Part of PBS’ Off Book documentary series, the Art of Logo Design explores the logo’s origins, and what makes a good logo today.
Use these 9 key building blocks to create, strengthen and evolve your company or product brand. Each carry weight. Each add to the nuance and depth to your image as a whole. Consider each when building your brand. They should all support and add to your identity as a whole.
- Product or Service: At the core of your business brand is the product or service you offer.
- Name: A powerful brand has a memorable name. The best are typically short in length, have an interesting illiteration, are fun to say and/or inspire confidence in the company as a whole.
- Logo: When people think about brands they typically think about the company or product’s logo. A strong, memorable logo is important, and is usually the foundation for a brand, but it is just one element.
- Tagline: While the logo says who you are, the tagline says what you do, what sets you apart.
- Color Palette: Most brand palettes are built off the brand’s logo colors, but not always. Perhaps the logo merely inspires a palette of bright colors, or pastels, or jewel tones, utilizing the logo colors as the base. Alternatively, the palette might be a single color.
- Fonts: Limiting your fonts to 2-3 font families that are used consistently across all your media supports and strengthen your brand.
- Voice: Your voice is the tone set in your copy across all media. It can be friendly and casual, professional and direct, clever or funny, even raunchy or sarcastic. Whatever your brand, it’s voice should match in tone.
- Imagery: This can include graphic elements, photography, video, illustration, animation and icons. Imagery adds depth to your brand. Whatever your brand, the imagery that supports it should be consistent across all media.
- Brand or Identity Vehicles: Where you promote your brand can be as important as the brand itself. Print, web, social media, radio, television – these are the vehicles that carry your brand.
Way back when you started your business you didn’t have a lot of money, so you cut a few corners on your logo. Either you designed it yourself (and you’re not a designer) or you bought a pre-made logo from one of those $99 logo websites or possibly you hired your cousin’s sister-in-law’s kid ’cause she’s “good at art and stuff”.
What do you do?
Having a bad logo will definitely hold you back when you’re looking to take your business to the next level. You may not even realize you have a bad logo, but you find that you can’t seem to gain traction with your brand.
There are two approaches to changing your logo, each with their own merits and challenges.
The first is to toss the old one and start from scratch. The advantage to this approach is you get the strong, targeted logo you wanted right away (assuming you hired a good designer).
The problem with this is that maybe you have a lot of clients who won’t recognize you when they see that new, splashy, completely different logo from the one you had. With this approach, you’ll also need to launch a campaign to existing customers telling them all about your new look. And depending on what you offer, you may need to reassure them with copy like, “brand new look, same great service.”
Depending on how big your company is or if your reach is wide, this could be an expensive endeavor. You might need to send a printed direct mail piece in advance letting them know about the upcoming change, and follow up with a second after the launch. You’ll want to announce it in emails and on your website and on your Facebook page if you have one. You might even need to include new tv and radio spots, if you’ve advertised there in the past.
The second option is if you have a good idea, but a bad, or dated looking execution. You can evolve this type of logo over time, making small changes over the course of a year or several years. This solution doesn’t require the big announcement and expense of the first option, but it requires patience and an ongoing relationship with your designer.
When is a bad logo a good thing
Does your logo look dated and cheap? If you’re in the discount business, or sell cheap products, a bad, dated logo can actually help you. That’s because it’s conveying just how cheap you are, which is what we call a selling feature.
Ultimately, you don’t have to put up with a bad logo. The sooner you change it the sooner you can start building and positioning your brand exactly where you it.
I just had a long email dialog with a potential client who wanted a website developed along with ongoing maintenance. I finally got around to asking her what her budget was: $300-$400.
I just about fell out of my chair laughing.
$300 would just about get her a single templated page with no design, no SEO, no social networking integration. There might be time to slap together a banner with her logo on it. And perhaps a contact form to cut down on the spam. After that I would be working in the red.
Good design does not happen instantly. It’s a process.
There must be time for research: research about your market, your potential clients, your competitors.
There must be time to develop design concepts, and then thoughtfully edit and evolve them.
And then, once you have your concept (be it a logo or a website or a brochure) you go into production. Depending on the project, this can be the biggest block of time.
As we all know, time is money.
So you have to ask yourself: Is the company I plan to pour my heart and soul into only worth the $99 it cost for a pre-made logo that looks like everyone else’s (or $499 website) from one of those hack shops? Or does my company deserve a logo that shines, that sets it apart from the competition and wins new business?
And does my company need a website that helps it capture and connect with new clients? One that will grow and evolve as my business does?
You see, if you don’t invest now in the things that will build your brand and your business quickly, now, it’s unlikely you’ll survive. And if you do survive, you’ll find yourself having to spend even more money later fixing the mistakes you started with.
Did you know the artist or graphic designer who created your logo probably owns the copyrights to it?
Logo copyrights are secured automatically when the logo is created, or “fixed in a copy for the first time.” And the designer (or “author”) immediately becomes the owner of the design.
Unless your contract specifically states that copyrights are to be assigned to you, or unless you have a document drawn up that assigns copyrights at some later time, the copyrights to the logo you ordered up remain with the designer.
Many designers include verbiage in their contracts that assign copyrights, but just as many do not. I don’t normally include an assignment of copyrights for the logos I create. I like to know I have a little leverage if the client doesn’t pay their bill. I also like to have the right to use the logo on my website, or as part of my portfolio without special consent.
Of course, I do protect my clients’ logos as I would protect my own. And I happily assign rights at the request of any client, provided they have their lawyer draw up the necessary documents.
What exactly is a copyright?
The U.S. Copyright Office defines copyright as “a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States (title 17, U. S. Code) to the authors of “original works of authorship,” including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works.”
When it comes to design, copyrights aren’t just for logos. You’ll also want to secure the copyrights of any illustration or photography work created specifically for your company, as well the copyrights of your website’s design and any other printed materials.
For more information on copyrights, visit http://www.copyright.gov. Download Copyright Basics at http://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ1.pdf. For information on trademark law, visit http://www.uspto.gov/.
OK, so your logo designer has sent over your final (digital) logo files (note the plural – you should be getting more than one file format) and there’s a bunch of them that you can’t open up or view. Whatever you do, don’t throw them away!
First, file them in a place where you know you’ll be able to find them later. Second, back them up some place else.
Basic Formats You’ll Want:
The right file format for the job
Some file formats are for print, some are for screen media (the web, powerpoint, etc.). For the best visual quality, you’ll need the right file format.
An .ai file (Adobe Illustrator) or Illustrator .eps file is the first file format you’ll want. You’ll need this for your business cards, letterhead, print advertising and marketing materials, etc. These are vector file formats, which means it’s fully scaleable.
Not all .eps files are created equal
You can create .eps files in both Photoshop and Illustrator, but only Illustrator (vector) files in which the art is outlined may be scaled up. Scaling up a Photoshop .eps file will mean a loss of print quality. (Either may be scaled down with no loss of quality.)
Both .ai and .eps files may be imported into design programs like InDesign & Quark. .eps files can also be imported into Word docs with varying results.
.tif files may also be used for print, much as a Photoshop .eps file is used. .tif files are not vector-based and will lose quality if scaled up.
On the web, use a .gif if your logo uses a lot of flat color; use a .jpg if your logo has gradients or shading of some kind, or lots of color. Use a .png (with a clear background) if you need your logo needs to overlay a background image.
The web, however, is less fussy than print, so if you only have a jpg, even though a .gif file might be more appropriate, go ahead and use it.
Signage – your sign-maker will want a vector-based file for creating signage. Send him your .ai or Illustrator .eps file.
Banners – vinyl-cut banners also require vector-based files; for printed banners .ai or .eps files are recommended, but other file formats may also be used presuming they are high enough resolution.
Powerpoint – Use a .gif, .jpg, or .png file. Experiment to see what works best with your particular logo.
Word – .png files seem to cross platform the best, but you may find that an .eps file prints better. Make sure your .png file is high enough resolution, at least 200 dpi at full size.
Tee shirts – When silkscreening, you’ll want vector-based files (.ai or .eps); for digital printing on shirts (like those found at Café Press) you may need a .png or .jpg file, typically at least 200 dpi at full size.
Hopefully your file formats will be delivered in the appropriate resolution. 300 dpi (at actual size) is recommended for offset printing. Digital printing may only require 200 dpi, although 300 dpi is better. Images for the web and other screen media should be 72 dpi.
I probably should have started with this entry, as it now appears that I seem to favor writing ass-backwards. In reality, I prefer nice, organized stories. <sigh> I cannot go back in time and post this at the beginning…There are 9 essential elements that contribute to the building of your corporate identity. Each carry weight. Each add to the nuance and depth to your image as a whole. Consider each when building your brand. They should all support and add to your identity as a whole.
4. Color Palette
7. Graphic Elements
9. Brand or Identity Vehicles
You’ll find links to entries on the subjects I’ve touched upon thus far below:
What’s in a Name?
Creating a Killer Logo
Tag, You’re It!
Using Fonts to Extend Your Identity
Your Voice as Your Corporate Identity
Need help with your identity? Contact Melissa Shimmin.
Creating a killer logo may be the most difficult task in creating your identity. Just like your name it should be memorable. It should also be easy to read.
Start with a font.
Pick something easy to read. Classic fonts are always a safe bet: Helvetica, Garamond, Caslon, Futura, Trade Gothic, Franklin Gothic, Bodoni. If you’re business is something conservative or traditional, it’s probably best to use a serif font. If you’re in the trades, or you want a modern or contemporary feel, go with a sans serif font. Avoid highly decorative fonts, unless perhaps your business is selling Victorian wallpaper.
To bug or not to bug?
The bug is the little symbol that locks up with the type that’s your name. Using one is usually a matter of personal preference, but it should speak to your company name or what your company does. For example, Apple Computers uses an apple icon both with their name and without for their logo. Of course, their ‘bug’ has become so recognizable that you don’t need their name to know who they are. Whatever you do, avoid the overused swoosh.
Design in black and white, then add color.
You want to make sure you logo works on a fax cover sheet, your company checks or anything else that will be printing in a single color. So design it in black and white first to make sure it works across all media. Then, and only then, add color.
It’s possible to design a great logo with a gradient, but you’ll find lots of media in which reproducing a gradient becomes prohibitively expensive. Avoid gradients and you’ll avoid cost challenges down the road.
Design your logo in Adobe Illustrator or other vector-based software.
By designing your logo as vector art it will be scaleable up or down to one inch to 100 feet with no loss of quality. If you design it in Adobe Photoshop or another pixel=based software, it won’t be scaleable. That means you’ll have to recreate it on a large scale when you need it for things like storefront or event signage, otherwise it’s going to, um, suck.
Make sure it works large and small.
It should be as legible at one inch as it is at 1 foot. The big boy companies often have slightly different versions of their logo for small and large uses so that type continues to be legible at small sizes but you don’t necessarily have to go that far.
Test your logo.
Finally, you might want to do a little market research. Before rolling out your shiny new logo, show it to customers or potential customers (or at the very least friends and family who can be impartial and who can give quality, honest feedback) to get their opinion. Does it say what you want it to? Is it appropriate to your market and/or targeted customer? If not, head back to the drawing board.