For the Love of Logos

May 23, 2016

A logo is quite possibly the most important strategic marketing asset a company can have. In addition to the obvious benefit of creating brand recognition, a well-designed logo can also communicate non-tangible benefits about a company. Logos can inspire people; they can instill trust and admiration, or express product or service superiority.

What some business owners don’t realize, however, is that a logo should not just express what a company does but it should represent who a company “is.” In this sense, a logo should be used as an asset just like any product or service provided to the public.

Corporate logos are intended to be the face of a company. They are visual displays of a company’s unique identity, and through colors and fonts and images they provide essential information about a company that allows customers to identify with that company’s core brand. Logos are a shorthand way of referring to the company in advertising and marketing materials; they provide an anchor point for the various fonts, colors, and design choices that are made in all other business marketing materials.

Good logos should be unique, yet comprehensible to potential customers. Although there are myriad choices for color, visual elements, and typography, in general a logo should help convey some information about the company, or be designed in a way that gives some sense of meaning about the company or its industry. For example, cutting-edge firms and technology companies tend to have angular logos to convey speed, while service-oriented firms have rounded logos to provide a sense of service and trust.

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Logos are the chief visual component of a company’s overall brand identity. The logo appears on stationery, websites, business cards, and advertising. For that reason, a well-designed logo can contribute to business success, while a substandard logo can imply amateurishness and turn off potential customers. However, a logo should work well with other aspects of a company’s visual presentation. No logo, however well designed, can look good when surrounded by contradictory graphical elements or inconsistent fonts. This is why a logo needs to be seen as the basic unit of a larger brand identity that includes company fonts, colors, and document-design guidelines. There are three basic types of logos: a brandmark, a wordmark, and a combination mark.

“Brandmarks” (also known as icons) are simple images that are symbolic of a company. They are memorable, instantly recognizable, and illustrative. They are typically for companies that are well established and internationally known. Icons may be recognized regardless of the language spoken, and are therefore best for worldwide companies.

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“Wordmarks” consist of the company’s name as the “logo” in a distinct font style. They are directly tied to the company and unique in design. Wordmarks are good for smaller businesses that have unique, memorable, and distinct names, and who also want to increase brand awareness. They tend to add sophistication to the brand.

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“Combination marks” are exactly what they sound like: a combination of both wordmarks and icons. They include a visual icon along with the company’s name. Combination marks are great for companies that want a visual element to reinforce their brand, so the name and the symbol are seen together.

How can you decide which type of logo is right for you?

Keep it simple. The simplest design is often the most effective. Why? Because a simple logo helps meet most of the other requirements of iconic design.

Make it relevant. Your logo or other design marks such as avatars, favicons, and emojis must be appropriate for the business it identifies. What is an avatar, favicon, or emoji? A “favicon”—or browser icon—is a small image that displays next to the page title in a browser tab. Adding a favicon to your site makes your site recognizable in a browser full of tabs, and can also be used by some browsers for bookmarks. An “avatar” is an image that follows you from site to site, appearing beside your name when you do things like comment or post on a blog. Avatars help identify your posts on blogs and web forums. An “emoji” is a small digital image or icon used to express an idea or an emotion in electronic communication. (Think “smiley face.”)

Make it timeless. Trends come and go like the wind. With your visual identity, the last thing you want is to invest a significant amount of your money in design directions that look dated within a year or two.

Aim for distinction. Begin by focusing on designs that are recognizable—so much so that just its shape or outline gives it away.

Think small. Think big. What will your logo look like at five inches, five feet, or fifty feet away? How about if you shrink or increase its size? Your logo should ideally work at a minimum of one inch in size without loss of detail so that it can be put to use for many different applications. Conversely, you should consider whether it becomes pixilated when it gets bigger. (In other words, does the image become more blurry and distorted the bigger it gets?)

Focus on one thing. Incorporate just one feature to help your design stand out. That’s it. Just one. Not two, not three, not four. Take a look at the mark I created for my friend and client, Leo, and his company Formulaica. He is a retired F/A-18 fighter pilot, and we wanted a unique mark that represented where he came from and where he was headed. The brandmark uses the first and last letter of the business name, and it’s designed in such a way that vaguely represents a fighter jet (past) and an arrow pointing northeast (future).

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Your logo is the key element of your company’s corporate branding and identity. It is the visual representation of your business.  Awareness and familiarity are keys to growing your business, and your logo is instrumental in both areas. Your logo is your brand’s most basic graphic element. It ties together all your sales materials. The right logo helps solidify customer loyalty while differentiating you from the competition. So, give it tons of thought and choose wisely.