What makes an effective logo?

Zach Stevens

Creative Director & Founder

February 7, 2018

Hey there sunshine.

You’ve probably stumbled across this article because you’re a designer, marketing aficionado, businessperson, or aspiring entrepreneur getting started on branding initiatives for your company. First and foremost, welcome! Thanks for joining me on the Sygnal Studios Blog. I’ll be using this page to share lessons learned on brand strategy and design on a regular basis. Anyway, back to business.

What is a logo?

The word “logo” is a derivative of the greek logotypos; logo meaning “word” and typos meaning “imprint” or “emblem.” Primal designers focused on constructing letterforms as a standard mark of ownership, similar to a signature. As design and branding efforts became more prevalent and complex, the word became synonymous with any graphic representation of an entity. Think of it this way, if businesses/organizations were people, their logo would be their face.

ancient greek logotypes
‍Image courtesy of archaicwonder.com

What makes an effective logo?

As a designer, this is something I contemplated throughout school and during my time as an in-house consultant. My initial measurements for a successful logo rested on whether the logo was liked by the client, myself, and others we polled. Unfortunately, it’s hard to move forward with feedback solely comprised of “likes.”

There is more to it than “likes.”

Don’t get me wrong, approval of the logo’s visual nature is important, but that becomes an almost non-issue when working with reputable designers whose work has already captivated client interest. The issue becomes a lack of concrete, strategic objectives that lead to improvement. “Liking” or “disliking” something is inherently subjective, it’s based on personal experiences. For example, I do not like the color pink. There is nothing anyone can do to change my mind, it is simply not a color that I would prefer if I had other options. But, if someone asked me to choose the most calming and soft color between pink and red, the choice is obvious. It’s pink.

Soft Pink and Bright Red

See what happened there? I don’t like the color pink, but I chose it over red. Why?

Strategic, objective goals.

Crafting an effective logo is the result of strategic, objective goal-setting. If you start designing your mark without thinking about the desired outcome, stop, you are wasting your time. Before a pencil even touches paper, one must consider what they are trying to make someone feel when they look at this logo. Let’s look at my color example above: if the question I had been asked was “which color do you like more,” I would have chosen red. That doesn’t provide any insight other than the fact that I personally like red more than pink. I wasn’t asked what I felt when looking at those colors, or which one made me feel the most tranquil or passionate; I was limited to a surface-level preference.

It’s all about the feelings. Here are some deeper questions that could have been asked:

Which color feels the most feminine? Pink, because it reminds me of rosy cheeks.

Which color makes you feel the most energy, why? Red, because it reminds me of battle.

Which color makes you feel the lightest, why? Pink, because it’s the same color as cotton candy.

Do you see the pattern? Yes, the answers are subjective, but if you ask the same objective question to 20 different people, you will gain an infinitely greater amount of insight than if you’d merely asked “which one do you like?”

Strategic, objective logo examples.

These are two amazing, exceptional logos. Both of them are crafted with precision, engaging aesthetics, and are worthy of the S&P 500. So, which one do you like more? I guarantee not everyone will say the same thing. Heck, even I like both, but it is impossible to make improvements or determine brand alignment based on “likes.” What needs to be understood is whether or not strategically defined goals are being met.

amazon logo
nike logo

Here’s my goal as CEO 1: I want a logo that inspires anyone with a body to be an athlete. A logo that makes the viewer feel like they can jump higher, run faster, be stronger. I want it to be powerful, that’s what my brand stands for.

This is my goal as CEO 2: I want my logo to let my customers know that service is our top priority. That they will be happy when shopping for anything on our website. Most importantly, I want them to view us an approachable organization here to help make their shopping experience easy. That’s what our brand stands for.

With objectives like this in place, the answer to which logo meets the desired goals most effectively is obvious. The Nike swoosh alludes to a herculean sprint for glory and conquest, it is sharp and looks like it could cut through competition. Compare that to the smiling, yellow arrow and comforting typeface of Amazon that warmly greet customers with the kindness of a close friend. Amazon’s logo could give you a hug if it had arms. These logos meet objective goals that align with each brand’s strategy.

What’s the benefit of an effective logo?

One of the biggest lines of BS in the design world is that a new logo or a better logo is going to earn your business more money. That is a lie, if anyone tries to sell you on that, run. Effective logos don’t necessarily earn money, but an ineffective logo is costly. Whether you spend extra money on redesigns or the logo is rejected by your consumers and tarnishes your reputation, an effective logo is a preventative measure to both. Don’t believe me? See below.

The Next Good Step (for those who don't read bottom to top)

awful logo design 1
Image courtesy of zankrank.com

CTC (I think, not sure who they really are, #badlogoproblems)

awful logo design 2
Image courtesy of zankrank.com

Gap

awful logo design 3
Image courtesy of 1stwebdesigner.com

Gap’s logo got serious pushback when they updated it in 2010. The receptions was so negative that executives reverted back to their iconic, serifed logo after a week of spiteful responses to the new rendition. All the while confusing consumers and spending unnecessary money. This goes deeper than looks, it is about striving for a cohesive brand. It is highly likely that your logo will appear often and that it will be the first visual element consumers will associate with your organization.

An effective logo nails that first impression and already gets people on board with your brand. Consumers will use it as a method of recognition and if you constantly deliver on the values that embodied within that logo, it becomes a symbol of trust. Building rapport and loyalty empowers consumers to enjoy seeing that logo and aligning themselves with what it represents. It needs to be a mark of tribal membership around a belief. Think about some of your favorite brands, do you associate them with their products or with the feelings they've evoked within you? An effective logo manifests this belief visually.

Apple Tattoo
‍Image courtesy of Goluputtar.com

How do you make an effective logo?

Be strategic in concept

If a logo is a brand’s face, then strategy is its personality. What does your brand stand for? Who does is it intend to serve? Why will consumers pick your brand over any other? Without an honest and bold personality, your logo (or any design for that matter) is a symptomatic solution to a deeper problem. A logo is just the tip of the branding iceberg, examine and mold what’s going on beneath the surface and then work your way up.

Be objective in execution

I get it, your logo means a lot. Even designers go through this for personal designs and it isn’t easy. We get caught up in a bubble and suddenly a logo becomes a behemoth, but I’ll let you in on a secret: the world will not end if your logo isn’t perfect, I promise you. You may have to rebuild a reputation, but it isn't the absolute worst thing that can happen. Approach designing your logo with goals and pick the best solution that fulfills your strategic objectives. By no means should you settle for something that is an absolute abomination, or horrendous representation of your brand. But trust that it is possible to make a logo that does its job if that job is clearly laid out. Don’t look to please everyone, accomplish your goals instead.

Be diligent in research

Get involved with your target market and develop a rich understanding of why they trust your brand or what they are looking for in a new brand. Include them in the research phase of designing your logo and iterate based on the answers they provide to your questions. “Customers may not always be right, but they are never wrong.”

Be honest in reflection

You can’t be something you’re not. There is enough bogus claims in the world already, don’t let your organization get lumped into the crowded market of phonies. Whatever you create, make it truthful.

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