Become a Logo Design Connoisseur With These Five Tips

A hand drawing a logo on a sketchpad

You need a logo design, and you need it now. You’ll either:

  • Work with a graphic designer to create it
  • Use one of the online logo design companies
  • Design it yourself

How will you know if the designs you consider are great, or if they just stink? What makes a logo successful anyway?

Here are five tips to help you discern whether you’re looking at a timeless work of art that will represent your business well for many years, or a weak excuse for a brand. Use them to help you pick the best image from the group you’re presented with or the designs you come up with yourself.

Does it work in black and white?

If you photocopy your logo, how does it look? What if it was embroidered, or screen printed in one color? Great logos hold up under the worst conditions. They have memorable forms that are sturdy enough to look good even when the reproduction process isn’t the best.

Does it work small?

Designers have an inside joke that clients always want you to “make their logo bigger,” but we often have to fit artwork into very tiny spaces. If that happens to your logo, how does it hold up? It should still be recognizable even when reduced.

Is it beautifully simple?

Use no more than two colors in your logo, and stick to simple forms with no graphic “trickery,” like gradients or drop shadows. Shapes and forms should be clear and easily understood at a glance.

You should require that your artwork be supplied in a vector file format, too. These files have extensions like .eps or .ai, and can be created in programs like Adobe Illustrator, Corel Draw and Inkscape. Vector files are important because they can be enlarged as much as needed without losing resolution. Vector artwork is handy when you’re ready to do a billboard or other large marketing piece.

Is it timeless?

You should plan to live with your logo for a long time if you want to get the most out of your investment.

I tell clients that around the time they become sick to death of looking at their artwork and are ready to change it is exactly when the general public is just starting to register their logo and remember it. When the urge to change your logo overtakes you, the best tactic is to hold tight and not change your artwork, but rather build on the recognition you create over time. An exception might be a logo that doesn’t represent what your company offers, or one that depicts outdated technology (like a five lb. “brick-style” cell phone).

Pick logo art that’s timeless rather than trendy, and you’ll be able to live with it and get the most of it over time.

Is it original?

Your logo should make your company name memorable in the minds of the customers you’d like to attract. If your design is… (I’m trying to be diplomatic here…) “inspired” by another company’s logo, your efforts will be in vain. Take the time to create an image that’s uniquely yours, so that when people see it they know exactly what company it’s associated with.

This is why logos are also referred to as “corporate identities.” Make sure your identity is unique and memorable.

Logo connoisseur in a nutshell

Here’s a one-sentence summary to becoming a logo connoisseur: look for a timeless, original image that’s simple, and can be reduced to black and white and used very small.

If you can accomplish all of that, you’ll end up with a logo that’s practical, usable and durable.

Pamela Wilson

Pamela Wilson

Pamela Wilson coaches people to build profitable online businesses. She's an online educator, author, and keynote speaker. Read reviews of the tools used to run this site and business. Have you taken the free Focus Finder quiz yet?

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17 thoughts on “Become a Logo Design Connoisseur With These Five Tips”

  1. Pam, what are your opinions of a “logo” that is essentially text rendered in an interesting font with altered spacing, 2 colors to highlight different words? Kind of like the FedEx “logo” which is really…..their name?

    How important is it to have a shape or swoosh or non-text form in a logo?

    Curious on your thoughts, thanks!

    • Gina, those types of simple logos can work well, and they’re used a lot. You don’t have to have a symbol to have an effective logo. (There’s a “hidden” arrow between the E and the x in the FedEx logo, so that one technically has a symbol).

      You’ve touched on an important point: letter spacing is crucial when the logo is essentially a word mark. I wrote about this topic in an issue of my newsletter which you can read online here.

  2. The “works small” test is great. I’ve seen a lot of logos that look like thumbprints when they are used in a small space.

    The black and white test is one that many people seem to overlook for logos and documents in general. It’s like they assume everyone will either read online or has a color printer. Um, no. Some of us still print and do so on old-fashioned black and white printers. Documents with all black backgrounds look OK onscreen but not so good when printed/copied (and eating half of your ink or toner).

    Your reference to FedEx compels me to suggest adding to your one-sentence summary: look for a timeless, original image that’s simple, can be reduced to black and white, used very small, embroidered or screen printed, or used very large (say on a big truck or billboard or airplane :).

    Seriously, thank you for this (and the link to the “Quick Technique to Build a Logo” post). Very helpful and timely.

  3. The Google logo seems to break a few of these rules of thumb.

    That’s what makes judging design hard for me. My mind is stuck on what I like from the 1% of companies instead of what works for 99% of companies.

    • (Looks quickly from side to side …) Hashim, I don’t think the Google logo is that remarkable, to tell you the truth. It has served them well, but I wouldn’t hold it up as an exemplary logo design.

      They can get away with using lots of colors since their company is primarily web-based. They just recently simplified their logo by softening the drop shadow behind their letters.

      I don’t think they should have a drop shadow at all, but they haven’t asked me yet. 😉

  4. Generally, you are right, but the limits on the amount colors is a bridge too far in my mind. There are many excellent logos with more then 2 colors.

  5. Thanks for a great list of things to remember when designing logos. Would add that the colors used in a logo should be the same ones used on other marketing materials, as well as your website. This way, designing a logo can have the added value of defining a color pallet you can use over and over. So make sure the colors are ones you love, and that just like the logo, they reflect the “personality” of your service or business!

  6. I have to admit that I have trouble with the size issue. How do you make a good logo that holds up to going from regular size down to 100×20 when the regular size is a square, or rectangle that is much more proportionate like a 169×149 or whatever…just numbers off the top of my head?

    • The main thing to keep in mind when you’re creating a logo is to make sure that you don’t make any of the type so small that when it’s reduced in size it gets lost. It’s always a good idea to check it small before you invest too much time in it. If it holds up, great, and if not, you can make adjustments.

  7. This article is really informative. I learned a thing or two from this. As I just had my logo design done by an online logo design firm I do relate to some of the points you mentioned. I was quite happy with the end product for my logo design which I got my designer from LogoDesignCreation to create as it offers the creativity I was looking for at a price that I could afford. The designer was very responsive and creative! I had been “nickeled and dimed” by other logo services before, so I was a little skeptical at first. But even after I received my initial design concepts, I quickly realized that I had come to the right place. The designs were creative and in alignment with my specifications. After a brief exchange of ideas with the designer, I was on my way to getting a logo that matched the design I had in my head. I would recommend this article to my friends who are planning to get a new logo design. Thanks for posting this.

  8. I looked to many of the well established brands and saw that most of our best known brands are recognized by icon alone, so my goal became to forge an icon.

    After much fussing and fiddling in Photoshop Elements, I produced a crisp, bold, black and white icon from an illustration of a magpie. I then added a circle to imply the idea of a trademark. The stark simplicity makes it perfect for applications as small as a makers mark measuring 1.5mm up to banner size.

    The greatest stroke of brilliance came when i was looking through photos of my gem collection. I have a picture of a very colorful, round contra luz opal. I cut it out to fit it into the circle behind the magpie. Viola! My color logo. I use it on everything except the very few applications where simple black and white works better.

    With this simple icon, I can change colors to suit the situation or add seasonal flavor to it. I’ve put a Santa hat on it for Christmas, added a trick-or-treat bucket for Halloween, etc.

    The best part of a good icon is meeting people who don’t know me or my work, but have seen my logo and remember it.

  9. Hey Pamela,

    Awesome information for logo creation and wow… it’s funny that I never actually noticed the arrow on the FedEx logo until you mentioned it here.

    Sneaky design! haha

    Anyway, thanks a lot, I’m going to follow your tips here when doing mine.


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