At Proof, we love designing logos. We’ve been doing it for over 10 years and like to think that we’ve gotten quite good at it. If you take a quick stroll down Nashville’s busy streets, chances are you’ll come across some of our work: from commercial havens like Fifth + Broadway and Stocking 51 to best-in-class eateries such as Five Points Pizza and Calacas Mexican Cuisine, we worked on tons of cool projects and are always both proud and humbled to see our branding work “out in the wild”. So yes, logos are our thing. And if you’re an aspiring designer looking to learn the craft, or a small business owner who’s curious about what we do for a living, then this article’s for you.
We’ll be sharing our logo design process alongside our best logo design tips, and we’ll wrap things up with a logo design checklist for you to reference whenever you get a bit stuck creatively.
But first things first.
What Exactly Is a Logo?
According to 99Designs, a logo is a symbol made up of text and images that identifies a business. Its history dates back to antiquity, where Egyptians used hieroglyphs to communicate, and on toward the Middle Ages, when aristocratic families began identifying themselves by family crests. Nowadays logos are much less abstract and much more common – which is why investing in an intentional, professionally-designed visual is a must: in a sea of logos, only the really great ones stand out.
Now, if you want to become really good at logo design, you need two things: process and patience. The more you apply yourself, the better you’ll become, so don’t stress if your first tries at a wordmark don’t turn up exactly as you envisioned.
What makes things easier is having a solid process. And as kids these days like to say, it all comes down to understanding the assignment.
Get with the Brief
Start with the Business…
Logo design should always start with extensive research into the brand’s offering and competitive landscape. A thorough understanding of your client’s business strategy will allow you to create a visual identity that not only looks good, but also works well within a certain industry, area, or niche.
…but Don’t Forget to Dig Deeper
Understanding business objectives can only do so much – you need to also uncover what makes your client tick and – most importantly – what their target audience resonates with. A strong logo manages to convey meaning and harbor connection, and for it to be instantly recognizable, it HAS to be authentic.
- Make sure you and your client share the same lexicon, so that when they say “bold” you know they actually mean “refined” and not necessarily “edgy”.
- Actively listen and ask helpful questions when the client seems stuck. Design-talk doesn’t come as easy for them as it does for you.
- Make sure you don’t come into the meeting with preconceived ideas about the design approach. It helps to flesh out several directions for the client to choose from, and you shouldn’t shy away from expressing your professional opinion, but don’t forget that design work is subjective. Ultimately, your job is to help the client express themselves through a coherent brand identity, even if that means stepping outside of your comfort zone to fulfill the brief.
At Proof, we always start with asking questions about our clients’ business model, unique selling points, and target audience. We then navigate toward uncovering the why behind the what that informs both form and function, and usually end our Understand Your Brand (UYB) workshops with a thorough presentation of several mood boards that illustrate different visual styles. We found that mood boards help guide conversation in a way that enables clients to express design opinions they didn’t even know they had.
Think It Through
Once you’re in the loop regarding your client’s likes and dislikes, it’s time to start analyzing the market for trends, inspiration, and examples of what not to do. Feel free to explore the landscape at your own leisure and see where it takes you.
The Incubation Period
Creativity is not linear – in fact, have you ever found yourself “stuck” on a certain element for hours on end, only to have an epiphany strike you while taking a shower the next morning?
That’s called an incubation period, and it’s essential for doing good work, particularly in creative fields. It involves taking a break from the task at hand and letting your subconscious take the reins of the creative process. During this break, internal processes have been shown to contribute to creative thinking, leading to “Aha!” moments. Which, ultimately, is exactly what you’re searching for when designing a unique logo.
Ideate and Refine
Now that you did some research, it’s time to sketch out some logos. You can do it the old-fashioned way – with a pen and paper – or turn to the software of your choosing. For example, we use tools such as Procreate, Adobe Photoshop, and Abobe Illustrator. It’s normal to go through multiple rounds of revisions and work your way up to designing the 3 – 5 options you feel confident enough to show to the client.
Types of Logos
Clients rarely know upfront what type of logo they prefer, so it’s up to you to guide them through the process. A good way to help them figure out what they like is to use the first discovery meeting as an opportunity to introduce them to various types of logos – from wordmarks to symbols and combination marks, make sure that your choices fit the brief and that you can clearly explain your approach.
- Pay special attention to the color palette. This is what your client will notice first and foremost, so ensure that your choices reflect their input.
- The type you choose will likely inform web and collateral design, so try to gravitate toward commercial options unless the client is willing to invest in a paid font. Or, if you feel particularly creative, you can create your own.
- Your logo system should include the primary logo, secondary variations, and tertiary icons, monograms, or illustrations. To illustrate how they’d look like in real life, try including examples of revamped company paraphernalia that showcase the new logo.
Being the small creative agency that we are, when we work on logos we go through at least two internal reviews before bringing the client into the mix. We also make sure to involve everyone – yes, even our developer, who hates us for it – in our creative process. This ensures that our designers can see their work through the eyes of coworkers who aren’t creatives and don’t necessarily have a fine eye for nuance. This helps a great deal, particularly when pursuing more abstract directions.
The final step in the logo design process is presenting your work to the client. Round up your top contenders and spread them out into a presentation that’s enticing and worthwhile. Remember that your client is currently in the dark – they don’t know your process, so it’s up to you to explain your approach and how it relates to their requirements.
At Proof, we usually couple our logo presentation with some messaging work to paint a better picture of the brand identity system as a whole. It also helps that Matt, our CEO, has a soft spot for logos and is usually present in these meetings, ready to give context and jump in when needed.
Logo Design Checklist
To help with your next logo, we’ve put together a checklist with everything the Proof team takes into account when working on logos for our clients. This way you can make sure nothing slips through the cracks.
Last, but not least, don’t forget to have fun. Logo design is all about possibility, so try to make the process as enjoyable as possible for you and your team.