Student Showcase

We will begin today’s class by sharing your Discovery assignment from last week (Company Profile, Brand Objectives, and Market Analysis.) This is an opportunity to receive feedback before the assignment deadline at midnight.

Logo Design Basics

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History of Logos

Man’s desire to claim ownership is inherent. Whether this is a result of pride, greed, or hope of immortality is personal. We mark our names on childhood drawings. We develop a signature, unique to each of us, to protect our identity. We carve initials into tree trunks with a heart, hoping to make a union permanent.

The logo is an extension of these acts. It redefines these motives from the individual to the collective.

300 AD

Mesopotamian and Egyptian bricks were marked with stamps indicating their intended construction site. Roman bricks were stamped with the mark of the manufacturer, place of origin, and final destination.

The practice of using marks to identify objects continued with housewares, decorative items, and weapons. These marks were typically a single straight line of letters, or letters set in a circle or crescent.

In time, figurative icons such as a palm leaf or wreath were incorporated into the symbol. Accompanying slogans were absent, although items stamped with the phrase Felix Roma (Happy Rome) were often seen, similar to current slogans such as “The Sunshine State.”

800 AD

The population of medieval Europe was, largely, illiterate; thus the mark served the purpose of signature. Illiterate societies tend toward secret practices and knowledge.

The secret stonemasons, for example, developed a complex set of rituals using specialized speech and behavior. Their desire to maintain a secret society led to their system of marks based on the cross.

1457 AD

The invention of the printing press created the craft of the professional printer. Early printed books were considered inferior to written manuscripts, however, and there was no desire to claim ownership for the product.

As the need and appreciation for printed books grew, printers began to mark their work. In 1480, Nicola Jenson and Giovanni da Colonia in Venice introduced the prototype of the orb and cross mark. The symbolic design—earth plus faith—became one of the most typical forms used in early printer’s marks.

1740 AD

In 1740, the first factory to produce Sevres porcelain was founded in Vincennes, France. Twenty years later, a decree was issued assuring the King of France a monopoly on porcelain production. Every piece of porcelain was carefully marked with the symbol of the factory.

The succession of regimes caused the continuous redesigning of the mark. This parallels the redesign of corporate marks with the appointment of a new CEO.

1947 AD

The Industrial Revolution increased the value of identification, and trademarks were critical for visual recognition. After 1950, the usage of trademarks changed radically. Multinational corporations with a wide range of products began to utilize the logo as a tool to maintain a cohesive message.

Broader use of the logo by a more diverse group of designers and advertising agencies provided the need for a comprehensive visual system to accompany the logo. The ABC mark was the foundation for the network’s clear and cohesive advertising and communications. The use of negative space, and simplicity, combined in a circle, provided a clear and consistent message to the audience.


The needs we now face are a direct result of two thousand years of identity evolution. In the same way that management and business practices have changed, so has the role of the logo.

We now place a strong emphasis on teamwork and the creative process for everyone involved in a project. The logo and supportive visual system must not only talk to the external audience, but must also provide clear intent to the internal audience. The logo will be handled and mishandled by in-house departments, outside consultants, advertising agencies, and web designers.

A simple mark for identification is not enough. A clear message conveyed to a wide and diverse audience over an extended amount of time is paramount. Ownership is needed, not only by the creative maker and client, but by the audience as well.

For a great overview of how many familiar logos have changed over time, check out Evolution of Logos from Best Ad blog.

What is a logo?

Logo: a distinctive symbol of a company, object, publication, person, service, or idea.

The word “logo” actually has multiple meanings, and to make the issue more complex, different words are used to describe this thing we call a logo.


A recognizable symbol used to indicate ownership or origin of goods.


A name or symbol used to show that a product is made by a particular company and legally registered.


A distinctive mark, or combination of visual forms. A graphics standards manual may call for the “signature” to be applied to all brochures. This simply is a synonym for “logo.”


A wordmark used the company name with proprietary letterforms.


The proliferation of logos in the world has made recognition of symbols very difficult. Using the entire name sidesteps the problem of recognition. When asked if the Mobil logo belongs to Mobil, most people would agree that it does. When asked who owned the Pegasus logo, many people would name other oil companies such as chevron or Texaco. Mobil uses the Pegasus in addition to the wordmark.


If not handled skillfully, a wordmark alone may be generic and lack mnemonic value.


The symbol is the iconic portion of a logo: The Chase Manhattan Bank logo symbol, the Cingular man, the Time Warner Cable eye/ear. At times the logomark may exist without the wordmark, examples being the Nike swoosh, Apple’s apple, and the CBS eye.


The benefit of utilizing a symbol alone follows the idea that “a picture is worth a thousand words.” The eye/ear symbol is easier to read on an object such as a computer or hat, than the name Time Warner Cable.


If the symbol is separated from the wordmark and the mark does not have equity it may be difficult to recognize.


A design of one or more letters, usually the initials of a name, used to identify a company, publication, person, object, or idea.


The monogram solves mnemonic and legibility issues. Fitting Wisconsin Energies on a one-quarter page newspaper ad is much harder than using the WE monogram.


Monograms are often masquerading as logos. Generic initials, treated in clever ways, may look better on towels or glasses than on a corporate business card. Initials woven together have very little meaning. Most monogramatic logos depend on large-scale audience contact and repeated viewing for recognition.


The combination of the logo, visual system (typeface, colors, imagery), and editorial tone work together to form a unique and cohesive message for a company, person, object or idea.


The identity is not a brand. The brand is the perception formed by the audience about the company, person or idea. This perception is a combination of logo, visuals, identity program, messages, products and actions. A designer cannot “make” a brand. Only the audience can do this. The designer forms the foundation of the message with the logo and identity system.

Rules of Logo Design

Answer Who, What, Why?

Before anything begins, the most basic questions that must be asked and answered are “Who is the client?” “Who is the audience?” “What is needed?” A logo should grow organically from the answers to these questions.

Rather than imposing an idea onto the problem, the problem should dictate the solution. This does not mean that the whims of the client should be obediently followed. It does not mean that the designer’s vision should be sublimated. It does mean that as much information as possible should be gathered, criteria developed, and creative work created, through the filter of the designer.

Here are 16 questions to ask when developing your design brief for a logo project:

  1. Positioning: compared to other companies, what is the client’s current positioning?
  2. Purpose: What is the client’s business? What is the client’s purpose?
  3. Mission: beyond the economics of money-making, why is it worth doing? What is the client’s mission?
  4. Composition: What is the client’s current internal structure?
  5. Culture: What are the client’s distinctive shared behaviors that best support the purpose and mission?
  6. Personality: What is the client’s chosen style and manner?
  7. Client goals: What are five key goals over the next year/five years?
  8. Growth: What are the greatest opportunities for the growth of the client and its image?
  9. Promise: What promises does the client make?
  10. Current audience: Who is the client’s current audience? Who, when, where, why?
  11. Audience goal: Does the client want another type of audience? What is the desired demographic?
  12. Perception: How does the client’s target audience currently view the brand?
  13. Desired perception: How does the client want the audience to view the brand?
  14. Competition: How is the client different from its competition?
  15. Response: What response does the client want from the target audience to take away with them?
  16. Objective: What is the marketing objective?
Identify, Don’t Explain

We are identified with names like John, Maria, or Frank. We prefer not to be called “the guy who lives on Maple Street and works at the pharmacy” or “the woman who has a beehive hairstyle and runs a trucking company.” This is long-winded, confusing, and forgettable.

In the same way, a logo should not literally describe the client’s business: a logo is an identifier like your own name.

Many clients would like their logo to describe every aspect of their company. This is natural; they’re proud of their achievement. It is problematic, however, and may lead to a restraining identity. The logo is a signpost that identifies the company and reflects its attitudes and values.

There are many companies who use illustrations, but have been convinced by well-meaning, but underequipped designers that these are logos. A logo is a shortcut, a visual language that is quickly recognizable and memorable. An illustration is a drawing or photograph that helps explain text.

Understand Limitations

Here is the bad news: A logo is not a magic lantern. It can’t make a bad product successful or save a poorly managed corporation.

Similarly, you cannot overcome the ingrained associations that people make with certain iconography.

This is the good news: A well-designed logo will always help a good product realize its full potential. Smart design, along with the power of repetition, can make an enormous impact. The logo gives direction and attitude, while the product informs the meaning.

Be Seductive

Over the past fifty years, the idea of logos as visually satisfying forms has been minimized. While this may play into fashionable cynicism, most people would prefer to be seduced by a mark than repulsed by one. The message must be the most important part of the identity’s design, but the form must draw the viewer into it.

On the other hand, logos are most successful when they are simple and dynamic. It must remain a clear expression of the client. The logo will be subjected to abuse, either by production processes or designer creativity. A simple form will survive these violations, while a more complex one may not. Many logos fail from their own cleverness or overproduction.

Make Mnemonic Value

When we deconstruct how memory is made, we find there are four critical attributes of the process:

  1. We see shape and color. All our visual recognitions are based on this. Is something square and red, or round and yellow? From the way we read letterforms, to the way we identify people’s faces, shape and color form the basis of this skill. Once the shape and color of a form have been determined, we
  2. position it within our understanding of historical continuity. We ask ourselves, “Does this look contemporary, Victorian, or Medieval?” “Does this have relevance to me at this time?”
  3. We then use the information we have from learned responses to form meaning. We are taught very specific ideas: blue is masculine and pink is feminine, a red light means “stop,” a green light means “go.”
  4. Mnemonic value is linked seamlessly with emotional association. This is the “wild card.” It is personal and difficult to predetermine. If a green car hit you when you were a child, you may have an aversion to green.

Being aware of and utilizing these four attributes provides the tools to produce mnemonic value.

Pose a Question

When we receive input from our senses, there is a question, “What is this taste?” and a response, “This is chocolate.” We also do this when we watch television, listen to music, or read a book. This is part of our thinking process. The books and television programs we find the most unsatisfying are often the most predictable. If the viewer is given all the facts there is little reason for him to process the information.

Alternatively, if the question is presented, and the viewer provides an answer in his head, he will be forced to spend more time with the message and therefore become more intimate with it. There is a fine line, however, between posing a question that invites a response and asking an unsolvable one. A visual solution that takes hours to interpret, or needs accompanying text, will not succeed.

Design for Longevity

Every hour we are barraged with an endless array of images and ideas. Our visual landscape is composed of billboards and signs, television commercials, magazine advertisements, messages on packaging, and other forms of visual communication.

Almost every one of these messages is combined with a logo, but many of these have little impact and are quickly forgotten. The ideas that connect are the ideas that resonate with us emotionally. Styles and trends may be enticing, but they rarely have lasting emotional resonance.

The logo must be able to convey its message over a long period of time and it must be able to adapt to cultural changes. It might be exciting to design a logo that is influenced by the typeface du jour, but it will quickly become embarrassing and will need to be redesigned in later years.

Make the Logo the Foundation of a System

Like the foundation of a building, the logo is the base for all the other messages. When the designer is in the process of designing a logo, it will be the only item on his computer screen. Often, when presenting to a client, it will be the only item on the page. This is a mistake.

The audience will never see the logo in a void. It will always be in context, accompanied by other visuals and ideas. It may be seen on business cards, on vans, and on top of buildings.

If the logo is the foundation, the visual system is the framing of the structure. A visual system is derived from the logo. It does not copy the mark’s form, but complements it. The visual system will include guidelines for usage of color, typography, imagery, copy style, and product usage.

Without these guidelines, very bad things can happen to the logo. Party hats could be placed on it for Christmas cards, its color could be changed to something inappropriate, or it might be used as signage on the lobby floor, stepped upon daily. The guidelines protect the mark and clarify the environment it occupies. This protects the integrity of its message and the company it represents.

Design for a Variety of Media

Until the 1950s most logos needed to work technically in only one medium, print. The expansion of digital, broadcast, and interactive media over the last sixty years has changed this. The logo should now be legible ad clear on a one-color newspaper ad, a website, three-dimensional signage, and on television.

Most clients have a predisposed idea of the logo’s usage. At the time of inception they may only intend to use the mark in print. It would be very unusual for the mark to exist only in one medium over its lifespan. It is the designer’s responsibility to plan for the unplanned.

Be Strong

Being strong means understanding your role, the client’s role, and maintaining a clear vision. The design process is often subjective, with logos and identity at the core of a sense of self. A client’s love of red, for example, may be irrelevant to the strategy, but rejection of that idea may become a deeply personal issue.

On the other hand, the designer may fall in love with the style of a logo that is not conceptually relevant. In order to reach a solution that solves the problems with sustainability, the final logo must address the client’s goals and messages. Sidestepping the emotional landmines and personal politics is one of the most challenging aspects of the design process.

While every situation is different, the best solution is to maintain a clear vision and connection to the primary goal. The designer, as an outside consultant, will be able to see the larger picture without being distracted by day-to-day operations. Frequently reminding the client of the desired outcome and central message is critical.


Becoming better icon and logo designer from Jon Hicks
Boagworld Podcast, Jan. 29, 2015 [57:08]