Research in any area of design is essential, none more so than logo design. Research allows you to fully understand the problem at hand, which in turn enables you to design a solution that can be presented with confidence, having the knowledge needed to back-up your decisions.
A well-researched project is one that's very likely to be agreed by the client quickly (if not first time), and one that's likely to succeed in the real world. In comparison, a poorly researched project is likely to be rejected because the designer has failed to understand the problems faced.
You can't just guess the logo that a client requires. Research is your opportunity to discover what you need to design, why, and how it will be used. It also makes it easier to discover a solution, as the knowledge learned should inevitably steer the direction of the design.
There's no such thing as having too much information, especially if you're designing a logo for a product or service you are not familiar with. You need to ask questions, but don't simply rely on what the client tells you – be prepared to dig deeper, reading industry blogs and information to gain a true understanding of the product and service.
But what topics should you research? Here are five key areas I focus my preliminary research before designing a logo.
01. Why does the company need a new logo?
Before designing the logo it's essential you understand the real reason you're designing the logo. If it's a new company the answer to this question is self-evident. If however the logo is a redesign this is a whole different story.
If the company is young they may have designed the logo themselves or had it designed on the cheap and now simply need a refresh. A more established business will however redesign its identity to signify change.
Change can come in many forms: new ownership, new management, new product or service, or a new ethos. Be it a merger, a change to the way things are done, or a new brand statement, ensure you understand all you can about the current situation and the goals of the business moving forward. This will decide if you need to simply evolve the current design, or take it in a whole different direction altogether.
02. Research the company, its products and services
It's somewhat obvious, but you need to know what the company does and why. Find out the history of the company, the products or services offered, and the problem(s) they solve.
Look to understand the company's values. What message is the client trying to communicate with its target audience, and how does it want to feel when they engage with the brand? This will often heavily influence the attitude of the design.
03. Who are the target audience?
You must know the audience the business will be targeting so that you can design a logo that will attract them.
Some companies will be able to describe their exact audience, whilst some smaller companies will not be sure, or may ask to target everyone. In these cases I ask the client to describe their ideal customer.
Understand the demographics of the audience: their age, gender, location, income level, lifestyle, behavior etc. Understand their needs and the problems they are experiencing to require the products or services of the company you're designing for.
04. Understand the company's long-term goals
A logo should stand the test of time, so expect the logo you're designing to still be in use in five to 10 years' time. For that reason you must understand not only where the company is today, but what its long-term goals and ambitions are. For example, if a company currently offers only one service, but plan to extend its offering at a later date, it's essential you are aware of this so you factor this into your design.
I find it a valuable exercise to ask the client to describe where it sees itself in five years' time. This will allow you to get a realistic picture of their foreseeable plans, and their long-term ambitions.
05. Establish who the competition is
Knowing the competition is valuable as you can learn what identities the audience will already be familiar with in the sector. This information will also ensure you avoid unintentionally mimicking an already known brand.
Pinpointing competitors isn't always an easy task. Sometimes the client will tell you who they believe they are in competition with, but their assessment may be way off. Combine the information they provide with your own research. Look at the identities of direct competitors (those who offer the same product or service to the same audience) as well as indirect (those that offer a similar product or service).
Your goal is to design a logo that separates the company from its competition rather than to replicate. It's a valuable exercise to keep a visual record of both the competitor's logos and identities to reference your designs against at a later date.
Research is a powerful tool, which will make you a better designer, and a more knowledgeable person in the process.
Words: Ian Paget
Ian Paget is a graphic designer from Reading, UK. He is creative director for an eCommerce solutions company, working on websites and marketing materials, and in his free time he runs Logo Geek, designing logos and brand identities for start-ups and SMEs.
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