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What makes a great logo?

A logo is a crucial part of any business brand. It not only needs to catch the consumer’s eye but also has to tie an entire branding and business strategy into a minuscule, easily identifiable piece of art.

An effective logo should work on three levels. Firstly, it should act as a seal that ties together the entirety of a company’s branding. Secondly, it needs to work on a basic, instinctive level using things like colour to appeal to customers’ desires. Finally, its stylistic, structural elements – the typography, symbols and shapes used – should communicate what the business offers, and how much its products and services are likely to cost.

It’s needless to say that the process of creating an effective logo is a complex one. To make it simpler, a business owner should take a close look at the purpose of a logo, as well as the purpose of their own business, before stepping into the designer’s office.

What’s the purpose of a logo?

A logo needs to be the business’s single most distinctive piece of branding. Customers should be able to recognise it immediately as an identifier for that specific business.

“It needs to be a standalone, visually appealing mark that will stand the test of time,” says Halcyon Bolt, director of the Design cycle.

In order to be effective, a logo also has to be unique, regardless of its context.

“It’s got to be individual, and it’s got to deal with the situation and geography it’s in,” says Dale Burrows, creative director at Red Ark.

Most importantly, it has to act as a bridge between the business and what the consumer needs. It has to sum up what the business does in a way that meets expectations, and is consistent with the rest of the company’s branding.

“A logo without a sound strategy is just a pretty picture,” says Maria Lizunova, creative director at Imagine Create. “It means nothing.”

She explains that a logo should be part of a larger branding strategy that encompasses every point of contact a potential customer might have with the business.

“A brand is also the business’s stationery, the website, and how you are when your customers call you,” says Lizunova. “A lot of people don’t understand that. They think they can have a pretty logo, but when a customer calls them, they can be rude on the phone. That’s part of the brand experience.”

How is colour important in a logo?

Colour works on a very fundamental level to communicate the basic feel of the business to the viewer.

As a logo needs to appeal directly to the very simplest desires and interests of the consumer, it’s important to take into account the age of the target demographic when choosing colours. A youth market might respond better to bright or fashionable colours that imply progressiveness, vibrancy and creativity, says Burrows.

“If you were talking to superannuation customers aged over 50 that were considering a financial commitment, you might use a burgundy or a dark blue, because that’s all about honesty, solidity, ‘institution’ and trust,” he continues.

Colour is also useful for helping consumers differentiate a brand from its competitors. Choosing the colours that are commonly associated with industry may end up working against a brand.

“In a financial services market, there is a lot of branding that’s blue and orange, or blue and red,” says Imagine Create’s Lizunova. “Though these may be the right colours to express the values these brands have, there’s no point in creating another brand that has those colours, because they’re not going to stand out.”

How should competition be researched first?

Any business considering its branding should research how competitors use logos to position themselves in the market. Are they value or premium brands? How are they using colour, type and design to inform consumers? These factors should inform any decisions around how the business should be placed in relation to the established competition.

“How do they want to measure against their competitors, and how do they want an audience to see them in relation to their competitors,” asks Bolt. “Do they want to look more boutique or value-oriented than their competitors? Do they want to look like they’ve been around for a long time and they’re reliable and trustworthy and steeped in a reputation?”

Remember that a logo is going to appear in more than one context. It has to work as well in the corner of an iPad screen as it does on a letterhead or a packing box.

“Look at the environment that your logo’s going to be seen in,” says Burrows. “Take into consideration that it will go online and that it has to stand out when it’s quite small.”

A key part of the research process is to scrutinise and refine the values and purpose of the business.

“We sit down with clients and actually talk about their business and how they see their business evolving, and where it’s going to go in the next two to five years,” says Imagine Create’s Lizunova.

“What differentiates this business from the competition? What are the brand values for this business, what does it stand for,” she asks.

What type should we use?

A logo shouldn’t literally spell the business value out for the consumer.

“What is the business trying to say, without expressing it in words?  You want to say that in a logo,” says Lizunova. “If you put ‘we’re really good in a logo, no one is going to believe that.”

This is why the use of type, shapes and symbols in a logo should work on their own to give the consumer a good idea of what the business offers, and whether it’s a premium or value brand. A logo’s structural elements can communicate a lot about the business itself.

“If you were talking about a brand that was something to do with comfort, it would be soft and round – it wouldn’t have sharp edges,” says Red Ark’s Burrows. “If you were talking about something that was quite technical, it might have sharper edges, and the look and feel would reflect that.”

He compares the logos of Mercedes-Benz and Toyota to illustrate this point. The former evokes precision and clinical design, reflecting its brand’s values and price range. The latter, an interlocking series of ovals, is much softer, implying a more encompassing, functional brand that is priced accordingly.

A logo’s structural elements also help to make it unique.

“A good designer will try and ensure that your logo doesn’t look like the type has just been punched straight in,” says Designcycle’s Bolt. “Ideally you would like to have a unique font. It might be based on font but something has been customised for your logo so that it can’t be easily reproduced.”

How complex can it be?

It can be tempting for designers to get so caught up in an idea that they create a logo that’s just too busy. Remember to stipulate that simplicity is a priority.

“Sometimes logos that have been handmade by a designer have got too much in them. They could be a lot more refined if they were less literal,” says Bolt. “Every single mark on your logo is telling a story, even the ones that aren’t necessary. Consumers only want to look at a logo quickly and we want to instantly understand what it means. If there’s anything there that’s confusing, we’ve just ruined the moment.”

It’s also best that there aren’t too many people involved in the creation of the logo, as combining too many ideas can end up diluting or obstructing the fundamental message

“Most things that are decided by committees don’t age well,” says Burrows. “The 2012 Olympics logo is a good example. That’s advice I would give to anyone coming up with a new brand. Try not to make its decision by committee, because it will become watered down, a whole mess of subjectivity.”

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