What makes a good logo designer?

As strange as this may sound for some, not every designer is a good logo designer.

I’ve met many highly talented designers who are terrible at designing logos. Actually, some of the best designers I know are so aware of that, that they even prefer to not take on this type of project.

The process of creating a logo, at least on a professional level, can easily become a long series of complex tasks that don’t necessarily have anything to do with designing, and to be successful in doing that the designer needs to have a quite peculiar mix of skills.

If you are a designer looking to specialize in the identity industry, this article will help you identify your strong and weak points. If you are an entrepreneur looking to educate yourself before hiring a logo designer, this article will help you understand part of the complexity behind the process of creating a custom logo for your business.

 

What makes a good logo?

Before getting onto the main subject of this article, we must define what makes a good logo. After all, it’s only by reaching an understanding on that concept that we will be able to go ahead and analyze which skill-set, experience and personality would be required from a designer to be good with the creation of logos.

So what makes a logo, a good logo?

In one sentence a good logo must be fit for purpose, adaptable to a variety of multiple sizes and materials, stand the passage of time without looking old, and be memorable enough that once you look at it, it can be easily remembered.

Overall, when it comes to logo design there’s no right and wrong, but instead just good and bad practices. The diagram below showcases what is widely considered to be the best practices in the identity design industry.

The quick dirty Venn diagram of the brand identity design.

While looking at the above diagram, what skills do you think would help to create a good logo?

One way of answering this question is by analyzing each characteristic separately, and then associating a different skill set to each one. For example, what skills would a designer require to design an iconic logo? Surely understanding the concept and value of iconic design for starters, but there’s plenty more.

Spend a good amount of time thinking about that and you’ll eventually notice that the great majority of skills needed to design a good logo have little or nothing to do with the actual activity of producing design. Surprised? Keep on reading, and you’ll get the idea.

 

Be good at research

One of the most relevant skills in the process of becoming a good logo designer is the ability to find relevant and useful information. Think about it: without knowing details of the client’s industry, the market and understanding how competition uses their identity to market themselves, how one would know they are designing a relevant logo?

But that’s what the briefing is for, right?

Yes, you’re spot on, but the truth is that the great majority of small clients, and starting entrepreneurs, don’t know how to prepare a briefing. Heck, some of them don’t even have this data available when they approach a designer for a logo.

Sometimes even larger organizations don’t understand the peculiarities of the logo design process, and fail by not providing enough information in their briefings. Knowing where to get the date, and what questions to ask is an essential skill.

Ultimately this skill will help to direct the design to a relevant solution.

 

Be able to think conceptually

Once the designer has all the information relevant to the project — which should include the client’s briefing and data from the designer’s research at least — the following step would be to analyze the data to define the boundaries of the project.

In order to do that, the designer should look at the data by using analytical tools such as brainstorming, mind-maps, color-wheels, mood boards or any other analytical tool that help to better understand the identity problem and identify what may or may not be a good concept to be explored.

I guess this is easier said than done!

Sure there’s a lot of practical work here, but once the designer has a clear vision of the big picture, being able to find a solution which is aesthetically pleasing but also has a deep conceptual connection to the initial identity problem is, more than anything else, what makes a good logo designer.

Think of it in this way: a logo without a concept is a logo without a soul.

Being able to think conceptually, and find hidden meaning in between what initially would seem to be unrelated data, has a profound impact in the process of creating a good logo, consequently it is this skill that will help to direct the design to a unique solution.

 

Be able to plan ahead

With a unique and relevant solution in hand, now all is left for the designer to do is to guarantee the chosen solution is versatile. In order to do that the designer needs to be able to plan ahead. Simple, uh? For what its worth, I believe this to be the easiest skill to master.

Quite basically all the designer has to do is to design the logo with context in mind. Will it fit well in a website? A twitter avatar? Printed in a one color brochure? Or full color on a business card? Stretched on a big poster? Or on the side of a vehicle? Reduced to the size of a promotional pen? Or embroidered on a t-shirt?

If the final logo can adapt to all of the above situations—and more—without losing any quality, then job done!

If not, then this solution is probably not the best—usually, is not iconic enough—and a quick look at the briefing topped by exploring another round of concepts tends to solve the problem. Nothing that a few extra hours of design won’t help to solve.

Nonetheless, here, right here, related to this skill, lies a problem.

When it comes to logo design, small businesses owners and starting entrepreneurs tend to not plan ahead, at least in design terms, and approve logos completely out of context, and for that reason they fail to understand why some solutions are just not right for them.

The risk of ignoring the need of versatility is bad for the client as it may result in the need to spend more money to rework their logo, and that’s the least of their problems. I’ve had cases where small business owners had thousands of dollars invested in stock with a logo they learned later on it was not the right for them.

And that’s the cue to the next skill, which in contrast, I believe to be the hardest to master.

 

Be a good communicator

I’m sure that many would say that being able to communicate your message across with success is not only a skill good for a logo designer, but for any designer, or even anyone in almost any career. That’s true, but there’s a special reason why a logo designer must be a good communicator.

The logo designer is usually the one faced with the responsibility of educating clients about the realities of the design world.

Day in day out, people are starting their own companies, and on the great majority of occasions, starting entrepreneurs have little idea of the role design will play in the success of their business, and usually they place very little importance on it.

Here’s the challenge…

When approached by someone who will most likely have little to no knowledge of the importance of design to a business, the logo designer must be able to help change the clients paradigm towards design, not only for the success of client, but also for his/her own success as well.

Designers tend to overlook this step, as it can be extremely time consuming, and clients, at least initially, hardly put any value to the lengths a designer would go to help educate them about design.

If you are looking to specialize in the identity design industry, this is, as far as my opinion goes, the most important non-design related skill you should be working on; together with a lot of patience too.

The best logo designers I know are also excellent communicators.

 

Conclusion

Designing a logo, at least from my perspective, has a lot to do with solving a puzzle that allows for many solutions. Some solutions are going to be great and others not so much; but if you don’t know what skills you need to play the puzzle, it becomes really hard to solve it.

With more and more people entering the design industry, it seems that looking for a specialization is becoming common place. If you are looking to specialize in the identity industry, training yourself on each of these non-design skills will certainly put you on the right track, but you must remember that ultimately you must be a good designer first, and for that there’s nothing better than practice, practice and a bit more practice.

Are you looking to specialize as a logo designer, or do you prefer not to take on this kind of project at all? Do you think there are other skills logo designers need? Let us know in the comments.

Featured image/thumbnail, designer image via Shutterstock.

  • http://davelinabury.com/ Dave Linabury

    I majored in illustration so we spent a lot of time on logos. Your advice is spot on and rings true with what I was taught by my professors. If I may, I’d like to share three great statements about logo design from one of my profs.
    1. “Your logo needs to look good on a postage stamp, a monitor and a billboard.”
    2. “Keep it simple. I should be able to draw your logo in the sand with my toes.”
    3. “If your logo is really good, kids will want to tattoo it on themselves.”

    • http://rayvellest.com/ Ray Vellest

      Those are great statements indeed Dave! Thanks for sharing it with us! :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/mrjasonjang Jason Jang

    As a developer, it’s tough when you’re passed assets that are being held down by a poorly designed logo.

    • http://rayvellest.com/ Ray Vellest

      I can totally relate to that! It’s an excruciating experience to design a beautiful print piece or a website, that makes you proud, just to, at the end, include a poorly designed logo. I die a little bit inside every time I have to do that.

  • bgbs

    Unless you are a rock star logo designer, it is tough to be a logo designer because unlike any other type of design out there, logo design is the most scrutinized. You remember London Olympics logo, the internet lit up when that thing was first introduced. Many people cringed at the horrid design of that thing. I bet someone committed suicide after looking at it.

    Anyways. My local university (Boise State) logo got redesigned by Nike, and most students and professorship are outraged over it, because that is not what they think of their university. Even Nike, the most reputable brand on the planet, cannot get it right.

    Here is my take on this whole thing. It is tough to design or redesign a logo for an established brand, people will most likely be outraged over it, especially if the redesign is dramatic. If you are designing for a new company or a new brand,”what makes a good logo” principles should apply then, not thereafter.

    • http://rayvellest.com/ Ray Vellest

      Designing a logo is a very peculiar challenge, because no matter what is the resulting design, some people will always get outraged over it. I believe that’s just a sad side of human nature; people easily talk bad about other people’s work, but they hardly put any effort to do something themselves. Truth is there’s no right or wrong in logo design, there’s just good practices and bad practices; keep that in mind and aim to design the best logo you can despite of public opinion. How much free press coverage did the London Olympic games got worldwide because of its controversial logo? If the logo is relevant, it will work, even when people talk bad about it.

      • bgbs

        That free press coverage that the London Olympics get, did not convert to more ticket sales or viewership, because relying on “shock value”to promote yourself, does not result in positive outcome, only in a lot of controversial talk. That is something to keep in mind when (re)designing a logo.

    • Benjie

      To be honest, I really liked the London 2012 logo. It set the tone for branding that really worked very well, especially on public transport where — if you were lucky enough to go to the games this summer — you’ll have found it stood out amongst the visual assault of advertising that occurs in any city. The tube, and the disconnected venues became united by the very striking visuals that appeared everywhere.

      A lot of people were calling for a logo made up of landmarks, Big Ben as the ‘1’ for example, but that’s a very amateurish approach to a difficult job.

      What the London 2012 logo conveyed was that London is not a backward Victorian corner of the world, but a vibrant and exciting city that isn’t afraid to be a little daring. The logo isn’t beautiful, but I doubt very much if beauty was high up on the brief.

      For my money, the only thing that failed was the ‘o’ in the branding’s font, which was shaped perfectly round to refer to the olympic rings. Unfortunately the reference wasn’t obvious enough to make it a good decision and really had a negative effect on the typeface.

  • themoshman

    Something I find very difficult to get right with logo design is the mix between instant liability and long-term recognition. Some logos which have been poorly received are quickly forgiven, everyone went crazy about the London 2012 logo but by the time the even actually happened everyone had come to accept it and it’ll now be remembered as a recognisable part of the event.

  • Brian

    Logo design is more instinctive. A logo designer must have an aptitude to blend in the idea or thought with best design presentations

  • http://www.seanjohnson.net/ Sean Johnson

    Whole heartedly agree, but I think this applies to design in general – it’s about problem solving, not just creating pretty graphics Too many ‘designers’ are just concern with the asthetic.