Summary: After studying branding and identity design for over five years and designing almost 200 logos, I've trained my eye to quickly evaluate logo designs. Here are eight questions I ask myself - and you can use them too - when evaluating a logo.
Before jumping into logo evaluation, let's talk about the difference between logos and branding. I suspect nobody contests this distinction as hotly as graphic designers. But, it is a worthwhile discussion to have because by doing so, we can isolate what a logo is and, therefore, what we should expect from it.
Your logo is a part of your brand, but it's just a small part of it. A brand is the sum of all the experiences your client or customer has about your business. It includes visual elements like colors and typograpgy, conceptual elements like tone of voice or photographic art direction, relational elements like a conversation with someone on your team or a handwritten note included in a package, and much more.
On the other hand, a logo is simply the visual identifier for your brand. It's not meant to encapsulate the totality of your brand, but to represent it. So, when we evaluate a logo, we should be evaluating how effective it is in its role as a graphic symbol.
Is it a simple logo?
It would be a mistake to say that all logos must be simple. But it's also true that the world's most effective logos are stunningly simple. Nike, Target, Mastercard - they're all elementary shapes. Simple logos are more likely to be:
- Scalable. In the age of smart phones when your logo gets reduced to 30 pixels tall, it's essential that your logo is still recognizable at tiny sizes.
- Timeless. The more elementary your logo, the less likely it will live and die with the fads of the season.
- Practical. Simple logos are easy to incorporate into other designs.
Does the logo work on different backgrounds?
Over time, you'll place your logo over white, black, and every color in between. It will be superimposed over photos. It might, like the Breakthrough logo I designed, get installed as a cutout sign. It needs to be flexible enough to appear in all those various contexts and still look good. The communication app Slack recently re-branded and I loved reading their rationale for the change:
It was 11 different colors—and if placed on any color other than white, or at the wrong angle (instead of the precisely prescribed 18º rotation), or with the colors tweaked wrong, it looked terrible. It pained us.
Their announcement, by the way, is a great case study in what makes a good logo. I recommend you give it a read.
Does the logo reference anything?
Logos can be imbued with meaning by drawing on a shared visual language. For example, a logo that uses blackletter for its font, as the tire manufacturer Firestone does, is drawing on the rich history of lettering from Western Europe. It immediately lends the logo a sense of tradition, heritage, and experience. Here in Chattanooga, a lot of logos reference our city's iconic bridges, river, and mountains. References are not inherently bad or good. But, do they feel like a thoughtful addition to the logo or does it feel arbitrarily tacked on?
Is it unique?
Three questions ago, I argued that most effective logos are simple. But, when your logo is composed of elementary shapes, it can be tough to make it unique. In my opinion, this is the difference between a novice and a master logo designer. Using only simple shapes like circles, triangles, rectangles, and squares, a master designer can still create something that's easily recognizable.
Is the logo appropriate for its industry?
It's important for a logo to be unique, for it to stand out from competitors. But, it also needs to feel like it fits within the "vernacular" of your industry. For example, logos in the medical space should feel clean and optimistic. If they have grungy or edgy elements, they may give us an instinctual response that it doesn't seem to belong.
Do I feel anything about the logo?
Some logos are inherently neutral and they slowly build meaning as we interact with the brand. Other logos immediately make us feel an emotion. For example, a logo that references Swiss design, as the Lufthansa logo does, instills in us a sense of reserved sophistication. Yeti's "Built for the Wild" badge references Americana, giving us a sense of nostalgia.
Do I like the color palette and the font?
Your logo should have a defined style guide that lists the primary and secondary colors and fonts. They don't all need to be in the logo. But, the ones that are will likely be the dominant ones. So, it's important that you enjoy them and that you're confident they will look good across your marketing. I love One Medical's recent rebrand. They adopted a dark green as their primary brand color and paired it with a range of warm secondary colors. They also used a modern serif font that communicates confidence and premium care.
Is it a vector logo?
If you're not sure what a "vector" is, you might want to review the article in which I define what a vector is in greater detail. In short, there's two file types:
- Raster files like .PNGs, .JPEGs, and .GIFs are made up of tiny blocks of color (literal pixels) that create an image. If you zoom in, you can see the individual squares.
- Vector files like .EPS are based on points, like the dots on a grid. A vector circle, for example, is made up of four points at the top, bottom, left, and right extremes. As you scale the circle up or down, the four points of the circle also scale, maintaining the clarity of the shape.
It's criticial that your logo be designed in a vector environment so that it can scaled up or down and not lose its sharpness.
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As we mentioned at the top of this article, we have a wealth of logo design experience. I've personally created more than 200 designs in the last 5 years. If you're in need of a new logo, learn about our logo design process or reach out and let us know about your project.