When it comes to the kinds of design projects that can cross a designer’s desk, logo design ranks as one of the hardest. After all, logo design is essentially creating the face of the brand - which can be extremely intimidating.
When I was a junior designer I often struggled to even get started. Even as a seasoned designer with almost 15 years of experience, I still get a little anxious hearing “I/we/they need a logo.” The difficulty isn’t solely on the design aspect - like creating a one-sheet or presentation would be, for example - but everything a logo inherently represents. A logo is bigger than the design itself. When done well, it becomes a symbol of the promise and trust that the brand builds with its customers. No small feat.
At the same time, designing a logo can be really fun and in the end very rewarding: where else can one project come to life in so many different forms, from appearing on the side of a building to business cards to appearing on t-shirts and social networks? (Plus, seeing the client excited is always great.)
With time and experience, I’ve learned to embrace the challenge and to have fun, following the five essential steps below.
1. Get inspired
It’s time to kick off the project! I like to meet the client in person if that’s possible, but if not, a video or phone call will work. All these options allow you to hash out questions and brainstorm quicker than the back-and-forth of email. Plus - it’s more personal, so it provides the opportunity for you to connect and get to know each other.
Usually, the client is going to bring some inspiration to the table. To ensure this happens, I like to ask the client to complete a little homework and find some inspiration before meeting. Inspiration can range from logos they like to the smaller elements like color and type.
Some questions I like to ask to get as much information as possible about client preferences:
- What colors do they like?
- What mood or feeling are they trying to convey with color?
- What colors are common among the logos of their competitors?
- Have they thought about type and do they like sans-serif, serif, script fonts, or something else?
- Do they envision the wordmark in CAPS, Title Case, Sentence case, or lowercase?
- Do they want a symbol (icon, mark, whatever you’d like to call it!) to be locked up with their wordmark?
- If so, have they given any thought to what that symbol might be and what it means for the brand?
Ask questions about their company...
- What do they do / what is their product?
- Who is their audience?
- What is their overall goal / mission?
- What does their company name mean or what’s the origin of their company name?
Next, go and collect your own inspiration to build upon the client’s inspiration. You can search on the internet -- and it’s a great place to start! Or, go old school and pull design books off the shelf. Inspiration can really come from anywhere.
Finally, if you have any questions that pop up after the initial discussion you can always send off a quick email at this point.
2. Sketch by hand
In college, I wanted to immediately jump into the computer and start working on a design. The excitement of getting to work on a Mac and in Adobe Illustrator made the thought of sketching seem laborious. And, even today -- with multiple projects and tight deadlines -- it’s easy to skip the step of sketching first.
My professor in college emphasized the importance of starting with sketching, requiring that we submit sketches before moving into the computer. Looking back, he was absolutely right. Sketching gets the ideas out of your head and onto paper where you can quickly flesh out your ideas.
The best part? You only need two tools. Grab a pencil and notebook (even some scrap paper will do), and refine your ideas for the logo. Really explore all your ideas for type, symbols and composition.
When you feel that you’ve really taken it about as far as you can on paper, it’s time to move to the computer.
3. Move to the computer
Design software like Adobe Illustrator is amazing and fun, but it’s easy to get caught up in the endless array of choice (Tip: do not add that gradient). Here’s the general process I like to follow:
- Keep it simple: When I get started on the computer I like to keep it simple. Even if you have a color palette for the client, build the logos in black and white. You want to see how the logos are developing in their most basic form. It’s also just a good habit to build logos that work in one color (imagine that this logo might have to be printed 1 color white on a pint glass).
- Iterate quickly: Next, I like to iterate quickly on logos while never deleting anything. Even if you’re unsure about a logo, move it to the side and start working on the next one. Like sketching, the idea here is to get the logos down and to not get too hung up on one concept.
- Come back around: When you feel like you’ve gotten all of your logo ideas into the computer it’s time to come back around and refine them. Start adding color from the color palette, tweak and refine spacing and sizing, tighten up that icon, etc. The point here is to make the logos tight.
4. Take a break
This is a step you might not have thought of - the essential art of stepping back and taking a break.
I bring it up because I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been working on logos and I’ve become unsure of some designs. This often happens after staring at the screen for 8 plus hours. You become a little lost in the work. So, yes: go take a break.
Get some exercise, make dinner, binge watch some Netflix for the evening. Often coming back to the screen the next day with fresh eyes you’ll see things in a new light.
- Maybe that logo you were unsure of and pushed to the side, looks great today
- Maybe that logo you were digging yesterday isn’t looking so hot today….
- Maybe you realize you need to take that symbol down 10% in size
The bottom line: Breaks are good and healthy. Often when you’re taking a break, new ideas will come to you. My advice is to take a mental note or quickly sketch it on paper, and execute it the next day.
After you’ve refined the logos and you’re feeling good about them the last step before sharing the work with the client is to share with your team. Constructive criticism is good and will only make the logos stronger and over time make you a better designer. I’ll be the first to admit I don’t always have all the answers. Often when having a critique a team member will see something you didn’t and it’ll take a logo to the next level. Or, a team member may have an entirely new idea for a logo. It’s great!
Critique is also the point to whittle down your logos. Really pick out the best options. Every project is different but you don’t want to overwhelm your client with too many logos. A nice rule of thumb I like to go by is 3-5 logos for most projects. My thought is that less than 3 isn’t really giving the client choice and more than 5 starts to feel like too much. Pick the best ones! And when you present them to the client be sure to present them as-is and in mockups to really sell what they’ll look like.