The Logo Design Process

If anyone reads this post I hope that his name is Josh Corken.  Josh is a fellow blogger friend of mine (I hope he makes the WordPress switch before it’s too late) and he writes nearly every single post about graphic design, 3D animation, or the latest Pixar flick.  Sure, he had had some posts that did not fit this mold, but he writes this way for a reason and his following appreciates this style.  So this post is dedicated to you and yours as I am going to get serious for a moment and discuss the accepted process for logo design.

What does McDonald’s, Target, Walmart, and Adidas have in common?  Well, I am sure they have a lot of things in common, but the thing that each one of them share in relation to this post is that each one of them have a very simple, easy to recognize and therefore remember, logo.  Target probably has one of the most widely (OK, maybe Nike) recognized logos on the planet.  The name, in theory, is their logo, and it works on multiple levels.

But what makes a logo design so difficult?  We see logos everywhere we go and nearly every company has one.  Even individual brands, such as rickyleepotts, has a logo.  They are the foundation of a brand and what that brand is related to more often than not.  When you think of McDonald’s the first thing that comes to my mind are the golden arches of the logo and then the double cheeseburger and the greasy french fries.

So why when I sit down to create a logo do I have such a hard time?  A logo design should not just start with a pen and paper.  A logo design is a process.  There are steps that a logo should go through and not all of these steps include creation.  I will break down the steps for you now.

1. Design Brief

When you first start a logo design you need to listen to the client.  You need to get their understanding of their product.  You need to hear everything that their company does and every service that their firm offers.  However, when meeting this this client keep the meeting brief.  You do not want them to over load you with information and material that will prove to be worthless by the time the logo finally rolls out.  But one you have heard what they have to say, you will have a better understanding of what they are looking for.  This, however, might not be the best solution for a logo, but it gives you a launching pad into the next step.

2. Research

This is a step that I take pretty serious when I am given a project.  I do more research than is probably necessary but at the end of the day I would rather be more prepared than under prepared.  But when you are working on a logo look at more than just the company the logo is for.  Look at their competition.  Look at the client base.  Look at the demographic of the client base.  Look at the geographical location of the company and where their product is most used.  Take every little detail into consideration.  One thing that helps me in the process is writing everything down.  When I begin a logo design I write down every single idea that comes into my head.  There is no such thing as a bad idea and you never know when that dumb idea you had on day one ends up being the base for the logo on the day you hand the logo over.

3. Reference

This step i not necessarily all that important but one that must be taken serious.  Referencing your logo and comparing it to other successful logos in the field is one way to ensure client satisfaction as well as giving you creditability with your end product.  Also, reference current design trends in every step of your logo process.  Trends are always changing and you see that in every website that once was the best on the block is now the worst in town.  Reference credible sources and you will begin building a portfolio that stands out among your peers.

4. Sketching

Finally you get to draw!  This is the step where you take out a pad of paper and a pencil (or a pen if you are feeling daring) and start to draw the concepts and ideas that have been in your heads since day one.  Draw anything and everything that comes to mind and begin drafting a foundation for what the final logo, or if you are a good designer one of the final three as you always want to provide your client with options, will look like.  This stage does not have to provide perfection but needs to produce a logo that you can be proud of to show to the client.  Take this step serious and if you can not draw, or simply do not like drawing, get over it.  I would suggest taking a sketching class at your local university if you are serious about logo design.  You would be shocked if you knew how many techniques you can pick up in a semester.

5. Reflection

Now it’s time to go on vacation.  Well, maybe not a vacation, but take some time away from the logo.  Close the note book, shut the laptop, and take a week or so off from the design.  Go shopping, or out to dinner.  Take the weekend to go play some golf and hang out with your family.  Do all that you can to completely separate yourself from the logo project.  This step, as much as you are going to hate leaving your project on the desk top, is crucial.  And this step goes for every project that you are working on.  The same process should go for a website as well as a logo.  Let the ideas and sketching and the inspiration loose by working on something else for a change.  (I actually do this every single day.  I can not work on the same project all day.  I have to work on multiple projects at once.  I have to work on two or three to just keep myself fresh.  I read more than one book at a time too.  Don’t ask me why I do it, but I think I have perfected the art of reflection.

6. Presentation

Now comes the moment of truth.  Now it is time to take your product to the client.  But this is OK; you want their feedback as you take your logo back to the desktop to put the finishing touches on it.  You want to be able to one, show that you have actually been working on the project, but two to let the client feel that he or she has a say in the final design of the logo.  It will happen to you time and time again where a client refuses to take your advice but then again they are the one signing your check at the end of the day.  (That is another key element to this.  Do not do free work.  It is OK to do free work in the beginning when you are either, one building your portfolio, or two can not find work.  But do not make a habit of it, like I have, in doing free work.  Just because it is called freelance does not mean it is free.)  Go to the meeting with an open mind, take notes, and provide them with the comfort in your note taking and your open ears.  If nothing else you might hear something that will push the logo from just OK to incredible.

7. Delivery

This is a step that I am still trying to get a grasp on.  When the project is complete, and you hand over the logo, you have some options.  If you were smart, at the start of the project you drafted a contract for the client to sign stating exactly what you would be submitting.  If you did not (learn to write contracts) then you are in between a rock and hard place.  What does the client get?  In most cases the client will request the raw files of the logo in case they either one, want to make changes in the future, or if they ever need to send a particular file format to another design firm.  I can not tell you how many times I have requested a logo in a vector format and I get a JPEG in return.  There is no standard in this, but the more files that you provide the happier your clients will be and the better your chances of a referral are.  Also, it increases your chances of work with that company in the future.

This list is not perfect.  This list might not work for every designer out there.  But I think that it is a good starting point for anyone wanting to dive into logo design.  I have applied numerous times to Logoworks (click the image) in hopes of being hired as a freelance designer for logos.  They pay well and allow you to work from home but have one last stipulation that is thrown into the mix.  To be a logo designer in today’s market you have to be proficient in Adobe Illustrator.  I used to, and still do, use Macromedia Freehand.  There are some tools that Freehand has Illustrator does not.  But at the end of the day, and going back to what I said earlier, you must stick with current design trends.

So go out there and create!  You never know where the next great logo will come from.  However, if it comes from this post and I have inspired you to create the next Nike swoosh, all I ask in return is 10% of your profits!  Get busy creators.