A Series on Logo Design, Part 1: The Basics of Logo Design

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  • 1/3/2019

    At thunder::tech, our professional graphic designers are commonly asked to create logos for our clients and partners. It’s a lot of fun to create impactful visual marks for our clients, but we also appreciate the incredible challenges associated with logo design.

    We have found logo creation is sometimes undervalued, as some folks don’t fully understand the value of a logo to their business or perhaps what a logo actually is and what it provides. Furthermore, we’ve experienced misconceptions regarding the amount of time, effort and exploration that goes into successful logo design.

    For starters, let’s explain what a logo is and what a logo isn’t.

    What a logo is

    A logo is a key design element that provides immediate recognition and identity for a company or organization. It should quickly communicate the brand and evoke feelings associated with that brand through structure, shape, typography and color. These types of considerations are what make logo design such a complex task for creatives and why it can be incredibly time consuming.

    What a logo is NOT

    Let us just state it loud and clear, a logo is NOT your brand. One more time for the people in the back: a logo is NOT your brand. A lot of people equate think of their logo with their entire brand and that is simply not the case. Branding is far more than just a logo. Very simply put, your brand is a collective—a combination of your strategy, your calls to action, your services, how you speak, your people, your product and what others perceive you to be.

    To be clear, let’s also not confuse logo design with brand identity. Sure, a logo is a major influence on brand identity when it comes to color and typography, but brand identity includes much more complex design considerations the simplicity of a logo cannot handle. With all of that being said, we highly recommend we create additional design pieces (e.g. business cards, letterhead, envelopes, etc.) or, at the very least, provide additional consultation to accompany your final logo design.

    Types of logos

    There are several different types of logos out in the world from countless major brands, and we’ve created plenty of all types ourselves. Depending on your brand, product and values, a certain type of logo could be stronger and work better for you than another. Our kickoff meeting and initial discussions with you can help us determine the direction we take our design exploration. Let’s take a look at the various types of logos that exist.

    Monogram (Lettermark)
    A monogram logo relies on strong typography using initials—often two to four letters but sometimes just one—for quick brand-identification purposes. Companies with rather lengthy or even boring names turn to monograms to capitalize on simplicity. HBO, IBM or CNN are great examples of successful companies using initials for their name. Think of how much easier it is to simply say UPS verses United Parcel Service. It just works better. These initials are often stylized in a unique way to make the logo much more ownable.

    When we created the logo for The Standard Building in Cleveland, we also developed a very clean “TS” monogram that can be paired with the logo or used as a standalone item on collateral or digital applications. MMP, short for Montana Metal Products, is another example of how initials can be stylized in a custom and unique way that is reflective of the brand.

    Logotype (Wordmark)
    Much like a monogram, logotypes use strong typography that focuses on the company name alone. Think Coca-Cola, Netflix or Google. Because this style is completely typographic, a strong typeface that truly captures the essence of your company is of the utmost importance. Sometimes this isn’t enough to really make a logo stand out and companies will need to pair the typography with other design elements.

    The logo for the Firelands Partnership uses very simple yet elegant typography, while Authenica goes a bit further but also simply uses the negative space of letterforms to add more to the look and feel.

    Symbol (Pictograph)
    This might be what comes to mind when you think of the word “logo.” This pictorial mark is a simple icon or graphical mark. The successful and famous pictographs are instantly recognizable even without supporting typography. Apple, Twitter and Target are great examples of companies with powerful symbols. Often, a company does have a text treatment that can work with the pictograph, but a really powerful symbol can work alone for brand recognition.

    Although not a true pictograph, the symbol mark we created for Goldhorn Brewery, “Goldie,” has become rather recognizable on a local, craft-beer level. So much so that the brewery is using Goldie on it’s own on apparel, signage and drink coasters. Goldie has even become a brewery mascot of sorts.

    Abstract
    An abstract mark is very similar to a pictograph but is as recognizable to the name as an apple is to Apple—think Adidas, BP or Pepsi. This is meant to convey what your company does symbolically while communicating emotion. For example, the Nike swoosh shows energy, movement and excitement in a quick and simple way.

    The colorful circles used in the logo we designed for The Museum of American Porcelain Art uses dots to create a simple, abstract mark. These shapes, while abstract in their meaning, help convey the intricate details of the art one would see while at the museum.

    Combination
    This type of logo is a lock-up of a wordmark/lettermark and a symbol mark/abstract mark. There’s countless example of these types of logos, such as Burger King, Taco Bell or Name. These are definitely the most common types of logos out there because they’re so versatile. This is also beneficial because, when done correctly, you can use the type and pictograph together or as separate elements.

    We feel this should be explored for any logo project because it really allows us to create strong elements that are both type and image, which helps extend our clients’ visual brands even further. Our logo design for the Residences at Hanna is a great example of a combination mark. The pictograph of the building facade paired with a classical logotype give a high-end look and feel to logo for these luxury apartments.

    Emblem
    This is certainly the most complex type of logo out there. Emblems are similar to combination logos using text and symbol but then are locked up inside shapes, such as badges, seals and crests. They have a striking and very ownable appearance and are often used for colleges, automotive companies or government agencies. This traditional look is very powerful and can go a long way when created correctly, but due to their complexity, certain issues can arise (e.g. legibility issues when scaling to small sizes). Starbucks and Harley Davidson are two companies with emblems that work very well and aren’t extremely complex.

    The emblem-styled logo we did for Reval’s Annual Conference is a nice example of how multiple elements are combined into a badge shape to evoke the camp or retreat theme of the event.

    One size does not fit all

    The best type of logo for a brand is completely open and usually requires significant discovery and exploration. What type of impression does it need to convey? Who is the audience? What are the audience’s motivations that impact decision-making? Only after these questions are addressed, can we truly begin to know what will work best.

    A beautiful typographic treatment with an elegant typeface might work well for a fancy cosmetic company, while a rigid typeface paired with a symbol could work great for a brewing company. Often during logo exploration, we will develop logos in multiple types, such as a typographic or abstract solution, to see what works best.

    The next post in our Logo Design Series will explore what makes a successful logo and the main considerations taken for each project we approach.

    Want to learn more? Read Part 2 and Part 3!

    Need some help iterating on your current logo or starting from scratch completely? Give us a shout; we’re happy to help.
    About the author::Joe Cola, who sadly has no connection to the world famous brand, Coca-Cola, is a graphic designer at thunder::tech. When he isn't designing, Joe loves going to the zoo or the metroparks. He also considers himself a "dinosaur expert."
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