Logo Design 101: Six Tips For Creating Iconic Logos

Logo design is undoubtedly one of most challenging aspects of graphic design. It may seem easy at first glance but successful logos tend to have several characteristics in common. Those features are:

  • simplicity
  • uniqueness
  • relevance
  • memorable
  • focus
  • tradition (or not following trends).

Here’s a brief overview of each of these characteristics with a well known brand examples to illustrate the point.

1. Keep it simple. A frequent mistake made by new designers is to over-complicate, or over-design. Simplicity is a good thing and when in comes to design, less is definitely more.

i-love-ny-logo

2. Make it unique. In a world full of swooshes, arcs, leaves and other logo clichés, this is easier said than done. The Nike logo is a tick or correct mark yet is instantly recognizable and unique.

nike-logo

3. Keep it relevant. When you’re designing a logo, think about the appropriateness of the symbol or typefaces you use. For example, a skull and crossbones will not work for a wedding planning business. The Lego logo uses bright primary colors and a child-friendly font – perfect for its intended audience.

Lego

4. Make it memorable. Your logo design is a visual representation of what the company stands for. The logo will often only receive a quick look, so it needs to make a fast impression.

playboy-logo

5. Keep the focus and use one idea to make the design special. The Fed Ex logo features an arrow between the letters E and X, representing the idea of moving parcels from place to another.

FexEx

6. Aim for longevity. While many logos will be updated over their lifetime, its probably not a bad idea to design something which will not look dated after a year. Avoid “trendy” fonts and symbolism. The Coca-Cola logo is among the most recognized logos and brands in the world. The logo’s distinctive cursive script has not changed dramatically over its long lifetime.

coca-cola

These are, of course guidelines and pointers. All rules are made to be broken but it helps if you know the rules before breaking them. What other rules or guidelines would you add to this list?

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  • Debbie

    When it comes to good design done by others, whether trademarked or not, good practice is to provide proper attribution, particularly when that info is readily available, i.e. Milton Glaser’s I LUV NEW YORK logo from the 70’s that I and most graphic design student studied as part of undergraduate coursework. Perhaps I missed the credits for these logos? If so, I apologize.

  • Johan

    Thanks! I’d never seen the arrow in FedEx’s logo before to be honest….

    • http://www.google.com/profiles/bill.hoelzer Bill

      I had never noticed the arrow before either. But as soon as I read item 5 it popped out at me.

    • http://twitter.com/caseyljones81 Casey L. Jones

      Neither did I. I was all “whoa, holy crap there is an arrow!”

    • Matt

      In my opinion, it’s almost like the arrow got noticed and was pointed out as an afterthought. i.e., it wasn’t intentional.
      If it was me designing that logo, I would have put something very subtle in there to bring the arrow into focus…like a very thin shadow line under it.
      Still, I think it’s very clever.

      • http://www.clickwebdesign.com.au Chris

        I agree, because the arrow is so subtle it doesn’t add to the logo design

    • john E

      me too – never seen em below:

      logo is weak; if you need to point itout

      I also now see a spoon.

  • http://www.facebook.com/truemitra Truemitra Mitra

    Nice post ! Thanks !

  • http://www.facebook.com/dizzley Peter Hitchmough

    I would also say, “Imagine your logo in a variety of uses: large print, small print, bad colour, greyscale, web, posters, on the side of a Saturn V rocket…”

    Simplicity and a distinct identity are key to this. I’m currently scratching my head over my own logo – never mind logos for clients. Nothing like doing one’s own branding to paralyse a designer.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/James-Martin/547489602 James Martin

      freaken’ tell me about it, how do you sum up your identity from such a subjective point of view into something simple and effective?

  • http://twitter.com/itssri itsSri

    These important points match some that I considered before designing my own logo / gravatar that appears here. Would like to have your opinion.

    • Stella

      it looks very nice

  • Simon

    4. Make it memorable. Your logo design is a visual representation of what the company stands for. The logo will often only receive a quick look, so it needs to make a fast impression.

    This is completely wrong; or perhaps wrongly put. If you ask a client what they want of their logo… they will say ‘ubiquity’ with both their customers and their company. So the FAST impression is completely out; a standout logo design needs to be memorable more through the “warm and fuzzy” than the “smash and grab” – after all it should outlive most of their current employees… right???

  • 2urn

    Nike aspired to having a “tick or correct mark” representing their brand—as a maker of athletic footwear? Perhaps a bit more research research next time? Especially when the logo’s history is so widely documented:

    http://bit.ly/cOXXwH

    • http://www.laughing-lion-design.com Jennifer Farley

      Hi 2turn, thanks for the link. I didn’t say that Nike aspired to have a tick or correct mark, rather that it was instantly recognizable. I may be wrong but I believe most people would recognize that symbol as a check mark or correct mark and not the wing of a greek goddess?

      From the article you linked to:
      “Used as a motif on sports shoes since the 1970s, this checkmark is now so recognizable that the company name itself has became superfluous.”

      • 2urn

        Hi Jennifer,

        You’re welcome and absolutely right. But I don’t think that its accidental resemblance to a check mark makes it unique or recognizable—that’s merely a function of repetition through advertising and having a good legal department to defend the mark from later imitators etc…—neither had anything to do with the initial creative act itself so I fail to see how that could be useful as a tip for creating an iconic logo. But it was, and still is, in my view, a “unique” interpretation of a swift greek goddess—there I can see a better connection with your post title.

        Best,
        Dimitry

  • http://twitter.com/UserAdvocate Michael Keara

    I’m absolutely not a graphic designer but I do appreciate what graphic designers do. So reading this post and the comments helps me understand more of this mysterious art.

    BTW, currently I don’t have a ‘logo’ per se but I do have a symbol (let’s call it that) that I use to represent my company brand. I’m a usability designer and developer so the traffic cone works nicely to symbolize ‘usage context’ – and it stands out quite nicely (especially in Twitter streams). Maybe someday I’ll get a real, graphically designed logo version.

  • Jon

    “It may seem easy at first glance but successful logos tend to have several characteristics in common.”

    You need an editor to review your writing. The ‘but’ suggests that the following clause will provide counterfactual evidence, but your clauses have nothing to do with each other. You could just as easily have written, “It may seem heavy at first, but they tend to be blue.”

    And a bad link from the newsletter to the article?!? Not a good impression for an online marketing company.

    • Cthun30

      Pedantic much?

  • Friend2dawgs

    How can you write something like this and NOT mention reproducibility?

    A good logo design must also be reproducible in as one color, grayscale, large, small etc. I see countless logo designs that while clever or unique or esthetically pleasing are not reproducible in the multitude of real world applications in which a logo will be used.

  • Anonymouse

    It’s interesting to look Coke Cola logo and compare it to the number of changes made by Pepsi. Pepsi seems to change the logo every couple of years in order to keep up with the current fashion, I still don’t think I’d spot the lastest version of the logo as being ‘pepsi’, I can instantly tell you if a bottle of drink is Coke or not.

    http://www.underconsideration.com/brandnew/archives/coca-cola_vs_pepsi_revised_edition.php

  • Pingback: Advice for customers who want logos

  • Nathanbbsmith

    Every time I read an article on ‘successful’ logo design, I never see a mention about the actual strength of the product/idea that the logo represents. If Coca-cola tasted like crap and only sold three bottles back in 18?? whenever would that same logo still be sucessful. The lego logo is only ‘successful’ because the company produces toys that kids love to play with.

  • http://www.benivolent.com/brochure-design-company.html Benivolent

    Nice designs,good collection great,

  • drajad

    thanks,

  • http://twitter.com/blogrstemplates Bloggers Templates

    Nice Tips…why a rabbit in Playboy logo :-)

    • Rdp5000

      Because men are like little rabbits!  Must have crossed Hef’s mind in his youth.

  • DKenneth

     WOW it’s true , an arrow between EX..  finally i noticed it.^ ^

  • http://www.orangorangan.com jipeus

    A smart logo is one that has another shape if you look for more =) nice for FED EX!

  • http://esdat.net Trevor

    THe Fed Ex logo is clever but as I’ve never noticed the arrow maybe not that clever!! Possibly it may be just me ;) Interesting article anyway. Thank You

  • Alhuzin

    very usefull article. thanks a lot.

  • Timothy Bradley Joseph Jones Jonathan

    I guess 1-2% of the ppl have noticed the arrow in the fedex logo.