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What Makes a Logo Great?

I am a design and typography geek. I’ve to messaged companies on social media to tell them how much I enjoy their new rebrands and redesigns. A great logo design pleases me.

What makes a logo great?

I had a professor in college that used to say that if a logo didn’t work in black and white, before adding whatever colors you planned to add, it didn’t work. At the time I didn’t fully grasp that, but now I do. I always start in black and white.

There are some other things that I feel make a design great.

A Great Logo Communicates Accurately About the Company or Organization

This doesn’t mean it has a bunch of words in it. If a logo is great, it doesn’t need many words at all. Nike has no words in it, and yet it conveys the soul of the company well.

It also need not communicate literally. Again, Nike is an outstanding example of this. There are no shoes in it. There’s just a swoosh. But that swoosh conveys emotion, activity, and the essence of the Nike brand.

I design with Your Customers in Mind

The logo design can’t just something the business owner likes and thinks is pretty. It needs to be something the target audience responds positively to.

For a logo to work really well, I have to put in a bit of research time. I don’t just draw a picture. As a designer, I research the niche a company is in, and figures out what will and will not communicate to your customers.

The design can’t just something the business owner likes and thinks is pretty. It needs to be something the target audience responds positively to.

About fifteen years ago now, a client asked me to to create a website and brochures for a small company that was going to edit and publish fan fiction ebooks. The idea was interesting, and since Amazon hadn’t yet cornered the market in this department, I thought it had a great deal of potential.

The problem was the logo. Ugh. 

They insisted I use their logo they paid to have designed for them. In fact, they had sketched it out, and the design company did exactly what they asked.

The company was publishing sci-fi fan fiction, but the logo was a pile of burning books.

Now, the owners loved this image very much, and couldn’t see why this was a problem. It killed their business before they started it. When they went to a sci-fi convention to pass out business cards and brochures, people thought they were with a religious group promoting censorship based on the logo. It was as if nothing else in the brochure and on the website mattered. The logo resonated negatively with the customer base.

Know your audience well enough to predict if a logo will have negative connotations in their minds at first glance.

A Great Logo Looks Good on All Platforms and Media

Just because a logo looks good on your computer screen, in isolation, does not mean it’s great.

What does the logo look like on the web? What does it look like as a profile picture on social media? What does it look like printed out on your home printer? Does it still look good on a small business card? Are you using it for pricing labels?

A Great Logo is Usually Simple

The logo design can’t just something the business owner likes and thinks is pretty. It needs to be something the target audience responds positively to.

I think the exception to this is the original Juicy Couture logo. I’m not really a fan of their clothing, but the logo always makes me swoon. It’s a vintage style crest, flanked by two Scotty dogs (where normally you would see lions or dragons).  It works so well in these areas mentioned that the fact that it is complex is irrelevant.

I have had clients ask me for some very complex things as far as logo design goes. If a client has a very specific idea in mind and is insistent on it, I rarely balk unless it is absolutely not going to work. However, simpler is usually better.