Logo Design in 23 steps from Holistic Brand Experts
We often get questions about how to design a business logo and have written about how to design a business logo in response. Logos should be like leaders – powerful, aspirational, striking and hugely ambitious, and as holistic brand experts, we know that learning how to design a business logo as part of your company’s branding is possible if you apply the requisite elements of the logo design process and accept that although a great idea is an asset in creating a memorable logo, much more is required. It’s hard work!
Just as your sense of smell plays a big part in your desire for and appreciation of food, the steps to design a business logo is dependent on several factors, not just a great idea, or great design skills. You don’t just see it, you feel it. Strong logo design is almost as a much a science as much as it is an art which is why there are some rules and best practices for the process.
A fabulously designed, lush logo very rarely just springs from a vacuum and to properly understand how to design a business logo, you need to understand and follow the process.
As holistic brand experts, we follow an in-depth process. We want to know about you -your business vision and aspirations and include steps that take into account considerations around running a successful project and convening effective teams. It is rarely a solo task but it is always a rewarding one and also fundamental to the design of a great logo. Many companies do not expect it, but the ideas and questions raised in a good process can contribute positively to the brand and business overall.
The Holistic Brand Experts Process
When considering how to design a business logo for your company’s branding, it’s helpful to know that good logo design has a life cycle and that the elements of logo design revolve around the brand backstory, personality, architecture, culture and psychology. This is one reason why many companies will use a logo design agency to manage and deploy this process.
For any work on a company’s branding, it really does matter that some initial foundation and discovery work is undertaken to find out what the company does and how. Because of our holistic brand approach, in our view, it’s indispensable to seek insights on these. Sometimes, businesses are looking for a unifying brand for a stable of sub-brands, so there is an existing brand architecture to take account of; or it may just be one large entity based on a super product that has a name that already means something in the market. Whatever it is, the brand backstory, what the company does and why, requires careful consideration when you are thinking about how to design a business logo.
Logos in or out of the context of the brand, and the audience’s familiarity with a brand, have wholly different emotional weights and power, yet the work and thought that goes into the aesthetic is very valuable and must be approached correctly.
If you want to understand how to design a business logo, it helps to understand that there are several approaches to creating great logos and great guidelines for logo design as well as tests to help optimise the chances of getting to the one that is right.
Creating logos, brand and marketing collateral, as much as any other part of marketing, should have a focus on best practice. Our best practice is based not just on our experience and the intuition you develop through several creative processes but also on The Laws of Branding, per Al and Laura Ries. More of that below.
Creativity is not a linear process and that’s part of its power, but finding and depicting that perfect logo – perfect for your company, for who your company is in the world – is the result of a series of processes carried out with structure, great feedback and validation loops and the driving and framing document – The Brand Manifesto. This encapsulates the brand’s purpose, occupied or aspirational positioning, target audience segments, habits and personas, the brand values, personality and promise, and is a key deliverable in branding design.
I always remind clients that everything should start with the brand strategy and that’s the main impetus behind our holistic brand strategy that is premised on discovering, designing and transforming from the inside out. Designing a logo is absolutely no exception. Some designers will start putting abstracts down based on nebulous ideas but we believe that inspiration for branding should have a foundation in the brand ideals, and what is at the heart of the business. This is the heart we seek to express graphically, and it should drive how you design a business logo.
The ethos described above is why if you choose to go down the route of getting help, you should seek out holistic brand experts.
Helpful guidelines on how to design a logo
How to design a logo is one of the most frequent questions we are asked. We are happy to share the answers and the tips that we use as holistic brand experts . There are quite a few of them but using them will help to design a stunning logo and help complete some significant strategic work into the bargain!
1. Brand strategy should drive all of your visual and verbal identity work. Think of branding as BRAND+design. The brand comes first. What is your brand, who are they in the world, what do they stand for, who they stand for, and whose love and attachment are they aiming for? Know that before you start.
With a brand strategy to underpin, drive and give credibility and pedigree to any marketing collateral, including a logo, and with that strategy agreed, we have a core part of the brief in place for ideation to begin.
2) As part of the above process, we isolate the brand’s purpose to determine fit and harmony with primary brand ideas.
3) Brand purpose is the first stage but then we must learn or ascribe, at least foundationally, a brand personality. This will have ramifications for the logo style in many ways – shapes and fonts, for example. Purpose and personality provide a framework for ‘fit’ and traceability to the logo and whether it represents or conflicts with these ideas
4) Start to flesh out a brief. This is a core part of how to design a logo. From the brand deep dive, the brand’s positive difference or uniqueness should be understood, especially as it relates to positioning and designers should be considering in the background, all the ways they could capture the essence of the brand as it is uncovered.
5) The existing visual identity landscape, however disparate and diffuse within the company’s branding, are helpful for collating initial signals – current logos and symbols – preferred styles, shapes and colours, even as generalities, g and things the owner or staff are attached to. It’s also instructive to understand any reasoning behind ‘sacred cows’ in terms of what they don’t want to change or want to live on in some form.
6) Determine which LogoModels appeal. Sometimes when clients approach us, they already have an idea if they want a Wordmark/Logotype, perhaps just their name, emblazoned on a plain background for example or an image intertwined with text or symbol-based logo model.
Many have a hybrid in mind because they want their name attached but once the brief is fleshed out, initial ideas may start to crumble and this is why it’s so important to do the research and deep dive and fully flesh out the creative brief.
7) Know your target market and what they are likely to be attracted to. It’s valuable information to know who they are, what they like and might become attached to. This information could be easily incorporated into not just the logo but any other collateral that may be put together for the company’s branding.
8) Icon Trajectory Discipline. This is about knowledge, expectations and understanding the effect that time and performance has on a resonant brand. Apple was Apple before it became ‘the Apple’ and Nike was Nike before the became the ‘the swoosh’. Having an emblem with the name did allow these companies to be recognisable as icons yes, but this took decades. It’s important that when building new brands this is understood and companies don’t imagine they can leapfrog into icon just by having the right configuration of emblem and word play. It’s iequally mportant to think long term in choosing your logotype or emblem because changing it may be problematic in the future if your brand’s strategy is sustainable and the brand is successful. It’s important to take things step by step.
9) Don’t expect a smooth or linear process. It very often is not smooth, and it is NEVER linear. You may need to repeat several steps.
10) What does the competition look like? Like all strategic work, which branding is, it’s so important to know what your rivals are doing so you can gauge uniqueness and reinforce your positioning. The other thing is that quite easy to unconsciously ‘channel’ brand ideas that have made an impact on one into your own creative work and it’s important to avoid this unconscious channelling and if that’s not possible, at least to catch it. There are two schools of thought – you could look at these in advance to avoid this, but some believe it’s more likely that you might unconsciously copy if this is used beforehand. As an agency, as part of our research, someone in our team would do this work and ensure we are steered away from any potential conflicts. On top of that, we will still do a peer review exercise at the end of the ideation process just as a doublecheck.
11) Understand perceptual tendencies and shape and colour rules. Logotypes do come in an array of shapes and sizes and they can come in an infinite panoply of possibilities but not all shapes have the same value in terms of ‘stickiness’, appeal or recallability. Horizontal shapes are easier on the eyes. Legibility is critical and this consideration trumps almost everything else. There’s power in the name and how that is rendered is important but there must a balance between reflecting a brand’s attributes and choosing a font face that is legible.
12) It’s a team event – many more heads are better than one especially when it comes to capturing the brand essence.
13) Stakeholder Involvement – ensure that all the right people in the organisation are involved in the process. Whoever you will need sign off from must be included. How to design a logo is not nearly as important as how to get it signed off sometimes, if there is a difference of opinion!
14) Building a team spirit and culture quickly Creating teams to deliver something in a short space of time requires a specific and special skill of building high performing teams in artificial conditions sometimes but it’s necessary to do this. Ideation is about the freedom and ability to experiment and reframe ideas. It’s also about courage and communication and it is only good practice to foster an environment where everyone can share ideas open and constructively. If budget allows, consider bringing onboard holistic brand experts.
15) Brainstorm!!! This can involve frenetic energy or calm paced conversation, it really depends on the team, but ideas must be recorded and collected, and consensus must be pinned down and homed in on. The outcomes of the process may breach some of the rules. While this can help to open minds and enable people to understand the options they have, it can lead to a sort of paralysis too as the options suddenly open a vista of possibilities.
16) Rejection is a key part of the ideation and brainstorming process. It’s just as important to know what is desired as much as what is not
17) Review key themes, reiterate some of the guidelines and decide how they can be reconciled or make a decision to carry on regardless
18)Apply the following guidelines to emergent themes
19) Rule of shapes – distinctive shapes are registered and retained by your brain far quicker and with more facility, and so shapes will need to be discussed and shortlisted. Trademarks as much as possibl should be paired with the name. As a shortcut, once established, the trademark may be sufficient but your logotype should include both components for recallability.
20) The rule of colours – Colours affect emotion, attention and attachment and really can attract or repel and therefore it’s important to know your market. If you are in a hotly contested space, your brand and logo colour is warfare and should be chosen carefully and strategically. Primary colours are generally better and they are all perceived differently.
21) The rule of contextualised text – how does any text on the logo hit? Can configuration changes alter impact and power?
22) More Brainstorming! Remember, it’s not a linear process.
23) Create a shortlist. The initial design brief encapsulates criteria and a list of requirements for the logo which can be validated and discounted in this process.
24) The mono and colour test. Check all ideas in black and white, colour and greyscale with colour.
25) Ubiquity and collateral applicability tests. Once a consensus develops around an idea, don’t be afraid to parlay it into all the different forms and applications within which that logo will need to exist and be reproduced.
26) Produce representations as cheaply and quickly as possible of the shortlisted ideas so they can be visualised and discussed. It’s important in this process to try all possible permutations. Sometimes the one discounted in theory makes the strongest impression when fully rendered.
27) Testing – this is a broad process and none of the categories is necessarily mutually exclusive as a measure of iteration is necessary.
a) Temporal and trend tests – will the components and the whole stand the test of time. It might look super trendy, but does it lend itself to being updated and refined as time goes on while keeping the primary elements stable?
b) Recallability tests. A key function of brand marketing is to effect recallability of your brand. Visual branding naturally is fundamental to this, so while testing, this is one of the measures that should be tracked.
Cross Reference, Fit and Validation
Holistic brand experts put great store in cross-referencing to brand ideals and personality fit and validation.
28) Brand soul reference – do the candidates, reflect and support the brand ideas and values?
29) Brand Personality Fit – explicitly check that the candidate logos match the brand personality and voice/affect
30) Marketing Testing – Audience Research. The tests above can be done both internally, to arrive at the final choices but during audience tests, some should be repeated. Target responses are extremely valuable if you can afford outreach to them.
31) Post the testing process, it’s time to choose the final candidates and throw everything at it to really bring it life.
32) Produce the final candidate again across all channels, variants and applications
33) Finalise the logo
37) Masterfile management – create and collate master data for all file formats. Create master files for all formats and get them signed off from the primary decision-makers.
Hopefully, this is a useful resource that will help you create a logo and be knowledgeable about the process if you are embarking on and thinking about being part of a process to create a stunning logo. Remember that meaning to anchor your logo is critical to relatability, longevity and that comes from within the minds, purpose, dreams and culture of the business. If you can uncover this, it will go a long way to ensuring what you create is relevant, now and in the future.
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