What Makes a Good Logo?

Have you ever seen a logo that you like and stopped to think about why you like it? Go ahead, try it. Think of a logo you like. Now describe why. It can be tough, right?

Often, clients ask for a logo and say, “I want something like Nike’s logo,” but they aren’t able to explain what they like about it. Let’s take a look at why certain logos are successful.

Four Characteristics of a Great Logo

First, what IS a logo, anyway? A logo is more than just a name or a mark. It’s the visual representation of a brand—a symbol made up of shapes, fonts, and colors that helps people immediately identify a company.

A successful logo is:

  • Memorable
  • Relevant
  • Effective without color
  • Scalable

Keep It Simple. Make It Memorable.

A good logo is both simple and memorable. A simple design is more likely to be timeless and flexible, whereas a complex logo can be difficult to reproduce across mediums—and more importantly, hard to remember. If your logo is complex and requires people to think about it, it’s not effectively communicating your brand.

Differentiate (…But Not Too Much)

While a logo should be distinctive to help a company stand out from competitors, it should still be relevant to the industry and target audience in terms of concept and tone. For example, a bank’s logo should have a more professional look-and-feel than a toy store’s logo.

It’s also important to note that while the concept of the logo should be relevant to the business, it doesn’t mean the concept should be represented literally. A logo doesn’t need to show what a company sells or offers in order to be effective. Some of the most successful and recognizable brands—like Coca Cola, McDonald’s, FedEx, Apple, Amazon, Starbucks, and Target—have abstract logos that don’t depict their products or services.

In addition, a less literal logo allows a company to more easily evolve over the years, without having to change their visual identity as they do so. For example, Apple started out producing desktop computers, but over time, they’ve become a tech company, with a large portfolio of products. While their apple-shaped logo from the 1970s has changed over the decades, its versatility helps prevent Apple from being thought of as “just a computer company.”

Hold Off On Colors

I know, I know. It’s fun selecting color palettes. But resist the urge. While color is important, it’s a secondary factor in logo design. If the logo doesn’t work in one color, like black, it likely isn’t a strong foundational design and won’t work in multiple colors. At Novak Birch, we select color palettes after the logo design is finalized, allowing the design team and the client to focus on creating the core shapes of the logo before focusing on colors.

Give Your Logo a Long Life: Make It Scalable

When designing a logo, it’s critical to make sure it can scale to a small size while remaining legible. Logos must be versatile, working on everything from business cards and pens to websites and billboards. If a logo is strong but not scalable, you might choose to design an alternate version so the text is legible at a smaller size (e.g., by simplifying the logo design). The logo should be flexible and able to work in both horizontal and vertical formats.

The role of the logo is to point, to designate–in as simple a manner as possible.

Paul Rand

Example: The Nike Logo

Let’s explore why the Nike swoosh logo is so effective. Over the years, the font and text that accompany the swoosh have changed, but the mark has remained largely unchanged since 1979. The swoosh mark represents the wings of the Greek goddess Nike; it’s a clean, simple shape that works in one color. The check mark shape is fluid and conveys movement and speed. It isn’t too literal and is therefore distinctive and memorable.

As a simple mark, the swoosh plays well with other elements—it can be placed onto different materials, patterns, and photographs without being obstructed. The logo is simple, memorable, and easily recognizable. It’s relevant to the Nike brand because of the winged inspiration behind the mark—and it stays relevant in the market due to minor updates to evolve the mark over the years.

Final Thoughts

A logo is just one element of your brand. Consider how your logo interacts with the rest of your brand experience, from your tagline and messaging to your website and other marketing and advertising materials.

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Novak Birch

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