Golden rules logo

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Golden rules logo

Golden rules logo

There are hundreds, sometimes even thousands, of brands competing for our attention. This means brands need to differentiate themselves visually to avoid being confused. Differentiation is achieved through brand identity design—a range of elements that work together to create a distinctive picture of the brand in our minds. Brand identity design can include everything from uniforms, vehicle graphics, business cards, product packaging, billboard advertising, coffee mugs, and other collateral, all the way through to photographic style and the choice of fonts.

When you think about a person who’s made some kind of impact on your life, you can probably picture what they look like. The same applies with brands. A logo acts as a brand’s face, allowing people to connect with it and remember it. The aim of logo design should therefore be to create something that people can easily picture when they think about their experiences with a product, company, or service.

01. Lay the groundwork

One of the most interesting parts of being a designer is that you get to learn new things on each new project. Every client is different, and even in the same profession, people do their jobs in different ways. You should begin a logo design project by doing some groundwork. Getting to know the client and their product well will also make it easier to reach a consensus on your logo design further down the line.

Make sure you ask your client why they exist. What do they do, and how do they do it? What makes them different from other brands? Who are they there for, and what do they most value?

Some of these questions might seem so straightforward that they seem unnecessary, but they can be challenging to answer and will lead to more questions about your clients’ businesses. What you discover in this initial phase of a logo design project will help you choose the strongest possible design direction and make sure that you don’t miss the mark.

02. Value your sketchpad

With the myriad digital tools available today, you might consider jumping straight to a computer for logo design, but using a sketchpad gives you a chance to rest your eyes from the glare of brightly lit pixels and, more importantly, record design ideas much more quickly and freely. With no digital interface in the way, you have complete freedom to explore, and if you wake up in the night with an idea you don’t want to lose, a pen and paper by your bed is still the ideal way to get it down.

Sketching makes it easier to put shapes exactly where you want them, and there will always be time to digitise your marks later (see our sketching tips for more advice). It can also be useful to share some sketches when you’re describing design ideas to clients prior to digitising a mark. This can make it easier for them to visualise the result without the distraction of typefaces and colours, which can sometimes cause clients to dismiss a whole idea. Don’t share too much though—only your best ideas.

03. Start in black and white

As we mentioned above, colour can sometimes be a distraction and can make it difficult for a client to consider the basic concept of the logo. Leaving colour until later on in the process can allow you to focus on the idea of your logo design itself rather than on an element that’s usually much easier to change.

It’s impossible to rescue a poor idea with an interesting palette, but a good idea will still be good irrespective of colour. If you picture any well-known symbol, in most cases you’ll think of the form first before the palette. It’s the lines, shapes and the idea itself that is most important, whether it’s a bite from an apple, three parallel stripes, four linked circles in a horizontal line, or anything else.

04. Keep it appropriate

A logo design needs to be relevant to the ideas, values, and activities it represents. An elegant typeface will suit a high-end restaurant better than it will a children’s nursery. Likewise, a palette of fluorescent pink and yellow probably won’t help your message engage male pensioners. And crafting a mark that bears any resemblance to a swastika, regardless of industry, isn’t going to work.

You know these things, and they may seem fairly obvious, but appropriateness goes deeper than this. The more appropriate your rationale behind a particular design, the easier it will be to sell the idea to a client, and this can be the most challenging part of a project. Remember, designers don’t just design. They sell, too).

05. Aim for easy recall

Simplicity aids recognition, and it can be a great advantage when there are so many brands competing for our attention. A really simple logo can often be recalled after as little as brief glance, something that’s not possible with an overly detailed design.

A trademark has to be focused on a concept—on a single’story’. In most cases, this means it should have an uncomplicated form so that it can work at different sizes and in a range of applications, from a website icon in a browser bar to signage on a building.

06. Strive for difference

If a brand’s competitors are all using the same typographic style, the same kind of palette, or a symbol placed to the left of the brand name, this is the perfect opportunity to set your client apart rather than have them blend in. Doing something different can really help your logo design stand out.Advertisement

So much similarity in the marketplace doesn’t necessarily mean your job has become easier, though. It often takes a brave client to buck a trend that they see all around them. However, showing imagination in your design portfolio is one good way to attract the kind of client you want, and demonstrating the appropriateness of your concept can help clear up any qualms.

07. Consider the broader brand identity

We don’t usually see a logo in complete isolation. It’s usually presented in the context of a website, a poster, a business card, an app icon, or all manner of other support and applications. A client presentation should include relevant touchpoints to show how the logo appears when seen by potential customers. It’s a little like when you’re stuck in a rut—it can help to step back, to look at the bigger picture, to see where you are and what you’re surrounded by. 

In design terms, the bigger picture is every potential item on which your logo design might appear. Always consider how the identity works when the logo isn’t there either. While it’s hugely important, a symbol can only take an identity so far. One way to achieve cohesive visuals is to craft a bespoke typeface for your logo. That typeface can then also be used in marketing headlines.

8. Don’t be too literal 

A logo doesn’t have to show what a company does; in fact, it’s often better if it doesn’t. More abstract marks are often more enduring. Historically, you’d show your factory, or maybe a heraldic crest if it was a family-run business, but symbols don’t show what you do. Instead, they make it clear who you are. The meaning of the mark in the eyes of the public gets added afterwards, when associations can be formed between what the company does and the shape and colour of its mark.

09. Remember, symbols aren’t essential

A logo doesn’t always need to be a symbol. Often, a bespoke wordmark can work well, especially when the company name is unique—just think of Google, Mobil, or Pirelli. Don’t be tempted to overdo the design flair just because the focus is on the letters. Legibility is key with any wordmark, and your presentations should demonstrate how your designs work at all sizes, large and small.

Of course, words sometimes just won’t work in very small applications, so variations may be needed. This might be as simple as lifting a letter from the logomark and using the same colour, or it might incorporate a symbol that can be used as a secondary design element (wordmark first, symbol second) instead of as a logo lockup where both pieces are shown alongside one another.

10. Make people smile

Injecting a little wit into your logo design not only makes your job more fun, but it can also help your client to become more successful. It’s not appropriate for every profession (it certainly doesn’t make sense for weapons manufacturers and tobacco firms, but whether you choose to work with those companies is another thing). However, the somewhat less contentious law and financial sectors are filled with companies identified by stuffy and sterile branding. Adding a little humour into such clients’ identities can help set them apart. 

There’s a balance to be achieved. Take it too far and you risk alienating potential customers. However, regardless of the company, people do business with people, so a human, emotional side to your work will always have a level of relevance.  


Already got a logo design ready, then here’s how to use it. Remember that logos don’t exist in isolation: they need to be applied. Once you’ve perfected your logo design, the final stage is to bring it to life as part of a wider branding scheme. In this section, Nick Carson provides five logo design tips to help you get this important final stage right.

11. Always get a second opinion

Don’t underestimate the value of a second (or third) pair of eyes to identify things that you might have missed during the design stage. It’s incredible how easy it is to overlook unforeseen cultural misunderstandings, innuendos, unfortunate shapes and hidden words and meanings (see our logo design fails for more examples).

Once you’ve worked up your logo design concept, always take the time to sense-check it with other people. Many design studios advocate pinning work-in-progress up on the walls to enable constant peer review. It’s often easier to notice something pinner up on a wall on paper than on a screen. If you’re a lone freelancer, try to find some trusted peers to cast an eye over your work – and return the favour, of course. And remember to check how it looks from every angle and on different shaped supports.

12. Develop the rest of the brand world 

A logo design is just one small component of a branding scheme and should be developed in tandem with other activation points as part of a wider ‘brand world’. This term is integral to the branding process at London agency SomeOne. And as co-founder Simon Manchipp sets out in the video interview with Computer Arts magazine above, it’s much better to achieve coherence between different elements than simply consistency. 

“Consistency is solitary confinement – the same thing every day,” he laments. “Cohesive is different: a more flexible, smarter way of doing things.”

13. Consider how to bring your logo design to life

In the modern branding marketplace, a static logo that sits quietly in the corner of a finished piece of design is often no longer enough. You’ll need to think about how your logo design could come to life in motion for digital applications That might require collaboration with animation or motion graphics specialists to explore its potential.

Here are a couple of examples of logos brought to life through animation: firstly, Function Engineering by Sagmeister & Walsh, which adds a playful, Meccano-like twist to the mark. Sagmeister & Walsh is no more, but you can see our story on Jessica Walsh’s studio &Walsh.

14. Help your client roll out your logo design

Brand usage guides should be thorough, covering everything from colour options, to the minimum and maximum sizes at which logo designs should be used, positioning rules, spacing (including exclusion zones from other design elements) and any definite no-nos, such as stretching or distorting. See our favourite style guides to see how it’s done.  Some agencies swear by style guides to ensure a smooth, consistent handover to a client’s in-house team, but note that others feel they can be overly restrictive and prescriptive.

15. Accept public criticism

In these times of social media, every man and his dog has an opinion about every log design. Criticism is therefore no longer an occasional annoyance; it’s something that anyone working on a relatively high-profile rebranding exercise should be ready for.

As we’ve mentioned above, a great branding scheme is about much more than just a logo design, but on platforms such as Twitter, when a newly released project is often encapsulated by a single image, this is often the first (and only) thing the public jumps upon.

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