What Makes a Great Logo?

We’re exposed to as many as 10,000 brand interactions a day — usually accompanied by a logo that serves so well to remind us that we’re brushing our teeth with Crest toothpaste or scrolling past a Peloton ad on Instagram. Logos are so pervasive in our advertising-fueled society that there’s even a board game to challenge how well Nike, McDonald’s, and other icons of iconography have tunneled their way into your subconscious (yes really).

There’s no denying the power of a great logo. The more pressing question is, how can you have one too? We consulted our expert graphic designers (aka “the dream team”) to help articulate that certain je ne sais quoi of great logo design.

Design 101

In order to create an awesome logo, you should start with a solid appreciation for some foundations of design.

Color. Because color is tied to emotion, your choice of color palette is a great way to communicate brand personality. A health spa might opt for soothing blues and greens, while a cupcakery would do well with happy pinks and yellows. A good rule of thumb is to stick to two or three colors — use the color wheel to guide your design choices. 

Balance. Less is more. A harmonious logo makes use of negative space; this carefully considered reprieve for the eye is as important to design success as the “active” elements.

Symmetry. In a fascinating example of consumer psychology, symmetry can influence brand perception. Asymmetrical logos lend credence to brands with an ‘exciting’ personality (think Mountain Dew), while symmetrical logos have been shown to boost consumer attitudes in brands that are more grounded (such as Shell).

Interest. Make use of pattern, repetition, contrast, focal point, and visual hierarchy to guide your viewer’s eye through the design and make a memorable impression.

Typography. Any fonts present in your logo should be legible and easy to scale — and preferably not Comic Sans. Choose a typeface that integrates seamlessly with the rest of your brand.

Let’s talk style

There’s no hard and fast rule when it comes to logo style — design (like all art) is subjective. While we can’t give you an exact formula, we do have the low-down on style categories and questions to keep in mind when assessing the stylistic success of your logo.

Choose a direction

Deciding on the format of your logo can be a great launchpad for the rest of the design. Have a look at the most common categories below.

From left to right: Abstract Mark/Logomark, Emblem, Pictorial/Symbol, Wordmark/Logotype

Abstract Mark/Logomark. A brand idea or attribute is conveyed through abstract shapes and symbols.

Emblem. An emblem features your brand’s name or initials, usually as part of a pictorial element or shape.

Pictorial/Symbol. This mark uses literal or symbolic imagery to represent your brand.

Wordmark/Logotype. This format includes your brand’s name or initials in a stylized typeface and/or a simple shape.

Once you have a firm direction for your logo, you can begin to layer on the elements of style. Does your brand reflect a contemporary style or something more classic? Is an illustrative style the right fit for your brand’s personality or would a less literal, more abstract approach better suit?

Checking in

One of the trickiest aspects of design is removing your “subjective hat” and viewing the piece with fresh eyes. Consider:

  • Is it easily identifiable? When in doubt, keep it simple. 
  • Is it appropriate for your intended audience? Much like everything else in marketing, knowing your target audience is key to making informed brand decisions.
  • Does it reflect the personality of your brand? Imagine how incongruent the Twitter logo would feel to the brand’s identity if, instead of the simplicity of the bird, they opted for an old-school emblem.
  • Is it distinct? The last thing you want is to be mistaken for your competitors. Your logo should set you apart and communicate something about your values or offerings.
  • Is it timeless? Trends come and go, but a logo rooted in foundational design principles is always classic.
  • Does it make a lasting impression? Of course, you want your audience to remember your logo. An overly complicated design impedes a viewer’s ability to digest, comprehend, and recall what they’re seeing.

Practical usage

So now your logo looks awesome in the working design file. Nice! But is it versatile? Remember, your logo will have to work across a variety of applications.

As you design, consider if the logo can scale from stickers to billboards. Does it work for traditional print and digital media? Would the design still be effective if it were printed in one color or reverse color? Your logo needs to make sense (and look good), regardless of the environment.

Remember the big picture (pun intended)

Your logo is important — but it’s not everything. When it comes to establishing brand identity and building connection with your audience, logos won’t (and can’t) do all of the work alone. 

As Red Antler co-founder Emily Heyward notes in her book Obsession: Building a Brand People Love From Day One, logos in the age of digital marketing are rarely ever seen out of context. Red Antler marketers actively advise against brands dreaming up their own Nike swoosh — the repetitive logo dominance that worked in a bygone era of advertising is no longer relevant to today’s audiences who (rightfully) demand a more varied and nuanced effort of storytelling.

Does that mean you should forget all the aforementioned advice? Absolutely not. (Do you want to see a graphic designer cry?) 

A good logo makes a strong first impression and a lasting mental association. A good logo is made great when it’s supported by all other aspects of your brand.

You don’t have to go it alone

We hope these tips have helped you finesse your logo design — but if you need a little more direction, our team loves working on a good branding project. Drop us a line and let us know how we can best support your brand goals!

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