How do you Choose the Right Logo for your Business?

This is a guest post from Brian Tom — Brian is a San Francisco-based Freelance Graphic Designer who works under the alias of Hoshimo. He focuses mainly on logo and identity design, but when he can, he loves designing anything he can get his sticky fingers on. Check out more of his work at Hoshimo.com, follow him on Facebook, or find him on Twitter.

There are a lot of opinions on logos — their purpose, and what makes a successful logo design. Some people believe that all logos should be simple and iconic, like those of Cisco, McDonalds, or Fedex; here complexity is at a minimum to increase overall boldness and timelessness. Others prefer illustrative logos that tell a story about the company and what it does, like the Starbucks and KFC logos. Maybe you gravitate toward typographic logos that showcase solely the business name, such as Verizon or CNN. You might even think the most truly memorable logos are the ones that shed themselves of their letters, like Nike or Apple. Regardless, each logo has their own feel and purpose and their own feel.

So how do you choose the right logo for your business? Here are a few thought-provoking questions to steer you in the right direction. What is your business about? What product or service do you sell? How do you want to portray yourself to others? Friendly? Professional? Tech-savvy? Where will you use your logo? Business cards only? Website and blog? Tiny 25px x 25px favicons? Billboards?

Too many times we overlook these questions and go straight to a designer, expecting them to nail it straight away. Instead, answer these questions first, and aim to stick with your answers. My worst clients thought they knew what they wanted, then changed their mind over and over because they were unsure — and expected not to have to pay for the extra work. Ultimately, it’s okay to change your mind, but expect it to cost money if you do.

Some of my clients have griped that I’m only one person providing a limited amount of concepts from which they can pick a design. I’ve been asked, “What if I don’t like any of them?” or “Is it worth sticking with you only when I can spend less and have more choice through crowdsourcing design services like 99designs?” 1

Conducting business one-on-one with a designer provides a ton of benefits that a site like 99designs is unable to provide, and vice versa. Working intimately with one designer on a logo project usually allows for better communication, more openness when it comes to ideas and concepts, and, most importantly, as well as a final product, a longlasting business relationship. In general, it’s much more personal.

Design contest websites like 99designs are less personal, but can provide a plethora of concepts if you manage the contest well. It takes more work and you really need to invest in the contest to produce any valuable fruit, but it provides greater options and connects you with many people if handled correctly. It enables you to ask questions of a group of potential designers — as well as gain feedback and receive concepts — in a way that working with one designer could never provide in such a short time frame and at such a low price. The downside is that there’s an extra level of risk to factor in because you don’t know the participants in your contest.

So that leaves us with the million dollar question. Which one is right for you? Well, that depends.

Are you unsure of what you’re looking for? Do you like to see many options? Are you limited with your budget but have the time to manage a contest and provide feedback? Do you have a good eye for design? Then you should try out a design community like 99designs. For a logo contest, put in $300 minimum for the prize, personally invite the higher quality designers that you like, and ensure you write a detailed brief and give helpful feedback — then you should receive a decent amount of worthy designs. You might have to weed through some unsatisfactory designs (and people), but you stand the chance of discovering some creative output too.

Alternatively, do you prefer a certain style of design work and know what you’re looking for? Do you seek personal guidance from a designer during the design process? Do you value a limited amount of guaranteed high-caliber designs over a massive amount of concepts? What is your risk tolerance? If you need a personal advisor, educator, and overall design manager, I would spend some time looking for a designer to work with one-on-one. If they’re professional, they’ll guide you through the entire design development, provide you with explanations behind the concepts, and keep you involved during the whole process. Many of the clients who find me say, “we want to hire you for this project because we love your style.” If you have an idea of what you’re after, look for a designer who’ll fit in with your project. You’ll be happy, and they’ll be satisfied because they’re able to work in their own style.

One of the best pieces of advice I can give — whether it be working with one designer or a hundred — is if you’re looking to have a logo designed, talk with your designer(s) before and during the design process. It’ll clear up any issues, save them from any unnecessary work, and, ultimately, save you money and time receiving your logo.

Once your requirements are established, let them do what they do best; when they provide concepts and revisions, give them feedback that they can use. “I want the logo to look less serious and more fun, with softer edges and lighter colors” says a lot more than “Don’t like it.” Give direction, but avoid taking over the steering wheel, though. Some of my worst clients have been ones who think they know what good design is and want to do my job for me. You’d be surprised how many beautiful and clever logos I’ve designed have been slowly and sadly butchered by clients who figured they knew better.

Effective logos come from graphic designers who are creative, communicate well with you, and understand your business. As a business owner, you too need to be a competent communicator, as well as place trust in your designers and be willing to pay for professional design work. Is it worth the money? You bet it is.

— Brian Tom

1 99designs is the world’s largest crowdsourced community of creative designers, focusing on custom-made logo design, ready-made logo design, web page design, and other important online design services.

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  • Anonymous

    Working with a designer or finding a designer through a crowdsourced solution are both viable. The important thing is to avoid design by committees of disinterested stakeholders with little design sensibility.

  • Joe

    So true why hire a designer if you’re going to tell them how to do it every sec. If you don’t trust the designer do it yourself but of course ending results are usually not the desired.

    • hoshimo

      one of the most common complaints from clients ive had about their previous experiences with working with designers is that they had to hold their hand thru the whole process. it’s definitely one reason why looking for a good quality graphic designer is a plus. much less headache, much less time spent on back and forth communication, and much much more trust established between each other.

      great insight.

  • frelax

    Interesting read. Where do I start looking for a designer? Do online partnerships work, or do you need to know someone in your region? I’d love to collaborate with a graphic designer who is in touch with the web, but doesn’t want to build it himself. Sometimes I feel all graphic designers list webdesign as a skill, whereas I’d prefer to work with someone who needs me like I need her/him.

    • hoshimo

      from my experience, online partnerships definitely do work! 99% of my work comes from clients who have either emailed me looking for design work, or have found me on forums or websites. in all honesty, i have done a lot of “one-off” projects where the client just needs q quick design, but i have also established a close working relationship many many clients as well. it’s a lot of fun having clients in spain, japan, europe, and all over the US.

      if youre looking for someone, feel free to check me out. my website is http://www.hoshimo.com. you can also find me on linkedin or facebook and even twitter. i might be a good fit since my expertise is graphic design and not so much web dev (though i know basic html and css and how the web works) i would love to have someone who can bring in design work for me (which i love), and also have a person who i can outsource coding and web dev to (which frustrates me beyond belief sometimes)

  • john hansen

    Good post, thanks. A logo should be evaluated not on how pretty it is but on how well it supports and advances the businesses goals. Here’s what to expect of a logo design, http://bit.ly/9TGSLj and you might be interested in a creative logo for a division of a Texas ranch in the artificial insemination business to produce superior beef herds, http://bit.ly/bhsM8C and more award winning designs if you want to get some inspiration, http://bit.ly/c62nPN

    • hoshimo

      cant believe adding balls on a star won awards… thats amazing.

  • Jeannie

    This is a good insightful article! You’ve convinced me that I should consult with a good designer that communicates well, has a sense of my style and wants to include me in the process for the design of my business logo. Thanks!

    • hoshimo

      thanks! feel free to email me if you ever feel like taking that first step toward re/branding your business. i’d be happy to talk thru stuff with you more. this blog post is definitely the tip of a huge iceberg. :D

  • hoshimo

    so i have a BIG question (or two) after writing this article:

    1) as business owners, what do you look for in a logo and why?

    2) how do you find graphic designers? and once you do find one, what do you look for in them (other than quality work and cheap pricing, ha!)?

    ok ok one more. promise.
    3) do you value professionalism over personality? i guess what i mean by that is… would you rather have someone who feels very businessy and treats you very much like a client, or you would you prefer someone who is more down to earth, friendly, and treats you more like a friend or business partner? there are things that a less formal person would do, like “sure ill throw in another design revision for you” that a more business-like design group would charge you because it states additional revisions are extra in the contract. or things like a businessy design group sending out invoices and professional communication, whereas a more relaxed designer might not send you invoices unless you ask and their emails sound very relaxed. i hope you see what i mean. i’m curious as to which you prefer, because i’m clearly the more personable type, but i’d love to know what you business people prefer.

  • http://www.iamtheprincess.com iamtheprincess

    For me a logo should clearly identify your brand or business.
    my logo clearly states I am the Princess.
    Even if there were no words on it you would know.
    I like to be involved with my designers when we are developing a website, logo’s or print products.
    I have ended up very disappointed when I let the designer just do it on there on.
    Who knows better what stands for or identifies there own business but yourself.
    I have found several designers in forums and my best designers have come from word of mouth.
    I prefer and value professionalism over personality
    Just my own personal opinion