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How to Design a Logo, in 5 Simple Steps

by Allison Stadd
art & design, featured

Take a quick glance around whatever space you’re in right now. No matter whether it’s a coffee shop, your office, your bedroom, a subway car, or the park, there’s one thing you’ll certainly find: a logo. Be it on a postcard pinned to a corkboard, emblazoned on a T-shirt or hat, driving by on the side of a truck, or tattooed on the arm of the person next to you, logos are the communication currency of the modern world.

Every brand, whether corporate or personal, has a logo. The bands you listen to, the food you eat, the sports teams you root for, the bloggers you follow — all have logos. Logos surround you, wherever you are.

And that’s because there’s nothing more important for a brand’s identity than its logo. A visual symbol, when executed well, expresses so much more than words can about the company, product or group it represents. And the best symbols express so much, in turn, about you, the consumer. Iconic logos like Apple’s, LEGO’s and Levi’s didn’t cement themselves in our culture just because they’re cleanly designed or boldly colored or eye-catching shaped, or just because they contain a company name; they’re icons that consumers are proud to tout in their homes, on their clothing, and in their hands.

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So, if you’re new to this work, how do you go about tackling logo design, given how high the stakes are? Maybe you want to add heft to your graphic design portfolio, or create a personal logo for your own brand, or simply challenge yourself creatively. Regardless, adding logo design to your toolkit will serve you well given how critical these assets are across every industry. Below, your ultimate, step-by-step guide to designing a logo.

Step 1: Deep-Dive Into the Brand

First things first: do a close study of the brand for which you’re designing a logo. Read any materials you can get your hands on, peruse any design guidelines that are available, scroll through the brand’s social media feeds if they exist, talk to people who work for or consume (or would consume, if it doesn’t exist yet) the brand. A powerful logo encapsulates the essence of the brand, so it’s critical to begin the logo design process with an airtight understanding of what that brand stands for, who its target audience is and what its core values are. Collect all of this information into a thorough design brief that can guide your creative process as you begin exploring ideas.

Step 2: Gather Inspiration

The world around you is teeming with examples of great logos. Before you dive into design, assemble a mood board of logos — either physical or digital — that resonate with you and feel relevant for the brand for which you’re creating a visual identity. Check out sites like PinterestDribbble, and Behance, and browse the portfolios and Instagram accounts of designers you admire. Page through magazines, art books, and even catalogs.

Step 3: Start Sketching

Using the inputs from Step 1 and the inspiration from Step 2, start playing around with ideas using paper and pen. Sketching by hand is quicker than jumping right into Adobe Illustrator; you won’t get bogged down in the tiny details and the quantity of your creative output will be greater. You don’t need to be excellent at drawing, either; the sketching phase is just about churning out all stripes of ideas efficiently. As you begin, you’ll want to determine the right aesthetic that fits the brand in question — quirky? classic? retro? — as well as the colors and typography that best communicate the brand identity. In addition, you’ll need to decide what type of logo is most suitable: wordmark, monogram, combination, brandmark or emblem. It’s up to you as the designer to determine the creative direction of each of these elements in combination. At this stage, no ideas are bad ideas. Don’t erase or throw out anything you come up with; you never know what creative fruit may be borne from your early thoughts when you take stock of your work, even if it’s for a future project.

Step 4: Tighten Your Concept

Once you start to get a sense of a few solid options for your logo, hold each up to a strict checklist to ensure you’re headed in the right direction. A great logo must be:

Simple: Is it clear at first glance what the logo is communicating? Is it not trying to do too much? Does it not overwhelm the eye? Will potential customers understand what this brand does?

Memorable: Is the logo impactful? Does it leave a good visual impression?

Versatile: Logos are used in all manner of branding materials, both print and digital. Can this logo design be adapted across a variety of media? Is it scalable, up and down?

Relevant: Does the logo match the aesthetic and personality of the brand? Does it have meaning that’s appropriate to the company or product it’s representing?

Timeless: Will the logo still be effective in 2 years? 10? 50?

Unique: Does the logo take too many obvious cues from similar brands’ logos? Does it have an individualized visual voice?

Use the above criteria to narrow down your designs to 2-5 finalists to show your client, or to consider yourself even more closely if the logo is for your own project. It helps to take a breather at this stage — even just a day — and come back to the designs with fresh perspective in order to select a winner.

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Step 5: Digitize Your Design

There are a variety of ways to digitize your hand-sketched logo, if you want to use your drawing as the basis of the final logo versus designing a new on your computer. The most common route is to scan the sketch, and then convert the image into a vector file in Adobe Illustrator. You’ll also need to export your logo into a variety of file types, depending on the project needs (for example, .ai, .eps, .png and .pdf).

That’s it! All that’s left is to put that logo to use, on everything from business cards, letterhead, email footers and social media profile images to branded apparel, swag and packaging.

The logo creation process can be time-consuming and creatively challenging. But it’s worth the investment of energy and time: a brand is only as powerful as its logo.

Now go forth and design.

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Allison Stadd