Logo Design: Guide for Customers

Logos are a difficult beast by their very nature. They’re an attempt to take an abstract idea, typically multifaceted and complex, and represent it in a single, simple, concrete form! The final image may take many forms (banners, brochures, T-shirts, etc.), but for simplicity I’ll refer to them generically as “logos.” Here are some guidelines I’ve codified from my experience working with customers to design logos.  Below is a list of considerations a customer can make before talking with an artist.

  • Every logo project requires time from the customer—usually more than they imagined.
  • Logos must survive shrinking. A logo must be distinguishable when scaled down to an inch square or smaller. Your audience will probably see the small versions more than the big versions.
  • For the same reasons as above, a logo must look good in black-and-white. When a logo does have color it typically uses solid colors (i.e., no gradients) and not too many different colors.  This also reduces printing costs and ensures consistency between printing lots since the image can be faithfully reproduced without variation. Blue and red are the most common and most psychologically appealing colors.
  • Upper case acronyms are more memorable than lowercase (IBM, BMW, UPS, HBO, etc.).
  • A logo must be simple. Be wary of “how about if we add …” since a complex image is a muddy image. “Say one thing and say it well” is the best approach. When combining elements from different logo proposals you can end up with a visual Frankenstein. A logo creates an identity first and foremost. If you’re lucky, you might be able to tell a story. Don’t insist on incorporating your entire organization’s philosophy and mission into the logo — create a memorable handle first. For example, picture the logos of Chevy, AT&T, Nabisco, and Target. They’re very distinct images, but those images say absolutely nothing about trucks, telephones, cookies, or department store merchandise! But when you see the logo, you instantly know who you’re dealing with and what they offer. Let your logo be identifiable, and let your newsletters, pamphlets, presentations, web sites, etc. clarify who, what, and why you are.
  • Know how the logo is specifically to be used. A silk-screened T-shirt design can be more detailed than a small embroidered logo on the pocket of a golf shirt, so these details are significant.
  • A camel is a horse created by a committee. You MUST minimize the number of people making decisions on your logo. It’s natural to work through several “what if” scenarios as logos are combined, tweaked, and brainstormed. With a committee this can turn into an almost endless process as myriads of permutations are tested. If a committee must make the final decision, at least narrow down their choices to a maximum of three options. It’ll save you a lot of headache!
  • Articulate what your organization or conference is all about in a short, single sentence. I would challenge you to pick three words that highlight what you are all about. Of those three words, which is the most important? The least important?