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Logo design: 15 golden rules for crafting logos

Logo design:Graphic designer drawing a sketch of a logo design
(Image credit: Cavan Images via Getty)

Logo design requires a lot of knowledge, skill and experience. There are many elements to consider, and the questions you need to ask yourself can become overwhelming when you're new to the trade. If you're creating a new logo design from scratch, you need to think about how you'll represent the brand, product or individual's character. And if you're updating an existing logo, do you need to change the direction to make a big statement? Or should you make minor tweaks to the existing logo design to avoid alienating longstanding customers?

With these big questions, it can be hard to know where to start with the mammoth take of designing a logo. So to cut things down to sizeout, we've created 15 golden rules for logo design. This handy list of logo design tips will focus on both the design process itself and on how to implement your design as part of a wider brand strategy. 

The right logo is aligned with the right product can eventually become a priceless asset. Just think of the Nike swoosh, McDonald’s golden arches, the Michelin man, the Mercedes’ three-pointed star or the Woolmark symbol. These are just a handful of the most high-profile examples. To give your own logo design the best possible chance of achieving similar longevity and recognisability, even it's in a smaller niche area, it can pay to bear in mind the universal traits shared by every successful logo design.

Read on to learn why designer David Airey's 10 rules for the perfect logo, and then we'll hear Nick Carson's top tips for implementing a logo design. For more help, see our guide to logo design inspiration, our selection of the best 3-letter logos ever made and our 11 steps for creating better logos.

Why is logo design important?

Logos are important because they're usually the first piece of branding that a potential customer sees. They're also the piece of branding that often makes the biggest impression on us, staying with us the longest, if it's successful. A logo can tell us a lot about a brand, including (sometimes) what it does and what it stands for. When consumers connect with a logo design, they're often more inclined to invest their time or money in the company or product. 

Of course, a logo is by no means the only element in successful branding, but it is one that's essential to get right from the outset because it's often at the centre of the whole brand strategy. Most designers can create a reasonable decent logo, but it takes a special mix of design skills, creative theory and skilful application to execute a logo design that's truly unique, appealing and memorable. Take a look at our selection of the best logos for examples of logo design at its very best.

The golden rules of logo design

There are hundreds, sometimes even thousands of brands competing for our attention. This means brands need to differentiate themselves visually to avoid being confused. Differentiation is achieved through brand identity design – a range of elements that work together to create a distinctive picture of the brand in our minds. Brand identity design can include everything from uniforms, vehicle graphics, business cards, product packaging, billboard advertising and coffee mugs and other collaterals, all the way through to photographic style and the choice of fonts.

When you think about a person who’s made some kind of impact on your life, you can probably picture what they look like. The same applies with brands. A logo acts as a brand's face, allowing people to connect with it and remember it. The aim of logo design should therefore be to create something that people can easily picture when they think about their experiences with a product, company or service.

When we look at something, we don’t read first. Before anything else we see shape, we see colour, and if that’s enough to hold our attention, then we’ll read

David Airey

It’s important to remember that when we look at something, we see shape and colour before we read. Only if that’s enough to hold our attention do we start to read. The job of designers is to distil the essence of a brand into the shape and colour that’s most likely to endure. Below designer David Airey offers his 10 golden rules of logo design to help you do just that.

01. Lay the groundwork

Logo design: lay the groundwork

Logos like those of Mercedes and Woolmark have become priceless assets for their companies

One of the most interesting parts of being a designer is that you get to learn new things on each new project. Every client is different, and even in the same profession, people do their jobs in different ways. You should begin a logo design project by doing some groundwork. Getting to know the client and their product well will also make it easier to get a consensus on your logo design further down the line. 

Make sure you ask your client why they exist. What do they do, and how do they do it? What makes them different from other brands? Who are they there for and what do they most value? 

Some of these questions might seem so straightforward, that they seem unnecessary, but they can be challenging to answer and will lead to more questions about your clients’ businesses. What you discover in this initial phase of a logo design project will help you choose the strongest possible design direction and make sure that you don't miss the mark.

02. Value your sketchpad

Logo design: Treasure your sketchpad

Sketches of Firefox mascots by Martijn Rijven, who was commissioned by Wolff Olins

With the myriad digital tools available today, you might consider jumping straight to a computer for logo design, but using a sketchpad gives you a chance to rest your eyes from the glare of brightly lit pixels and, more importantly, record design ideas much more quickly and freely. With no digital interface in the way, you have complete freedom to explore, and if you wake up in the night with an idea you don’t want to lose, a pen and paper by your bed is still the ideal way to get it down.

Sketching makes it easier to put shapes exactly where you want them, and there will always be time to digitise your marks later (see our sketching tips for more advice). It can also be useful to share some sketches when you’re describing design ideas to clients prior to digitising a mark. This can make it easier for them to visualise the result without the distraction of typefaces and colours, which can sometimes cause clients to dismiss a whole idea. Don’t share too much though – only your best ideas.

03. Start in black and white

Logo design: Work in black and white

The internal detail of the Apple logo has changed over the years, but the silhouette remains

As we mentioned above, colour can sometimes be a distraction and can make it difficult for a client to consider the basic concept of the logo. Leaving colour until later on in the process can allow you to focus on the idea of your logo design itself rather than on an element that’s usually much easier to change.

It's impossible to rescue a poor idea with an interesting palette, but a good idea will still be good irrespective of colour. If you picture any well-known symbol, in most cases you'll think of the form first before the palette. It’s the lines, shapes and the idea itself that is most important, whether it's a bite from an apple, three parallel stripes, four linked circles in a horizontal line, or anything else.

04. Keep it appropriate

logo design: V&A

Pentagram founder Alan Fletcher created the V&A logo in 1989 (Image credit: V&A)

A logo design needs to be relevant to the ideas, values and activities it represents. An elegant typeface will suit a high-end restaurant better than it will a children’s nursery. Likewise, a palette of fluorescent pink and yellow probably won't help your message engage with male pensioners. And crafting a mark that bears any resemblance to a swastika, regardless of industry, isn’t going to work.

You know these things, and they may seem fairly obvious, but appropriateness goes deeper than this. The more appropriate your rationale behind a particular design, the easier it will be to sell the idea to a client (and this can be the most challenging part of a project. Remember, designers don’t just design. They sell, too).

05. Aim for easy recall

logo design: Deutsche bank logo

The 1974 Deutsche bank logo by Anton Stankowski (Image credit: Deutsche Bank)

Simplicity aids recognition, and it can be a great advantage when there are so many brands are competing for our attention. A really simple logo can often be recalled after as little as brief glance, something that’s not possible with an overly detailed design.

A trademark has to be focused on a concept; on a single ‘story’. In most cases, this means it should have an uncomplicated form so that it can work at different sizes and in a range of applications, from a website icon in a browser bar to signage on a building.

06. Strive for difference

Logo design: Strive for difference

The 1999 Tate logo by Wolff Olins united the Tate’s four galleries across the UK

If a brand's competitors are all using the same typographic style, the same kind of palette, or a symbol placed to the left of the brand name, this is the perfect opportunity to set your client apart rather than have them blend in. Doing something different can really help your logo design stand out.

So much similarity in the marketplace doesn’t necessarily mean your job has become easier, though. It often takes a brave client to buck a trend that they see all around them. However, showing imagination in your design portfolio is one good way to attract the kind of client you want, and demonstrating the appropriateness of your concept can help see off any qualms.

07. Consider the broader brand identity

Logo design: Consider the broader identity

Wolff Olins created a bespoke typeface for Macmillan cancer support in 2006 for use in both its logo and marketing headlines

We don't usually see a logo in complete isolation. It's usually presented in the context of a website, a poster, a business card, an app icon, or all manner of other supports and applications. A client presentation should include relevant touchpoints to show how the logo appears when seen by potential customers. It’s a little like when you’re stuck in a rut – it can help to step back, to look at the bigger picture, to see where you are and what you’re surrounded by. 

In design terms, the bigger picture is every potential item on which your logo design might appear. Always consider how the identity works when the logo isn’t there too. While it's hugely important, a symbol can only take an identity so far. One way to achieve cohesive visuals is to craft a bespoke typeface for your logo. That typeface can then also be used in marketing headlines.

08. Don’t be too literal 

Logo design: Don't be too literal

The logos for Penguin and Shell don't give any clues as to the types of company they represent

A logo doesn’t have to show what a company does; in fact, it’s often better if it doesn’t. More abstract marks are often more enduring. Historically you’d show your factory, or maybe a heraldic crest if it was a family-run business, but symbols don’t show what you do. Instead, they make it clear who you are. The meaning of the mark in the eyes of the public gets added afterwards, when associations can be formed between what the company does and the shape and colour of its mark.

09. Remember symbols aren’t essential

Logo design: Symbols are not essential

Johnson Banks’ 2004 wordmark for shelter with its pitched roof ‘h’ helped reposition the housing charity (though it has recently had a redesign)

A logo doesn't always need to be a symbol. Often a bespoke wordmark can work well, especially when the company name is unique – just think of Google, Mobil, or Pirelli. Don’t be tempted to overdo the design flair just because the focus is on the letters. Legibility is key with any wordmark, and your presentations should demonstrate how your designs work at all sizes, large and small.

Of course, words sometimes just won't work in very small applications, so variations may be needed. This might be as simple as lifting a letter from the logomark and using the same colour, or it might incorporate a symbol that can be used as a secondary design element (wordmark first, symbol second) instead of as a logo lockup where both pieces are shown alongside one another.

10. Make people smile

Logo design: Make people smile

Designed in 2000, turner Duckworth’s wordmark for Amazon adds wit with a hidden smile that goes from A-Z

Injecting a little wit into your logo design not only makes your job more fun, but it can also help your client to become more successful. It's not appropriate for every profession (it certainly doesn't make sense for weapons manufacturers and tobacco firms, but whether you choose to work with those companies is another thing). However, the somewhat less contentious law and financial sectors are filled with companies identified by stuffy and sterile branding. Adding a little humour into such clients' identities can help set them apart. 

There’s a balance to be achieved. Take it too far and you risk alienating potential customers. However, regardless of the company, people do business with people, so a human, emotional side to your work will always have a level of relevance.  

How to implement your logo design

Already got a logo design ready, then here's how to use it. Remember that logos don’t exist in isolation: they need to be applied. Once you’ve perfected your logo design, the final stage is to bring it to life as part of a wider branding scheme. In this section, Nick Carson provides five logo design tips to help you get this important final stage right.

11. Always get a second opinion

Logo design: Brazilian Institute of Oriental Studies

Logo for the Brazilian Institute of Oriental Studies. Presented without comment

Don’t underestimate the value of a second (or third) pair of eyes to identify things that you might have missed during the design stage. It's incredible how easy it is to overlook unforeseen cultural misunderstandings, innuendos, unfortunate shapes and hidden words and meanings (see our logo design fails for more examples).

Once you’ve worked up your logo design concept, always take the time to sense-check it with other people. Many design studios advocate pinning work-in-progress up on the walls to enable constant peer review. It's often easier to notice something pinner up on a wall on paper than on a screen. If you’re a lone freelancer, try to find some trusted peers to cast an eye over your work – and return the favour, of course. And remember to check how it looks from every angle and on different shaped supports.

12. Develop the rest of the brand world 

A logo design is just one small component of a branding scheme and should be developed in tandem with other activation points as part of a wider ‘brand world’. This term is integral to the branding process at London agency SomeOne. And as co-founder Simon Manchipp sets out in the video interview with Computer Arts magazine above, it’s much better to achieve coherence between different elements than simply consistency. 

“Consistency is solitary confinement – the same thing every day,” he laments. “Cohesive is different: a more flexible, smarter way of doing things.”

13. Consider how to bring your logo design to life

In the modern branding marketplace, a static logo that sits quietly in the corner of a finished piece of design is often no longer enough. You'll need to think about how your logo design could come to life in motion for digital applications That might require collaboration with animation or motion graphics specialists to explore its potential.

Here are a couple of examples of logos brought to life through animation: firstly, Function Engineering by Sagmeister & Walsh, which adds a playful, Meccano-like twist to the mark. Sagmeister & Walsh is no more, but you can see our story on Jessica Walsh's studio &Walsh.

Second up, this logo design for the University of the Arts Helsinki by Bond, bends, twists and distorts to enhance the dynamic, modern feel of the type-led logo.

Logo design: UAH

University of the Arts Helsinki's animated logo twists and jumps

As VR trends continue to evolve, more advanced immersive brand experiences are becoming increasingly accessible. In recent years branding agencies have also explored the potential in generative design and user participation to introduce a much more dynamic, unpredictable component to logo design. This isn't always possible, of course, but keep an open mind and experiment with new techniques when you can. 

14. Help your client to roll out your logo design

Brand usage guides should be thorough, covering everything from colour options, to the minimum and maximum sizes at which logo designs should be used, positioning rules, spacing (including exclusion zones from other design elements) and any definite no-nos, such as stretching or distorting. See our favourite style guides to see how it's done.  Some agencies swear by style guides to ensure a smooth, consistent handover to a client’s in-house team, but note that others feel they can be overly restrictive and prescriptive.

15. Accept public criticism

Logo design: Premier League

DesignStudio’s high-profile rebrand of Premier League attracted more than its fair share of criticism from traditionalist football fans

In these times of social media, every man and his dog has an opinion about every log design. Criticism is therefore no longer an occasional annoyance; it's something that anyone working on a relatively high-profile rebranding exercise should be ready for.

As we’ve mentioned above, a great branding scheme is about much more than just a logo design, but on platforms such as Twitter, when a newly released project is often encapsulated by a single image, this is often the first (and only) thing the public jumps upon. 

London-based DesignStudio has experienced this backlash several times, first with Airbnb and more recently with the Premier League. In the video above, it explains how it deals with social media criticism.

Logo design: Mozilla

Johnson Banks’ open-source Mozilla rebrand whittled down various creative routes in the public eye, taking feedback on board

Johnson Banks embraced the growing public interest in logo design and harnessed it in the design process itself through a hugely ambitious, fully open-source rebrand of Mozilla. It involved the public at key stages of the process and allowed public opinion to steer the creative routes chosen. Firefox also took a similar route in 2018, asking the public to help pick its new logo. The public's initial reaction isn't always going to dictate the long-term success of a logo however. Be thick-skinned: take valuable feedback on board, and let the rest wash over you.

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Nick Carson

Nick is a content strategist and copywriter. He has worked with world-class agencies including Superunion, Wolff Olins and Vault49 on brand storytelling, tone of voice and verbal strategy for global brands such as Virgin, Pepsi and TikTok. Nick launched the Brand Impact Awards in 2013 while editor of Computer Arts, and remains chair of judges. He's written for Creative Bloq on design and branding matters since the site's launch.