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A logo should make your organization stand apart from its competition. It needs to build trust and show your organization’s credibility. It needs to be strong enough to stand out in a busy newspaper, simple enough that a driver can comprehend it in seconds and memorable enough that it finds a spot in your viewer’s mind.

A professional logo shows that you take your organization and your customers seriously. You would never act unprofessionally on the job and you should expect the same of your logo.

Your organization needs a logo, but where to start? Here are some basic rules that will point you in the right direction.

Rule 1: Plan

“Plan? Plan for what? A logo is just a couple of words and a picture!”

An effective logo is born from a marriage of proper planning and a good understanding of the organization. Knowing the business’s history, goals, target demographic, differentiators, message, culture and mission statement will give the logo creator a holistic understanding of your organization and will result in a more meaningful logo.

Take into consideration your future goals.

Right now, you sell major appliances. Where do you want to be in five years? Surely you’ll still be selling appliances, but maybe you’ll be selling vacuums, mattresses and duct cleaning? If your logo has a fridge on it, it won’t be relevant to your other lines of business.

Plan with your customers in mind. Remember, it’s all about them, right?

What is it about your business that ultimately makes your customers choose you? Is it because:

  • You sell water heaters and you’re on call 24 hours a day?
  • You sell widgets and you sell the cheapest widget?
  • You are a massage therapist and you offer a tranquil experience?
  • You service cars and customer service is your top priority?

You should already know why your customers choose you, and if you can work that into the logo, use it to your advantage. (But if you can’t, it’s okay. See Rule 2.)

Know your demographic.

If your target market is seniors, a highly detailed logo might not be the best choice.

Worst case scenario of a poorly planned logo: You’ve missed out on sales because you were overlooked by or confused your viewers. The logo may have a short shelf life requiring and expensive rebrand.

Rule 2: Make your logo memorable. Make it simple and make it strong.

“I know EXACTLY what I want my logo to look like! I operate a flying school, so I want an old school plane and because I’ve been flying forever, but instead of wings, I want a desk, with an apple on it, you know, so people know it’s a desk. And I want my dog flying the plane, because I love him and he’s always in the hangar. Oh, and I nearly forgot the speed lines behind the plane to show it’s moving! And, I want the font to be a racing font, so it looks like the whole logo is moving FAST! It’s going be so awesome!”

Equally as important as planning in Rule 1, is creating a simple, strong logo that is easy to understand. Overly complicated logos run the risk of losing detail when put on a business card, web banners, golf balls, etc. If your logo is on a road sign or a vehicle graphic, it needs to be instantly recognizable should your viewer only get a fleeting glance.

You don’t need to explain your business in your logo.

This is where most logos go awry. The goal of the logo is to be a visual representation of your business, not necessarily an explanation. If you can portray what your business does in your logo, great. If not, it’s no big deal. There’s no hamburger in the McDonald’s logo.

If your viewers need to study your logo to figure it out, you could be overlooked in the same way a viewer will hit the Back button if a website takes too long to load. Be memorable for the right reasons. Some of the most successful logos are extremely simple:

Worst case scenario of a complicated logo: In an effort to create a logo that tells your viewer everything about your business, it may end up looking confusing or disorganized. Your organization may be portrayed as unfocused or poorly managed. A busy, confusing logo may undermine a viewer’s confidence in your organization.

Rule 3: Follow your industry’s visual conventions, but avoid the trends.

How much trust would you put in a bank with a logo using Comic Sans? The logo for a fast food restaurant is very different than the logo for a funeral home. We have all seen enough advertising to recognize a fast food restaurant logo before reading the name.

Straying from this rule could run you the risk of looking like you don’t understand your market. Most industries have a certain look that needs to be adhered to in order to maintain credibility and you would do well to stay within that look or you may have a lot of work ahead of you to own it and prove yourself. Certainly a funeral home using the old Nightmare on Elm Street font would be doomed for failure.

You may, by all means, stray from this rule, and many do. If your organization can pull it off, it will reap the rewards of standing head and shoulders above the competition. Be warned, proving to your potential customers that you do indeed understand their needs may be a long and expensive road requiring much advertising to maintain that top of mind awareness. If a financial planning company used Comic Sans in their logo,how many commercials, showing competent, intelligent financial advisors would it take for you to believe that they actually know how to manage your money? How many would you need to see before you pick up the phone?

Be aware that many budding entrepreneurs mistakenly feel their business is different when clearly it is not. A financial institution that serves cupcakes and lemonade and treats you like a person and not a number is still a financial institution as far as your customers are concerned and should be treated as such. While every individual is different, many businesses are not.

Worst Case Scenario: Your viewers may not identify with your logo and by extension your business. Your logo could lack the proper impact and may not be strong or effective.

Rule 4: Don’t do something for the sake of doing something.

“Well, I’m really not sure what to do, so I’m just going to add this little squiggly thing at the front.”

If you can’t come up with an illustration for your logo or nothing seems appropriate, that’s A-okay. A logo without an icon is a called a wordmark and there are many successful organizations that use wordmarks:

If you have an illustration or graphic of any kind in your logo, it should be justifiable. If it’s so random that your viewer can’t relate the two, it becomes confusing or looks disjointed and unprofessional. Instead, try modifying the font, like the L in Staples, or the E in Dell.

Rule 5: Know that rebranding is costly!

“Changing my logo is no biggie. I’ll just call our handy-dandy design company and they’ll have the change made this afternoon!”

This isn’t so much a rule as it is a warning. There are significant costs involved in changing your logo, many which are not expected and planned for. You can update the logo on your website relatively quickly, and printing new business cards isn’t too expensive but what about your letterhead, envelopes and invoices? A new logo means new brochures, signage, updated PowerPoint presentations, vehicle graphics, uniforms, nametag, product labels and email signatures, not to mention, the administration time spent ensuring all points of contact are updated.

 

Pepsi changes their logo fairly often; imagine the cost they must incur to re-decal the delivery trucks, the retail drink coolers, drink machines, letterhead, business cards and employee uniforms. Imagine all of the administrative time spent checking on resellers to ensure that the proper logo is being shown? Think about all of the corner stores that have the old faded Pepsi logos hanging outside. While antique-y and kind cool; the stores aren’t antique stores and are essentially showing the logo as an affiliate. It reflects poorly on Pepsi, and gives the store a derelict and lowbudget look.

Worst Case Scenario 1: The hidden costs of rebranding costs you far more than anticipated.
Worst Case Scenario 2: Your organization is partially represented by a new logo and by an old logo. Why is this bad? Read on.

Rule 6: Consistency

So often businesses use different versions of logos; the logo on the street sign is different than the logo on the business card that is different than the logos on the brochures. While the reasons for this are usually very legitimate—not wanting to be wasteful, it screams of improper planning and rash decision making. This is a fabulous example of why it’s important to plan. Get the logo right the first time and show it. Again. And again. And again.

Rule 7: Be timeless.

This rule works hand in hand with the previous rule. As you we’ve just learned, it’s important to be consistent and the only way to achieve that is with a timeless logo.

The Nike swoosh was created in 1971. The Apple logo was created in 1976, granted, the apple was coloured like a rainbow but the shape is still the same. The Coca-Cola logo is over a one hundred years old.

Stay away from trendy fonts

The quickest way to date your logo is to use trendy fonts. We’ve all seen them. Zapf Chancery, Papyrus and my personal fave to hate, Brush Script. Choosing a font like Helvetica, Optima, Futura are like the denim of the font world. They’ll never go out of style.

Worst Case Scenario 1: In two years, your logo is dated and you endure a very expensive rebranding campaign.
Worst Case Scenario 2: You stick with an out-of-date logo. Your organization looks dated, behind the times and your potential customers don’t believe your organization is relevant enough to consider.

Rule 8: Stay away from clip art

We are all pretty familiar with clip art by now and many people can spot it a mile away. It’s generally very generic and the illustrations usually dated. Remember the bean people? How about all that 90’s art? Here are some beauties:

The idea of a logo is to make your organization stand out from your competition and you can’t do that with stock art from your favourite word processing program that millions of people around the world use daily. Seeing your logo image on a Christmas craft sale poster would be a faux-pas indeed.

Worst Case Scenario: Your logo looks like something a high school student put together for an assignment.

Rule 9: Pay more than $29.99 for a logo, and avoid design contests.

“I paid $29.99 for my logo. I should be crowned ‘Business-Savvy Entrepreneur of the Year’!”

In life, you get what you pay for and this goes the same for graphic design. You may be patting yourself on the back for saving your organization hundreds or thousands of dollars, but the logo you walk away may cost you far more than the hundreds or thousands of dollars you saved. How will people will overlook the business because the logo is unprofessional and doesn’t build trust? How many people saw your road sign but couldn’t make out the logo or forgot about it because there was nothing memorable about it? Viewers may get hung up on production issues like poor print quality, pixilation and inconsistencies in color when they should be reading your communication.

Here are some examples of the logo quality that can be expected from a design contest website. In this example, a logo is being designed for a Christian hospice and palliative care facility. Going back to Rule 3, this is an example of an organization that should stick with their industry’s visual conventions.

 

This font looks like its numbers would be used on a credit card. No comment required. An hourglass? For a palliative care facility? Really? This graphic looks like a roadmap. Font too artistic. Will date fast.
So much to say… Decent fonts, but jumpingly happy people don’t portray the look that normal people expect from a reputable palliative care facility. Main offense: This logo didn’t appear to be vector. Logos should ‘look’ to the right, not the left; it implies the future and the past. Font is already dated.

 

Understanding Illustrator and other drawing programs don’t make you a good designer any more than owning a car makes you a good driver. A logo is more than a couple of words and a pretty design. Whoever designs your logo should take the time to get to know your organization, its goals, where it’s going, where it’s been (See Rule 1). They need to understand what makes a good logo. How do you know what you’re getting? Here are some important factors to inquire about when you are creating, or are having a logo created for you:

  • Has it been constructed properly? Is it raster or vector?
  • Have you been shown what logo is for coated paper with Pantone colours and which logo is for CMYK printing on an uncoated stock?
  • Did your designer explain to you what may happen if the wrong logo is used for the wrong application? A web logo will look blurry and low quality if printed in brochures or business cards.

Worst case scenario of a bargain logo: You may have spent $29.99, but you may find yourself spending more money in the future when you order letterhead, uniforms or coffee mugs only to find out that the logo is the wrong format and it needs to be rebuilt. You may end up spending an additional $500 rebuilding a $29.99 logo when you could have had one professionally made and tailored specifically to your business.

Rule 10: Hire a designer

“I can’t afford a designer!”

You’ve heard it before and it’s always true; you don’t get a chance to make a second first impression. Judgments, assumptions and inferences are made in seconds, mostly because people are so bombarded with advertising that they are just short on time and patience. When there so many distractions fighting for your viewer’s attention, can you afford not to make the best impression?

To most people, a logo is only a couple of words and an illustration, which is like saying a car is only four wheels, a couple of seats and a steering wheel. To a professional designer, a logo is so much more. To a designer, a logo is CMYK, RGB, vector, gradients, Bezier curves, outlined text, Pantone colours, resolution, offset printing, coated, uncoated, digital printing, .ai, .eps, spot colours, process colours, .tiff’s. If you don’t know what all of this stuff is and how it relates to each other, you may need a designer, or find yourself heading down the Expensive Mistakes Freeway.

At the end of the day…

If you make your own logo, don’t trust feedback from only friends and family; it is worth your time to get a professional consultation. Friends and family, while well-intentioned, may not have the eye to tell if you’ve made any of the costly errors that we’ve touched on here or they may not want to discourage you. Many reputable designers will give you a free half-hour consultation either in person or via email.

Your logo is the absolute foundation on which your brand is built. It builds trust, and if done right and marketed properly, it will nest itself neatly in your customers’ minds forever. What is that real estate worth to you? Think about it. If McDonalds shut down tomorrow, even on your onehundredth birthday, the golden arches would still be imprinted on your brain.

Don’t underestimate the value of your logo.

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