4 essential rules of effective logo design

A logo is an essential part of your company brand. It works together with elements such as your website, collateral, brand promise, and marketing efforts to set the tone for your company as a whole in the public arena. And while this sounds simple enough, many logos tend to overshoot or fall short.

Let’s see if your logo makes the grade and consider four essential rules for successful logo design.


Test Your Logo

Before sharing the rules of logo design, let’s start out by grading the latest logo you’ve created. Spend a minute and answer the 14 questions below (you can do it in your head):

Get one point for each “yes” below

  • Does your logo work horizontally?
  • Does your logo have both horizontal and vertical options?
  • Does your logo work in black and white?
  • Does your logo work on both black and white backgrounds without a box around it?
  • Can you sketch all non-typography elements in five seconds or less?
  • Did you buy the font you used in the logo?
  • Do you have less than two fonts? 

Subtract one point for each “yes” below

  • Do you use more than two colors in your logo?
  • Do you have more than one shape in addition to the wordmark (text) in your logo?
  • Are any shapes in your logo explicit instead of abstract? (i.e. a globe or something else recognizable)
  • Did you use any clip art in your logo?
  • Is there a photo or complex pattern in your logo?
  • Do you have a gradient in your logo?
  • Did you use default font kerning?


 <0 = Don’t even think about it
1-4 = Acceptable for a $50-million-a-year company
5+ = Great job!

Regardless of how you did, rest assured there are always ways to get better. Improving a logo relies on an understanding of brand and how brand differs from the visual identity of a company or organization.


Brand vs. logo

Your brand is the sum total of every interaction that someone has with your organization. Your brand is the music a client hears while holding for a call. Your brand is your parking lot. It’s your front lobby and how clean your bathrooms are. Your brand is every interaction with someone on your team.

So what part does your logo play in your brand?

Your logo shows up everywhere. On your website, business cards, letterhead, signs, cars, and advertisements. It goes everywhere you go.

But it isn’t the logo’s job to tell the whole story.


Which logos look most professional and reputable?

Compare the logos above. Notice how most major corporations get by with a wordmark, or at most some very basic geographic shapes? Compare them to the smaller companies in this list who have multiple fonts, colors, and shapes.

A logo should be an impression. A suggestion. A clue. A logo’s job is to provide a legible, recognizable team uniform for your marketing material to wear. A logo works in conjunction with your name to make your brand unique. But by no means should a logo tell the whole story.


4 rules of logo design

 1. Start with your brand

When deciding on a logo consider your brand first. Ask tough questions. Know who your clients are and what they want from you. Know what you want from your clients. Do research and think hard about your company’s mission statement.

Remember to ask the right questions internally. If you ask ten people if they prefer blue or green, you won’t get anywhere. But if you ask, “Is it more important that we look technical (blue) or trendy (green)?” then you’re moving in the right direction. If you start out by showing logo concepts and asking what people like, you’ve already lost. Once you’ve more clearly defined your brand then you can ensure your logo effectively represents that brand.

2. Simplify

The more lines, shapes, stories, colors, and fonts you have in your logo, the more provincial you look. If being provincial is part of your brand then feel free to break this rule. Otherwise less is more. Remember your logo isn’t the whole story, it’s a single unifying thought.

Try to limit your logo to a single font. Two is fine if your tagline is part of your logo. Three is just wrong regardless of your size. Go for solid colors over gradients. Gradients never print well and almost always look amateur.

3. Shoot for ten times your size

If you’re a million-dollar-a-year company, your logo should be as strong, or stronger, than your ten-million-dollar-a-year competitor.

Don’t worry about what the other million-dollar-a-year companies are doing in your space. Follow the advice of dressing for the job you want, choose your logo for the multi-billion dollar capitalist success story you know you are.

4. Know that someone will hate it

Let’s face it, someone isn’t going to be happy with your choice. Any major branding changes, such as logos, should be combined with an internal public relations campaign to make sure that people understand why you’ve made the choices you made.

Make sure anyone that can derail your design has their voice heard. The only thing worse than getting two dozen opinionated, smart, dedicated people to agree on one color is having five people pick the color and annoying the other nineteen.

Are there any logos that violate these tenants in spite of their success? Are there any mathematically perfect logos that make you gag? How does your logo rate? Let us know in the comments.

Featured image/thumbnail, drawing image via Shutterstock.

  • EsbenR

    I don’t know if it counts towards buying the font, that i made it myself, but if it does, then i scored 6, since my logo doesn’t work as good vertically as it does horizontally. great reading. thanks. :)

    • Jason Mark

      I think it counts. It’s the care that goes into it that matters.

    • http://www.link-creative.com/ Link Creative

      You better believe it counts! :)

      • EsbenR

        Yea, i thought so, since it adds to the “uniqueness” of the logo. thanks. :)

  • http://twitter.com/riverbend Anne Campbell

    I agree with 95% of what you wrote, and I’m going to bookmark the page and send it to my logo design clients. My only quibbles are about the horizontal vs. vertical options, and about abstract vs. recognizable shapes. What if a logo is more or less square, or is a short rectangle like IBM or eBay? There really wouldn’t be a great way to turn the eBay logo into a vertical orientation, and that’s okay.

    As for abstract shapes, I agree that a logo shouldn’t be a super-complex drawing, but I think it’s fine for Taco Bell to have its simple bell – or for that matter, for Gravity Switch to have its orange drop with eyeballs! But overall, these are fantastic guidelines, Jason – thank you, and I will pass them on for sure.

    • Jason Mark

      Anne, are you thinking about old eBay? Because it’s horizontal now (they just redesigned). It used to be “fairly” square, but they “grew up”. But true, there are exceptions to every rule. The key point in my mind is don’t break ALL the rules, break 1 or 2 smartly and follow the rest.

      • http://twitter.com/riverbend Anne Campbell

        I’m thinking of the new eBay logo – the one in your graphic above. You’re right, it’s horizontal, but it’s not a hugely wide, banner-shaped rectangle like some logos. I like it a lot better than their old logo, which was starting to cry out, “1996 called, and they want their website back.”

  • http://www.designbull.co.uk/ Andy Fuller

    A great questionnaire thanks! I’m also going to reference it to my logo design clients in helping them understand all the elements of what goes into a logo design project. (I scored a 6 by the way!)

  • stacey

    Thanks for posting, Next time I design a logo I am going to put it to your test lol

  • http://www.link-creative.com/ Link Creative

    Great post. I also do a lot of my own lettered / type creation, started off doing it to save money / having to buy fonts and now its my specialty! I also agree with Anne’s comments on the horizontal etc. There are some
    exceptions to some rules you pointed out but over all this is an awesome
    guideline / reminders on logo design. Thanks!

  • http://twitter.com/CreatiphGFX Creatiph

    Very useful article. The thing is that this article must be read by the client as well. As designer, I knew all of these rules but most of the clients dosen’t and we’re end up many times by being frustrated because a client forced us to do it wrong.

  • http://entertainmentmesh.com/ Zavera Farid

    I am ready to create new logo with the tips you mentioned in mind!

  • http://twitter.com/Innoveir Innoveir

    Excellent, well written article. Thanks for the contribution!

  • Pixelfire

    Those are really nice and worth considering tips for logo designing. As it is not just a logo it is the impression of your website and making a good impression always helps in increasing traffic to your website.

  • http://twitter.com/Design_Deeper Design Deeper

    Really great advice! I especially agree with the part about working in black & white. It’s hard to get clients to understand that point sometimes.

  • http://www.mavenapt.com/ Muhammad Ali


  • http://www.friv3.co/ friv 3

    I think that’s the basic steps for beginners like me. thanks

  • http://www.facebook.com/laura.moen Laura Kelso

    this was an incredibly helpful. I am trying to learn my way around visual design, and now i feel like i have a simple, tactical guide as I attempt my first logo. thanks!

  • http://tipigraphics.com/ Tzvi Perlow

    Great article! I like showing my client these articles I follow, so when they get all annoying I just show them what’s right “according to the big companies” ;)

    (I did the test on all the logos I created, Highest: 6 – since I never buy fonts for the life of mine, Lowest:5, I feel proud of myself)

  • Cyrus Selster

    I agree with your all points.

  • Anil Amrit

    Will be using this to educate my clients who think a properly designed logo is simple.
    Anil // http://www.anilamrit.co.uk

  • http://www.octopus-creative.co.uk/ Octopus Creative Design

    Don’t use a gradient on your logo design? It’s a pity the designers of the new Visa identity didn’t see this informative article before starting their work.

  • http://bekdavis.com/ Bek Davis

    Great article Jason!

    • Laxmikant Amingad

      Great article! thank you, Jason

  • http://www.VernonBlake.com Vernon

    Great article! I am a web marketer first, with website design and logo design falling under that umbrella.

    This is a discussion I have with my clients repeatedly. We end up wasting much valuable time because of what I call “logo fixation”, when we need to be focusing on web page content, and other web marketing issues. Quite often, people completely lose sight of the ultimate goal, which is to attract more business, increase sales, and retain existing customers.

    Logos are important, but a bad logo is worse than no logo.

    I really appreciate your distinction between “brand” and “logo”, and the limits to what a logo can convey as far as “meaning”. I think you partially addressed my following suggestion when you mentioned “horizontal and vertical options” (I.e. adaptability).

    I would add to your “rules” that a logo / logomark / logotype / wordmark (trying to cover all of the bases) should be highly adaptable, especially for web use. Furthermore, variations of a logo, specifically for use on the web, should be developed as part of the overall logo design process.

    There are many instances where your logo will need to accommodate an aspect ratio and/or pixel dimension over which you have no control. Let’s start with the most basic of shapes: a square.

    A logo (or some element or variation of it) should be adaptable so that it looks good and fits well within a square-shaped area. Think of all of the square areas provided for profile images, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+ (currently a circle), YouTube, local business directories, etc. – the list is LONG.

    Consider the differing dimensions, ranging from 300 pixels square for some of the larger profile images, to a favicon at 16 x 16 px. Additionally, as a logo is reduced in size, the level of detail becomes less important. Much of the detail, such as text, can and should be removed, while still retaining the essence or identity of the logo.

    If you are developing a desktop web app, your logomark might be used on a Splash Screen at 800 x 400px. For a mobile app, it might require several variations.

    Bottom line, there is no “one size fits all”, and your article addresses this point very well.

    Thanks for sharing, and allowing me to vent! ;-)

  • Splash

    My company’s logo scores -3. If only there were a way to make the bosses realise just how bad it is.

  • fatima

    would anyone mind giving me feedback for my logo designs?

  • http://www.iantopple.com Ian Topple

    What if you use initials as one font and then the name of the company as another? Is that necessarily bad because you used two fonts? The name of the company has a P and S in it. Since it’s a long name, I thought I could use P and S as the initials followed by the name of the company.

  • http://julitellez.wix.com/kannvasdesign Alestepos

    Great reading!
    I didn’t know these rules, but I’ll use them for my current logo.

  • Ji-hern Baek

    “Does your logo have both horizontal and vertical options?”
    Does your logo work on both black and white backgrounds without a box around it?

    Just to clarify, why are these important conditions to satisfy?

  • http://www.equinoxes.in/ Equinox e Services

    Very nicely illustrated the key compenents to be looked into while designing a logo

    Team – Equinox e Services