marketing
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Title Card for Owl Street Studio's blog article, "Logo Design: 101"
Photo of Owl Street Studio's founder, Brian Rawson
Brian Rawson \
July 10, 2020
Photo of Owl Street Studio's founder, Brian Rawson

What is a Logo?

I bet that just about everyone can recognize a logo when they see one.

And, I bet that everyone can recognize a great logo from a bad one.

But, what I bet most people cannot do is explain:

- WHY A GREAT LOGO IS GREAT,
- WHY A BAD ONE IS BAD,
- AND WHAT ACTUALLY MAKES A LOGO A LOGO.

But unlike most people, you can’t afford to be naive. Why? Because if you don’t know how to create a great logo, your business will suffer. I know, that sounds dramatic but think about it.

A LOGO’S PURPOSE IS TO IDENTIFY AND PROJECT YOUR BRAND TO YOUR MARKETPLACE.

And if your logo fails to do that, how many new customers and clients do you really think you’re going to get? If your logo fails, do you really think your business can grow or maybe even survive?

And think about it, what’s the point of all that blood, sweat, and tears you’ve put into your business if:

- no one can find you,
- no one can recognize you,
- or (worst yet) no one remembers you.

Why put all of that effort into your business just to get submerged under white noise?

Well, that’s exactly what will happen if you use an ugly, confusing, and/or dull logo, if you use a logo that doesn’t stand out and doesn’t say anything.

So, you can’t leave your logo - this vital piece of your business - up to chance or gut feelings or intangible intuition.

But don’t worry, we’re here to help. We’re here to turn those fuzzy feelings into a smooth vocabulary.

Together, we’ll see what it takes to make a great logo by learning the fundamentals of logo design:

- Know your brand
- Know your context
- Know your art


But first...


There is No Such Thing as a "Cool" Logo

To start, let’s dispel a myth about logos. I hate to break it to you, but there is no such thing as a “cool” logo. Yes, people call this logo or that logo cool like,

“MAN, THAT NIKE LOGO, THAT GOOGLE LOGO, THAT FACEBOOK LOGO, THAT AMAZON LOGO, THAT FEDEX LOGO, THAT NETFLIX LOGO IS SOOO COOL.”

But, I’m sorry. No, no they’re not, and here’s why:

The word “cool” means so many different things all at the same time that it ends up meaning nothing. It’s too subjective.

For example,
-- is the logo “cool” because you think it’s aesthetically pleasing?
-
-- Is it “cool” just because you like how it looks?
-
-- Or is it “cool” because it clutters the company's entire backstory in a single image?
-
-- Or is it “cool” just because you like the product/service so much?
-
-- Is Nike’s logo really “cool”? Or do you just really like your new sneakers?

“Cool” logos don’t exist because “cool” is just an opinion. And I trust you know full well how opinions are just a dime a dozen i.e. they’re pretty much worthless.

Chasing “cool,” chasing just a bunch of random opinions, is like trying to navigate the sea by using a swirling, broken compass. Do you really want to be that reckless with your business? I didn’t think so.

To make a great logo, you have to stop chasing the kraken and start using sonar.

Key Take-Away: TO MAKE A GREAT LOGO, YOU HAVE TO STOP CHASING “COOL” AND START BEING GUIDED BY “NERD.”

You have to use analytical thinking, a systematic process, and objective reasoning if you want to make a truly great logo, not just a “cool” one.


Making a Logo is as Simple as "1, 2, 3..."

So, if a logo isn’t supposed to be “cool”? Then what is it supposed to be?

Effective.

A logo isn’t a piece of art. It's a machine. It has a specific purpose. It has a job to do. So, instead of judging a logo on it’s “coolness,” we should judge it on it’s effectiveness.

And to see how effective a logo is or is not, we have to establish the purpose of a logo, the goal, the job it has to do.  

The purpose of a logo is:
TO IDENTIFY AND PROJECT YOUR BRAND TO YOUR MARKETPLACE.

By zooming-in on this purpose, we can see how these three steps -

1. Know your brand
2. Know your context
3. Know your art


- come together to create a logo that actually works, that actually helps grow your business (and don’t worry, your logo will look great too).


1. Know Your Brand

If you don’t know your brand or haven’t built a brand yet, then your logo is meaningless because it cannot fulfill its purpose. How can it identify or project your brand if you don’t have a brand?

Key Take-Away: BEFORE YOU DO ANYTHING WITH A LOGO, YOU HAVE TO BUILD A BRAND.

See, many people make the mistake of thinking their logo IS their brand. They think that if they make a logo...wham, bam, alla kazam...they have made their brand too.

But, sorry, it doesn’t work that way.

A brand is not one tangible thing. It’s not just a logo, or just a name, or just an image. It’s an amalgam of several abstract things. It’s character, personality, reputation, and ideals all rolled into one.

To help understand this, think of yourself. Is your personality and character just your clothes?

Of course not. No matter what you wear, you are still you. But even though your clothes don’t define who you are, they do help communicate your personality to the world. Wearing a mohawk and leather jacket communicates to others something very different than wearing a fedora and a Hawiian shirt.

Your brand is kind of like you, the real you; and your logo is kind of like you wearing your best outfit.

But this post is about how to make a logo, not about how to make a brand. So, to get back to our logo making, let’s briefly look at a very simplified process for building a brand.

To make a brand, answer these specific questions:

1. WHAT EMOTIONS DO YOU WANT YOUR BRAND TO HAVE?/ HOW DO YOU WANT YOUR BRAND TO FEEL?

2. WHAT DO YOUR CUSTOMERS/CLIENTS WANT MORE OF IN THEIR DAILY LIFE?

3. WHAT DO THEY WANT LESS OF IN THEIR DAILY LIFE?

4. HOW DO YOU HELP THEM ACCOMPLISH 2. & 3.?

5. WHO ARE YOUR COMPETITORS?


-

Here’s an example to help you see this in action:

Home Security Co.

 1. WHAT EMOTIONS DO YOU WANT YOUR BRAND TO HAVE? /HOW DO YOU WANT YOUR BRAND TO FEEL?

-WARM

-FRIENDLY

-WELCOMING

-SAFE



 2. WHAT DO YOUR CUSTOMERS/CLIENTS WANT MORE OF IN THEIR DAILY LIFE?

-MORE SAFETY

-MORE CERTAINTY



3. WHAT DO THEY WANT LESS OF IN THEIR DAILY LIFE?

-LESS FEAR

-LESS MISTRUST



4. HOW DO YOU HELP THEM ACCOMPLISH 2. & 3.?

BY PROVIDING:

-AFFORDABLE, EASY-TO-USE HOME SECURITY CAMERAS, MOTION SENSORS, AND NOISE MONITORS

-A MASTER CONTROL SMART PHONE APP

-24HR CUSTOMER SERVICE

-CUSTOMIZED, COMPREHENSIVE SECURITY PLAN TO ENSURE EACH PIECE OF EQUIPMENT COVERS YOUR ENTIRE HOUSE AND PROPERTY.



5. WHO ARE YOUR COMPETITORS:

      - LOCALLY:
      ----- ACME SECURITY

      - NATIONALLY:
      ----- ADT,
      ----- RING


Now, with your brand laid out, you can move onto the next step in creating a logo: knowing your context.




2. Know Your Context

To stay on track, let's look at our definition again:

A LOGO'S PURPOSE IS TO IDENTIFY AND PROJECT YOUR BRAND TO YOUR MARKETPLACE.

So far we've looked at the brand part of that definition.

Now, we move on to the identifying part.

This part is simple in principle: a logo should get people to notice you. But to get this attention, to get your logo to identify you takes applied effort.

Remember, your brand is like you; and your logo is like you wearing your best outfit. So, the part of your logo that identifies your brand is like you wearing not just your best outfit but an outfit that makes you stand out from the crowd. It’s like you wearing the best dress on the red carpet. A logo is like you wearing the outfit that makes people say, “who...is that?!”

But, what does it mean to stand out and how do you do it?

TO STAND OUT, YOU HAVE TO KNOW YOUR CONTEXT.

Back to our fashion metaphor, you’d think that wearing a tuxedo would make you stand out. But what if you’re at a black tie gala? Then, no: a tuxedo would not make you stand out because most of the crowd is also wearing a tuxedo. But what if you wore a Hawiian shirt? Yeah, then you’d definitely stick out.

Now, switch things around. What if you’re wearing a Hawiian shirt at the beach? Well, then you’d blend right in. But if you wore your tux? You guessed it. Now at Daytona, you’d stick out like a sore thumb.

Key Take-Away: MAKING A LOGO IS LIKE PICKING YOUR BEST OUTFIT AND THE RIGHT OUTFIT FOR THE OCCASION.

Yes, you want to make a strong, positive impression on people, which means you have to stand out and not be forgettable - but you don’t want to stick out too much.

If you wore an Hawiian shirt to a black tie gala, you’d get noticed and remembered, but you’d also probably get kicked out. Likewise, you might get heatstroke if you wore your tux to the beach.

Now that you see how context is so important, let’s learn how to find your context.

Key Take-Away: TO FIND YOUR CONTEXT, LOOK AT YOUR COMPETITION.

This is where analytical thinking comes into the logo creation process. To find your context, you have to analyze your competition’s logos. You have to stack them up and find the throughline. In other words, you have to figure out the dress code of your marketplace.

To do this, look at the competition's logo and then identify each of the logo’s visual components. To do that, go through this simple checklist:  
- SHAPE
- COLOR
- FONT
- WHAT IT EVOKES

Let’s see this process in action by briefly looking at Home Security Co.’s competition.

First, here is ADT’s logo.


We have to identify each of the logo’s visual components, and here’s our checklist to help us:

- SHAPE: Octagon

- COLOR: Sky Blue & White

- FONT: All-Caps, sharp, heavy, wide, overlapping sans-serif like Sifon.

- WHAT IT EVOKES: The octagon and heavy letters make it feel like a stop sign/warning sign and make it feel like it has authority. The blue reinforces this feeling of authority and makes it feel like a protective, helping authority because the blue reminds us of police officers and EMTs. The letters overlap giving it a mild avant-garde/modern feel and help us know that it is not an actual, official, legal warning sign because those types of signs never break standard typographic rules i.e. they would never have overlapping letters.


Next, we’ll use the same checklist to analyze the logo for Ring. Here is the logo for Ring.



Again, let's go through our checklist.

- SHAPE: Does not use a dominant shape. But it does use simple, medium thick lines, the lines of the letters. And it subtly uses curves and circles. The dot of the “i” is highlighted by the color blue to draw attention to the circle shape of the dot; and the letters have curved, rounded edges which tie in with the circle shape of the dot.

- COLOR: Gray/White/Sky blue

- FONT: Lower-case, rounded, medium, narrow, moderately spaced sans-serif like Quicksand.

- WHAT IT EVOKES: It has a minimal style, just letters, which reminds us of a modern tech. company like Uber or Google. The subtle circle of the dot makes the “i” look like the actual product, a dual color doorbell with a circle button and circle camera. The letters being rounded, spread out, and lowercase make it feel simple, childlike, easy to understand, and non-threatening. The dot circle and the blue subtly give it authority because the dot reminds us of a stop sign/warning sign and the blue reminds us of police officers and EMTs.

With even just these two checklists filled out, you can start to spot the patterns, start to see the marketplace dress code.

Did you notice how both logos are similar?
- THEY BOTH USE BASICALLY THE SAME COLORS AND SHAPES: BLUE/WHITE AND HEXAGON/CIRCLE.

And did you notice how the two logos are different?
- ADT USES A LARGE SHAPE AND LOUD LETTERS, WHILE RING USES A SMALL SHAPE AND QUIET LETTERS.

And did you notice how they both conjured up similar feelings?
- THEY BOTH BROUGHT UP FEELINGS OF AUTHORITY BY REMINDING US OF TRAFFIC SIGNS AND FIRST RESPONDERS.

And did you notice how they swerved away from each other?
- RING FOLLOWS THE DIRECTION OF CONTEMPORARY TECH COMPANIES WHILE ADT GOES IN THE DIRECTION OF A LITERAL TRAFFIC SIGN.

By learning your marketplace context, you can see how your logo should identify you. You can see what visual elements will make your logo fit in and which ones will make it stand out.

Flash back to fashion, you find out it’s a black tie event, so you know you should wear a tux to fit in, and you know you should wear your vintage cufflinks and pocket square to get noticed.

In our Home Security Co. example, we know we should use blue and white colors and circular shapes to fit in; and we know we should use unique letters to make us stand out.

Now that we’ve got our dress code, our context mapped out, it’s time to move on to our next step. Now, we move from identifying to projecting.


3. Know Your Art

This third step deals with the projecting part of our logo definition:

A LOGO'S PURPOSE IS TO IDENTIFY AND PROJECT YOUR BRAND TO YOUR MARKETPLACE.

Projecting means ensuring your logo captures and sends out the emotions of your brand. To be able to make an image to do this, you need to know some basics of art and graphic design. You need to know the basics of:

- Shape,
- Color,
- Typography,  
- Size and Layout.


See, just like a movie projector sends out light to create images on the wall, your logo sends out a design  - A SPECIFIC COMBINATION OF SHAPE, COLOR, TYPOGRAPHY, SIZE AND LAYOUT - to create feelings and emotions in people.

We’ve already touched on this when we analyzed the logos for ADT and Ring. We talked about how the shapes and colors created a feeling of authority.

We were able to analyze the ADT logo and the Ring logo because we know a lot about shapes, colors, typography, size and layout. We know a lot about design.

And now we're going to share that knowledge with you (we're only going to cover the very basics though, but don't worry, these basics go a long way).



A. Let’s talk about shapes:
To gain a rudimentary understanding of shapes, think of:

- SHARP VS. SOFT
- STILL VS. MOVING
- NATURAL VS. UNNATURAL


For example, a square has corners. Those corners come to a point. Those points look sharp.

A square also feels like a block or a brick, which makes it feel heavy and static, still, hard to move.

A square also uses straight lines. Where in the natural world like in the forest or on the beach, do you see perfectly straight lines? You don’t. But you do see perfectly straight lines in buildings and furniture. You see these lines in things that have been cut, measured, and refined. In other words, these lines are unnatural. They don’t spontaneously happen all by themselves.

If you take the entire above example and swap out a square for a circle, everything flips to the opposite. Circles can feel soft like a pillow and moving like a ball bouncing and natural like a pearl or a bubble.



B. Let’s talk about color:
To gain a rudimentary understanding of color, think of:

- WARM VS. COLD
- BRIGHT VS. SOFT
- NATURAL VS. UNNATURAL


For example, red feels hot and natural because it is the color of fire and the sun. Depending on what type of red, the color could feel bright like the sun on a summer day or it could feel soft like the embers glowing in the fireplace.

On the other hand, blue feels cold and a mix of natural and unnatural. Blue can be the natural color of the winter sky and ice; or it can be the unnatural color of computer screens and Tron light cycle trails. Blue does occur in flowers and animals, but compared to red, green, or brown, blue doesn’t show up nearly as much in nature. So overall, depending on the shade, blue could go either way, could be seen as natural or unnatural.



C. Let’s talk about typography:
To gain a rudimentary understanding of typography, think of:

- LOUD VS. QUIET
- NEW VS. OLD
- HEAVY VS. LIGHT
- SHARP VS. FLAT VS. ROUND



Let’s compare:  

1. compare,
------This feels quiet, old, light, and round/flat.

2. COMPARE,
----
This feels loud, new, heavy, and sharp.

3. compare.
------And this feels moderate, new, light, and round.



D. Let’s talk about size and layout:
To gain a rudimentary understanding of size and layout, think of:

- CLOSE VS. FAR
- MOST IMPORTANT VS. LEAST IMPORTANT
- COLUMNS VS. ROWS


Size and layout are how we organize all of the other elements. For instance, we may use small letters and a big shape; and then the letters could be above the shape, below the shape, next to the shape, inside the shape, etc.

How we organize the elements affects how each element feels. For instance, we may use typography that feels loud but if it’s at a small size that loudness will feel different than if it was at a huge size.

Now that we've gone over basic design principles, we can put everything we've talked about together. Now, let's actually design a friggin' logo.

Become a Logo Maker

And now (I know, I know - that took a lot longer than you thought it would, but we’re finally here), now let’s see how we can use these three steps to create a logo.

Now, we're going to combine -

DESIGN: SHAPE, COLOR, TYPOGRAPHY, SIZE AND LAYOUT

CONTEXT:
THE ANALYSIS OF THE COMPETITION'S LOGOS

BRAND:
THE EMOTIONS AND FEELINGS OF THE BRAND

-
to make a logo.

Now, let’s go back to our example and make a logo for Home Security Co.
But first, a quick recap, Home Security Co.'s brand emotions are:

- Warm
- Friendly
- Welcoming
- Safe


And the needs of their customers are:

- More safety
- More certainty

- Less fear
- Less mistrust


Now, our job is to use:

- SHAPE,
- COLOR,  
- TYPOGRAPHY,  
- SIZE AND LAYOUT


          To:
            1. make people feel safe, protected, and confident

            2. make people feel Home Security Co. is friendly, skilled, and    
               approachable.

            3. make Home Security Co. match their context, make them fit in with their
               marketplace while simultaneously make them stand out from the
               competition.


I know what you’re thinking, “How in the world can a square or circle, red or blue do all of that!”

I know it seems crazy, but trust me, they can do all of that. Here's how:

Key Take-Away:  TO CREATE A LOGO, LAYOUT YOUR BRAND, LAYOUT YOUR CONTEXT, THEN USE DESIGN TO EMBODY YOUR BRAND AND MATCH YOUR CONTEXT.

Making a logo is kind of like going, "1, 2 3," and then "3, 2, 1."

So, let’s start with "3."

Let's go through our design basics (shape, color, typography, size and layout) and match each basic to Home Security Co.'s brand and marketplace.

Let's start with shape. For what shapes to use in Home Security Co.'s logo, let’s ask ourselves which side of our shape design checklist would match the brand, which side would feel  1. SAFE,  2. FRIENDLY,  AND 3. NON-THREATENING?

Shapes Design Checklist:
- sharp vs. soft
- still vs. moving
- natural vs. unnatural

This is easier than it sounds. Just think, would something sharp look safe and non-threatening? Probably not, so we should go with something soft.

Would something that is moving feel safe and non-threatening? Probably not, because something moving could bump into you, spill something over, or jump out from the corner, so we should go with something still and grounded.

Would something unnatural feel safe and non-threatening? Probably not. Weapons are unnatural; guns don’t grow on trees. Of course, natural things like tigers or poisonous plants could kill you. But overall, to evoke safety, we should go with something that feels more natural.

See, that wasn’t so bad.

Now, we do this same process for each design basic. We go back and look at our design checklist for color, typography, size and layout. Then we just ask ourselves which side matches best with the brand and with the context.

But to speed things up, kind of like a cooking show, we put our logo for Home Security Co. in the oven a few hours ago, and (ding!) oh, there it is.

Here’s our Home Security Co. logo:

It's not flashy, and there's more detail to add to the logo (which we'll do when we apply the steps of logo design: 202 and 303).

But for right now, let's look at the ways this logo - just as it is - puts everything we’ve talked about into practice.

       1. The logo uses circles and the color blue to fit in with the marketplace. Yet,    
          we changed the shade of blue to make this logo stand out from Home  
          Security Co.’s competitors.

       2. We used soft, natural shapes and soft, natural colors to make people feel
           safe and calm and make Home Security Co. feel non-threatening and    
           grounded.

       3. We used typography and size to emphasize the word “security” to reaffirm
           the feeling of safety. And we used typography to make the word “home”  
           feel soft and friendly.

       4. The layout of stacking “home” above “security” helps balance the two  
          different feelings in the words: the feelings of softness/friendliness from  
          “home” with the feelings of strength/firmness from “security.”


Wham, bam, alla kazam...


Make a Great Logo

Making a logo is really hard work. Remember this is just Logo Design: 101. There are many more details within great logo design like:

- how to make a captivating abstract logo like the Nike Swoosh or

- How to make sure a logo looks great at any size from a pencil to a billboard.

This post is just the start. But don’t worry, we’ll give you all of those other details in due time. Just keep checking back with us.

But we hope that, even just seeing the 101 of logo design, you feel empowered and less intimidated at the thought of making your own logo.

But, if after seeing how much work really goes into logo design, you feel more overwhelmed than before:

Relax.

We got you.

We’ve been making logos for a long time and for a lot of different people from coffee shops to nonprofits to record labels and restaurants. So, instead of feeling overwhelmed and curling up in the corner or fighting off a stress headache for the next week and a half, just give us a call.

It doesn’t cost a thing to talk with us. Plus, when we do start your project, you won't be forced to decide between buying groceries or paying us. We use things like customized pricing and unique (zero-interest) payment structures to make sure we can all work together to grow your business and organization without anyone losing out.

Look through our work samples here and our case studies here.

And when you’re ready, take two minutes to schedule your free consultation.

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