Logo "touch-up" is one of our most frequent requests. Our final work must be more effective, more visually appealing, and most importantly, recognizable as a revision of the old logo. How do we go about this? I wrote this guide both to offer potential business clients insight into our graphic design process and to help aspiring graphic designers.
Formless creativity is great for abstract, exploratory artwork, but a logo has a task to accomplish: identify your business. Therefore, we need objectives to help formulate our design process. By judging how a design meets its objectives, we can evaluate how effectively a design accomplishes its task. Logo design objectives we use are:
These objectives have some fuzzy corollaries that are not always true, but are worthy of note:
Next, we translate these design objectives into executable tasks. The following tips help us better accomplish design objectives when improving an existing logo.
Sand off those "Special Effects"
A logo that depends on fancy special effects is not a solid logo. "Special effects" include drop shadows, bevels, lens flares, reflections, and stylistic filters. We remove these effects to distill the underlying logo concept so that we can better improve it. Only once the logo concept is strong by itself should you experiment with special effects ...and even then, only in moderation. Also, since special effects are used as crutches by bad designers, the effects themselves are usually tacky. For some "groovy" perspective, see Microsoft's original logo.
Don't Add, Only Subtract
Every element in a logo is a potential distraction and every extra detail is one more thing to forget. The most successful logos of the biggest companies are usually one or two words with maybe one simple symbol. Be absolutely ruthless while subtracting from your logo. Leave only the most important elements.
Photographs, pieces of photographs, and bitmapped images like photographs do not belong in a logo. They don't scale and are difficult to recognize, especially when your logo is resized. Replace photographic elements with a symbol equivalent (or remove them completely).
Once your logo concept is solid, sometimes you'll need different logo versions for specific uses. For instance, you may need a logo for printing on dark backgrounds, a version that is very small, or a very simple version for photocopy and fax. A strong logo must be flexible.
Small print text blurs when the logo is small, decorative fonts are difficult to read, and low contrast colors hide your text. Text should typically be large, use conservative fonts, and have high contrast with its background. Unreadable text is ugly and wasteful.
Scaling and Spacing
People like certain ratios common in nature so use them in your logo to improve its composition. The most famous natural ratio is the "golden ratio" Phi. (about 1.618) Also, use the typographic scale for to keep your font sizes "in tune." In good design, these natural ratios appear often. But don't rely on intuition; break out those rulers and calculators and verify those ratios. Yes... calculators. See? Math is good for everything. (fact)
Vector graphics are shapes, lines, and colors that can be mathematically defined. A vector master-copy of your logo is important, especially for printing and for maintaining the integrity of your logo. A logo only saved as a bitmap (or worse, only as physical copy) like a jpg or tiff can't be enlarged, loses data when shrunk, and usually prints poorly. What looks good on a computer screen rarely looks good in print.
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Observe how these two common logos improve over years as they better fulfill logo design objectives.
A vintage Apple logo from an old "A is for Apple" advertisement.
Eventually the logo text was dropped to emphasize Apple's distinctive "apple" symbol.
Apple replaces the rainbow colors with a single color. The logo becomes the "apple" symbol itself instead of the rainbow apple graphic.
Free from a color scheme and text, the distinctive "apple" symbol can be successfully embellished without obscuring the core logo design. Mmmmmm... shiny....
Check out this vintage "Micro-Soft" logo. "Fancy" (for the 70's) special effects, no flexibility (resizing this logo blurs the fine lines), bad spacing and scaling... Remember this logo when piling on all those "cool" Photoshop layer effects and filters ---what's stylish today probably won't be stylish tomorrow. Groovy...
Much better. "Micro" and "Soft" are combined to form "Microsoft." The text-only logo style is preserved, but the "Groovy Text Effect" is dropped. To make the logo distinctive, a notch is added to the "o" and the "f" and "t" are connected.
The simpler, modern Microsoft logo is easily modified to display on a blue background since the logo doesn't rely on any complex color schemes to be effective.
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So how would we step-by-step improve a sample logo? For example purposes only, here is a pretty typical logo:
Here is a copy of the same logo in a smaller size next to the logo as it appears on a website.
If we wanted to improve this logo, where would we start? First, we would strip details like shadows, bevels and small type to make a vectorized copy of the logo.
Next, we would focus the logo by removing extra elements. The grey "ink splotch" can be subtracted since the pen and the word "ink" already represent the "ink" idea. Also, the grey ink blob conflicts with with the text and its not very distinctive. With the ink blob removed, the resulting logo looks like this:
Not too bad. Now the pen element is much more emphasized and the text is easier to read. Next, since legibility at small sizes was a major flaw in the original logo, we would shrink the logo to verify its small-size presentation.
While the new logo is much more readable than the old logo, at this size, the bold font is now too bold and it's hurting the logo's legibility. To correct this, we would make an alternate "small-size" version of the logo. Here is the result.
Much better. Notice that this new version is easily recognized as an evolution of Interactive Ink logo since it borrows the same type face style, the blue ink pen, and the words "interactive ink" in the same general positions.
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Logo design, like all good design, requires discipline and objectives to be successful. By understanding what a logo is meant to accomplish, a logo can be designed much more effectively. Most businesses and organizations rely on their logo to represent their collective identity. How effectively does your logo represent you?
(source: Fizbang, Author: Drew Yates)
(Courtesy of JEM Promotional Products ©2007)
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