9 Principles of Logo Design

by Seth DeMaio

June 25, 2010 in design

Put yourself in this scenario.  You are invited to several job interviews, much of them for the kind of jobs you have only dreamed about getting.  The kind you jokingly told your friends about when you figured out what you wanted to be when you grew up. You want to impress your future clients.  Personally, you are filled with confidence for what you do having been to the best schools, and have spent many years perfecting your profession.  You eat, sleep, and breathe the job that you do.  Getting ready for the interviews, you realize you haven’t been to anything formal in a very long time.  Your old moth eaten clothes wont come back into style for a few more decades.  Money has been a little tight right now, I mean lets face it, schooling is expensive.  That’s why the thought of washing your dandruff salt and pepper hair, getting a haircut, and buying a nice quality suite are things you are more than willing to do, because if you get this job, it will set you free financially. And you know if you show up looking like old, smelly, Rip Van Winkle, you will get escorted from the party faster than it took you to find directions on Google Maps.  The only thing your potential employer is going to know of you is your lack of personal hygiene, not your outstanding qualities for the job he was going to offer you.

To most of us, we know the importance of first impressions, and going to a job opportunity under dressed is something we would never do.  However, did you know if your website is dressed with an ugly out of date, eye sore logo design, you are in fact showing up to many job opportunities like the man from the scenario?  Everyone who visits your website, could be that one contact that would be able to give you the job that you have always wanted, but at the same time could immediately be turned off from their first impression your logo gave about your business.  Whether your business is a multi-million franchise, or your basic ‘Ma and Pa’ family company, it always helps to look professional in all angles of your profession.  Here are some quick basic, yet vital tips to know about what makes an attractive logo design.  We will compare them with logo’s that don’t have these elements, you be the judge!

1. Clean

Sometimes less is more.  Most great logos are very simple.

2. Catchy

You want a design that will make an impression on people’s minds.

3. Dateless

Generations come and go, but you want your logo to be ready for any fad that comes.

The Coco-cola was logo was created in 1885, making it 125 years old.  Things to ask about a design; will it still be catchy and hip in 5, 15, 125 years?  What helps logo’s to stay trendy is that the style of it isn’t based on any fashion trend that is currently hip, but from the elements of design, and applying it to the logo’s product.  For example if Coca-Cola were to go back and use the logo they started out with in the late 1800’s then you would immediately be able to identify that product as being Coca-Cola. However what if I showed you the IBM logo they developed in the late 1800’s chances are no one would be able to identify the company. Granted there will be refinements in logos over time but they should be subtle. Do not get refinement confused with complete alteration of the logo.

4. Relevant

You wouldn’t show up to a wedding looking like you just came from a baseball game!  (Unless you’re going for Brad Pitt’s new look)

5. Adjustable

If its on a billboard, or scaled down to fit on a pencil, is it still recognizable? What if your design gets run in the newspaper is going to look good in just black and white?

6. Meaningful

High-class logos always have some aspect of their business hidden within them.

Can you see the “go to arrow” FedEx has put in their excellent logo?  There’s a saying, “You can’t go dressed looking like a 100 bucks if you’re dressed in 20 dollar bills!”  People are going to notice if you cheap out on your design or if it’s professional done.

7. Universal

Languages, trends, and other aspects that your logo will incorporate can change from place to place.  Your logo needs to have details in it such as the way the colors curve, or the general shape so that if your logo needs to be printed in another language everyone still knows it’s your product, and that you don’t offend to many cultures in the meantime.

8. Font or Symbol

If your going to use both a graphic and spell out what your business is, you need to make sure they fit with each other, and aren’t like two jealous girls fighting for attention.

9. Cleverness

The more popular interesting logos are designed with elements that you know what the name of the business is without literally spelling it out.  It can be a very hard thing to accomplish, and though you want people to interpret what you do from your logo, you don’t want your logo to be misinterpreted like this logo on the right.

Here are some simple things to look for in your logo design. Because your logo will represent you and the quality of work your company does, its important to make sure you’ve hired the best person for the job! What are your thoughts? Anything we forgot to mention?

About The Author
Seth DeMaio works at BOON Multimedia Design.

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About Seth DeMaio

Seth DeMaio is a graphic designer at a Graphic Design Denver company called BOON Multimedia Design. Seth DeMaio also leads the logo design Denver team in the creation and completion of logos for clients.

  • Enk.

    Jun 25th

    Um not much of a Logo Designer but this artilce is surely gonna help me get better.. Well written mate, I likes ! :)

  • kabir

    Jun 25th

    great design…. of great logos…

  • Laurence

    Jun 25th

    Paul Rand designed the IBM logo in the fifties, making it over 50 years old. That’s old. Most businesses don’t last that long, never mind their logos.

  • Drew Clarke

    Jun 25th

    Michelin http://www.michelin.co.uk Was voted the world’s favourite logo by the London Financial Times in 2000 – It’s still just as popular.
    The logo has beed adapted over time to suit the style of the times.

    Watch an animation of our logo evolving.
    (Apologies for the design of the site, it’s currently end-of-life and up for redesign*)
    Visit the Uk heritage website: http://heritage.michelin.co.uk/1995.htm
    On the time line at the bottom of the page, click on 2005 and watch the animation (bottom of popup) showing how our logo has evolved.

    *Please don’t use this as an opportunity to offer your services – we have retained agencies already – but thanks for the thought.

  • alex

    Jun 25th

    Where is number seven? There are only eight principles here. If I had to guess, would it be “attention to detail”? ಠ_ಠ

  • Brendan

    Jun 25th

    I think I am not in the majority with the following two points, but for the sake of some debate here goes anyways:

    1) I don’t think that a logo has to be timeless and unalterable, though if you can get that to happen it’s certainly a good thing. I don’t fault Pepsi for huge rebrands throughout time. Coca-Cola is the classic; Pepsi is hip and modern. Pepsi had a great scripty logo back in the 40s, but it would have been harder to differentiate the brands and styles if they had stayed the same. They’re the underdog, so they have to be different. Their rebrands always carry some kind of continuity. I’d be ticked if IBM kept their same logo, cause their old one says “letterpress” more than “computer”. It didn’t fit.

    2) Why the Wolff Olins hate? I happen to like the London 2012 identity! It’s bold, fresh, unique, and memorable. It’s made waves, created attention, and is truly original.

    P.S. It’s “principle,” not “principal” for the title.

  • 1 Principle of Spelling

    Jun 25th

    The first principle of spelling the word “principle” is that it’s not spelled “principal”. A Principal is the guy who ran your high school. A Principle is an important idea.

  • Dan @ wpevolved

    Jun 25th

    Nice article! I love logo design a lot. These principals are super important to keep in mind when designing logos!

  • Rob

    Jun 25th

    Ummm … I’d say the doughboys logo could be misinterpreted … geesh

  • Stand

    Jun 25th

    Done a logo for an application some time ago, turned out really good.
    So thank you for this beautiful “tutorial” and to people like you, that help me everyday.

  • Tanya

    Jun 25th

    Nice article, I agree with all your points. Thnx for sharing your thoughts

  • Toby

    Jun 25th

    Agreed, and nice article…
    But what happened to 7? ;)

  • Shawn

    Jun 25th

    Ha! That Doughboys logo is hilarious :D

  • Steve

    Jun 25th

    Principles*

  • Jae Xavier

    Jun 25th

    FAIL!

    lol doughboys looks like c*ck

  • valiant

    Jun 25th

    I’m not sure if you’re making out an identity overhaul to be a bad thing or what there, but otherwise you make some nice points.

  • Seth DeMaio

    Jun 25th

    @ Those who found the spelling mistake thanks for pointing it out ;) on the updated version i’ll add attention to detail as number 10!

    @Brendan – Not that I hate the guy because I know he has been getting a lot of beef for the design but from what has been published it has been on the more negative side. I will agree that it created waves but if majority of those waves are negative is it worth it?

  • Shirley

    Jun 26th

    Thanks for the article. Takes me back to school years :)

    You’ve got all points covered but if I may add one thing to #8, it’s font choice. (Can’t help it, I’m a font girl.)

    It’s really annoying when you find a logo adorned with what the designer seemed to consider exotic font – but in reality simply unreadable.

  • James

    Jun 26th

    Great article.

    The points made on adjustability and whether it looks good in black and white are good things to think about.

    It’s amazing how Coca Cola have managed to use the same logo for so long.

    Cheers,

    James

  • William

    Jun 26th

    i happen to think the doughboys logo is well thought out, mainly because everyone thinks it looks like a penis and therefore will remember it, and show their friends etc thus creating business…

  • Chris Spain

    Jun 26th

    Couldn’t agree more; an excellent list of ideals that really should always be considered in logo design (with more than a few being relevent in other areas of design). Nicely written too!

    I’d never actually seen that DoughBoys logo before, but… I just… I mean… it…

    Wow.

  • Helge-Kristoffer Wang

    Jun 26th

    I would rather use the Pepsi logo in comparison with the Coca Cola logo. Pepsi has changed their logo like 10 times and Coca Cola has just had one. :)

  • Cody Swann

    Jun 27th

    Thanks great post. Timelesness, to me, means a solid foundation but not necessarily unchanging

  • Victoria Blount

    Jun 28th

    This article is very helpful as instead of just demonstrating an example of a good logo, it discusses why certain logos are successful and why.

  • Phanyxx

    Jun 28th

    Good article. One thing though: I’m pretty certain that the negative space arrow in the FedEx logo was unintentional…

  • KC

    Jun 28th

    Great article! Your point regarding balck & white is super important.

    I also happen to not like the London 2012 logo. Sure, it generated some word-of-mouth, but is it really the kind they were looking for? MAJOR FAIL in my opinion!

  • Brendan

    Jun 29th

    @Phanyxx – Nope. Try taking any font and putting an E and an x together…that kind of magic doesn’t just happen.

    Here’s an interview with the guy who created the logo – he talks about the process. http://www.thesneeze.com/mt-archives/000273.php

  • paul

    Jun 29th

    Very intersting article, thanks. Also very informatice for all logo designers.
    If you need some logo design inspiration: http://www.cruzine.com/2010/06/16/fresh-logo-designs-inspiration/

  • Ilie Ciorba

    Jun 29th

    Good tips and great logos!

  • Allen Cooper

    Jun 29th

    Man that dough boy logo cracks me up. How did no one catch that. Any one want some pizza???

  • Shane

    Jun 30th

    Really great post, this will come in very handy next time I’m doing some logo design!!

    Thanks for sharing!

  • PhoeniXman

    Jul 1st

    Very good tutorial, I learned a lot from him, thank you for all your posts.

  • alice

    Jul 2nd

    Good one

  • Christina

    Jul 6th

    Clean article. Helped me a lot as a start-up graphic design company. Thanks!

  • logo designing bangalore

    Jul 6th

    nice logo ideas..

  • alpaproductions

    Jul 7th

    Excellent points and I think I’ll keep this on the wall to remember these points until it becomes a habit.

  • web design dallas

    Aug 7th

    Bookmarked! I have had my eye on basecamp’s style of pricing structures, and have seen the columns approach popping up in a lot of metalabs stuff. Great inspiration, thanks!

  • vuitton

    Aug 15th

    certainly helpful for me and will test some of those soon

  • trudzu

    Aug 17th

    Thank you for this article i am trying to make a logo with these principles

  • Stacy

    Aug 19th

    … hmmm. I’ve never in my whole life noticed the arrow in the fedex… even when i read the post i didn’t see it until a comment talked about the letters …

  • Keith

    Aug 31st

    err….well…it is a list…mixed in with some opinions for sure. The list you have presented is ‘a start’ as they say – but there are so many more aspects to ‘great’ logo design. Corporate longevity and ‘buy-in’ being two others. Understanding the range of application, yet another…”professionalism” yet one more. There are quite a few more I could list, but they are my trade secrets!

    Just because a logo gets changed doesn’t necessarily make it a ‘bad’ design – that it’s more a matter of how well the company is managed and product is marketed etc… Just because the Coca-cola logo hasn’t changed doesn’t make the logo itself ‘great’ design in the aesthetic sense. The product itself ensures there is little need for that…! The logo doesn’t need to be changed as it remains associated with an extremely successful and enduring product/ company. It can be debated to the nth degree about what part the logo plays in a success story and vice versa.

    At any given point, however the two do become intertwined and indivisible so that it becomes hard to imagine tinkering or significantly changing some logos – so it just becomes a ‘classic’ – “Shell” and “Apple” being others…though both have been ‘adapted’: Apple did remove the ‘rainbow’ some years ago along with a significant re-vamp of its product design; and Shell have re-visited the artwork numerous times. So possession of a certain level of “adaptability” or “refreshing” is another that you missed…BTW: FedEx is more ‘cleverness’ than “Meaningful” so your list should be shortened by one more.

    Anyway – an interesting posting! Thanks!

  • ball mill

    Sep 1st

    I’m anxious to design a logo, thank you!

  • Discount Timberland uk

    Sep 4th

    I’ve never in my whole life noticed the arrow in the fedex

  • Inkzoo Graphic Design services

    Sep 7th

    all the 9 principles seems to be very nicely placed and important. Somehow I felt they are more into design side of a logo. The other and most important side of logo could be the business identity side. Point #4 which discussed about Relevancy is quite close to it.
    Hope our blog could be of some help in that:

    http://design.inkzoo.com/bid/47127/Custom-Logo-Design-for-Small-Business-Show-Your-True-Stuff

  • custom logo design services

    Sep 10th

    These is very useful blog.logobakers offers a quality web service that includes Custom Logo Design, Product Packaging Design, Website Development Services for Start-Ups and Small Businesses.

  • Spokane Website Design

    Sep 23rd

    I love the subliminal arrows in FedEX. That is just brilliant.

  • dlare

    Oct 7th

    thanks for the tip.
    i am always in a dilemma when it comes to logo design. we usually have the brightest ideas put putting those into reality is a pain…

  • Cheap Logo Designs

    Jan 13th

    amazing tools for logo creation and i like very much usa logo design and its really good and looking professional. thank for giving great knowledge…..:)..Logo Designs | Custom Website Designs

  • superpao

    May 28th

    great article, love your fail examples!

  • Reynolds Web Design

    Jun 17th

    Dough Boys – that looks like a phallic symbol and as they say sex sells – so shouldn’t that be a win?

  • PlayKids

    Jul 5th

    COCA COLA logo is great , as always !

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