So you’ve got a name, a domain, a presence online, and products or services to sell. Now you need to get noticed. You need an icon. An attention-grabbing image that helps your customers and your fans identify you. A visual key to who you are and what you do — a logo.
From conceptual basics to tips on colors, shapes, and fonts, this step-by-step guide will help you start down the road to your perfect logo.
If you are a startup on a shoestring, itching to get your logo made but not sure where to begin, a free logo maker will be your perfect kicking-off point.
Namecheap’s web-based logo maker should be ideal. Its big advantages are that it requires no set-up, no registration to try it out, no design background whatsoever, and only a few minutes of your time. You can use it to create unlimited free logos too.
When you design a logo, ultimately what you get is a set of digital images. These come in various file formats, but it is important to have at least one that scales well and can be imported into as much software as possible. Namecheap’s logo maker lets you download your creation as quick-loading PNGs ready for website graphics and social media, as well as smooth-scaling SVGs for app icons and clean-looking prints of any size.
This service is ideal for smaller webpreneurs looking to get their brand and identity sewn up quickly and effortlessly. It’s easy to have fun with and explore possibilities, and you could well find your ideal logo.
If you’re looking to dedicate more time and resources to your logo quest, a free logo maker is still a great starting point. However, there are other important steps to follow too...
Even as you are launching your store or your site with something basic you created in a free logo maker, you can start the process of thinking more deeply about your visual identity and how it expresses your brand. Even if you do hire an outside consultant to help you with the art and the technical aspects, you will still be able to contribute to the process in many ways.
A good methodology to build a logo from scratch must include phases of research, brainstorming, and feedback that are not the exclusive province of the visual professional. In fact, it is only by drawing in members of the non-initiated public, of the company’s stakeholders, and of potential audiences that the logo design process achieves real validity for your business.
The goal of logo creation is to come up with a unique mark that reflects who you are and what you are doing and that will speak to people on an emotional or symbolic level. Some good logos use pictorial symbols to remind people of what a company does. Others are more subtle in how they suggest the business’s qualities using shapes, colors, and composition. There are no set rules, no magic formulas. But there are guidelines and good processes.
Start with introspection and anticipation. What are your values? Where do you see your endeavor in five years, ten years? Fill the picture in with your truest visions for the best version of your organization under the most optimistic circumstances. Then tap into the emotions that these visions evoke to describe why you are doing what you are doing and how it sets you apart from your competition. Note any words and sketch any visuals that come up during all these phases. You will be able to inject them into the brainstorming step described next.
Another research direction in this step is finding ideas and inspiration in the past. Look up some classic logos. Retrace the visual evolution of the field you are working in. Whether you are starting a site devoted to classic trains or creating Minecraft mods, there will be a relevant history of brands around that space. You will find that designers in the past found solutions to problems that echo your own. Even the hottest new logos are already from the past: grist for the creative mill as you develop an identity for your future.
As part of brainstorming ideas, it is useful to make a word board with visuals. Working on paper, take a large sheet so that multiple people can work on it. Have markers and pens in different colors and widths. Invite trusted team members, family members, friends. It’s best if they are at least aware of the previous conversations around your goals.
Write the keywords associated with the values you defined above. Add all the words describing aspects of your vision. Have an area for words describing your target audience. When a visual idea comes to you, draw the graphical elements next to the relevant term. It can be a picture of a thing or a purely graphic element or a typographic idea.
Using arrows, colors, and words, mark logical relations between the words. You will end up with word trees, or word graphs, or one big connected cloud. The flows of relationships will tell stories.
Use these flows in conjunction with any of the visuals people have contributed to sketch out your first draft logos in monochrome. Even if you have a good idea of where you think you will end up in terms of color, start with simple black and white. A logo has to work in monochrome. Otherwise, you will be unhappy at the result of certain types of print jobs or of how the logo displays at certain scales--think browser favicons.
Until now in the process, the emphasis should be on flow, saying yes, trying out things, free association. When you are in possession of a bounty of ideas, it is time for some narrowing down.
With the ideas gathered and the data about those ideas, it is time to ask yourself if it looks like your logo will have letters or words in it or not, or if it is going to be abstract or pictorial. Will you go for an emblem? Is there a combination of picture and word that would make the most sense to you? Each approach has its advantages.
A wordmark is the brand name spelled out in a notable way, like Google or Coca-Cola. When the logo consists only of the brand initials, then it is called a lettermark--think IBM or NASA. Many of these stand out through their typographical inventiveness with beautiful custom scripts or graphical fonts. If you have a great name, why not keep it in people’s heads by making it into your logo. A good word-based logo is easy to fit in new marketing materials. But if you are not already known this might not be the easiest path to a memorable logo.
Some advocates of symbolic design encourage practitioners to exploit deep connections between a business’s values and a supposed common visual language. Others rely on quirkiness, humor and free association to come up with a picture that is memorable without referring to the product or service directly. Fruit has famously been used to sell both phones and undershirts (Apple, Fruit of the Loom).
Geometric shapes, groups of dots, lines and angles, swooshes and arrows: some abstractions can be imbued with so much meaning that they verge on the pictorial. Nike is a perfect example: their swoosh isn’t a picture of a wing but it symbolizes the wing of the Goddess of Victory. At the moment of creation, the shapes are cast as a metaphor for qualities of the business or of the product. Then their esthetic appeal becomes compelling. They reproduce well most of the time. However, in a world saturated with abstract logos, it can be hard to stand out.
An emblem logo has words or graphics on a shield or shield-like device. See Harley-Davidson or Starbucks. The classic emblem logo is meant to instill a sense of tradition, stability, and strength. It also often points to a product’s anchoring in the real world. The freedom to compose the shield’s shape and decoration has to be balanced with the expectations related to adopting this class-bound historic form. If you do not take yourself too seriously, the humor of an inspired transgression can work too. Beware that these logos often don’t work in small sizes.
Once you have settled on three or four design candidates, take the time to draw them up using software. If you are unfamiliar with any graphics tools, you should pick one that you can learn as you go along.
If you need a lot of 3D effects, embossed styles, or very precise color references for printing mass marketing materials, then you will have to wrestle with professional-level vector-design applications such as Adobe Illustrator or the open-source Inkscape. If your demands are simpler, there is a good level of customization to be gotten out of Logo Design Studio Pro or Sothink Logo Maker Pro.
Let the principle of Less is More guide you. Simplify, simplify, simplify, especially when it comes to fonts and colors.
If your logo contains characters in any language, you have the choice to draw them yourself or find a typeface that matches what you have in mind. Some simpler creation tools are limited in the fonts they allow you to import. Always make sure a typeface is licensed for the use you have in mind! Great places to look for fonts are MyFonts, Google Fonts, and FontSquirrel.
You might read authors who give blanket advice against choosing fonts that are too common, or too decorative, or too hard to read. The only hard and fast rule is that there are no hard and fast rules. But if you need convincing that Comic Sans is out of the question for a logo in 2021, then maybe you should put somebody else in charge of the design.
The three big families of typefaces are serif, sans-serif, and script.
Serif typefaces have little “feet” at the end of their strokes like Times New Roman or Garamond. They have been around for centuries, but the category has evolved a lot over time. Some are softer than others, but most of them give a sense of stability, seriousness, and tradition.
Sans-serif typefaces are defined by the lack of feet. Helvetica and Impact are famous examples. The sharp, straight terminations of their strokes give them a more modern feel. Sans-serif works well in very bold and very thin font weights. For generations of people, they evoked progress and change.
Script typefaces easily span a whole range from ultra-classy to totally zany. If you have a vision that involves characters that look handwritten, there is probably a typeface out there that will satisfy your needs.
In the simple logo makers, you don’t need to wade through thousands of fonts. They let you drill down on your preferences by offering choices on a series of descriptive spectrums: informal to formal, geometric to organic, playful to elegant.
As mentioned above, a logo ideally should work in black and white or in monochrome on a transparent background. That way you will know that it can work as a literal brand on a wood barrel or as a small stencil.
But it would be a shame not to explore the expressive power of color. Different colors evoke different emotions, although there is also a cultural component at play. Blue is often associated with stability and possibility. There is a reason blue is so often the color of banks and software companies.
Red is suggestive of passion, romance, and emergencies, at least in the West. Many reds are among the most noticeable colors out there, independent of context. Greens harken back to the natural world and to organic growth. Medium and dark greens have a calming effect on many people. Another common green association is money and envy.
Yellow often expresses joy and holiness, although it can also have less wholesome connotations such as jealousy or lewdness. Orange is warm and vibrant. It remains a popular choice for all kinds of logos especially in contrast with blues, reds, or grays.
Combining colors should be done very carefully. You can delve into the color theory to determine palettes that won’t be too busy for business, or rely on tools that have the theory programmed in and generate sets of color that work well together.
A logo should be memorable and unique through its use of colors, shapes, fonts, and humor. How good are your proposals at making it into people’s brains? What do they associate with the logo? The only way to find out is to get some people in from outside the design process and play some logo games with them.
While you can and should ask some people to free associate what they see in your logo proposals, you can also easily set up easy little exercises to gauge how much your design stands out and how memorable it is. You can work with general slide presentation software such as PowerPoint or Google Slides to pit your logo proposals against each other or against those of your competitors.
There are a lot of suggestions for logo survey questions from the likes of Playbook UX, SurveyMonkey, and SurveyMonkey Alternatives. You can boost the reach of your testing with specifically built logo test tools such as those from qualtrics or Splendid Research.
Once you have gathered the feedback, you have to analyze it and decide how far to roll back the design process. Will a tweak be enough or will you have to go back to brainstorming? You will have to decide that for yourself.
Designing a logo can be a long, involved process. It should not be done in isolation. Your logo should also be part of a broader reflection on your brand identity. It should obey a graphic charter that is adhered to across your organization.
When in doubt, keep it as simple as possible. The technical and artistic intricacies of getting a design to work across channels, devices, and far into the future warrant eventually hiring a good graphic designer. However, as you are taking your first steps as a business or as a writer, it can be useful to get something adequate out there fast by using a free logo maker.