Designing a logo is at once one of the most fun and creative and yet most challenging projects a graphic designer can undertake. Think of it… it’s the opportunity to capture the essence of a company in a single graphic image. Actually a logo is just part of a larger company identity but we will focus on the logo itself in this series of articles.
How does one begin? Libraries of books, articles and blogs have been written on the subject but I thought I would walk you through the process that I’ve developed over the years that has served me well, the anatomy of a logo design if you will. I am using as an example a logo (as part of a larger corporate identity project) I recently finished for a client who was starting a domestic staff training company. The clientele will be upscale homeowners who have domestic staff, maids, groundskeepers, cooks, nannies, etc., who need training. I find it helpful when I first interview a client to ask for keywords to describe the look and feel they are trying to achieve. I was told: upscale, wealthy, classy, some sort of house imagery, silver and gold, domestic, approachable, friendly, sophisticated, tranquil, trusted. It also helps to ask if there is anything they DON’T want. No sense spending time on an idea they’d hate from the start.
My next step is research. I gather relevant ideas from the internet, various websites, books, magazines, etc. I also see what the competition looks like so I don’t design something too similar. Ideas can come from anywhere so be open to seemingly unrelated sources.
Thumbnails, thumbnails, thumbnails
I gather these references, books and ideas and begin with thumbnail sketches. In another post I emphasized the importance of thumbnail sketches as essential to the design process. Thumbnail sketches are rough drawings, sometimes only comprehensible to you. These quick pen or pencil sketches allow a designer to try out several ideas and zero in on the best ideas before beginning a project. Creating thumbnail sketches is a crucial part of the brainstorming aspect of your design work. Don’t discount the value of this step. The computer is not a design tool. If you design on the computer you will only come up with ideas you can easily execute based on the constraints of the program.
Below are all the thumbnails I generated. As you can see, I generated lots of ideas, both good and bad, as well as a few color scheme and type treatment notations. I then did tighter, more refined sketches of the most promising ideas.
Remember, a logo does not need to be a literal representation of what the company is about. Starbucks’ logo is not a cup of coffee. Nike’s logo is not a shoe. A good logo should symbolically capture the essence of a company. It is not a tableau; however, if you do something literal, don’t hit people over the head with it. Think subtle. I wanted this logo to incorporate some sort of house or roof image into the design if possible. Again, nothing overt, but more of a subtle reference, what we call a second read. What this means, for example, is that at first glance you may not notice that the logo is ‘house shaped’ but then you see it; it adds another layer of interest.
Now where’s that computer?
It is here that I finally sit in front of the computer to begin executing my best ideas from my sketches. One step that helps enormously at this point is to choose some fonts. I create a page with the company name typed out perhaps a dozen times and set each one in different typefaces that I think may be appropriate. I would do this exclusively and in greater depth if I were designing a wordmark instead of a logo. A wordmark is a distinct, text-only typographic treatment such as can be found in the identities of Google, Coca-Cola and FedEx instead of a symbolic logo like Shell, Target or Starbucks (now that they’ve dropped their name from their mermaid logo).
I wanted a formal feeling so I chose serif fonts, plus a few sans serifs and one script, although I didn’t think it would be the right feeling. My final choice was Trajan, highlighted in yellow, which is a commonly used but beautifully elegant and readable typeface. It has no lower case letters so I opted for small caps, which adds a subtle formality and makes these long words easier to read.
A black & white world
This entire process should be done in black and white before you ever consider introducing color. This keeps the focus on the design and removes any power that color may play in influencing you or the client. Plus, a logo should have the strength to stand on its own in black and white for occasions when you can’t use color.
Below is the first set of logos I presented to the client, each on its own page so as not to overwhelm or distract from each design. Read my article Presentation is Everything for more on this. You only want to show your best ideas. They should all be strong, viable choices. Don’t dilute the quality of the good ideas with mediocre ideas. Better a few very strong ideas than lots of so-so ones.
Read Part 2 of this post to see which logo the client chose and why, the next steps of the design process, and how the rest of the corporate identity (website, brochures, etc.) came together.
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