What makes a logo not just creative, but strong, successful, and lasting? How do you know when your logo isn’t working the way it should? What makes one concept potentially better than another? How do you narrow down your top choices in a logo redesign to a front-runner when different people are responding to different esthetics?
If a logo designer has done their job, everything they’re showing you should meet the following 10 objective criteria for logos. Unfortunately, it’s not always the case and these key questions can quickly eliminate some concepts from the running and help you quickly focus your efforts. It’s intriguing how quickly this list can reshuffle your feelings about an existing company logo or new logo proposals you’re presented with.
Having a practical list of general objective criteria plus a list of your specific business criteria keeps group discussions from devolving solely into whims, personal esthetics, immovable positions, or even personal attacks. (Yes, it happens.) More on subjective criteria in another post.
Here are ten tips to help you discern if a logo concept has what it takes to best represent your business.
Will the logo appeal to your target customers; both current and future?
This is probably the biggest hurdle for most people to overcome. You are not your customer. Your “likes” are not necessarily theirs. So it’s important to answer critical questions: Who are they? Does it speak to their interests or needs? Is it accessible to them? How universal is the concept? Could it create confusion or be difficult to understand? Was it designed for internal, rather than external needs?
Does it allude to our industry, a need, or a problem we can solve?
Does it reveal something about the nature of our company, service, or product? Is it descriptive? This doesn’t mean it has to be literal. In fact, in most cases you want to avoid being overly literal. But can it be seen in the context of our industry? Our client base? Our value proposition?
Does it create a strong and unique impression?
Logos are about visibility in the clutter of the marketplace and being distinctly different from our competitors. If we’re solely following a “me to” trend, we’ve missed the mark. That doesn’t mean that the logo has to be such a stretch or game-changer as to be unlike anything in the world, but it does need some level of distinctiveness.
We deal in a pattern language with logo symbolism, form, typography, and color where it’s nearly impossible to be “totally original,” though we constantly try to develop new takes on, and interpretations of, meaningful ideas. It’s more important to be different within your competitors (industry, category, or geographic region) than the brand universe at large.
Does it create a lasting impression?
After all, the intent is for someone to be able to re-recognize the logo in the future and to retain some knowledge of the company that they’ve come to associate with that visual cue. There are many different psychological aspects that contribute to memorability: contrast, tension, visual completion, etc.
Anything that engages a viewer’s brain and makes them think about it typically improves recall, as long as the “a-ha” is relatively accessible and relevant (see #2 above). This memorability will likely be a combination of the logo mark, the name, the typography, and the color scheme, rather than one single element.
Is it appropriately distilled, clean, and high-impact?
Too tricky or too detailed and you risk losing your audience before they even get the message. Or they could associate your logo (and thus your brand) with being fussy or complicated.
Simplicity is one of the hardest things to achieve and requires the most work, which is the inverse of what most clients expect. It’s usually helpful to employ a subtractive technique. If you like the concept, can the same idea be expressed with even fewer lines, items, etc.? The key: Is something stylistic embellishment or is it essential to communicating the idea?
More on why simplicity is key in a future post!
Does it communicate your quality, expertise, and trustworthiness?
People have automatic expectations and assumptions of certain types of businesses. You need to project something that’s credible.
Chasing something that’s too trendy or fanciful may hurt your perception of reliability or credibility. Remember that much of brand perception is about trust. If this logo is someone’s first introduction to your company, does it inspire the trust you want? Credibility and relevancy vary quite a bit by industry. What might be totally acceptable for a hair salon might not play well for a bank, no matter how creative or nontraditional the bank’s clientele.
This doesn’t mean you can’t stretch people’s stereotypes of your industry a bit, in fact that can be a very useful tool for distinguishing your brand.
Does your logo have a long shelf life?
A good logo should have 10+ years of staying power; and many can last decades. The point is to have your new logo last as long as possible to maximize your investment.
To have that shelf life it shouldn’t be so trendy as to look outdated in a couple of years, but be timely. The idea is to create something timeless and inclusive enough that you can absorb minor shifts and delay a strategic overhaul until it’s truly necessitated by either outside or inside forces.
Things change so fast in today’s business environment that it’s likely that some business aspect will change significantly in terms of your market, customer, or product long before the 10-year mark (even faster if you’re in consumer or retail industries) which means you may need to adapt or redesign your logo and brand identity to be in sync on a more frequent basis.
How well can this concept be applied in a variety of technical applications?
Will it work in black-and-white (or screen printing, or embossing, or sand-blasting) as well as it does in color? Can it scale up effectively to billboard size? How about down to the side of a promotional pen?
If it’s difficult to adapt as-is to the full diversity of applications, are there logical ways to make special-usage adaptations of the logo that would work and still be consistent with the original? Is there a horizontal version (for web banners), a stacked version (for signage), or can one optimized version truly accommodate both?
Effective up-front planning and application guidelines will reduce the likelihood that the “official” logo gets diluted by being misapplied, modified, or eliminated from the breadth of implementation you need for your business.
Are there obvious extensions and tie-ins to amplify its reach?
Can you clearly visualize how the logo could build out in digital, motion, social media, experiential, and customer interactions?
Is this a solo brand or part of a larger brand family? Do you have different products that all include or riff off of the main brand name and logo? Does the logo need to morph and adapt to accommodate various names and divisions? Languages? Regionalizations? (There are a few other criteria that come into play for multi-cultural logos.)
Can the color palette influence products, interiors, etc.? Can you see that the name and logo and your positioning automatically inspire potential headlines and catch phrases? Word play? Wit? Any of these things are added advantages if they’re appropriate to your audience.
10. Depth of Meaning
Does it encourage different interpretation and levels of engagement?
This is something that isn’t always included in criteria lists, but which I look for in my own work and admire in others’. You could argue that it’s more of an ideal target than a “must have.” The ultimate goal is for a logo to have a common, clear, and unifying interpretation, but also additional layers of meaning or symbolism that emerge over time as people experience the brand or see repetition of the logo.
Not being too literal (taking a more abstract and imaginative path) and simplicity can frequently help in bringing additional interpretation or meaning based on the viewer. This can be helpful not only by engaging a viewer’s brain, but also by allowing them to insert something of themselves and their experiences into the scenario.
I’ll give some examples and expand on this concept in a future post.