From bricks-and-mortar high street names to online communities and social networking sites, logos are everywhere. Defining brands, lifestyle aspirations and, as Nick Spence discovers, much great design.
From graduates to branding veterans, crafting logos offers the perfect creative outlet for pushing both your design skills and ability to fulfil a brief. Acting as visual shorthand, the humble logo can uniquely encapsulate a company, event or institution in a simple image or use of type.
Yet logos help build brands and generate billions, and - at their best - are responsible for brand loyalty, driving business globally across fundamentally disparate markets, cultures and languages. They also help define lifestyles, social status and a sense of belonging, feeding into the belief that everyone likes to be associated with something. Although often deceptively simple, creating logos requires all your creative ability to get them right, as well as a solid understanding of your client's business objectives, the market and target audience.
Last year's controversy over the £400,000 London 2012 Olympics emblem, devised by brand consultants Wolff Olins, spectacularly showed how important logo design is. For a while it seemed ever yone, from the man in the street to the online blogger, had an opinion on the much-maligned design, although politicians and Olympic officials defiantly stood their ground. Described as dynamic, edgy and urban by organisers, and seemingly appealing to the 'inter net generation', the public contention showed a nation never more visually aware. The Olympic debate also crystallised the role logos now play; needing to work on so many levels and in different and new mediums. Brands such as MySpace, Facebook, Google and eBay aren't high street names, yet they have a public profile and clearly defined identities that many traditional retailers would love to have. With so much time now spent online, especially as part of social networking sites, logos need to work virtually and reflect something less tangible than simply selling a product.
Logo design principles
The internet has undoubtedly helped transform the fundamentals of logo design in recent years. No longer restricted to static, flat print, logos can be 3D, interactive, animated, and designed to be seen essentially online. Although the old logo design rules may have been broken, some basic principles will help you design better logos. For Paul Owen, creative director at Heavenly, the creative process depends on setting out these basic principles in advance.
"Our process begins with a thorough understanding of the client's business that results in a creative thought. This is the foundation of all thinking for the identity elements," insists Owen. "Our designers work in their own personal ways. Some drop everything and grab a pencil; others are straight into Illustrator. One thing is consistent across all of them though; we all know that a logo has to work in one colour, so all initial work is done in black-and-white."
Understanding your client's needs is vital if you want to deliver logos and identities that best reflect the company's aims and ambitions. Good communication is essential because something as abstract as a logo isn't universally viewed with the same eye.
"The client knows its brand better than we do so we make sure we listen to them closely during the brief. What we know better than them is how to make it happen, and how to make it speak to the people they want us to consider," explains David Bowden, creative director at Zip. "The client normally has a detailed list of what to take into consideration. Clients generally have an idea of who they want to target: groups they are missing with the current advertising and groups they want to retain or lose. We start by looking at the audience groups, and how the client fits into their life and social network at that time, then where they would like to be. This gives us solid goalposts to aim for."
No designer works in isolation, and a key factor you need to consider when designing logos is what staff and the public will think. Clued up high-profile clients should have checks and balances in place to ensure your redesign doesn't seem like a slap in the face to customers.
"The first thing to do is to audit the full communications mix. It may be a strong logo, but consider how it is represented on the website and elsewhere, and, most importantly, think about how the staff and customers feel about it," stresses Lars Hemming Jorgensen, chief creative at Large Design. "There's an element of investigative reporting about this process as you strive to discover brand truths." Jorgensen believes you need to approach the branding exercise the right way to ensure that all elements are examined and addressed before public consumption. "Failures generally happen when a brand project has been rushed through, didn't involve stakeholders from all of the company and weak management who buckle at the first hint of criticism. Criticism is inevitable, as it's easier to be negative than positive, which makes it even more important that you know you're doing the right thing." Success also depends on the brand, and not all brands share the same potential for good design. "It's easy to make fashion clients look good, but to successfully brand a software, hearing aid and glucose meter online, that takes greatness," adds Jorgensen.
Although makeovers and rebranding may involve focus groups, stakeholders and large advertising agencies, you don't have to be one of the big boys to excel in this arena. Many small studios and one-man bands can and do design logos for a living. Jon Pink of J.Pink Design has over ten years of experience in logo design, filling the gap between a freelance graphic designer and a traditional design agency.
"The internet has really evened out the playing field for all businesses, and design agencies are no exception. It has opened the door for companies and designers to trade primarily as an online service provider, allowing for drastic savings on traditional costs, savings that are passed directly onto the client in the fees that we charge," says Pink. Indeed, some of the best, most distinctive logos have cost little. "There are many world famous brands that have been created without substantial resources," adds Pink. "A good example being the Nike 'swoosh'. That logo was designed by a graphic design student, Carolyn Davidson, for $35 and was met with the feedback 'I don't love it, but it will grow on me', from company founder Phil Knight, a logo that is now an internationally recognised symbol."
Research the competition
For those seeking inspiration and valuable feedback, websites such as LogoLounge.com and LogoPond.com offer support and a range of resources, including user advice and related links. "Do your research and find out about the competition, ideas, colours and shapes. It's not too difficult to see what works and what doesn't," suggests Radim Malinic of Brand Nu. "There are some great examples out there, so keep your eyes open." Many of the logos on display on websites are self-initiated or for small online companies and traditional businesses who require a fresh look without the substantial outlay. These modest commissions can be the ideal breeding ground to develop your designs and business.
"My underlying feeling is the more you work, the quicker and stronger you will develop," insists Alex Haigh of Thinkdust. "I'm sure most creatives read a lot of articles on the 'creative process', but from a personal perspective I think it is purely down to the individual. I don't have a set routine, everything is varied. Some brand identities just come with working in FreeHand on the Mac, spending hours trying new things, experimenting. The key point with any design really is to meet the brief's requirements, focus on the tone of voice and, last but not least, just really put the effort into the design until you feel it's complete."
With so many sources of help and inspiration online it's always advisable you don't simply follow fashions or trends that have been predicted by websites such as LogoLounge. Discover as many inspirations as possible but try to develop your own unique visual language and avoid passing fads or, inevitably, you'll be yesterday's news.
"Everything moves on and only a few things maintain a fresh look over the years; and it's only if they're lucky that they can look retro and not out of date," says Radim Malinic. "The key factors should always be legibility, originality and innovation." If you're working with large clients on various aspects of their identity, try to maintain a consistency and keep an eye on the bigger picture. If you collaborate with creative partners or third parties to deliver large scale logos and graphics, do your best to maintain quality control throughout.
"Normally we set everything up how it should be. We design a style guide, then larger marketing agencies take over control for the rollout of in-store posters, and so on," explains David Bowden. "However, we have in the past done projects from start to finish and we do prefer this way. We can ensure more quality control across the board."
Although there are no set rules for creating logos, vector tools such as Illustrator and FreeHand are easily scaleable and can be printed, enlarged and used for signage and in-store graphics, for example, without loss of quality. "Most clients need a vector version of the logo in order to be able to scale it up, cut it out and colour separate it," explains Radim Malinic. Equally, you need something that will be legible in lowest denominator media such as newsprint, and work online and on mobile devices. Typography also plays an important role that can help enhance a logo. Again there are no set rules, with some designers choosing to work with existing typefaces, employ typographers or create their own.
"It varies. Recently I created a typeface from scratch, which is quite time-consuming and requires a lot of patience," says Alex Haigh. "The rest of the identities I create usually use existing faces with a lot of work on tweaking, kerning and trying to make the face fairly individual." On occasions when asked by a client to create a typographic logo, Jon Pink will tend to employ the services of a typographer to provide a full typeface. "Most often a typographic logo will be modified from other commercial fonts. They may end up totally unrecognisable from the original, but it's a good base from which to start. Typically, such results will work well for logotypes and not so well for body text."
Future-proof your logo
Understanding how logos and identities work online is becoming increasingly important as more and more companies, services and communities acknowledge the irrepressible growth of the internet. Even if you're only creating a logo for print, ensure you know how it will look online. Predicting how a logo will be reproduced in all media offers future proofing and can offer much wider scope for creativity. "Point-of-sale branding is flat and static; online it lives, acts and forms a dialogue. The complexity of offline versus online is 1,000 to 1. It's the richness of the communication which gives it so many possibilities," enthuses Lars Hemming Jorgensen. "You can entertain, sell, learn, build and share with your users. Companies will spend more than 90 per cent of their creative budget on online in the future. Media spend will hopefully also be nearer the 80 per cent mark."
Ultimately, designing great logos will help establish your career simply because by their very nature logos are in the public domain. Regardless of potential new areas for logo creativity - including 3D, animated, online and mobile - get the basics right, research and plan a design strategy, and the possibilities are endless.
"With a solid and logical process in place, the logo should pretty much design itself," concludes Paul Owen, who offers a creative checklist for achieving brand success. "Understand your client's market needs. Identify their unique offer. Create a solid 'core-thought' or 'big idea' for the creative brief. Develop a complete identity design tool-kit, not just a logo. Make sure your logo complies with the above checklist."
TRENDS AND CHANGES
Logo design is incorporating new colours, shapes and even motion. LogoLounge's Bill Gardner identifies the new wave of branding
COMPUTER ARTS PROJECTS: What have been the big influences in contemporary logo design?
BILL GARDNER: The biggest influence is the internet, pressing a more RGB-orientated environment over a CMYK one, so the constraints that used to apply to corporate identity have been shed. At very best a logo used to be four colours. There are still foundations to logo design rules - but limitations of colour are not that critical any more.
CAP: What trends can you identify in contemporary logo design?
BG: Probably no trend has had as much influence as transparency has within identity. The MSN butterfly is an example, albeit a very juvenile one. Now we're beginning to see transparency move on. Five years ago transparency was a trend in its own right, now at LogoLounge we've had to break transparency up into sub-categories because we're seeing a maturity of the style. Logos are also taking on a more 3D-like quality too, and there are instances where some identities are primarily being conceived as moving identities, with the secondary application of these as a static snapshot.
CAP: What are the key ingredients to contemporary logo design?
BG: Form is always key, but keep in mind that people recognise colour and pattern before they recognise form. It stands true that there's a specific hierarchy to logo recognition. Colour is critical, as is pattern and repetition inside a logo, as we understand repetition and pattern almost subconsciously. And simplicity is always key - that, in turn, goes back to the notion of pattern.