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Logo Design 101 - Part 1 - Brainstorming

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After my post regarding business card design was so well received by everybody, and after numerous questions answered and debates had with members here, I have decided to tackle logo design as my next major "post".

Unfortunately/fortunately I have so much to talk about regarding logo design that I will be splitting it all into a mini-series consisting of 3 parts, this post being part 1. You can expect part 2 (Transferring the idea to the computer) this time next week and part 3 (Finalising your logo) the week after that.

Just before we get started, a little disclaimer:
Creating a logo is hard work and a long process. Reading this mini-series is not going to give you a perfect logo in record time. My intention is to give you a better understanding of the logo design process and give you the necessary guidelines should you decide to try your hand at designing your own logo. It probably won't be easy - There is a reason designers are paid to do what they do.
Alright, here we go!

Part One of the Logo Design 101 mini-series - Brainstorming!

This is probably the most challenging stage of the logo design process. If you aren't the creative type, chances are you have a mini-meltdown at the thought of creating your own logo. Trust me when I say even designers struggle for creative inspiration at times! Thankfully, I'm going to run you through some of the techniques we use to brainstorm our logo concepts.

Note: I think the complexity of this stage justifies the lengthy post that is about to follow.

The main problem with brainstorming a logo design/concept is where to start. In order to create a solid concept, you need to run through a checklist in your mind. So here it is, the "What to think about" checklist:

  1. Who is your target market?
  2. SWOT Analysis
  3. Descriptive Words
  4. Competitors/Industry
  5. Adaptations/Symbolisms of your business name/initials
  6. Unique Symbols
  7. Hidden Symbolism
  8. Using a unique character
  9. General colour scheme

1. Who is your target market?

This is possibly the most important consideration when branding your business. Your logo/branding needs to appeal to your target market. It can't appeal to everybody.
If you try to create a logo which everybody likes, chances are you're going to end up with a logo that nobody likes.
My suggestion is to think of your ideal customer. What does he/she like? What appeals to him? Where does he go? Where does he work? What would make him take notice of your logo? Once you have a profile of your ideal customer, you can continue brainstorming with him/her in mind.

2. SWOT Analysis

Strengths, Weaknesses, Opposition, Threats. This is a simple tool to analyze any business at a glance. My suggestion is that you consider each of the aforementioned aspects of your business and bear them in mind when creating your logo. Ideally, you want your logo to highlight your strengths, conceal your weaknesses, separate you from your opposition and respond to the threats to your business.

3. Descriptive Words

Another important stage in determining the general direction of your logo design. Spend 15-20 minutes listing adjectives that you think represent your business, or you would like your business to reflect. Some examples are: Clean, Classy, Smart, Quirky, Mainstream, Exciting, Vibrant

You need to create your logo so that it reflects those adjectives. If you have a long list, select 3-5 of the most important words and run with that.

4. Competitors/Industry

Whenever we look for inspiration, we always take a peek at our competitors' logos and logos within our industry, perhaps from other parts in the world. What do you like about their logos? What do you dislike?

Perhaps you could incorporate ideas that you have picked up on, and avoid the pitfalls of the logos which you have seen. Either way, you now have a benchmark, so make yours better!

5. Adaptations/Symbolisms of your business name/initials

One of the primary techniques when creating logos is to create a unique symbol which reflects your business name or initials thereof. This way, you end up with a unique symbol and it is representative of your business.

I must add, however, that this is more difficult than it seems. It requires you creating unique shapes/adaptations of letters which definitely needs some creative influence.

Some examples of logos in this category are: (Click to view larger image)

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6. Unique symbols

Another technique in logo design, and probably the best technique, is to create a unique symbol to represent your business. This symbol would stem from your descriptive words as well as your business location, purpose, services etc.

This is probably the most difficult and most creative type of logo to create, but if you get it right, it's a winner! The symbol should be simple enough to make it recognisable and memorable with your target market.

A prime example of this type of logo is the Apple logo.
Here is another example of one of the logos we designed recently, complete with a breakdown of the symbolism contained in the logo: (Click to view larger image)

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7. Hidden Symbolism

Logos with hidden symbolism are difficult to conceptualize yet hugely rewarding. Logos in this category usually provoke a great response from viewers who have just "clicked" on the hidden meaning of the logo!

Hidden symbolism usually involves playing around with the typography/letters in your business name. Some examples are: (Click to view larger image)

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The easily recognisable FedEx logo sports a "hidden" arrow symbolising their core business (exports). Had you picked up on this before?

The Amazon logo, in all it's simplicity, is one of my favourites. The yellow "smile" which symbolizes a satisfied customer doubles up as an arrow from the "A" to the "Z" in the word Amazon, representing their supply of products from A to Z! Clever, yes?

8. Using a unique character

The last option is to create a character to represent your brand and business. This character should be representative of the descriptive words you created and should appeal to your ideal customer. You want to make sure the character is also easily recognisable and unique!

Examples of logos in this category are KFC's Colonel and our very own Red Giant!

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9. General Colour Scheme

The last thing to consider when brainstorming a logo is the general colour scheme of your logo. I suggest no more than 3 main colours (though there are exceptions). In case you didn't know, different colours have different effects on the subconscious of the viewer. For a breakdown of the various colour meanings, have a look at this article.

Please note! The colour scheme is probably not AS important as the rest of the considerations above. A logo needs to work in black and white first and foremost, so colour only really gets added in after a black and white logo is finalised.

If you're really stuck
If you are still stuck and can't seem to come up with any ideas, even if your life depended on it, certain techniques can be used to help begin the brainstorming process.

  • Who, What, Where, Why, How
  • Thinking of the senses which you want to appeal to (touch, smell, sight, etc)
  • Try creating spider diagrams using images instead of words

Rough Sketching

All this brainstorming is not for nothing. As soon as an idea pops into your head, put it down on paper! Make sure to sketch all your ideas and variations of the ideas. Once you've put it down, you might think of improvements to them etc.

Take a break!

After brainstorming ideas and perhaps coming up with a few solid concepts, always give yourself a day or two's break away from the designs and then go back and reassess. A chance for your mind to settle on the ideas and a fresh perspective on things will lead to either a positive reinforcement of the ideas you have already come up with, or you may think of something you hadn't already thought of.

Remember, logo design is a process, and a long one at that!

That just about concludes Part One of Logo Design 101. Next week we will take a look at Transferring your ideas to the computer.

Once again, apologies for the lengthy post, but I felt it was necessary and would be more beneficial to all of you if I explained everything comprehensively.

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  1. Dave A's Avatar
    A great blog, Mark. I literally had ideas popping into my head just reading it.

    And no, I hadn't picked up on the hidden arrow in the FedEx logo before.
  2. Mark Atkinson's Avatar
    Thanks, Dave! It's a bit lengthy, but I'm glad you enjoyed it.

    Ah, well there you go! I love logos with those little hidden symbols/meanings. They really inspire me seeing as they aren't easy to conceptualize!
  3. Dave A's Avatar
    I reckon this being a long entry was probably unavoidable, and your layout strategy really helped keep it a pleasant read. Pretty clear you put some thought into it.
  4. Mark Atkinson's Avatar
    Thanks again Dave. I tried to break it up as much as possible, knowing full well it was going to be a long one. To be honest it was a collaborative effort between my partner and I, and we spent a good couple hours just outlining the different topics we needed to talk about!

    Glad to see that our hard work hasn't gone unnoticed
  5. vieome's Avatar
    Excellent Blog Mark. You might find this link interesting, it is on the pyscology of color


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