Your logo is the central and most consistent element of your brand; it's important to create one that represents your business, your personality and your tone. A good logo resonates with consumers and can give your brand the edge over the competition.
To understand the value of a logo, imagine for a moment you're taking a long road trip: You and your friends are searching for a spot to stop and eat. You're tired, hungry and craving a hamburger. After miles of open road and few dining options, you find the iconic McDonald's golden arches. For many, just seeing the McDonald's logo evokes feelings of happiness and excitement.
The same goes for sports fans and their relationship with Nike. When sports junkies walk into a mall and see the Nike swoosh, they don't only think about athletic wear. They see the Nike logo and immediately conjure up images of the world's best athletes competing with the Nike logo on their chest, sleeve or shoes. The value of a logo, especially as your business gains a strong reputation in a community, can be massive.
What are the five characteristics of a great logo?
For a startup, designing a logo that captures your brand essence can be a daunting task. What is it that makes a good logo? According to the branding experts we spoke with, a good logo is
There are several factors that make Nike's logo more iconic than other brands' logos, but focusing on the five elements above gives your business a starting point in the logo development process. However, a good logo doesn't make up for mediocre products, services or customer support. You can't sell subpar shoes and make up for it with an exceptional logo. Nike's products please customers. It's the phenomenal branding combined with suitable products that separate Nike from its competitors.
It might sound counterintuitive, but the most recognizable logos feature a simple design. There are varying degrees to logo simplicity, but the logo must be readable and easy to understand. The McDonald's arches and Nike swoosh are easy on the eyes, while the complicated logo for the 2012 London Olympics drew intense backlash.
"A great logo doesn't make one think very hard when it's looked at," said Lisa McKenna, senior brand strategist at Arrow North. "It can't be art [that] one sits in front of and ponders its meaning. If you have to [that], then it's not working."
"Initially, people aren't likely to give your logo much more than a passing glance, so they won't have the time to memorize the intricacies of complex designs," said Steve Pritchard, digital marketing consultant at Anglo Liners. "A simple logo that instantly stands out and catches their attention is more likely to sit in their memory than one with a lot of detail."
Whether you're paying a design firm or designing a new logo yourself, it's easy to go overboard. Again, keep your logo simple. Nike's logo is simple, it conveys motion and represents the wing of Nike, the Greek goddess of victory. Your business's logo doesn't need to be complicated to share an important meaning. Less can be more.
A key aspect of a good logo is that it is memorable the first time a consumer sees it. The primary goal when designing a logo is to create a strong connection between your brand and a potential customer. The more memorable your logo is, the stronger your connection is with a consumer.
This trait ties in closely with simplicity. The more complex and lavish a logo is, the more difficult it is for a consumer to remember it and connect with it. However, a logo shouldn't be simple just for the sake of being simple. It must also communicate your brand's personality, tone and core values. Apple's logo, for instance, is both simple and represents an early core value of the company: "making personal computing accessible to each and every individual."
Finally, memorable logos are unique. The biggest brands often operate in the same industry, and none of them have a generic or bland logo: Nike, Adidas, Microsoft, Apple, Coca-Cola and Pepsi have unique logos, despite the competition.
A simple logo can be used on different marketing materials than a complex and intricate design. Apple, McDonald's and Nike all feature simple logos that look just as good on giant signs as they do on pens. Putting a detailed and wordy design on a banner might work fine, but what happens when you move to smaller marketing materials like stickers?
It's also worth considering the different mediums of advertising you might use. Will your logo translate well from your website to a magazine? What about from a postage stamp to a full-page ad in a newspaper? If your logo only looks good in a few specific use cases, you have a problem.
You also want your logo to be prominent in your local community and spread across a growing base of loyal customers. By getting your logo in front of people, you can create a buzz about your business.
"Once you get your logo, make sure you use it like crazy," said Chelsey Derks, owner of Stella del Nord Public Relations. "Have it across all your platforms and marketing materials, because that's how people start associating it with you and creating a sense of trust when they see it."
"A good logo is simple, memorable, versatile and easily recognizable, but most importantly, a good logo supports your brand identity and who you are as a company," Derks said.
A logo doesn't have to be literal. For instance, Jaguar doesn't sell live jaguars, but the image of a jaguar matches the brand's name and exudes a sense of elegance and speed that Jaguar wants people to feel when they drive its cars. FedEx doesn't sell colored letters, but the use of white space in its simplistic logo forms an arrow, which emphasizes the company's action of transporting goods for customers.
"People can gather what your company is about from a logo," said Shane Hebzynski, owner of 3 Cats Labs. "If it's an easy-to-recall logo, and you've developed enough goodwill, your logo will be specifically looked for."
If your business sells upscale clothing, use a color scheme and design that exudes elegance. If you're a fast-food chain, use an element that represents the core concept of your business. Burger King includes a hamburger in its logo to emphasize its specialty, while In-N-Out Burger uses a zigzag symbol to create motion and accentuate the "fast" in fast food. These businesses have built their reputations over many years, and their logos help boost that reputation by staying true to who they are.
"It all comes back to your logo connecting to your brand," Derks said. "People have loyalties to certain products and companies, and that little logo is sometimes the only thing that separates them from the competition."
Finally, all good logos stand the test of time. They avoid obvious fads while remaining relevant and memorable. Creating a logo with a timeless quality ensures it will connect with your target customers today, tomorrow, 10 years from now and another 10 years after that.
The biggest brands on the planet include timeless logos that have remained largely unchanged for decades, such as Starbucks' mermaid, McDonald's golden arches or Amazon's arrow from "A" to "Z."
However, each of these brands started with more complicated logos but have simplified over time to remove unnecessary elements. With every redesign, these three logos have become less colorful, less busy and more iconic while still paying homage to the previous version.
When designing your logo, think of how people will react to it 10, 20 or even 30 years from now. Does the logo capitalize on a modern fad or does it evoke a timeless quality?
The bottom line
There isn't a one-size-fits-all approach to designing a logo, but there are five key elements that define the best logos. To create a good logo, focus on simplicity, memorability, versatility, authenticity and timelessness. If you can check those boxes, you're well on your way to creating a dynamic logo. The value of a logo is clear, and small businesses and startups need to make sure they prioritize the importance of creating a good logo.
"Think of your business 10, 20 years from now," McKenna said. "Will the logo still be something you're proud of and [that] people easily recognize? If you're a new business, take the time now to put a great mark out there. Don't go out of the gates with a TBD logo; it's likely you'll get used to it."
Bennett Conlin also contributed to the reporting and writing in this article.