A step-by-step guide to creating great logos and brand identities
Written by Further’s design expert (or is that expert designer? or both?) Alex Cole, this article is an in-depth guide to creating striking logos. While it can’t make you more talented than you are, it provides a tried-and-tested method that can help you maximise your talent to create work that your clients love.
Logo design is arguably the most important aspect of a graphic designer’s work. Everything has to start somewhere and most projects start with a logo. Sure, there are hundreds of different types of graphic design brief – from editorial design and basic print work right through to user experience (UX) and digital design. But most of this work will have all developed out of a common starting point – the logo or brand.
Creating a logo is neither easy nor simple. And no two logo design briefs are ever the same – whether it’s a small tweak to an existing brand, a complete and comprehensive rebrand or a shoestring start-up needing an eye-catching marque to hit the ground running.
Every designer will have their own process. Some will delve deep into all aspects of a client’s work. Others will take a step back and let their thoughts and creativity develop at a distance. There is no right or wrong way. Two designers could approach the same brief in a completely different way but both produce great responses that are inherently different. And we see this often in the creative design pitch process.
My logo design method usually involves the following steps:
- Visualisation and execution
- Development and consultation
Meeting with the client and understanding the brief are of utmost importance. Designers should have a clear understanding of what type of business they are dealing with before meeting the client. But, asking a wide range of questions about their business when you have the first meeting will enable you to fully understand things like the target market, vision for the future, who their competitors are, what sets them apart and other useful insights, that can be referenced later in the creative process.
You may end up learning something about the business that you wouldn’t have thought of otherwise and which may impact how you approach the design stage.
The first meeting should leave you feeling as though you know everything about your client. This will give you the best possible platform to go forward.
Research should be an ongoing aspect of your process and can take on many forms. You may now know about your client’s direct competitors, have a look at what these other companies do:
- What works?
- What doesn’t?
- Are there any recurring themes throughout your client’s chosen industry?
- Tone of voice?
Conducted at the same time as research is inspiration. Design books and websites are a great source of inspiration to get the creative juices flowing – there is a huge variety of resources out there from Pinterest to more design specific sites like Design Week, Dribbble and Identity Designed.
Of course, inspiration can also happen when you least expect it… You may see an interesting geometric architectural form on your lunchbreak or an organic shape while walking the dog, that can spark off an idea for the brief at hand.
Logo visualisation and execution
This is my favourite part of my job – the creative part! Even in today’s digital world, there is still nothing better than putting your ideas down on actual paper. This is where initial concepts and ideas or rudimental shapes can develop into something remarkable.
This part of the process really helps to produce the best possible outcomes. It is here where that great, memorable idea first becomes something visual. Some designers will head straight to the Mac without any sketches. I find this can really hinder the development of ideas. If you have a page in front of you with dozens of sketched ideas laid out, you can really begin to choose the best few to develop further. It may be that in this part of the process you decide to add a subtle radius to that shape or alter the hierarchy of type. It is these small tweaks that can make all the difference and may be overlooked if time is not given for these moments to develop.
Above are three examples of extremely clever logo designs that we see in everyday life and below with the ‘idea’ highlighted.
- With some subtle adjustment to the typeface, the FedEx logo utilises the negative space within the letters E and x to create an arrow pointing forward portraying their speed and delivery expertise.
- Amazon’s logo has two hidden meanings. They sell everything from ‘A to Z’ hinted at by the orange sweeping arrow and also letting consumers know that customer satisfaction is very important to them, again represented by the arrow which in this case doubles up as a smile.
- Gillette may just seem like a standard italicised bold sans serif typeface, but looking closer, the top of the I and G have been cut in such a way to represent the precision and sharpness of their blades
It is during the visualisation and sketching process that a unique idea like the above can really develop. This is what separates a good logo from an exceptional one.
Development and consultation
Developing your sketches on screen brings everything to life. I do this in monochrome and add colour later. I often choose five or six of my favourite ideas from the previous stage in the process and develop digital treatments. Adobe Illustrator is my go-to program for this part of the process. It’s the industry standard program for illustrations and logo design from Adobe.
Using the grid system in Illustrator can really help to keep a design crisp and uniform – for example, maintaining visual distances between an icon and typeface. However, you may choose to approach it in a more freehand style using a Wacom tablet if the logo design you are creating needs to feel more organic. Importing your sketches into Illustrator and setting them back on a locked layer at a 10 or 20% tint can also help you to reform your sketches into designs on screen.
Once you have a set of three to six logo designs that you’re happy with, you may now choose to add colour. If the company has strict brand colours then this will be no problem. If they don’t, you may not want to add colour at this stage. When presenting to a client, choice of colours can be subjective so the best design solution a designer has created may not be chosen over another one simply because the colours involved might not be what the client has in mind. In which case, it may be best to keep logos in monotone at this stage.
“Can the yellow be a bit more yellowy please?”
Some feedback I once received a few years ago
while presenting a set of logo designs,
The client (naming no names!) completely ignored the idea
behind the designs because they were
so fixated on the colour options of the treatment.
It is important not to overwhelm the client with too many choices. This can cause you problems with additional, unnecessary changes and wasted time. So, I always try to present two or three logos as a maximum. You need to be ruthless when selecting these – and this can be hard. You may have five or six solutions that you’re happy with, but choosing your top three logos really helps to streamline the process. Think about how each logo could be used if chosen. Some of your designs may lend themselves to other applications more than others – this may help you refine the selection you present. Either way, the work you have completed isn’t going to disappear. The ones that didn’t quite make the cut will be there to fall back on if your initial set aren’t well received.
And of course, the presentation of your logo designs should look highly professional. It may be worth mocking up each logo onto a business card or landing page to give it contextual purpose. This can also bring your design to life and really engage your client with the work.
Taking pride in what you do and relishing the challenge of client briefs can really help you express yourself
I have found that if I follow these steps, clients feel as though I have properly engaged with them and the rest of the brand roll-out. And more often than not, this becomes a pleasurable process. Being a designer should be fun and engaging, so taking pride in what you do and relishing the challenge of client briefs can really help you express yourself. Every brief will have great potential and should feel like an exciting and enjoyable prospect to be working on.
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