So you want to design a logo for your company or organization. If you have the resources, our first suggestion is to hire or commission a designer. Designing a logo may seem simple, but ask any good designer and they’ll tell you it’s not. The design process rarely is.
Plus, you get what you pay for, and we want you to have the best.
But if you need to start building your brand’s visual identity and hiring a designer isn’t an option for you, we’re here to walk you through it. We asked three designers with a combined 25+ years of experience to share with us how they design a logo.
What they said may surprise you.
What is a logo?
This question probably conjures up vivid images of a famous swoosh or an apple with a bite taken out of it. After all, we all know what a logo is.
A logo is a symbol or design used to identify a company or organization, as well as its products, services, employees, etc.
In its simplest definition, a logo identifies. It’s how your company is recognized and remembered among others. It also functions as the face of your business.
Your logo can also be an opportunity to make a statement about your organization. Take Amazon’s, for example. The smiley arrow communicates that the company sells everything from “A-Z” and also represents how happy customers are when they shop with them.
One caveat is that even though a logo can convey a deeper meaning, it doesn’t have to. In fact, most companies struggling to decide on a logo are simply asking too much of it. All three of our designers agreed most people put too much stock in logos (nerdy design pun intended).
So remember, a logo may play an important role, but it isn’t everything.
A logo isn’t:
This is a common conflation, but your logo isn’t your brand. And your brand isn’t your logo. Your brand is intangible; it’s your reputation—what people think of when they hear your name, what they tell others about you and how you make them feel. Your brand is built from a thousand touchpoints with your customers—not from a logo.
Your visual identity
When new companies or organizations request a logo, a good designer will say, “You don’t just need a logo, you need a brand identity.” Logos are part of the picture, but they’re not the entire thing. They’re just one image within a larger visual system that includes your colors, typography, photography, visuals, layout, etc.
An indicator of success
Your logo isn’t going to make or break your business. Enron’s logo was good, but the company’s ethical code wasn’t. Two Men and a Truck is a billion-dollar company, and its logo is a stick figure drawing designed on a napkin by the founders’ mother. The best logo in the world can’t save a corrupt business, nor can the worst logo hold back an honest one.
Now that we’re clear on what a logo can and can’t do, let’s start the design process.
How to design a logo
Here are two things to keep in mind as we dive in:
Design is a lot of strategy. Yes, you will have to create something visual at some point. But the lion’s share of the work is strategic, especially at the beginning. Be prepared to do more thinking and decision-making than drawing.
You’re not just designing a logo. Remember that the logo is only part of a larger visual system, and its individual pieces all need to work together.
To do this right, you’ll want to work in phases. While every designer’s process looks different, the one we’re going to guide you through has five phases:
Every phase has its own goal, process and deliverable. We’ll outline why each phase is important, the series of actions or steps you need to take, and the final deliverable you’re working toward—which you’ll need for the next phase.
Phase One: Discover
The discovery phase is the “question” phase. Designers use this time to tease out as much context and background as possible to fully understand their client’s company or organization, its values, business, brand attributes, etc. This is also the time to pose preliminary design questions about the desired look and feel, all possible use-cases and any must-haves or special requests.
For you, this will be more of a self-discovery phase. Your goal is to have a solid understanding of who your company/organization is, what you believe in, what you want to accomplish and how you want to get there. Remember, you’re not just designing a logo. You’re shaping your brand identity.
While you may think you know these things, I encourage you to go through the exercise of writing your answers down. My guess is that there’s some things you haven’t considered.
Why do you want and/or need a new logo? What’s the catalyst for this design?
What is the meaning/story behind your company name?
Who are your target audiences?
Who are your main competitors?
What are your goals for this new logo? How will “success” be measured?
Who are your 3-5 top brand “role models?” Who’s look and feel do you admire?
What do you want people to feel when they see your logo?
What are the values you wish your brand to express?
What are the unique characteristics of your brand’s personality?
For example: Is your brand refined, curious, nostalgic, vibrant, etc?
What will be the main use-cases of the logo/visual system? Social? Website? T-shirts?
Any special requests or must-haves included in the design? If a visual refresh, anything to maintain from the previous iteration?
After you’ve answered these questions, you’ll summarize the answers in a creative strategy that provides a general overview of your business. You might include: your objective for the design process, the tone of your brand, visual considerations and an early vision for the design system and logo, including any themes that surfaced in this phase.
Not only will you use this strategy document to guide your next phase, you’ll also use it to judge your success throughout the process. At the end of each phase, evaluate your deliverables by how well they fulfill the vision established in the creative strategy. When personal opinions and preferences inevitably arise, refer back to this document to stay objective.
Phase Two: Explore
This is your research phase, but “exploration” sounds more exciting. And it is, we promise. The exploration phase might just be the most fun and—as someone who’s embarking on this design process solo, and possibly for the first time—the most helpful.
Essentially, you’ll be turning your focus outward to encounter and explore design out in the world. Your goal here is twofold: Get educated and get inspired.
Start simple by googling basic design principles. Read up on the fundamentals like style, color, and typography.
Our designers mentioned that certain principles of color theory can be especially helpful for logo design. Different colors evoke different emotions and behaviors, helping you create the desired emotional response from your audience. It’s fascinating stuff, really.