Logo Best Practices
A logo is a company’s most visible representation of the brand. It appears on nearly every company communication - website, stationery, business cards, email signatures, signage, vehicles, uniforms, etc. It sets a tone. We ask a lot of this small graphic, soand developing one takes time.
The hardest part for a designer is resisting the urge to over-complicate it. The temptation is to add some illustration of everything the company does. Actually, the best logos are the simplest. Less is more. One of the best-known brands in the world, Apple, has a logo that could be considered clip art. Target’s logo is two circles. H&R Block uses a square. National Geographic uses a rectangle. These marks are very simple, but their corporate identity systems are strong through controlled, consistent, repeated use.
Simplicity makes sense when you consider all the ways a logo is used. It has to work very small, such as on the side of pen, or very large, on a building or even an aircraft. It has to work in one color, in cases such as silk screen printing or vinyl stickers, copying, or faxing (and yes, some people still fax.) It has to work in embroidery. You never know how it will be used, so it’s best to plan for flexibility during the design process. Sometimes that even means developing different versions of the same logo for different uses.
There are exceptions to the less is more rule. Some companies embrace the complexity of their marks and build an identity around it, Coca-Cola, Starbucks, and GE for example, but even these have moved toward simpler versions over time.
Some of the most interesting logos maintain simplicity and still tell a story - Tostito’s wordmark integrates an illustration of two people dipping a chip into salsa. Amazon’s logo represents that they carry everything from A to Z, with a smile. The FedEx logo has a hidden arrow symbol expressing movement and action. Baskin Robbins has a subtle “31” in their BR logo for their 31 flavors. These types or marks are challenging to design but are memorable when done well.
Designing the logo itself is only half the battle. Controlling its use is equally important. That’s where a style guide comes in. A style guide relays the brand’s story, how the logo is to be used, what you can and cannot do with it, the official colors, stationery design, vehicles, signage, etc. It is shared with anyone responsible for reproducing the mark, both inside the company and with vendors. Without a style guide, over time logo creep happens. Various versions pop up, colors shift, parts are added to it, etc., and the visual brand is weakened.
Logo design is an exercise in developing dozens of rough concepts, narrowing them down to just a couple, then removing anything unnecessary. With refinement, what’s left becomes the anchor for a strong, tightly controlled corporate identity system. Over time, that’s how simple symbols like Apple’s or McDonald’s can be recognized around the world without even including the name of the company.