If you’ve ever sat in on ad agency pitch, you’ve likely heard someone say, “Your logo is not your brand.” And that’s true. Your brand is the emotional perception of your company, its products and its services. Your brand lives out in the world, within the hearts and minds of consumers.
So what is your logo? Is it your brand’s identity? Not entirely.
Your brand’s identity involves all the elements you put into the world to drive consumer perception—from your tactical advertising and collateral right down to your social media presence and product design.
Your logo is your brand identifier in its simplest, most visually impactful form. It doesn’t need to literally describe your company or your brand message—or even bear your company name. Yet it must somehow convey the emotion and support the promise of your brand at a glance.
How do you create a logo that can do so much with so little? It can be done. Think of the McDonald’s arches, the Nike swoosh or the Apple icon. Each is utterly distinct, yet they all have 5 essential characteristics in common. Utilize them in your own design to make your logo resonate effectively.
1. Great logos are simple.
According to our designer Nick Benoit, “A great logo conveys a simple idea you can connect with on a human and emotional level.”
It sounds straightforward enough, doesn’t it? In reality, the simpler and more evocative the design, the more effort you can trust went into its creation. In the words of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, author and illustrator of The Little Prince:
“A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”
Simple logos are more recognizable, more impactful, and a more effective communication tool. Overly complicated designs confuse viewers, making it harder to identify your brand or digest your message.
“A bad logo is too complicated, too busy, or tries to communicate too many messages at once,” says Nick.
Paring your logo down to its most evocative elements will, in turn, help you to pare down your messaging to its most compelling statements. With a simple, expressive design, you can leave your viewer with a strong and surprisingly nuanced impression of your brand.
2. Great logos are memorable.
More than any other element of your brand, your logo will appear across all your platforms and touchpoints. You want people to recognize it within a split-second.
This characteristic is closely linked with the first: i.e., simpler logos are more memorable. That doesn’t mean your design has to be literal. An impactful, memorable logo that has been intentionally integrated with your messaging will more effectively represent your brand than a fussier logo with more literal symbolism.
Think again of some iconic logos. What does an apple have to do with computer technology, for example? Nothing directly, but it’s a subtle reference to the influence of Isaac Newton and Alan Turing on their corporate philosophy. Even without those connotations, the mark is simple, clean, impactful, and has been masterfully and indelibly linked to the messaging of Apple’s brand.
3. Great logos are timeless.
At Imagewërks, we provide many of our clients with what we call a “logo refresh. Their existing logo may have met the criteria of a great logo when it was created years ago, but today is showing the age and period of its design.
has the potential of unconsciously communicating to your audience that your company is out of step with contemporary needs. When we perform a logo refresh, we take the existing logo and give it a stylistic facelift so that it looks modern, fresh, and professional. This often entails simplifying it as well.
While you want your logo to look modern, bear in mind that there’s a difference between modern and trendy. You don’t want to fall victim to the latter in pursuit of the former. Trendy may look modern now, but in five years it will be outdated and you’ll be right back where you started.
4. Great logos are cohesive.
If your logo contains more than one element—such as a branded icon along with the name of your business—make sure those different elements fit and work together.
Graphical elements and typeface may at times appear separately and thus should be strong enough to stand alone. However, when paired together, they should enhance one another. If your icon is linear and sharp, don’t pair it with a typeface that’s rounded, swoopy and playful.
Think about the Pepsi logo. The abstract, stylized red, white and blue icon matches the modern typeface, but would look incongruous with the more classic script used by Coca Cola.
You don’t want your logo fighting itself; you want it to present a united and compelling front for your brand.
5. Great logos are versatile.
Because your logo will be adapted into such a wide variety of iterations, it needs to be versatile. Your logo should appear crisp, clear and recognizable at any size, whether that’s 10 meters or 10 millimeters.
Ideally, your logo design should be versatile enough to look no matter where it appears—on a billboard or smartphone, on stationary or an email header, on a T-shirt, pen or baseball cap.
Once again we return to simplicity. Simpler designs are more versatile. Squishing an intricate, complex design onto a pen would be a disaster. Fitting the Nike swoosh? No problem.
Making sure your logo looks sharp at all times is like making sure you’re dressing for success no matter the event. Whether you’re handing out freebies at a promotional event or branding a presentation for a client, you want to put your best foot forward.
A great logo is just the beginning.
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Editor’s note: this blog post was originally published in January 2016 and has been updated to include additional information.