Dani Ward

Designer | Teacher | Consultant

For Designers

Practical Logo Design

Symbolize and summarize.

—Saul Bass

A lot of graphic design work is pretty specific in nature. Brochures have specific sizes and folding patterns. Direct mail has to meet postal regulations. Web design has to be flexible, legible, and accessible across many devices and browsers. But logo design? Well.

Logo design is in its own category.

Think about the projects mentioned above.

Aaand now think about logo design.

Unlike direct mail or websites, a logo doesn’t even have a physical presence or location. It’s purely graphic in nature. While it does need to be able to stand as its own visual unit, it’s also got to work on actual physical products — things like business cards, brochures, websites, billboards, embroidered patches, and a whole host of other products and projects.

Logo design simply demands an amount of versatility that almost no other design project requires.

That’s why a designer’s technical approach to logo design has to be as unique and flexible as the logo itself.

Keep it simple.

Complexity certainly has its place in design. But a logo must be instantaneously recognizable. A successful logo is often necessarily simple.

Avoid complex shapes or patterns. Instead, focus on the relationship between negative and positive space in simple shapes and letters.

Along the same lines, make sure that a logo design is easily viewable at small sizes. Thin strokes or letters and complex graphics get muddy when small. Every millimeter of space counts.

Shape before color before form.

The shape of a logo is the primary point of recognition for viewers. Don’t rely on color or content alone. Memorable logos almost always work as a simple one-color graphic. Adding color and complexity should enhance the experience. It shouldn’t define it.

Brian Lischer over at ignyte has written a fantastic article explaining and exploring the science and psychology of this concept, formally known as the sequence of cognition.

Think about application.

Really horizontal or super vertical logos can be incredibly difficult to work with on a practical level. Aim to create a mark that can be used everywhere.

Study the golden ratio for guidelines on creating a well-proportioned design. If that’s not a successful solution for your project, consider a square- or circle-shaped logo. Both are really versatile.

A modular logo can also be a very flexible, successful approach. Typically, modular logo design incorporates a separate logotype and icon that can be split and/or rearranged to fit the need of a project.

Design blog 99designs has great information on 7 different types of logos and how to use them.

Don’t touch Photoshop.

Whether it’s being created for a web start-up or a large international corporation, always create a logo as a vector image. It’s got to work on a business card and a billboard, an enamel pin and a vehicle graphic, a web ad and a TV spot. Raster images just can’t be infinitely scaled. That’s why they’re limited in their practical use. Vector images, however, can be scaled to any size to meet any need.

Use your pasteboard.

Don’t jump into your artboard to work on your ideas. Develop your ideas in your canvas, or pasteboard, the area outside your artboard. Removing that visual boundary line can help unleash your creativity (it quite literally helps you think outside the box!). Use your canvas to house inspiration, type notes, work on half-formulated ideas, or even create a dizzying number of iterations.

Aaron Draplin has a fantastic 16 minute video demonstrating good ways to use your pasteboard when designing a logo.

Keep your strokes and type.

A final logo will likely not include strokes or active fonts. Usually those are expanded and converted to outlines by final production. We want to make sure the image is simple and ready to use.

But it’s a good idea to keep the original drawing in a separate file or layer, or even on your pasteboard.

Maybe your client will want to make a change down the road. Or you might want to repeat a certain effect on another project. Or maybe you don’t remember the typeface you used because you customized the letterforms. When you have that original text, those strokes, the original shapes without having used the pathfinder, you can always go back to an earlier version for reference.

Logo design is full of unique challenges.

But hopefully, now you’re better equipped to handle those challenges and deliver solid, simple, usable logos for any client.


What kind of challenges do you encounter the most when working on branding?

Booklet or Magazine Mock-Up Now Available

Available at Creative Market for just $10!

Use this mock-up template to create high-quality mock-ups of your booklet or magazine designs for use in your portfolio or a client presentation — without having to have access to the printed piece or photography equipment.

Background on how I began to create my own templates.

Last year, as I began looking for good mock-up templates to display many of my print pieces, I very quickly came to the conclusion that it would be easier to just start creating my own mock-ups from scratch. I’m not sure why I decided that, exactly, but I’m kind of glad I did. While it was labor-intensive at first, it’s proved to make it a lot easier to add things to my portfolio as I finish them.

Problem was, I created them all at 72dpi at relatively small sizes since I only ever intended to use them in an online setting.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that these mock-ups could be great for printed portfolios as well, or even client presentations. So, I’ve been revisiting the mock-ups I created last year and updating them to be high-resolution and easy to update.

How I created this mock-up template.

Using smart objects, I’ve created a high-resolution open booklet or magazine template (sized 8.5″ x 11″) that can display an interior spread and front cover. You can even remove the staples if you like (if, for instance, your publication was saddle-stitched or perfect-bound). All you have to do is paste your 300dpi 8.5″ x 11″ page into one of 6 specific smart objects, and you’re good to go for your portfolio or client presentation.

While I’ve locked the layers you shouldn’t need to adjust, you’re absolutely welcome to unlock and play to your heart’s content. Adjust gradients, remove pages if it’s a small publication, adjust shadows to accommodate specific lighting you have in mind – you name it, you can adjust it.

For the spread, there is a smart object each for the visible left and right pages, along with a smart object each for the pages beneath. So rather than having to copy and paste into several pages, you just copy and paste into the first smart object in the “other pages” folder. That way you’ll see all the masthead colors and textures throughout the pages beneath, adding depth and reality to your mockup.

Pick up your Photoshop file over at Creative Market today!

Photoshop Adventures: Power Lines, Be Gone!

This week, my company has been working on a client’s website, making some slight design adjustments and choosing new photos for some of their pages. They’d expressed a desire to use this image as the header for their site:


The most glaring problem I saw was the pole and myriad telephone lines distracting from the main subject of the photo. So they were the things I took care of first, creating a new layer entitled “clone stamp” and using the clone stamp, healing brush, and paintbrush tools to clean everything up. This was rather painstaking, taking about 40 minutes to do since some of what I was removing was in heavily detailed areas, like the white house on the right and the tiles on the main building.


Then I wanted to adjust the color and contrast a bit. I created two Hue/Saturation adjustment layers: one for the whole photo, and one with just a mask to target the main building. I also created a building-specific Color Balance layer to help it stand out just a little bit more. Finally, I created a Curves adjustment layer to adjust the contrast of the entire image. Here is the final result:



Photoshop Adventures: Color Correction & Cloning

For quite some time, I would have told you that my favourite programs out of Adobe’s Creative Suite were Illustrator and InDesign, respectively (depending on the task at hand). While Photoshop was the first program I ever used from Adobe, my personal projects and work projects land me in the other two programs far more often. After all, I’m a graphic designer, not a photographer. Nevertheless, after learning Illustrator and InDesign and finding them to be very intuitive and user-friendly, I harbored a bit of resentment towards Photoshop, believing it to be needlessly complicated and inflated to the point of being complete drudgery to work with.

But then, not too long ago, my partner and I discovered the joy that is Aaron Nace‘s Phlearn Photoshop and Photography Tutorials. We spent hours almost every evening for a few weeks watching the tutorials, and it seemed like a whole new world had opened to me. I’ve always been competent in Photoshop, don’t get me wrong. But suddenly it seemed like I could move from mere competency into proficiency. In fact, I must heartily thank Phlearn for making their valuable resources so readily available, as even little tips and tricks I’ve picked up from the show have been so helpful to me in my job as a graphic designer.

Particularly when working with stock imagery that’s close to what a client wants, but not quite.

Today’s conundrum in Photoshop Adventures, for example, was a client request to find a picture of two or industrial workers, not in business suits, wearing hard hats but not tool belts, preferably pointing diagonally up at something (the headline of the design project I’m working on for a client).

The closest image I’d been able to find was this one, from ThinkStock Photos.


There were 2 problems I encountered:

  1. The tool belt was an absolute no-go for the client.
  2. The color of the jumpsuit was going to clash with my client’s branding, which is a deep teal.

As I was unable to find something that was exactly like what the client wanted, I decided to go ahead and try to Photoshop the image I had — something that even six months ago I’d have said was too complicated to complete in a timely fashion.

Luckily for me, this photo was one of a series with the same two men. I wanted to find an image of the man on the right, but closer to the angle of the man on the left, so I could sample the section of the suit without the tool belt. The closest thing I could find was this photo:


I copied the second photo over into the first, and created a layer mask for the section of torso I needed. Using the Transform tool, I warped and skewed the image to a close approximation of the man’s stance, then used the Liquify tool to clean up the edges a bit. I created a separate layer for cloning/stamping the edges to make sure everything blended well together, along with creating an adjustment layer for adjusting the curves so that it blended tonally with the rest of the image.

From there, I created a few more adjustment layers, adjusting the curves, levels, and hue/saturation as needed. I got everything looking pretty great except for the skin tones, which prompted me to create another adjustment layer and mask out just the section of the photo where the men’s faces are.

The final result, I’m proud to say, is this:


Total time it took? About an hour.

Many many thanks to Aaron Nace and the team at Phlearn for giving me the tools to approach and solve design problems!

Cleaner bezier curves in typography.

I do a lot of custom typography and lettering in my graphic design and personal calligraphy work. I aspire to create vector images that are clean, crisp, and intuitively drawn so as to make the job easier for the next designer who has to touch my work. As I continue to read and watch tutorials from experts in the business, like Jessica Hische and Sean McCabe, I’m really enjoying pushing myself to adopt best practices and really hone my craft.

I really enjoyed this tutorial quite a bit.

Last night, I sketched and then lettered a line from Meghan Tonjes‘ powerful song, “Oh, Father.” I sketched and erased and sketched and erased until I was sure I had the letterforms and layout about how I wanted it.

2015-07-01 20.34.32 HDR-1When I’m doing a conceptual sketch like this, I’m not very fussed about getting everything perfect. I know I’ll be going in and vectoring soon thereafter, and I’m more concerned with expressing an emotion than I am with perfection of form.

So today over my lunch break, I cleaned up the image in Photoshop, then took it into Illustrator and ran the dreaded lazy Live Trace on the image. I’ve taken to doing this with a lot of my lettering, because it gives me a rough vectored outline of all the shapes I’ll be working with, so I can move things around a little bit and get my layout nailed down, then focus on perfecting the letterforms themselves.

I’ve been really interested in seeing how typographers and letterers I admire vector their artwork, and so this evening, I’ve been trying to incorporate their practices into this round of vectoring. Namely: using as few anchor points as possible and making sure my handles are all at 90 degree angles to really fully utilize the power of bezier curves in typography.

It took me an embarrassingly long time to really understand how powerful bezier curves are. My first light-bulb moment came in my computer illustration class in college, while watching my classmate use the pen tool for a few moments. I suddenly realized it was exactly like what I had learned in pre-calculus the year before. (Oh, to be young and understand math again!) But for far too long after that, I was quite prone to using too many anchor points and under-utilizing my handles. As I’ve grown as a designer, I’ve been moving towards simplicity in my vector images, particularly as I work more and more with custom typography and vectoring my own lettering work.

While frustrating at first, I’m finding that it really is producing much more natural and graceful curves, even if I have to work a little harder at them. I’m really thrilled with the result so far, and can’t wait to continue and then show the final piece.

Update: July 29, 2015

Final pieces! I’m really pleased with how this turned out. So clean and clear while still retaining the personality of the original inking. I created a one-color version for T-shirts and other products, and a full-color version for prints. All available here!

youre-not-the-end-of-me You're Not the End of Me Black


8 things I do for creative inspiration.

A while ago, a friend asked me about my creative process for my artwork. I’ve been thinking about it a lot, mostly since I feel like I don’t really have a process. I was able to identify 8 things I typically do to stay in shape creatively, and I’m sharing them here with you now, in case you want to be like me! (Or, you know, something.) Some of these overlap with my design work as well, but this is pretty specific to my lettering and illustration.

  1. Sketch sketch sketch sketch sketch. I carry a notebook and a variety of pens & markers with me at all times for whenever I find a moment to draw. Sketching gets ideas on paper, even “bad” ideas. Sometimes bad ideas are springboards for good ideas.
  2. Develop a loose visual language. I sort of intuit what lettering or medium lends itself to my subject. Do I want traditional or surprising? Clarity or cleverness? Bold or delicate?
  3. Start loose and tighten up. Start really loosely with pencil, then go over it again to firm up your lines, then go over it again with ink, then go over it again digitally. It’s important to me to physically know my piece before I digitally alter it. Speaking of which…
  4. Iterate iterate iterate. Do some ink-only sketches & practices — I may come across a layout I hadn’t considered while sketching, something that naturally poured forth from my chosen medium. No better way to get my hands on a piece than to do so repeatedly.
  5. Grid it out. Whether using a baseline grid for a type-based layout, or a typical odd column grid, or something more loose, a grid serves to hold a design together.
  6. Lists and clip files and pinboards (oh my!). I save what catches my eye or ear. Illustrations that elicit emotions I want to elicit, quotes that I can see in my head lettered out, words or phrases that have meaning to me.
  7. Put it away. If I stare at something too long, one of two things happens: I finish a half-assed piece that I think is great in the moment, or I ruin a piece that was done until I messed with it. Space and time gives new eyes and fresh perspective.
  8. Let yourself do whatever you need to do. Say when. Endlessly tweak. Give up. Start over (and over and over). Create the same thing in a thousand different ways until you’re sick of it or in love with it.

There you have it: finding and making your own creative inspiration. Go forth and create!