Six Design Tips for Logos
By Kara Ohngren | December 9, 2010
The inspiration for the iconic blue bird that's come to represent San Francisco-based Twitter Inc. didn't come from the company's founders, or even a high-priced marketing firm. It came from the users. Soon after the 2006 launch of the micro-blogging site, people started referring to their individual messages as "tweets."
"The best thing we did was listen to how people were using the site and how they considered the brand," says co-founder Jack Dorsey.
Twitter's logo works well because it is "reflective of the community spirit behind the site," says Matt Mickiewicz, founder of the Melbourne, Australia-based crowdsourcing-design website 99designs Pty Ltd. "It's fantastic."
An effective logo, like Twitter's, should communicate the purpose of the business and the values that the brand represents. "A poor logo doesn't mean a business will fail, and a good logo doesn't mean it will succeed -- it just helps," Mickiewicz says. "Ultimately a good logo is something that people recognize instantly and relate to."
There are any number of ways to devise a logo, but it's essential that the end result is unique and accurately represents the business, says Cono Fusco, creative director at LogoMojo.com, a Deluxe Corp. online services firm.
Here's a look at how three small businesses came up with logos, when they were just starting out, that have become synonymous with their brands.
Twitter's Blue Bird
The original Twitter bird
As the bird references caught on, the Twitter team opted to purchase the "Birdie" graphic from designer Simon Oxley who had uploaded it onto iStockphoto.com, an online stock library of royalty-free images for purchase. The bird has since gone through several iterations.
"We then built [the bird concept] into the marketing, logo and typeface itself," Dorsey says.
Twitter did make one branding mistake: purchasing stock photography. They don't have exclusive copyright ownership of the image, and the original designis still available on iStockphoto for anyone to purchase and use for about $10.
The Digital Chocolate Bar
The current Digital Chocolate logo
The multicolored logo is a candy bar embossed with the words "Digital Chocolate," and radio waves emanate from a bite out of the bar. "It illustrates that we make convenient internet games that have instant gratification, just like eating chocolate," says Hawkins, whose company is backed by $44 million in venture capital. "Our customers are really busy, and we're a bite-sized snack of fun."
The logo helps tell the company's story. What's more, it's colorful, easy to read from a distance and can be converted to black and white or resized without losing its luster, according to Fusco. But because it requires a four-color print job, Fusco says he wouldn't recommend the design to start-ups on a limited budget.
The current SmugMug logo
Sometimes the best logo ideas happen by whim. Like when Don MacAskill and his father Chris were developing a Mountain View, Calif.-based photo-sharing site, they couldn't decide on a company name. When several friends and family suggested "SmugMug," they worried that the name sounded negative and misleading.
"We didn't want people to think we were selling coffee mugs," MacAskill says.
But they decided SmugMug would work as a temporary name until they found something better. To allay his misgivings, MacAskill opened Adobe's image editing software Photoshop, typed a colon and the capital letter "D." He rotated the image to create a simple smiley face and tacked it on the end of the word SmugMug.
Low-Cost Design Alternatives
Crowdsourcing a logo through an online design-contest site can help keep costs low because business owners can name their own price. Usually, the higher the offer, the more options they'll have to choose from. Another alternative to hiring high-priced design firms are online graphic design companies such as LogoMojo, Logoworks by HP and The Logo Factory Inc. Their teams of professional designers can create multiple logos, typically for $200 to $600, depending on complexity.
"It took me less than 10 minutes to create the logo. I honestly thought it was going to be a throwaway," MacAskill says. But it stuck.
Eight years later, SmugMug has more than 50 employees and hundreds of thousands of customers. The SmugMug smiley face, known as "Smuggie," has developed a following.
"It's a little more polished now, but it's still the warm, friendly, accessible logo that our customers fell in love with," MacAskill says. "Our customers threaten revolt every time we talk about changing it."
Smuggie is an example of what designers call a "napkin" logo -- a concept quickly sketched out by its creator on a napkin during a business dinner or on the back of an envelope in a meeting. "These are created without pressure and are considered just an idea to work with to develop into the voice of the company -- or in this case, the face," Fusco says.
A problem common to logos created by those without design experience is that they try to say too much. Fusco says clients often send sketches, asking his design team to add more colors, funky fonts and too much detail. "In the end it looks too busy and doesn't speak to the target market," he says.
One reason Smuggie works, as good logos often do, is because it can represent the company even when the business name is removed.
As Smuggie's story and the others suggest, logo design doesn't adhere to a strict set of rules. But there are guidelines most designers try to follow. The creative team behind online logo design firm The Logo Factory offers these six tips for creating a company logo:
How to Work with a Logo Designer
Busy or design-challenged business owners often choose to work with a professional logo design firm, rather than go it alone. If you choose this route, consider these tips from Cono Fusco at LogoMojo.com for getting the most from a logo designer:
1. Meet with the design team in person or by phone. Such direct communication is best. E-mail-only contact usually won't cut it.
2. Don't try to be something you're not. Don't let a designer talk you into something you're uncomfortable with.
3. Be sure to get the master files so you can print the logo anywhere.
4. Negotiate a flat rate for alterations.
- Don't worry about conveying exactly what the company does. A good logo can be adapted to whatever direction the company takes. Think about McDonald's golden arches or the Nike swoosh.
- Size matters. A logo may be reproduced in a variety of sizes. Consider how the logo will look printed on everything from business cards to the fax header to ballpoint pens.
- Proper ratios are vital. A logo usually won't be visually pleasing if it's tall and skinny or wide and short. A logo that approximates the proportions of a typical business card is generally more adaptable to working in other artwork. Designers call this the "golden mean."
- Consider the target market. A logo is meant to appeal to customers and should be created with them in mind.
- Seek instant impact. You have only a few seconds to grab customers' attention. Make sure your logo stands out in a cluttered marketplace by having something that's unlike your competitors'.
- Once it's finalized, don't change it. Small occasional tweaks are fine, but once you've developed your logo, it's best to keep it. Brand recognition takes time.