Suffolk, 1731. Livestock farmer Darren Ox has had enough of his long running dispute with neighbouring farmer Billy Cow over who owns which animals. After a late night gin-fuelled brainstorm with his wife and eight children, he decides to set his cows apart from his neighbour’s. He employs his brother from two villages away, the ironmonger Philip Ox, to fashion his initials onto the end of a fire poker (there was only one font in those days so it was an easy job). He heats the poker up and pushes into the backsides of each member of his herd*. Fast forward 250 years and the concept of branding has evolved to the point whereby if you’re not a brand, you’re not worth listening to.
What’s In A Brand?
A brand is best summed up as everything about your business that makes it what it is – be it tangible or otherwise. The most important aspect of your brand is how it makes people feel. How it acts is paramount – if you want somebody to spend money with your brand, they need to be confident in what you are doing. You need to offer expertise in your field, and you need to deliver it with the conviction that inspires faith. You need to talk in the right tone and say the right things – at the right time. By extension, your visual identity is akin to how you’d dress to meet an important client. If you offer a professional service but turn up to sales meetings in a dayglo tracksuit it’s unlikely you’d see much business from your endeavour (and if you did it would be terrible, terrible work).
The cornerstone of your visual identity is your logo. Think about how many logos you’ve seen today from the moment you got up. You’d perhaps be surprised to hear me suggest it could be close to 100. And which logos do you notice, and remember? The ones which have been done properly. Here’s how we do it.
1. Identify market, strategy and goals
When we embark on a logo design project, we start by taking a comprehensive brief from the client. We ask questions about the people who run the business, the companies they’re competing against, the features of their marketplace, the product or service they offer and the type of customer they want to connect with. From this information we conduct some in depth market research and begin to get under the skin of the business.
2. Visually articulate what we’ve learnt
After our brief is backed up with some solid research and we feel a strong understanding of who we’re designing for, we sketch ideas. These initial sketches are refined into three or four strong concepts. At this stage we may discuss the routes we’ve chosen with the client to see how they fit with their brand personality.
Every brand is different, but we do try to follow a few basic rules when it comes to logos.
Typography is paramount and needs to be highly legible above all else. A typeface that suits the market and reflects the values of the brand is always recommended – we wouldn’t design a logo in Comic Sans for a lawyer, just like we wouldn’t use Gotham for a pre-school.
If using a symbol within the logo we follow three simple rules:
- It has to work in one colour at any size.
- Clever is great – simple is better.
- Above all else, be remembered.
It’s easy to follow fashions, but a logo needs to be timeless. Working in drop shadows and lurid gradients or faddy fonts with gloss effects is only going to make you look dated in two years time. In an ideal world your logo would stay the same whilst all around you (websites, literature, office walls etc) evolves and stays fresh. Look at the truly timeless brands, the ones that you’ve known all your life – Coca Cola, Heinz, Ferrari, Cadbury, Kellogs – they all use the same logo now as they did then. Granted they may smooth the odd curve or change the shade of red they use by 1%, but the essence of their logo was captured at the start and has served their values and market well.
3. Refine ideas
We communicate these initial ideas to our clients and discuss how they make them feel, which emotions they spark and whether they agree that we’ve captured the essence of their business. Some business owners may initially think that they should decide what their logo looks like based purely on their personal tastes. Whilst it’s vital a business owner feels comfortable with the visual identity of the company, it’s also important to remember that they aren’t the target market. An experienced graphic designer will be able to identify this and design accordingly – and they will be able to justify their design decisions in the event you take initial issue with them.
4. Finished Product
Following further consultation a direction is decided and the final logo is drawn up, curves tweaked, type laid out properly and colours worked in. The result – a great logo to really cement the brand you’re trying to build.
How could it possibly go wrong?
We always work to fulfill our client’s briefs. Taking (and giving!) a good brief is an essential tool in building the right brand. Sometimes, however a client will want to ‘design’ the logo themselves – whether they excelled at art in secondary school or they made a poster for a bric-a-brac sale at the local community centre they may believe they have an eye for what works. They usually ask that the logo pops more (which no designer in the world understands, by the way). In our experience clients like this end up with a poor brand and they normally need a redesign within twelve months. If you hire a lawyer to defend you in court and dictate the words he uses to do it, the judge would find you guilty – guilty of paying for something (years of experience and training) and not using it properly. In the same way, paying an experienced professional designer then telling them what to do is not advisable. They’ll explain to you why ideas won’t work, illustrating why if it’s time-effective, but you’re paying for them to design – let them do their job.
If you really want to design your own logo, ask your 14 year old nephew to move the mouse whilst you tell him what to do. It’ll save you money and – to all intents and purposes – the end product will be about the same amount of use.
What about those big brands who redesign their logo?
Some well known brands see fit to change their name or redesign their logo from time to time, but there’s always an underlying corporate reason for this – their values could change with new owners or restructuring, the brand could have become toxic or they may have entered an entirely different marketplace. These redesigns are often reversed – see Gap or Kraft Foods for good examples – when the customer base is left cold by the change of identity. Logos won’t ever be the only reason people buy from you, but they play a huge part in why they’ll keep coming back.
*Cattle branding actually goes back to the time of the Ancient Egyptians. Everything else – 100% true.