What Makes a Great Logo


by JSB Morse

If you are a consumer, or a marketer, or a CEO of a company looking for branding, you should be interested in logos. Logos are the centerpiece of a company’s brand image and can tell you a lot about the company. The quality of a logo can tell the consumer how much their image (and customer opinion) means to that company. The effectiveness of a logo can help sell whatever product or service that the company offers. Also, the beauty of a logo is something that the company can be proud of and identify with.

Can you see what we see? Not good design!
Top Ten Logos of all time

Branding is the most important aspect of a company’s marketing strategy and should be heavily considered. Companies that took their branding lightly during their inception may suffer in the long run. This happens even if their service or product is great, because their logo is unprofessional, confusing, or offensive. Companies with bad logos may not be taken seriously or worse, they may be made a butt of a joke.
There are four principles that make for a great logo design. A great logo must:

• follow solid basic design principles
• be functional
• represent the company
• be unique

We will go over each of these principles in depth.

A Great Logo Must Follow Basic Design Principles

The Fed Ex logo meets all criteria of a good logo

This may be the most obvious necessity for great logos. The logo must be soundly designed and look good. The aesthetic appeal of a logo, or any piece of art or design for that matter, is subjective and relative to a person’s mood when they view the logo. However, there are fundamentals of design that must be followed to ensure that a logo will appeal to anyone.

The fundamentals include, but are not limited to space, color, form, consistency, and clarity. It is recommended that a design professional have some influence on your logo, whether it be redesign or touching up, to ensure basic design principles are followed.

An intern created it, but many designers perfected it.

What may result otherwise is a logo that looks like a third grader designed it. The story of the child who designed the Nike logo is amusing, but it is false. In fact, a design intern at Nike named Caroline Davidson came up with the idea in 1971 for $35. But much more effort was put into the design after the initial concept. The logo started as a simple design idea for a stripe to be placed on a shoe that an economics professor designed. What resulted was a universally known logo that works on apparel as well as the internet or print designs.

A Great Logo Must Be Functional

Classically functional.

Logos are the most important marketing pieces for a company because it must represent that company in many different contexts and still get the message across. A logo may be seen on the web, or on a variety of promotional products such as a brochure, a t-shirt, or on glassware. It could be used on dark backgrounds, on light backgrounds, on textured surfaces, or could be used in various sizes like on an awning or on a postcard. A major indication of a poorly designed logo is graphic effects that can be added in Photoshop like 3D embossing, shadows, glares, or photo imagery. It's important to know that simplicity does not mean that the logo is missing anything. In fact, to aid in functionality, the logo must be simple.

Ouch! Nice homework assignment.

A great logo must have the ability to be printed or used in all of the contexts mentioned above and still represent the company effectively. A few things that are important when talking about functionality are the simplicity, scalability, color, and depth. It’s important to the functionality of a logo that it’s not too intricate and that it doesn’t incorporate things like gradients or shadows as integral parts of the design. When the logo is reduced in size or placed on a loud background, it should retain its integrity. In addition, the logo should allow for two color presentation, such as black on white, as it would be on a t-shirt.

Those Shadows are tough to pass on a non-white background.

A Great Logo Must Represent the Company

Water represented well.
Color television represented well.

A logo needs to represent the company it serves. This means that the style must be easily identified with the industry/product/service and must give a clear picture of what is being marketed. If a company is selling auto parts, a delicate script font would not capture the essence of the company. A suitable font would be bold and sturdy-looking. A logo sets the tone for the company. This applies to single-serving logos like Dasani or a multipurpose logo like NBC. In the case of Dasani, we are given a clean, smooth, cold-looking logo to represent water and with NBC we are given with a multicolored peacock representing the different divisions of NBC. Originally the logo was created to show enhancements in color broadcasting, also a good representation.

A great logo must encompass the entire company too, not just one aspect of it. In the 60s, AT&T had a bell logo which represented the clarity of sound and references Bell Telephone Laboratories. In 1984, AT&T introduced a logo representing a wider range of services and a more modern look to reflect the major advances that the company helped invent like the transistor, the solar power cell, and unix operating system.

Both designs captured the essence of the company at the time of usage.

A Great Logo Must Be Unique

Timeless beauty.
Now we're talkin'.

What is with the trendy swoosh?!

Another important trait of good logos is the the ability to stand out against the crowd. Copycat logos are destined to fail or be confusing to the consumer. Usually they will result in a loss in sales. When Pepsi Cola had a similar logo to the already established Coca-Cola, it suffered in the competition between the two soft drink companies. Only when Pepsi switched their brand to something unique did they see a major increase in sales.

A unique logo will also tend to be one that stands the test of time. Cookie-cutter logos that bank on trends of the day will look dated and need to be replaced after the trend dies off. In the late 90s, the swoosh logo was popular. It was everywhere and it quickly became dated.

Explore more

We've expanded the article to encompass a wider range of logos (including some important modern companies and even logo design company logos). If you'd like to see how your logo stacks up against the best, visit our logo critique page, and if you're looking for a brand new logo for your company or small business, please visit our affiliates at Communication Design.

View the top ten logos of all time.
Have your logo critiqued here.
Have your own logo created here.

For more commentary on logos go to page 2 and page 3.

For commentary on design company logos go to page 4.

We'd like to thank the readers for their very insightful comments, but would like to note a few things. The Thinker Logo does not incorporate the lens flare- that is part of the background for the site. With regard to the Sun Microsystems logo, we agree that the icon is clever, the entire logo is not consistent, thus fails in one of the major criteria for a great logo. The 7-Eleven logo, though a little rough on design principles meets the other criteria well.

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