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Logo design: All you need to know

Before pen hits paper on any new logo design project, thorough research is essential. Here are five logo design tips for nailing this crucial first stage of the process.

01. Understand your competition

Logo design: Apple

Apple cut through the traditional computing sector like a hot knife through butter in the '80s, and has since evolved into one of the world’s most valuable brands

Before you even start working up a logo design concept, ensure you research your target market thoroughly. Your client should be able to provide some information about their competitors to get you started.

Compare all the logos in their competitive set. This research may well reveal some entrenched branding conventions in that market sector, and that can sometimes help your process by playing on familiar visual associations. 

But bear in mind that many of the world’s most recognisable logo designs stand out specifically because they eschew trends and think differently.

02. Ask the right questions

Logo design: Macmillan

Wolff Olins’ copywriting-led branding for Macmillan Cancer Support, referenced in Johnson’s book, is built around a series of ‘we…’ statements that help answer some of the key brand questions

Strategy is becoming an increasingly important part of the branding process. What this means in practice will often depend on the scale of the project, but it all starts with asking the right questions.

Michael Johnson’s book Branding: In Five and a Half Steps is dedicated to Johnson Banks’ creative process, and covers complex challenges such as formulating brand strategy in far more detail than we could ever hope to here.

In it, Johnson advocates asking the following six things of the brand you’re working on as a starting point:

  • Why are we here?
  • What do we do, and how do we do it?
  • What makes us different?
  • Who are we here for?
  • What do we value the most?
  • What’s our personality?

03. Stay flexible during the process

Logo design: Branding

Branding: In Five and a Half Steps is highly recommended reading to help you get to grips with all the key stages of the branding process, and the grey areas between them

Once you’ve formulated a strategy, you don’t have to set it in stone. There’s a reason that Johnson Banks’ creative process has that extra half step: that 'and how do we do it' part of the question represents the grey area between strategy and design.

According to Johnson, it can be a two-way street. Some conceptual, strategic ideas that work in theory may fall apart in practice when visualised; conversely, a compelling visual solution that emerges from left-field during the design stage can feed back into stage two and help evolve the strategy retrospectively.

04. Respect a brand’s heritage

Logo design: Coop

North’s Brand Impact Award-winning rebrand of Co-op reawakened the affection that many consumers felt for the organisation

The so-called ’retro branding’ movement was kicked off by North’s much-lauded rebrand of Co-op, which reinvigorated its original 1960s mark and won one of Computer Arts magazine’s coveted Brand Impact Awards in 2016 in the process.

NatWest and Kodak followed within a few months, and we've seen countless examples since. Brands need to be wary of jumping on the bandwagon for the sake of it, but where genuine heritage and untapped potential exists in a mark, avoid throwing the baby out with the bath water and consider bringing it to the fore – see our advice on how to reawaken a brand's heritage.

“It's vital to put your ego to one side and not dismiss designs created by others – and in doing so consider evolution as well as revolution,” argued North co-founder Stephen Gilmore in an essay in Computer Arts.

05. Remember: a logo is just one ingredient

As Brand Impact Awards judges Bruce Duckworth and Mark Bonner discuss in this video filmed during 2016’s judging day, logo design is just one small part of the modern branding process.

As Bonner puts it, the pyramid has inverted: people now engage with a brand through a huge variety of different touchpoints, and the logo is not always their first point of contact with a brand.

Keep this in mind as you develop your logo design: stay versatile and flexible, and consider how the logo interacts with the rest of the brand experience, from packaging to tone of voice.

Next page: Typography in logo design