A logo is a symbol
If you look up the definition for ‘logo’, you will find a Wikipedia page most likely referring to a symbol. Basically, that’s what a logo is, right? A symbol. Companies, small businesses, organizations everywhere are represented by a symbol.
Why don’t we call it that, then? Where does the word ‘logo’ come from? First, it’s an abbreviation of the word ‘logotype’ which originates from the Greek words ‘Λόγος’ and ‘Τύπος’. Pronounced “lo-gos”, it means a person who is sharing a message. And more broadly, it means reasoning expressed in words. Kind of fitting, right?
Pronounced “tea-pos”, the word basically means print or copy. Therefore, Greeks have the word ‘Λογότυπο’ to represent the graphical print of a symbol. Exactly!
Now that I have the definition out of the way, I want to dive into what makes a logo ‘cool’. It would be hard to differentiate the greatest logo from all other logos. There are so many choices and so many differences of opinion. What makes it cool to me may make it hideous to you, so there has to be a balance in the middle. This is why a well-designed logo isn’t always a simple task.
As a graphic designer, over the years I’ve created logos for various clients and for many uses. My main goal has always been to make the client happy, and that doesn’t always mean I get to design a ‘cool’ logo”. A logo communicates the identity of your brand and it can make a huge impact on your business. Think of some of today’s most recognizable logos: Nike, Amazon, Netflix, Google, Apple, Facebook, and even Yahoo. What do they have in common? They’re one-word brands, but along with that, they all have a logo that has defined their brand and we recognize them regardless if we use their product or not.
Take the Nike swoosh, for example. It’s so cool that it’s just used without the name of the brand on it because it’s globally recognized on its own. Another example is Target. Yes, the superstore that many lose their spouses to for hours at a time! Personally, I don’t think that Target’s logo is cool at all, but it’s definitely recognizable – at least here in the U.S. With the rise of apps and app icons, many brands have had to create more app-friendly versions of their logo, so today we’re even more accustomed to seeing an icon and immediately knowing what it represents. That’s pretty cool. Memorable logos also help you remember websites, which increases the rate of revisiting those sites.
Over the years, I’ve created some of my best logos in less than 10 minutes. Others I’ve spent hours upon hours working on in order to get them to look just right for my client. There are just so many things to consider when designing a logo.
The Process of Logo Design
A quick overview of the process would be something like this: first, define the brand identity. What is the main purpose of this symbol going to be? What does it represent? Once that’s done, as a designer it helps to look for inspiration for the design and check out the competition surrounding the particular brand. So, research is a very important early step of the design process. Then you need to pick a design style. That can become a rabbit hole…What do you go with? There are monogram logos, wordmarks, pictorial, abstract, combinations of all. Do you do just text? If so, what type of font? Then you enter an even deeper rabbit hole that sometimes you may never get out of. By this I do not mean I never get to finish the logo, just that starting to look at fonts can be a bit distracting with so many options to pick from (about half a million fonts available on the world wide web these days).
In most scenarios, I like to lock down the design and style aspect first before even thinking about colors. Paying attention to the color is a crucial detail of the design that can make or break a logo. It distinguishes the coolest logo from the ‘okay’ ones. The ideal option is to pick a versatile color scheme and always include variations. I had to learn this the hard way early on. A logo may look great on paper or on your screen, but for a brand, we’re talking about hundreds of applications. How will it look embroidered on a shirt? How does it look against a dark background or a bright background? How does it look when it’s only black and white? Is it scalable? It makes designers cringe when a client wants all the bells and whistles included in the design, not thinking how it will scale down on a business card or letterhead, or scale up to appear on a billboard or office sign.
Nowadays, the way technology has advanced, you have AI’s creating sophisticated, elegant logos with the click of a mouse. It’s incredible, actually. Companies like Wix and GoDaddy offer quick and inexpensive logo design solutions for startups and small businesses, and that’s great because not everyone can afford to drop $25k to have an agency design a logo that, as I mentioned, an AI can now possibly do just as well for a fraction of the cost or even for free! The downside of some of these solutions is that sometimes you settle on a logo just because you need it right away or because it’s cheap, and then your business grows and you realize that you’re stuck with that logo now because it’s tied to your brand. Re-branding can be a costly nightmare. For example, as I mentioned above, a company logo is used in so many applications that, when you decide you need something better, you have to keep in mind that you’ll need to go back and change it on everything. This is why the common prerequisites of a design (unique, simple, scalable and works in monochromatic formats) are so important no matter how cliché they may be.
Have you ever heard the story of when Steve Jobs paid Paul Rand $100k back in 1986 to design the NeXT Logo?
Paul Rand is a very famous graphic designer / art director known for designing the IBM and UPS logos, among many others. What drew my attention to this story is that he had a very particular style when designing his logos. He would be assigned the project and then would present to his client an entire booklet with each step of the process from concept to final design. He did not provide choices, but rather just one design. The 100-page booklet explained why that design was the right one for his client. So, in 1985 after Steve Jobs was fired from Apple, he started a new project. He founded a company called NeXT (NeXT Software, also known as NeXT Computer). The company mainly produced computer workstations, but it never really took off. Regardless, my point here is that, as a designer, it takes a lot of balls to do what Rand did. But the guy had a reputation and was good at what he did, so he’d earned that respect for his approach. Later on, someone asked Jobs how it was to work with Mr. Rand, and his answer shows part of his genius in having to trust an expert over his own ego.
“I asked him if he would come up with a few options, and he said, ‘No, I will solve your problem for you and you will pay me. You don’t have to use the solution. If you want options go talk to other people.’” – Steve Jobs, 1993
The NeXT logo itself, in my opinion, is not the greatest or “coolest” logo that I’ve ever seen, but it had so much thought put into it (an entire book). In today’s economy and with inflation, that logo creation fee would have been close to $300k.
What I’m trying to say is that price doesn’t drive the appearance or consideration of what makes the design cool. So many other characteristics play their own role in each person’s mind and the way he or she interprets the symbol and decides if it’s cool or not.
Sites like Fiverr have come along in recent years with designers offering their quick services for a minimal fee of $5. That’s a great deal and a fine idea as long as you realize that sometimes you do get what you pay for. But it gets even more interesting. Nowadays, someone can simply go online and Google “logo generator” and you will find an abundance of choices of new startups and other companies offering their AI logo-generating services. Yes, Artificial Intelligence has entered this field, as well. Robot designers are here and ready to take over. I’ve tested several of these generators myself, and I must say they’re pretty impressive.
I put one of these AI’s to the test to see what it would come up with for a brand we’re all familiar with: Netflix. So, I went over to LogoAI.com and followed the steps. In less than a minute I had over twenty very usable options (concepts) to choose from. I used the tagline “see what’s next”, as well, because it kind of goes with where I am heading here as far as designing logos goes. We will just have to see what is next!
-Logo concepts designed by AI at LogoAI.com –
So where is the logo industry heading now? Is it cool to have an AI-generated logo? To me, despite the fact that I’m now basically competing with AI, when it comes to designing things I believe in advanced technology and making things work faster and more efficiently. So I don’t oppose these advancements. As a designer, I just have to adapt to the changes and find a way to still demonstrate the value of my services. Maybe an AI tool could be used to generate concepts for a client really fast and then a designer fine-tunes it for them. Or provide a critique, at the very least.
So, whether your logo costs $5 or $100,000, the end result is what matters in regards to what it does for your brand and message. I don’t think there’s a right or wrong choice in which approach you decide to take, but you need to be sure that the design you choose is one that accurately represents you and is something that others relate to, remember, and recognize when they see it.