Designing logos 101

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Coming up with ideas: my favorite part of the process

Who needs logos?

Whether it’s a religion, political party or product/service a logo is the most compact representation of a concept. Just think of how much impact on your subconsciousness seeing a cross, a swastika and or a coke logo has. The logo is the mental gateway to everything it represents compacted into a brand that gets buried in the back of your mind.
I personally love creating identities as everything designed after the logo must tie into it. It is the Genesis of a brand. Since I’ve created so many logos lately I decided to write this post outlining the process I go through when sitting down to design one.
Jake Bloom MD: a client and his business
Kicking off the project
A key part of the kick off meeting is to listen closely to what the client has to say about the business/organization/service as they will have to live with it long after you have gone on to other projects. This is their baby and you aren’t a co-parent no matter how early you are in the process. Remember you might want to produce something amazing that appears in the Logo Lounge annual book but they will have to a very different view of success which will probably start with not wanting to alienate anyone.
To help flesh out where the logo should go I suggest something I did in a recent kick-off meeting. I asked the client to create 3 Pinterest boards for their logo project: one with general logos they like, one with general logos they don’t like and one which is their competition’s logos. This helps reduce the amount of guesswork you as the designer will have to do and also makes the client feel involved. If they baulk at the thought of the extra effort on their part tell them it will save them lots of billable hours.
Pinterest board of logos the client likes – created for the logo below
How much do I charge for a logo?

There is no hard and fast rule about how much a logo costs despite a client asking for a fixed price. If you are an individual creating a logo for a small business a fixed fee may be best for them as it is just something on their to-do list. Logo creation may not be in their realm of experience and you’ll have to do a lot of coaching

In general I prefer hourly rates so that the client pays for indecision on their part rather than having you pay for it in hours that can’t be billed for (taking you away from other paying work). Remember they may not be as familiar with the process or how logos and brands work in subconscious ways. They may just regard it as a simple mark that you apply like a rubber stamp to everything.
If you are reading this post you are probably not able to charge the kinds of fees large companies are willing to pay (to the tune of tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars) to branding agencies for a whole identity system. By contrast to all that I often create logos, not for money but for creative kicks e.g Kickstarteresque small businesses. This way I am in the driving seat as I am doing them a favor. 
My competitive study of plastic surgeons for the logo below.
Assessing your logo’s competition
Unless the logo is for an entirely new concept it is likely to have some pre-existing context and competition. Take the time to Google the competition’s logos looking for any common imagery in that industry/area of expertise. There will probably be some recurring cliches and stereotypes as other designers have gone for the milieu’s low hanging fruit. You’ll have to ask yourself are they valid symbols or just the easy way out?
You can also Google blog posts or design portfolios in the same industry to see what is out there. Hopefully you can use this process to elevate your concepts either to be on par with or above the industry standard before moving onto the next phase in the process…
Inspiration: pushing your logo further

Now you’ve got the brief and assessed it’s context you need to prime yourself for the most creative part of the process by establishing up design standards to hit in your mind. You may already go to many AIGA events, design meet-ups or other design events to get a feel for what other designers think about and are doing. If you don’t I highly recommend that you do

In order to get inspired alone and in front of a screen I suggest looking at this year’s Logo Lounge Trend Report in order to see what trends are in vogue and get a contemporaneous feel for the project. Next look up the industry or logos in general on Pinterest. The beauty of this is that you can ‘pin’ anything you find to your own boards to keep, assess later, send to the client or get other designers’ for feedback on. Here’s one of mine:
All this is fun and yet adds to the mental stew of bits and pieces being created in your mind.
I could probably fit 6 on my microsketches on a single stamp
My submission for the Love by Design fund raiser
Time to sketch the logo
I carry a small 4” x 6” page-a-day diary around with me all the time as a kind of notebook. I use it to draw loads of micro sketches in a short amount of time. Few of the sketches are ever larger than the smallest postage stamp as I work my way through the various possibilities fast. In this phase I just need to get to the concept quickly not the detail. It’s like brainstorming on my own – a very necessary step to avoid a lot of wasted time later on.
While the notebook is the physical surface that I draw the sketches on, the actual physical space is usually while I am on the bus either going to or from work. I find this transitionary state keeps me focused and helps me be more open to new ideas. I’m actually on the bus crossing the Golden Gate Bridge as I write this post.
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Screen Shot 2016-08-02 at 10.40.27 PM
Mac development for an NGO’s logo: Wildlife Rescue
Taking the logo to the computer

All the previous steps help build a mental picture of the logo in my mind and higher standards to aim for. However when I take the concepts to my Mac they finally have to become real. This phase is definitely the longest since the devil is most definitely in the details. Some ideas that seemed great as a sketch can look terrible once you see them on screen.

Another key part of this stage is the fact that sometimes creative leaps occur by duplicating or distorting the artwork or even just plain accident. Another thing to think about is the fact that while busy working away on the logo for hours you need to pause in order to make sure you are still working on a viable concept and not just polishing up a bad idea. You can easily create bad ideas and the client may even approve them (or be the source of them) but its good to aim high if you want to get better logo commissions in the future.
Subtle finesse is necessary once you go to the Mac
What have I done?

Once you get going on the artwork on screen you can very easily get very blinkered on the creative route(s) you are taking. At this point it’s good to take a break for a day and work on something else. At this point you can send what you have to a select group of designer friends for feedback. Whether you listen to them or not you’ll see your logo in a different light.

If you now feel uncomfortable or unsettled about the design listen to the small voice at the back of your mind. It’s your subconscious trying to tell you something about the design. Maybe your subconscious can see a better solution that your conscious mind hasn’t worked out yet. it’s your gut check moment. If you do make changes or additional versions at this point the client will still be happy with more options to choose from rather than less options. Don’t show them any you hate just in case they pick it. Remember you only need one concept approved.

Show the logo in situ where possible for the client (ClusterTruck game)
Presenting your logo to the client

When you show the client your final designs you’ll have to make them look nice, ideally in a presentation, in order to create a good first impression. This is, after all, their dream made real. If you can’t be there in person then sending an explanation too is essential. Combined together this will give them something for the client to forward to others as frequently they will want to get another opinion too.

You might think you did a great job on your ‘final’ designs but as sure as bears shit in the woods once you write the word final in your file name you will get changes from the client.  The best thing to do is anticipate these changes in advance so that you don’t get frustrated by the feedback. If this feedback annoys you pause before replying and follow up later in a professional manner when you’ve calmed down. Remember for the client who is a non creative this process of back-and-forth is often as important as the final design.
Where possible show that the project was real.
Putting the logo in your portfolio

Always ensure you can put work in your portfolio for the world to see and you are not subject to an NDA (Non Disclosure Agreement). Once the logo is out their in the world it is legally considered to be in the public domain and open for you to use as long as:

“You may display your work in your portfolio-including a portfolio Web-site under the doctrine of “fair use,” as long as:
– you are not selling reproductions of the work;
– you have credited the rights holder; and

– you are not violating any non-disclosure agreement with the rights holder.”

For more details click here:

In my portfolio I always show the whole process from my initial sketches to the final design. I’ve found that most people seem more interested in the whole story of how the logo was created than the final deliverable. I use as many pictures as possible to explain each step. This is because most people will just scroll down each page in a few seconds skipping over the text

To finish off the narrative I always follow up with the client to get any photos or examples of the logo in some sort of real world application. I feel this ‘validation’ step is key as I see so many portfolios show logos/designs straight out of Illustrator/Photoshop. The viewer is left guessing if it was a proposed mock-up logo or wishful thinking on the designer’s part. Check out some of these amazingly polished logo mood boards on Pinterest:

The inner journey of a logo designer

Fun vs Stress
There’s an emotional ebb and flow to the logo design process which I’ve turned into a graph above. Really, it could be any design process but the simplicity of the logo creation process makes it a lot easier to chart. The process is its most fun when there is the least amount of stress like in the early research and inspiration phase. This is mostly because you’re in the lateral thinking phase and haven’t had to come up with any ideas yet. Everything is up in the air and full of hope for the future of the logo.

Directly inverse to the fun curve is the stress curve which gets more intense as you have to bring the vagueness of the concept into the real world. This is the linear part of the process: “I need 3 concepts by the end of Thursday.” Usually the stress curve reaches it’s peak at or just before the client presentation.

Where the two curves intersect is what I call the Creative Nexus. This is where you come up with the best ideas: stressed enough to think hard while coming off the intellectual high of having thought deeply about the topic. After this it’s a bit like a race to the finish – the stress of which can create more ideas if you’ve done the intellectual priming of the early phases.
Concepting on the bus

The beauty of logos is that they are simple, small and finite compared to designing something like a website or book. As you can see my whole process is loosely structured yet is also fluid enough to be open to changes in direction. It works for me as an individual and can easily be adapted to company or agency needs

The only difficult part of the whole logo design process for a designer is that it is a two way street: the client may not aesthetically see what you see. Never forget that they’re coming from a place where they own the business, concept, product etc. And while the logo may seem like your baby it’s really just the summary on their baby. If the client kills off the logo idea that you absolutely love then you can always put in your portfolio along with the rest of its story for all the world to see. Somebody else will definitely like it…

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