There is obviously no golden rule as to what makes a good brand logo, but there are certainly some things you should keep in mind. Here are my thoughts on the subject:
1. Make sure it’s not taken already
I’ve learned this lesson the hard way. Even if you think you’re the first to do something, it doesn’t necessarily mean that someone hasn’t done it before and copyrighted it already. In my case, I had never heard of the other company, but since he had already registered his logo, I had no power even if I had come up with it before him. A good example is Tokidoki’s logo, which is a heart with crossbones. It’s not a necessarily an ingenious idea for a logo, but since they’ve registered the trademark for it, any clothing brand that tries to use the heart with crossbones could potentially get sued. Apparently Tokidoki is pretty vicious with protecting their trademark, so they really use their power to the fullest extent. If you’re serious about your company, you can hire a trademark attorney, and their job is to basically research and make sure your logo is safe to use, and doesn’t overstep the boundaries of other brands.
2. Make it unique
This is a follow-up to the first rule, but what’s the point of a logo, if you’ve seen several ones just like it. Not to talk shit, but there was a thread on mintees a while back, where a kid came up with his “new” brand logo. He had an anchor and rope illustration that could literally be found on the first page of google images by searching ‘anchor illustration‘. Obviously anchors are a pretty popular icon, because people are into vintage and nautical themes and whatnot, but how are you going to present yourself as a unique brand if you don’t have a unique logo. Try to come up with something that isn’t generic and contrived, and try not to follow logo trends. I have to admit, monograms look fucking cool, but I’ve had my fill of vintage slightly distressed monograms with overlapping letters. You’re trying to separate yourself from the pack, not be a part of it.
3. Keep it simple
Nothing’s worse than a fully illustrated and detailed logo that doesn’t scale for shit. You make it thumbnail size, and it’s pretty much a sloppy piece of poo. When considering your logo, it has to be able to scale and look good from far away and close up. That’s why simple logos are usually the most effective. I say “usually,” because I have seen some amazing complex logos, but those are done by the top-tier logo designers and agencies with way more experience than the average indie clothing brand designer. Be careful with whatever type you use on your logos too. If you’re using a really thin or condensed font, make sure it doesn’t disappear when it’s really small. Your logo has to be applicable from anything like a little 1″ imprint to the size of a wall.
4. Make your logo versatile
There are some logos that just look awesome when it’s printed big on a t-shirt, but sometimes that same logo looks like crap when it’s on your business card. Versatility is extremely important with logos, because your logo will be used on pretty much everything that you’re branding. I find that some logos are too tall, so it looks bad on a website header, and conversely, some logos are too wide and look bad on a t-shirt. You want it to be balanced, and look good on everything. That isn’t to say that you should make a square or circle logo, because that isn’t necessarily the best solution either. Sometimes it’s even a good idea to have multiple branding methods, like an iconographic logo and a logotype. Like anything else, the proportions of a logo is something you really have to experiment and play around with; don’t just go with your first option.
5. Have a meaning behind your logo
The logo is a representation of your brand, so it should incorporate some sort of meaning. That’s why I hate trendy logos. By making a monogram or crossbones or 4 letters divided between an X, you’re basically homogenizing yourself with every other trendy brand that does that. In my opinion, seeing a generic logo is like declaring an unoriginal brand. How can you try to be a successful brand, if you’re automatically pitting yourself up against every other brand that looks just like yours. That’s why you have to make a logo that’s easily identifiable and unique. Try to connect some sort of meaning or a story to give context to your logo. One of my favorite logos of all time has to be Nike. The swoosh is simple, sexy, and represents the active lifestyle of the consumer perfectly. From shoes to posters to storefronts, the logo applies to everything and it’s incredibly easy to identify. Minimal logos are sometimes the most beautiful, but it’s also the most difficult to design properly.
Hopefully this has given you some things to think about. I love logos, and I think it’s really difficult to nail the execution on something that’s so simple, but it’s incredibly important. But similar to your brand name, you will have the ‘A HA’ moment, when you find that perfect logo. When I design logos, I will literally draw up to a hundred different ideas. However, sometimes the best logos come when you’re done thinking about it, and you’re just doodling. Inspiration can strike at any moment, so I always carry around a sketchbook or notebook.
Another thing to keep in mind, even though I feel like I’ve said this on pretty much every post, is to really understand your skills as a designer. Sometimes you have to recognize that you don’t have the necessary skills to do something, and leave it in the hands of a professional. As much as we all like to think we’re superstar designers, designing a logo is incredibly difficult despite how simple an end product may look. I’ve worked with professionals before as well, because I didn’t feel that I had the necessary skills to execute my vision, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. You can always work and improve on your own craft, but if you’re trying to sell and market it, you have to be 100% confident that it’s the best product and execution possible.
By the way, I know it looks a bit egotistical using the Lowdtown logo for some of the examples, but I just didn’t want to make any other brands look bad or whatever. My logo is by no means perfect, but I thought it could at least be used as a decent example.
The post was written by Ray Masaki. If you have any questions or comments, either leave a comment below or send me an email: ray [at] lowdtown [dot] com. Be sure to follow me on twitter for updates: @Lowdtown