. Michelle,

    If you want a good laugh while you’re hating logos, give this a try:

    http://www.artistmike.com/Bad-Logos/BadLogos.html

    Believe me, once you’ve read that article, you’ll at least know what to avoid.

    Harry,

    i could go on and on with faves, too. Silly ol’ brain never turns off!

    Until later,

    Kelly

    Kelly´s last blog post…Your Startup Planning Guide—and It’s NEVER Too Late to (Re)Start

  20. I like the post–don’t forget that some awesome logos aren’t necessarily designed with a “graphic,” but instead use unique/obscure fonts. I’ve created plenty of logos for my clients, and my best ones tend to be nothing more than just text in a cool-looking font!

    I look forward to reading more!

    Nick Thacker´s last blog post…Judge Declares Cap’n Crunch’s “Crunchberries” Not Real Fruit

  21. @Kelly- Wow. I’ve seen some of those before, but others are almost NSFW! Those little logo figures are frisky!

    I think that makes an argument for testing your logo by showing it to a teenager/young adult first. If they start giggling uncontrollably and making lewd remarks, your logo is unintentionally sexual and needs to be immediately revised.

    @Harry- I totally agree. Watching the logo design process was fascinating. I learned about the connotations that different fonts had, the connotations of different colors, and about a hundred other things that never, ever crossed my mind.

    Designers do a lot of hard work!

  22. Hi Harry,

    It’s good that you reminded how much work goes into making a Logo. Probably, clients could appreciate the work and pay them handsomely. Likewise, why not James write a post on “Baseline or punchline” which is an integral part of a Logo, and which enhances the meaning and complements it in many ways?
    I urge James to comeout with a good post on Baseline, which can be shown to clients and get some good pay for it. :)
    I appreciate Logos and the work goes into it, as I watch most of the designers struggle to come out with many.
    Good topic to discuss, and timely for many give a link to clients!
    Solomon

    Solomon´s last blog post…Ride the crest of the writer’s learning curve!

  23. Really a successful logo will never go out of the mind of the people. Logos should be designed in such a way so that they can hold the image of a company forever. Frequent change of the logo of a company is not at all desirable. It is after constant display of the logo, it gets registered in the mind of the people. Hence a design has to be chosen that will not become outdated.

  24. It’s a good checklist, Harry. I agree with Nick Thacker, that you should also pay attention to text-based logos. The trend of simplicity made them very popular in recent two or three years. In Web 2.0 era many startup names are synthetic words. Therefore, many of them made their logos by just playing with fonts, colors and Web 2.0 effects like reflections, glossy, etc ….

    Dennis Cover´s last blog post…TBS Cover Editor v1.7 is released!

  25. The more simple and memorable a logo is, the better. Of course spending a significant amount of time on designing a company logo is essential, but over-thinking can thwart your creative juices.

    Also, it is important that when someone sees your logo for the first time, they are able to get some sense of what the company is about — right away.

    That 2012 London Olympics logo is quite the eye-bleeder, but on the other hand, when someone sees it for the first time (and they don’t realize those brightly-colored shapes are actually numbers), they will most likely recognize the 5 interlocking rings…and consequently, they’ll do a web search trying to figure out what the logo is for. So from a marketing perspective…it’s not too shabby for driving commentary buzz…kinda like what we’re all doing now”

  26. brainwave entrainment says:

    The logo is a little too 80′s for me. It’s all a bit strange as previous logos have always had an element of symbolism in them, yet this one doesn’t seem to. A case for Dan Brown maybe? :)
    Ellanore

  27. Yes, I also feel a critical problem to find my blogs logo. I thought many hours but failed to discover a one perfect logo for my blog.
    .-= aero´s last blog ..?????????? ????? ??? ?????? ??? =-.

  28. I like the idea of timeless… I mean if you think of the best logos of all times… they will still be using the same logo in 100 years time.
    .-= car hire in lanzarote´s last blog ..Affordable rates for car hire in Lanzarote =-.

  29. I’m not sure i really understand what the London 2012 logo is attempting to achieve, to be quite frank it looks like it was made by a 5year old with a penchant for pink crayons. I mean just what is it supposed to signify? Do the block stand for anything, if they do their meaning completely escapes me. Logo are supposed to be immediately identifiable, which i guess it is, but only due its bad and overly pink design.
    .-= Moonbadger´s last blog ..This summer take a flight to the UK…. =-.

  30. Logo design is the sum total of the corporate existence. Logo design is an internal part of the overall brand building. There comes a time when people recognize you by your logo design.
    .-= Unique Logos´s last blog ..Logo Design =-.

  31. Logo plays a crucial part in the brand awareness and sometime your logo can really increase you sales along with a nice slogan. Log should be easy but unique.

Trackbacks

  1. bizsugar.com says:

    The 5 Basic Elements of Good Logo Design…

    A logo is an intrinsic part of any business image. A well-designed logo does wonders for a company’s brand, and a bad one can do a lot of damage….

  2. [...] Create a logo that is unique and hard to forget by your customers, make it a memorable logo that stands out in the minds of your customers no mater where they are. Another component of a great logo is one that further follows up on your brand and the marketing message you send out, the logo should be like an extensive to those two things already set in place, as suggested on Men With Pens. [...]

  3. [...] “Some wonder what’s so difficult about creating a good logo. They’re small, they look easy to do, so no problem, right? When you only see the result of a designer’s efforts, the logo creation can look like it was a simple task. But it’s not. A logo takes thought and creativity, and many elements combine to make a good one.” (via Harrison Mcleod) [...]

  4. [...] “Some wonder what’s so difficult about creating a good logo. They’re small, they look easy to do, so no problem, right? When you only see the result of a designer’s efforts, the logo creation can look like it was a simple task. But it’s not. A logo takes thought and creativity, and many elements combine to make a good one.” (via Harrison Mcleod) [...]

  5. [...] “Some wonder what’s so difficult about creating a good logo. They’re small, they look easy to do, so no problem, right? When you only see the result of a designer’s efforts, the logo creation can look like it was a simple task. But it’s not. A logo takes thought and creativity, and many elements combine to make a good one.” (via Harrison Mcleod) [...]

  6. [...] “Some wonder what’s so difficult about creating a good logo. They’re small, they look easy to do, so no problem, right? When you only see the result of a designer’s efforts, the logo creation can look like it was a simple task. But it’s not. A logo takes thought and creativity, and many elements combine to make a good one.” (via Harrison Mcleod) [...]

  7. Vital Tips For Effective Logo Design « William Rodriguez Portfolio says:

    [...] “Some wonder what’s so difficult about creating a good logo. They’re small, they look easy to do, so no problem, right? When you only see the result of a designer’s efforts, the logo creation can look like it was a simple task. But it’s not. A logo takes thought and creativity, and many elements combine to make a good one.” (via Harrison Mcleod) [...]

  8. Vital Tips For Effective Logo Design | huibit05.com says:

    [...] “Some wonder what’s so difficult about creating a good logo. They’re small, they look easy to do, so no problem, right? When you only see the result of a designer’s efforts, the logo creation can look like it was a simple task. But it’s not. A logo takes thought and creativity, and many elements combine to make a good one.” (via Harrison Mcleod) [...]

  9. AMB Album » Vital Tips For Effective Logo Design says:

    [...] “Some wonder what’s so difficult about creating a good logo. They’re small, they look easy to do, so no problem, right? When you only see the result of a designer’s efforts, the logo creation can look like it was a simple task. But it’s not. A logo takes thought and creativity, and many elements combine to make a good one.” (via Harrison Mcleod) [...]

  10. [...] “Some wonder what’s so difficult about creating a good logo. They’re small, they look easy to do, so no problem, right? When you only see the result of a designer’s efforts, the logo creation can look like it was a simple task. But it’s not. A logo takes thought and creativity, and many elements combine to make a good one.” (via Harrison Mcleod) [...]

  11. the hype lab » Blog Archive » designing a logo says:

    [...] what are the elements of a logo? Men With Pens lists [...]

  12. [...] Create a logo that is unique and hard to forget by your customers, make it a memorable logo that stands out in the minds of your customers no mater where they are. Another component of a great logo is one that further follows up on your brand and the marketing message you send out, the logo should be like an extensive to those two things already set in place, as suggested on Men With Pens. [...]

  13. [...] “Some wonder what’s so difficult about creating a good logo. They’re small, they look easy to do, so no problem, right? When you only see the result of a designer’s efforts, the logo creation can look like it was a simple task. But it’s not. A logo takes thought and creativity, and many elements combine to make a good one.” (via Harrison Mcleod) [...]

  14. [...] “Some wonder what’s so difficult about creating a good logo. They’re small, they look easy to do, so no problem, right? When you only see the result of a designer’s efforts, the logo creation can look like it was a simple task. But it’s not. A logo takes thought and creativity, and many elements combine to make a good one.” (via Harrison Mcleod) [...]

  15. [...] “Some wonder what’s so difficult about creating a good logo. They’re small, they look easy to do, so no problem, right? When you only see the result of a designer’s efforts, the logo creation can look like it was a simple task. But it’s not. A logo takes thought and creativity, and many elements combine to make a good one.” (via Harrison Mcleod) [...]

  16. [...] “Some wonder what’s so difficult about creating a good logo. They’re small, they look easy to do, so no problem, right? When you only see the result of a designer’s efforts, the logo creation can look like it was a simple task. But it’s not. A logo takes thought and creativity, and many elements combine to make a good one.” (via Harrison Mcleod) [...]

  17. [...] “Some wonder what’s so difficult about creating a good logo. They’re small, they look easy to do, so no problem, right? When you only see the result of a designer’s efforts, the logo creation can look like it was a simple task. But it’s not. A logo takes thought and creativity, and many elements combine to make a good one.” (via Harrison Mcleod) [...]

  18. [...] Their logo embodies all of the elements of an effective logo. [...]

  19. [...] “Some wonder what’s so difficult about creating a good logo. They’re small, they look easy to do, so no problem, right? When you only see the result of a designer’s efforts, the logo creation can look like it was a simple task. But it’s not. A logo takes thought and creativity, and many elements combine to make a good one.” (via Harrison Mcleod) [...]

  20. [...] “Some wonder what’s so difficult about creating a good logo. They’re small, they look easy to do, so no problem, right? When you only see the result of a designer’s efforts, the logo creation can look like it was a simple task. But it’s not. A logo takes thought and creativity, and many elements combine to make a good one.” (via Harrison Mcleod) [...]

  21. [...] “Some wonder what’s so difficult about creating a good logo. They’re small, they look easy to do, so no problem, right? When you only see the result of a designer’s efforts, the logo creation can look like it was a simple task. But it’s not. A logo takes thought and creativity, and many elements combine to make a good one.” (via Harrison Mcleod) [...]

  22. [...] on peut comprendre que ce n’est pas une  « simple tâche » (source:Harrison Mcleod) [...]

  23. [...] 1. Their logo embodies all of the elements of an effective logo. [...]

  24. […] power. “Graphics have to be versatile enough that they can be used in many different mediums,” according to Men with Pens. “A good logo has to work well on the web, on letterhead, in print ads, and in video. Good […]

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