Let’s Talk About… is a series of short publications where complex topics are discussed in an accessible and light-hearted format. Let’s Talk About… is presented as a case study of the ins and outs of the world of design for seasoned experts and newcomers alike, including those who may be undergoing the research process before engaging with an agency for future projects. With this in mind, we hope you enjoy this series of publications as much as we’ve enjoyed producing it.
What is the purpose of a logo? Is it to represent the brand’s values? Or to show the world what the brand can offer? Realistically, the answer to these last two questions is no.
A logo has one job, and one job only. Whatever happens after that is just icing on the cake. But what is that job? Simply put, a logo’s job is to visually differentiate a particular brand from others and help people identify the brand at a glance.
Is different good? Yes! But there’s such a thing as “too different”. Above all else, a logo should be appropriate to the industry and audience. Take a brand that sells cupcakes and other pastries, would it be appropriate to have a logo that looks like it belongs to a bank? Not likely.
A good logo expands what is appropriate for the industry and audience, making it different, yet familiar enough. There are exceptions to this, but for the most part, familiarity creates a connection between the brand and the audience.
You could think that the logo needs to represent something related to the brand. A concept that is part of the name, the service or product, or any other element related to the brand. This is not true. A logo does not exist in a vacuum; therefore, it is not imperative that the logo represents any of these things.
Think of this example: you visit a website for a brand that sells expensive watches. Does the logo need to be a watch, or something related to time? Suppose the logo for this imaginary brand is a wordmark, this means it has no icon. Would you be able to tell what this brand does in this situation? More than likely, yes, given that the website is talking about watches and is probably inundated with images of their most prestigious watches. This is what we mean by a logo not existing in a vacuum. Everything that is presented in any marketing material will be a part of the message that is being communicated, the logo only has to identify the brand and help people tell it apart from other brands.
What should the color be? In some cases, the color palette for a logo can be determined after the logo has been created. Sometimes this is not the case, clients might require a specific color, or the brand name has a strong relation to a color (like Red Box), to name two examples. When presented with the possibility of choosing a color, there are things to consider. What is the industry? Who is the audience? How do specific colors play with the shapes that make up the logo? Different shapes affect how the color is perceived, and that’s something to keep in mind.
For example, if a brand wants to present a sense of luxury, a limited palette of colors like black, white, and gold or light bronze may be a safe choice. Or, on the other hand, for a brand focused on the tech industry, bright blues and greens work great.
Some believe that colors have meaning, and you should pick a color based on your brand’s goals. While there is some truth to this, for the most part, specific colors are not reserved for specific industries. The common belief, for example, is that red is associated with food, consumption, speed, health, anger, or love, while truth, knowledge, and wisdom are often associated with purple. If this were entirely true, the Harvard logo would have to be purple, not red, meanwhile Taco Bell uses purple as the primary color for the brand, instead of red.
We like to think that the color choice should be based on what feels appropriate, what feels right, and what looks good – always keeping in mind what the industry, audience, and brand goals are. Speaking of goals, using Taco Bell as an example, you could argue that red looks better than purple, which would make sense if we were to assume that colors have inherent meaning, but in Taco Bell’s industry, a significant percentage of fast-food brands use red or yellow as a primary color. Using a color that is diametrically opposed to the norm (in the color wheel, purple is opposite of yellow), makes it stand out from the crowd. You could almost say the color choice was designed to achieve a specific goal.
Additionally, creating a logo that can work in any color combination and does not rely on a specific color lends itself to possibilities like brand architecture for future expansion.
Let’s proceed with the logomark, the graphic element of the logo, also known as the icon. While not every logo needs a logomark, it presents many possibilities for developing the brand. What makes a good logomark great? Simply put: Simplicity. A good logo mark works in sizes big and small, print and digital, black and white, or with multiple colors (when applicable).
What about brands that don’t have a logomark? Think for example of Coca-Cola, while the logo for Coca-Cola is purely typographical and does not have any logomark, Coca-Cola still has an icon that is not part of the logo and is instead used where a logomark would have been used. This icon is the classic Coca-Cola bottle, typically used as a white icon over a red background. With this in mind, is a logomark a must-have? No, but it helps identify the brand and can be a huge asset to the brand’s image and visual language. Does this mean logos without a logomark are bad? Absolutely not, having a logomark is just yet another visual element that a brand can use to its advantage and nothing else.
Thousands of famous brands grow and thrive without having a logomark. When creating a logo that is entirely typographical, the beauty and strengths of the font are used instead of an icon. This means that a wordmark needs to have custom-made typography that is unique and aligned with the brand’s identity.
Does the logomark have to represent anything? No. Keep in mind that the sole purpose of the logo is to identify the brand. We like to include meaning in the brands we create because this can start a conversation, or be a part of the brand’s identity, but this is all an added benefit and not a crucial part of the design. When adding meaning gets in the way, toss it out.
When the logomark represents an idea, concept, or element, does it have to be related to the product? It depends. When creating a logomark, a relatable element can create a sense of familiarity, but it is not necessary. For example, the BP logomark is an abstraction of a flower and leaves. This was done to show a commitment to the environment, a connection unrelated to the product itself, but connected with the brand’s vision and identity.
That being said. Let’s create a simple budget-friendly logo. In the first entry of Let's Talk About, using an A.I. powered word generator, we got the randomly generated name Haybark.
As this brand does not exist (yet), we’ve decided that Haybark is a start-up in the clothing industry; specifically, the sportswear and outerwear industry for the adventure-lover who yearns for the great outdoors.
We’ll start off this process by assuming the main color palette for the HayBark experiment must include a shade of the color red. We’re going with PANTONE 1795 C, a shade of red that is equal parts vibrant and bold.
For HayBark we’ve created a series of logomarks. Which one should be used? To answer this let’s ask ourselves a few questions. Does it work in a small size like a social media profile picture? Does it work in black and white? Is it distinctive? Is it appropriate?
The top-right icon was created using the combination of mountains and a location pin. While this concept may seem interesting and appropriate for a brand focused on outdoor activities, it is a concept that is too obvious and has been used extensively. The more concepts you match together, the more unique the design must be. On the other hand, the bottom-left is a mountain that looks remarkably simple and digital which may cause clashes with the nature-lover audience. This can also be said about the bottom-right logomark, though this icon is simple enough to be excellent for tags, stickers, and other small formats.
That leaves us with the top-left, which we’ve chosen as the primary. Using hand-drawn lines that give a sense of imperfection and unevenness much like the mountain trails that a hiker would explore. In addition to this, we give movement to the immovable mountain by using diagonal strokes that make the mountain feel like a landslide. The simpler the concept, the more it can be used without falling on plagiarism. A mountain, by itself, is as simple as it gets, so we use this to build up the story we want to tell with the logomark. As a rule of thumb, if the logo uses a single concept that may be common, like a mountain, the more you can (and should) explore with unique styles, points of view, or abstraction.
Keep in mind that this is an excerpt of the design process, many aspects of this process were not included in order to keep this short and easy to digest.
In conclusion, what does it take for a logo to be good?
Use this checklist
✓ Appropriate ✓ Simple ✓ Easy to remember ✓ Stands out from other brands in the same industry ✓ Works in full color or monochrome ✓ Works in any size, big or small