Dani Ward

Designer | Teacher | Consultant

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?

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