What Makes a Good Logo?

A new business owner has a lot to consider. With all the frenzy of starting a business, thinking extensively about a logo isn’t always a high priority. People know they need a logo, but they don’t fully understand what a logo is or what it does, and how to make it as effective as possible.

The best logos are deceptively simple. They’re clean, can be understood quickly and make an impact visually. They also need to be versatile, so they can be used in variety of marketing media.  But how can all of that be accomplished?  It’s easiest to make that point by explaining what a logo shouldn’t do.

Don’t Try to Say Too Much

The most common mistake made when thinking of a logo is trying to make it illustrate every aspect of a company, or show every product or service a company offers. A contractor may think s/he needs a hammer, tool belt AND ruler in the logo to communicate contractor; a lawyer might try to include a gavel and scales.

In these examples, those logos would just be too much. A logo doesn’t have to tell a story; rather, it should be used to build a brand. It’s a symbol to use to tie all your marketing materials together, and eventually a logo becomes synonymous with your business. Think about McDonald’s. Those Golden Arches don’t include a hamburger and fries, but we still know the business they represent and what that business offers us.

Your logo will usually only have a brief second to do its job, as someone passes your sign, glances at your postcard in their mail, or browses the Internet. The more detail someone has to process when looking at your logo, the longer it will take to read and stick in their memory.

Don’t Be So Literal

The contractor and lawyer logo examples illustrate another thing to avoid in logo design: being too literal. There’s no rule that a successful logo uses industry-specific imagery. Logos are almost always accompanied by other pictures or text, which explain what you do and why you’re good at it. Also, hammers, gavels and the like are so often used that, by incorporating them into your logo, you blend in with your competitors rather than stand apart.

A logo’s job is to provide a distinctive image that makes a company immediately identifiable. To stand apart, it helps to think more outside the box. The Nike “swoosh” is recognized throughout the world, and communicates athleticism and sports without using literal imagery like a basketball. The symbol’s sweeping curves, diagonal orientation and sharp edges communicate energy, strength, excitement, and edginess. It establishes a look and personality for the company—the ultimate goal of a logo.

Don’t Go Overboard

Remember, it’s best to aim for a logo design that is simple. Going overboard (too much imagery; too many different colors; etc.) ultimately hurts a logo. Too many elements in a logo make it look cluttered or disorganized. Also, with a large number of different visual elements competing for attention, it becomes much harder for people to quickly process and understand your logo.

Going overboard with colors is an especially risky thing to do. Colors can clash, weakening a logo’s readability. Colors communicate different moods, too, and affect how your business is perceived. A spa owner’s favorite color may be bright yellow, but a bright yellow logo may not appeal to the audience that spa is trying to attract. Instead, a subdued palette using blues or greens would be better, as they are more soothing, and suggest a calm, relaxing environment—perfect for a spa.

Simplicity is the key. Make smart choices about the images included, and use no more than two fonts and no more than two to three colors. In addition to visual simplicity, there’s economic practicality. The more complicated a logo is, the more expensive it becomes when reproducing it on brochures, using it in embroidery and so forth.

-Matt Leahy