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Six Things to Keep in Mind When Designing a Logo

Posted on October 14, 2011 and read 8,952 times

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This article was originally featured on, IHAVEANIDEA’s partner in all things related to stock imagery.

Logo design needs to begin with a great idea or concept, backed up with some jedi-like vector skills to bring it to life. In this article you’ll find some design and technical tips to get you started and keep you on the right track. I’ve included some important things for you to think about as you are creating, as well as some reminders on how to keep your files technically sound for submission to avoid the dreaded “Subpar” rejection.

Thought and planning are a huge part of Logo design: preparation is key. We’ve prepared a set of considerations here for any illustrators ready to plunge into Logos. Keep the following in mind during your planning and throughout the process.

Please note: The ‘good’ versions of logo design seen below were each designed by some of our amazing logo contributors. They’d never dream of submitting anything like the ‘bad’ files you see here, which we created for illustrative purposes only!

It All Starts With a Great Idea

Start by selecting a Business Category or something that inspires you. Try to envision who the client will be or what kind of company or business may want to buy your logo. Creativity sometimes strikes when you combine a couple of ideas. For example, you may decide on creating a logo for a security company. For this business category you probably would want to convey trust, strength and reliability. This can be accomplished by choosing appropriate subject matter and using style, colors, weight, balance and shapes. The idea could be a bear with strong angular or masculine shapes and bold, dark colors combined with a sturdy font to finish it off.

By clearly visualizing who your client is and with some forethought, research and planning, the end result should be an appropriate symbol that immediately identifies the company, and clearly communicates the product or service. This is absolutely key to a successful logo design and should always be foremost in your mind while conceptualizing your design.

When you have your concept, start sketching it out to quickly come up with ways you can execute the idea. Starting in black and white can help ensure that your design is clear, legible and reproducible without any distracting features. Adding great color, style characteristics, or subtle effects will help make your design unique to stand out amongst the competition. Add some type to bring some context to your design and choose a font that compliments the symbol and communicates clearly. To ensure a successful logo remember to keep your design, Simple, Memorable, Timeless, Versatile, and Appropriate.

 Six Things to Keep in Mind When Designing a Logo

Read more on how to sketch out your ideas here


It’s extremely important that Logos are created with versatility in mind. As the main component of a company’s corporate identity, the logo acts as the cornerstone of their visual brand. This means it must be reproducible using a huge variety of formats and processes while maintaining the integrity of the logo as it is utilized. Logos may be printed on anything like small business cards and pens to extremely large billboards and signage. They need to work well using traditional print methods like offset lithography and screen printing for T-Shirts, as well as other things the buyer may want like rubber stamps, stickers and embroidered golf shirts. Of course, it must also look fabulous on screen for use on websites and other pixel based media. It’s a good idea to test your logo file at a monitor resolution of 72ppi at an inch or so wide to see what issues may pop up.

Here are some things to watch out for to keep your design from ending up on top of the reject pile:

— Consider carefully how much detail to add to your logo design. Lots of small shapes and skinny lines should be avoided as they could disappear or print very broken and rough when reduced to small sizes.

— The white spaces, or negative spaces, between shapes should be consistent and not too close together or they may fill in causing a loss in the definition of objects.

— Gradients should be used selectively, creatively, and only when they enhance the design. At one end, if tints are too light, they can disappear when printed and only show up as white. Conversely, dark tints can fill in to solids causing the logo to look muddy and unclear which can happen easily when printed in a newspaper. Also, gradients may not work with some reproduction processes that can not use continuous tone.

— It’s easy to get carried away with our design by adding tons of fun and interesting things but the bottom line is it has to reproduce really, really well. In the end, ask yourself, “Does this help or hinder my design?” If the logo communicates the intended message just as well (or better) without it, take it out.

 Six Things to Keep in Mind When Designing a Logo

The excessive use of detail in this logo will seriously compromise its ability to be reproduced. Fine details like the sharp pointed tail and thin lines will disappear when printed at smaller sizes and the small white shapes will fill in losing their definition. Outlined type with extreme gradients will print poorly as well, making the type hard to read at any size. On the right, the elephant is drawn with bold shapes, leaving ample white space in between for definition. Just the right amount of detail is used to help convey the idea and the solid flat colors used will ensure that this design will reproduce great with pretty well any process. I wouldn’t recommend using multiple colors like this in the type all the time but in this case it works to make it fun and exciting.

 Six Things to Keep in Mind When Designing a Logo

In these examples the differences are noticeable mostly through the addition of a heavy black drop shadow and the application of gradients to every shape. Gradients can work when used sparingly but in this case they are far too severe, and would look dreadful at a small size. The tiny hairline strokes on all the shapes will also be problematic especially when this logo is printed as a 4 color process job. The example on the right is clean, clear, and looks great at any size.

Read more on printing methods here
… and here

Reversals. What the heck are these?

Nope, we don’t want you to create a mirrored image of your design and it is not necessarily a negative. A Reversal Logo is simply a version of your file that is created to ensure it looks great when used on black or dark colored backgrounds. Logos with dark or mid-tone level colours may not be visible so another version is needed. Again, its all about versatility so the buyer can use your logo design anywhere they want. A common method of doing this is by changing all of your colors to white. It doesn’t have to be all white, as light or bright colors may be used, but by using white, you are keeping it neutral and making it usable on a large spectrum of dark colours. It also gives the client an added bonus of having a 1 color version of the logo if you chose to not create a solid Black Version or created a Black Version with tints of grey. Solid, 1 color logos are great to use as watermarks or as a reference for a die-cut or foil stamp.

Please do NOT place any kind of colored box behind your design. “But no one will see my design!”, you say with despair! Yes, it looks invisible as it is now an all white logo in an all white document. Don’t worry, we’ve thought of that! When you upload your white PNG file (with transparent background) it will show up on a nice black background conveniently supplied by iStock so your wonderful creation will be available for all to see.

 Six Things to Keep in Mind When Designing a Logo

The concept of a ‘reversed’ logo design can be confusing if you’ve never designed a logo before. In the example on the left, there is a black box placed in behind the design. While it may look nice on screen, this could look awful if the logo was placed on top of a photograph or different colored background. The logo itself has also been ‘reversed’ by mirroring the design! The example on the right shows an all-white logo selected in Illustrator: No background necessary. This design is ready to place onto any color the client wishes.

Color Palette

Never underestimate the power of color! There is so much emotion inherent in color and its psychological power can be extremely persuasive. Warm, cool, neutral, vivid, complimentary, analogous, soft, light, dark, bright, saturated — all of these color types can be used effectively to enhance our intended message. How we combine these colors is also equally important as they can create contrast, balance, and weight to help convey our idea.

Have fun choosing colors for your design and experiment with many different options and combinations. Color selections need to be appropriate for the subject matter. For example, it wouldn’t be a good choice to use red for a dentist office, that’s scary! Red is alarming and can symbolize blood. Instead, choose professional, calming colors. Soft blues or browns may be more appropriate.

Full color logos, or designs that use a large range of CYMK colors can look really great, but can also be very expensive or difficult to reproduce. Consider keeping your design to a couple of colors to keep costs down, and use tints of those colors when more levels are needed. Smaller color palettes can also work to keep logos from looking too busy and cluttered. Be inventive with your color choices and step out of the Illustrator default color swatch trap, there’s a whole world of color to explore!

 Six Things to Keep in Mind When Designing a Logo

The sample on the left is using far too many colors than is necessary, making it very busy and more difficult to define the individual objects. The use of fluorescent and uncomplimentary colors makes the overall composition unappealing and less attractive. Using default colors straight from the swatch palette and plain black for the type make the design much less sophisticated than it could be. The sample on the right utilizes a beautiful main palette of custom mixed complimentary colors of orange, green and brown. They all work together in harmony to bring the cute kitties to life while adding a warm and cozy feeling. The use of dark brown for the type keeps it complimentary to the graphic and maintains a good contrast necessary for legibility. Using the same orange that’s in the kitties for the “petcare” type offers additional visual interest and helps separate it from the main type. This helps give the eye a break and enhances legibility as well.

Read more on color pallettes here
… and here

Simple is good right?

That’s a yes and no answer. YES, logo designs should be simple to effectively communicate an idea and to be easily reproducible. NO, they shouldn’t be limited to simplistic stars, circles, ovals, squares and rectangles. It’s important to keep logo graphics relatively simple to make them useable in many applications and print processes, but not at the expense of style! Chances are if you create something too simple it may look like like hundreds of other icons out there already. Not good! A company’s logo has to work to differentiate them from their competition in order to be successful, and they don’t want to buy logos that they could make themselves using Illustrators Shape Tool.

Think about what you can do to add you own style or flair to make your design unique. When designing simple logos it’s important to find ways of adding subtle but highly effective visual interest. You can do this by giving equal consideration to both positive and negative space and the careful placement of each shape. Use different perspectives can add tons of visual interest putting a unique spin on your design. A little twist, shape or tapered line here and there can simulate motion or other effects making the design much more dynamic than it would be otherwise. Simply styled directional devices (shapes that lead the eye) can add real excitement. Get in there with the Pen Tool and add some personality!

 Six Things to Keep in Mind When Designing a Logo

The left example is very simple in its execution, using only basic square and circle shapes. The placement of all of the objects has left the overall composition looking static and boring while the plain black type is under considered, effectively ensuring that this logo generates about as much excitement as flossing your teeth. The example on the right however, has cleverly used positive and negative space to create the plate. The entire logo is comprised of only four shapes by creating two simple arcs to help define the plate and by letting the cutlery bleed off the bottom edge. The combination of these design choices and using Tragan for the font, give it a simple, classic, stylish feel appropriate for this audience.

 Six Things to Keep in Mind When Designing a Logo

The logo on the left is plain, and was created using simple squares, rectangles and triangles. It took literally 10 seconds to draw, so to jazz it up a little we added a snazzy orange outline (which took an additional 2 seconds to apply). The problem is that there must be thousands of simple symbols like this out there. The logo on the right, on the other hand, is also very simple but the designer has kicked things up a notch by incorporating a clever magnifying glass and using reversed gaps in between shapes to create a much more interesting visual composition.

Choosing a Typeface

OK, you’ve got your award winning logo design in the bag and now its time to add some text and a name. This will help add context to your design and give the buyer a clear idea of how it may be used (like it doesn’t already do that!). A quick reminder here to remember to research any name you would like to use to help avoid any potential copyright or trademark issues. You must make sure it is not currently in use by any other company and a quick search on the internet should help you along the way. A safer bet is to stick to generic terms like, Construction Contractor, Attorney Logo, Retail Business, etc. It’s not necessary to add a tagline or brand statement but if you do, make sure you have done it in such a way that it works well with the logo and any other logotype and that it is clearly legible without being too small to read.

Next step, read the font licensing agreement for your chosen typeface. Yes, these can be long and boring but it’s important to make sure you have the rights to use this font in a manner that is compatible with the sale of your logo to iStock clients. Specifically look for the Usage Agreement section that states it allowable for Commercial Use in this way. Just because your font was ‘Free’ does NOT mean its OK for Commercial use! Also, ‘Free’ does not necessarily mean ‘good’. Use quality fonts to add to your great logo design to keep the whole package looking good.

Choose a font that is appropriate and looks great alongside your logo. This can mean choosing a font that has complimentary shapes to match the style of your design or match the mood of the idea. A very professional business such as an attorneys office, would require a more formal looking font perhaps using caps or small caps. A font for a children’s clothing store could use a more casual, friendly font using lowercase letters. Try not to choose fonts that are too funky or illustrative. Yeah, they’re fun but they can seriously compromise the legibility of your logo and are really more for use in headlines, posters and other media.

Read more on font selection here
…and typography in general here

Keep your type simply colored as harsh gradients, drop shadows and skinny outlines can create issues in reproduction making it very hard to read. Find a good spot to place your text alongside your logo and choose a size that is appropriate. Usually this means aligning it to some part of the logo to keep things looking neat and tidy. Remember to not get to close to the symbol, (give it some breathing room!) and find a size that strikes a nice balance. Again, think about how the logo will be used. Text that is too small in relation to the symbol will be too small to read when the logo is reduced to fit on a business card. A good habit is to test print your logo at about 1 to 1.5 inches wide and see what issues pop up.

Last step, include the name of ALL fonts used in the “Font used” field in step 4 of the upload process. The font field will only appear if you’ve clicked on ‘YES’ for the last question on Step 3 of the upload process (“This logo contains a font or typeface that I did not create”). This is because some people don’t use fonts in their submissions – when they click ‘No’, they won’t have to enter the font name.

 Six Things to Keep in Mind When Designing a Logo

Hard to read? It sure is! Skinny outlines, drop shadows and other effects used on type all work against keeping it clear and legible. The “Tiederhouse” text is too tightly kerned while the “Attorney ay law” type has far too much letter spacing. The type is placed too close to the graphic without enough breathing room and the tagline is much too small in proportion. The “Tiederhouse” text uses the font “Hobo” which is a 70′s style font not at all appropriate for a professional law office. The sample on the right uses a much more professional and appropriate looking serif font with spacing and shapes that seem to mimic the construction of the symbol. It’s clear, easy to read and is just the right amount of distance from the torch device. Making the line between the text gold colored would have been a nice touch.

We hope these tips give you something to keep in mind as you design your next logo submissions. Happy designing!

Image credits

‘Grenade’ sketches by 72ppi
‘Circus’ logo by DistinctiveDesign
‘Shrimp’ logo by samoyloff
‘Love Coffee’ logo by samoyloff
‘Cat Twins’ logo by o-che
‘Paper Document Company’ logo by filo
‘Dining Room’ logo by mediaploy
‘Real Estate Search’ logo by filo
‘Torch’ logo by lagomar4
‘Salmon’ logo by samoyloff
Get out of your comfort zone by alvinburrows
Printing Press by Franck-Boston
Splatter by bruce7




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