Creating Your Logo Design

Your logo is the face of your brand. It is how people will define and judge your brand. Thus, it is imperative/ essential to pay close attention to this.  A good, appropriate, and appealing logo is one of those things you should invest in. Get a professional to design it. I would not recommend trying this at home (unless you are a brand designer, of course) or buying a $5 dollar logo online, even if you are tempted. If done properly, a logo will last you many years. However, if done with haste, it will not serve its purpose and you will need to change it again.

Before PaperGirl, I worked designing identities for clients both big and small. I learned that regardless of the size of the company, some basic principles apply to all. Whether you are hiring someone or feel like you can do this by yourself, keep these recommendations in mind. They will keep you focused, objective, simplify the process, and, above all, make your logo more effective and long-lived. As we go through these recommendations, I will use my own PaperGirl logo as a case study along with well-known brands as examples.

1) Keep Your Attributes Handy

PART 1 of this branding series: Finding Your Brand Identity helped you zero in on those 3 or 4 key attributes that perfectly describe you brand’s DNA, your product, and your way of thinking.  Now it is time to start using these key attributes when creating your visual identity: refer to them as you pick colors, type, and ultimately create and deploy your logo. They will serve to keep you within the thoroughly thought-out boundaries established in the exercise from Part 1 in this series.

For PaperGirl, my attributes were: simple, beautiful and imaginative. As a result, these became the filter as I started to decide on my logo and anything visual related to the brand.

2) Create a List for Possible Ideas

The universe of options for a logo is very, very vast so start with a list of ideas of what a logo could be. This will narrow things down.

Logos can be just type or have a written part and a symbol. Most of the time, this is determined by your brand’s name. If it is your own name then most likely you don’t need a symbol. Is it descriptive? Is it a weird invented word? If it is a metaphor for what your brand is about then a symbol will come in handy.

Before starting to draw, think of what your symbol could be.  If your company is called Apple, it is hard to move away for what the name conveys; your design exploration will be about finding the right apple. Metaphors are more powerful than descriptive logos (imagine if Apple had a computer for a logo….). On the other hand, if, for example, you have a line of activewear then you may not want to represent something figurative, but instead want to represent abstract feelings related to it:  freedom, flexibility, agility, etc.

All these figurative and abstract ideas should be included on your List of Potential Logos.

For my brand I knew I wanted a logo with a symbol. I asked myself who is PaperGirl and thought of a character that is playful and imaginative reflecting me as a designer but also the girls that will wear my dresses. Then, because of the materials and shapes of my clothes, I thought of things that are simple/modern but also playful and with imagination. My list was very short (experience helps ;-)  I needed a girl playfully made of simple shapes made to look like an origami or tangram toy.

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3) Value Hand Sketches

Once you have narrowed down your list to a few really appropriate ideas it is time to start sketching.  Don’t undervalue the power of a scribble or hand-made sketch. I have enormous respect for graphic designers that still have the craft to hand-sketch instead of just doing geometric tricks in Illustrator. Sketches are a quick way to see if an idea has potential before investing a lot time tracing stuff on the computer. Invite your graphic designer to share sketches with you or have a sketching session together. Be focused and creative but silly, don’t over judge a sketch, and try tons of scribbles. Sketch as many variations around your short list of what your logo could be. I tried a pile of origami (that actually involved folding paper) and tangram toy variations until I found the right pose for my PaperGirl symbol.

If you are doing something loose with type, such as a script or a signature, do it a lot of times until it has the right gesture and spirit. Also try using different instruments. This would end up being a sort of visual brainstorming session that covers all your possible areas of ideas for a logo in a short period (sketch for an afternoon), then look at it again the next day and confront them along side your brand attributes. Chances are you’ll see a very clear conceptual area to work on in more detail.

Grab your red Crayola and mark around the sketches with the greatest potential, don’t worry about detailing and computers until you have 2 or 3 strong contenders.

4) Make it Special, but Keep it Simple

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Now it is the time to head to the computer.  Scan or use your iphone to get those sketches into Illustrator (Evernote Adobe notebooks are great for this). Even if you plan to have colors in your logo, I would advise to work in black and white. One of my mentors used to say: “If it does not work in black and white, all those colors and gradients won’t save the logo.”

Really refine the trace of your symbol until the proportions are right, be conscientious about the trace and style: round or pointy corners, straight lines or flow-y lines, etc. Again, confront this against your brand DNA: if you collection is modern and sleek, broken-edge, brushstroke-like traces probably won’t be good.

5) Type is Important

Sometimes, the symbol dictates the typographic style the brand needs, and sometimes it is all worked at the same time.  There are millions of fonts in the universe: pick several that reflect the brand’s personality. My suggestion would be to stay classic -whether serif or sans-, readable but special (by special I mean either pick some font with little special detailing that distinguishes it from your basics like Times or Helvetica)

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After doing a type exploration (type the name in the different fonts and weights) narrow it down to a few and then work on customizing it to your name. You could add a detail, rework the characters to make them look nicer together, or play with the negative space (like that famous arrow inside the Fedex logo).

This requires craft and skills that good graphic designers have. Push for attention to detail.

In PaperGirl, children’s storytelling is central to our designs so I went straight for a font that felt like it came from a vintage children’s book for our logo. I started from a somewhat new version (Mrs Eaves font) based on a classic English font (Baskerville font), tweaked a few characters, and used a ligature connecting “g” and “l” to make it special.

6) Color is Even More Important

Color is my favorite thing!  A lot of times I will start a logo project already having a sense of what kind of color would be good for that brand. Way too many companies have blue and/or gray logos, be playful and move away from this safe area!

Color is such a strong way to be memorable, think of Tiffany&Co.  Anyone that has ever gotten one of those little blue boxes knows where it is coming from even before opening it, right? Even if the color is not that pretty (brown for UPS) it can be brand appropriate and proprietary. Overtime, you may not even need to read a logo; a really good color will identify your brand at a glance.

Filter colors for your logo through your brand attributes, play a bit with your type and symbol in different tones and hues, and don’t be stuck in the colors of the 8 basic crayola box. There is a 64-color box! If green is your thing, be specific about what kind of green is the right one, what it conveys, which one is more unique and memorable and, above all, how appropriate it is for your brand (your designer will assign Pantone numbers to your logo but remember these are Pantone numbers for print and not the same as the one for textiles).

Don’t try to add too many colors to your logo, unless you company name is “rainbow”. There will be other opportunities to play with color: secondary graphics, photos, etc.

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Putting It All Together

As you integrate type and symbol, add color, etc. Make sure a lot of attention is put in the details.  Verify and test that the spacing between letters is balanced and that the trace of the letters and symbol flows well (there are logos out there that drive me crazy because I see a bumps in the curves).

You want this logo to be refined to the point of being special and proprietary. As you customize your type, you can create your symbol or work with colors, but don’t overdo the “tricks.” For example, if you have a customized font with a special ligature or negative space figure (the Fedex arrow), don’t use gradients or multiple colors.  If your symbol is complex, keep the font simple.  If your font is more elaborate or full of spirit, like in a signature logo, skip using a symbol altogether. Avoid making it too gimmicky by keeping it simple: JUST ONE TRICK PER LOGO, please.

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Test for practicality and applicability. Make sure you test it in one color, in black and white.  How does it look over a photo or with different backgrounds?  Does it read well? Remember it will be embroidered on your labels. Will the design embroider well or will you it lose details that make it special? It may also appear in very tiny sizes (think engraved on a button or stamped on a piece of jewelry).  Make sure you print tiny to make sure the special touches don’t get lost in these minimum sizes. Make sure you have vector drawings of all artwork (.eps or .ai) these are the only files that can be used for reproduction without risking anything when enlarging or compressing them. If you have a jpg, you can only enlarge it 25% before starting to see pixels.

9) The Logo Rarely Lives Alone…

The logo is usually seen in context with other elements –text, photos, graphic motives, other colors- in your website, look-books, hangtags, ads, etc. Your visual identity is not only transmitted by your logo it is also supported by all these other elements. Create a graphic toolbox around your logo:

  • Find fonts that match or complement your logo to use in all your brand text. Make sure you have at least one for headlines, one for body text (can be the same as headlines) and one that is web-friendly. Use them consistently to help create recognition through type (look at the type design in families of products and their ads, like the Apple universe)

  • Create a color palette that provides variety but always complements the colors in the logo

  • Create a photo style that reflects your brand attributes that your photographer can use over and over to create consistency for the brand while still having variety through seasons and collections (think Martha Stewart magazines, avoid cheesy stock photos).

  • If appropriate, create graphic motives or illustrations that are used consistently without competing with the logo.

These design elements will help you build brand recognition easier than if you rely on your logo alone. They will add variety as you deploy your identity in all the different contexts while still being consistent and ‘on brand’.

Stay tuned for the third and last part of this series (Part One: Finding Your Brand Identity, Part Two: Creating Your Logo Design). The third post in the series will be about how to deploy your identity and how to be consistent without being boring.

I would love to hear about your brands! Feel free to post in the comments your questions about how to have a great logo or tweet me: @byPaperGirl

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