Over my 20 or so years in marketing, I’ve been part of numerous branding and rebranding initiatives. Some delved deep into the mission and vision of a company and leveraged the experience of the customer to hone in on the true essence of a company’s differentiations; those invariably led to some amazing campaigns and new logos of which I’ve been proud to be a part. But, like most marketers, I’ve also witnessed a few branding initiatives that fell flat; ones that focused in on the wrong things, cared less about what the company really was than what it wanted to be, or that were more concerned with developing clever marketing campaigns than with true branding.
But one thing I’ve seen in both good and bad rebrands is logos that initially seem ideal, but that cause some practical challenges later down the road. So, if you’re thinking of rebranding, or are launching a new company that is in need of a logo, below are a few mistakes to avoid when creating and implementing a company logo.
One caveat: it’s totally fine to break any of these “rules.” There are often good, logical reasons to do so. My own company’s logo breaks a couple of them, but I selected my logo knowingly making those choices and with forethought that I was okay dealing with the challenges I was creating for myself in the future. So, think of these not so much as rules as things to consider to avoid future frustration; hopefully, they’ll help you go into the process thinking a little more broadly about how you may want to use the logo in the future before you lock yourself into a design where you’ve invested time and money before realizing you’ve got a challenging design on your hands.
Since we’re covering the basics for non-marketers in this blog, let’s start with a few definitions.
The words “logo,” “tagline”, and “brand” are often used imprecisely in conversation, even by people who engage in various aspects of marketing for a living. We’ll cover taglines and brands in later posts, but for the purposes of this article it’s good to start with the differences between a logo, a logomark, and a logotype to ensure we’re speaking the same language.
A “logo” is an overall design that’s used to represent a company or product. It may consist of the company or product name in a specific, consistent lettering style, which is referred to as a “logotype” or “word mark.” It may also be a stylized, unique image—an icon or symbol—that is commonly referred to as a “logomark.” Logos often consist of both a logotype and a logomark that are consistently positioned in the same way—that is, the same relative size, same positioning, and same coloring—which is referred to as a “combination mark.”
For reference, let’s look to a few common brands that you see every day.
Nike is a great example of a company that leverages a combination mark in different ways, depending on the usage. Nike’s logomark is known as “the Swoosh” and it often stands alone:
But the Nike logotype is very familiar as well–an italicized, bold, sans-serif font in all capital letters:
When you see them together, they generally appear in the same positions relative to each other, with one running into the other.
Starbucks is an example of a company that recently moved away from a combination mark, now using its Siren design on cups and merchandise as a standalone logomark and a logotype name on other merchandise and signage:
Apple has used different versions of its bitten-Apple logomark as a standalone brand identifier for years. While the color may have changed, the iconography lives on:
Finally, many retail store chains rely exclusively on logotypes for their signage and merchandising. As examples, think of Sears and Nordstrom. While at opposite ends of the spectrum from a target-consumer standpoint, each uses only a stylized, recognizable version of its name on its signage, bags, and marketing:
Now that we’re speaking the same language, let’s look at the five most common mistakes we make when designing or developing a logo:
1. Failing to consider the logo’s shape.
Logos need to be used in a lot of ways, and creating a logo that only works in one layout can create challenges as you begin to use your logo more broadly. You need to consider how your logo will work on signage, on shirts, on stationery, and even next to your competitors’ logos on promotional materials at a sponsored event. You’ll also need it to fit in a square icon on some social media, and in a circle on others, while also working well as part of a rectangular header image above the icon. You might want something that doesn’t take up too much room on the top of a PowerPoint slide, but something that really pops on a business card.
So, when you’re designing a logo, or having one designed for you, you need to consider how it will work in a number of ways, or be prepared to rearrange it to several formats. Many companies have both a vertical and a horizontal version of their logos for this very reason.
Asana, my new favorite productivity tool, is a great example of a company that has optimized its logo for both horizontal and vertical use:
If your logo is so unique that it cannot work in both layouts, you’re likely to find yourself frustrated at times. But the tradeoff may be worth it in exchange for strong brand recognition, and there are other solutions. Note how Nordstrom solved the problem on Twitter by using just the recognizable letter “N” in its icon, whereas Sears uses the full name, which is harder to read on a smaller scale within a post:
2. Failing to consider the colors.
As you find the perfect iconography and/or typeface to represent your business, it can be easy to jump into using a high number of colors to draw attention and “make it pop.” Take the logo for Slack, an awesome team collaboration tool, as an example. Its hashtag-based combination mark uses five primary colors (gray, green, gold, blue, and magenta) as well as blends at the intersections of the hashtag, resulting in a nine-color logo:
There’s also been a recent trend toward logos that use gradients of two or more colors (reference the Asana logo above), which works beautifully in digital design but which have some challenges of their own. Some logos go even further, going beyond a logo design and into 3-dimensional graphics that—again—look wonderful but can be a challenge when we get to mistake #3.
None of these alternatives to a flat one- or two-color logo is inherently bad, but you want to consider that multiple colors can often mean increased costs when using your logo, which can be a challenge—especially for younger companies that are trying to manage tight cashflows.
We’ll cover printing processes and inks in more detail in a later post, but generally, designers assign each color in a logo a value from the Pantone® Color Matching System (sometimes referred to as “PMS Colors”), which printers use to print a solid color that is always exactly the same shade. A smart logo design can therefore save you money if your colors enable you to print business cards, stationery, and other collateral using two colors of ink instead of relying on 4-color process (also known as CMYK). The Slack logo above would actually need 9 different PMS colors (or 5, if printed with transparency to create the junctions in the hashtag), so would generally be cheaper to print in 4-color process.
A good designer can help you factor in all of these considerations, as well as working in good color theory to ensure that your logo doesn’t have secondary problems, such as vibration (the effect where your eyes deal with two conflicting adjacent colors by merging them into a third color or giving the impression of movement.) Here’s a perfectly rectangular shape demonstrating vibration. Note how the two boxes appear to be slightly unaligned and vibrate in the middle:
Finally, you’ll want to make certain that your logo is suitable for monochrome and/or grayscale versions as well, and that your design will work in those formats. I once joined a company the day after they chose a new logo, and my first statement to my new boss was “I can’t use this logo. It won’t reproduce in grayscale and there’s no one-color version.” The designer insisted that there was no reason to ever use the logo except in full color (see below for why that makes no sense) and once pointed out the logo had to be completely redesigned to work in a single-color version. The monochrome version was much less appealing than the full-color version.
3. Failing to consider all possible uses.
Logos don’t just get used online and in print. Once you’ve established your logo, you may find that you want to get it embroidered, engraved, or etched. The multi-colored logos and 3-dimensional images mentioned above can have significant challenges when it comes to these alternative uses.
Consider this logo for IT provider Syonix:
It’s visually beautiful, but embroidering it would be a challenge. Thread colors don’t blend like inks do, so you would end up having to either flatten it into (I’d guess) seven solid colors or break each of the three sections into groups of different threads that would look much less blended than the original. Not only would it have issues being embroidered cleanly, but embroidery charges increase based on the number of thread colors, meaning a logo like this would cost significantly more to reproduce.
Here’s where I’ll pick on my own logo for breaking the rules. Color isn’t the only issue that can cause issues. My company’s logomark, The Intelligents Brain, uses fine lines to represent the differences between the left, logical, data-driven side of the brain that makes decisions based on results and the right, creative side of the brain that can draw connections from seemingly unrelated concepts to make something unique and powerful:
I knew when I designed it that I was creating an issue for myself, but I wanted to focus on that difference as part of my company’s brand. Consider, however, the impact of that choice when I went to have it embroidered. Two different embroiderers scanned the design for me, and neither ended up being a perfect representation:
Again, I made that choice knowingly, but the long-term impact is something I will need to live with or work around for the foreseeable future.
4. Failing to control the use.
After you’re done having your signage created and printing business cards and creating ads, you’ll find yourself in the position of having to trust others to use your logo in their designs. Maybe you’ll sponsor a community event, or exhibit at a conference, or just send it on to a publication to include with a news article. Trust me when I tell you that someone WILL distort your logo or print it in a way you never intended.
Consider what happens to the Slack and Asana logos if someone converts them to grayscale, instead of using a monochrome version:
Neither looks bad, but neither has the impact of the original either.
Slack deals with this very well by providing clear guidelines for how to use the logo on its website: Slack brand guidelines. (Note that the preferred logo for monochrome use leverages a one-color hashtag.)
While you may not need to provide online brand guidelines like Slack, you should at the very least have a simple brand guide that dictates how your logo should be used and what formats are acceptable. Again, your designer can assist in creating such a guide, or you can find samples of what to include online. (Watch for a future post on what to include in your brand guide soon in this blog!)
Naming your company and designing your logo can be two of the most exciting parts of launching a business. Hopefully, these tips will help you as you venture forward with your killer new business, rebrand your company, or launch your next product.
What do you think? Are there missteps I’ve missed? Please feel free to share your thoughts or offer your own ideas or even share your own horror stories in logo design.
And, if you are looking for one-on-one help, we here at Marketing Intelligents will be happy to help! Give us a call and schedule some time to brainstorm your idea or get help working through your next marketing project.