Why you should embrace every step of your creative journey?
Those seemingly ‘wrong directions’ taken on your career path can contribute more than you might think.
My Dad would take my family on long drives when I was little. Sat in the back, onwards towards our destination, I’d stare out the window at the rolling scenery, stuck in a deep daydream of endlessly fantastical ideas.
As a child, I was never really interested in completing anything, and I think that’s why it felt so easy to come with up ideas. In my early twenties, I was always focused on the end destination and not the journey. I wanted to draw for a living but lacked the finances and resources, and I didn’t start my career as an illustrator until years after university.
In order to keep a roof over my head, I worked full-time in a bookshop for about seven years. The whole time I was there, I felt as if all my constructive and creative time was evaporating. I lived in a perpetual cycle of wishing I was somewhere else, doing something else. That something else was, of course, drawing.
Now, in my mid-thirties, my job is to draw educational books for children, and in hindsight, working in the bookshop was one of the best things to have ever happened to me. What better way to find an audience? What better way to learn all about the books lining the shelves? And even more so – to learn about books that hadn’t yet been created? Through interacting with people and listening to their needs and wants, I had an insight into gaps in the market. This helped me find a purpose and, more importantly, something I could lend my visual abilities to.
In 2009, I was frustrated with the range of solar system posters and children’s books about space – they all looked the same. Most were designed with stock art, overly complicated text and cold, robotic design. Unlike fiction books for kids, the non-fiction books were produced only to serve a purpose, rather than to be treasured, adored and loved.
This frustration led me to contact my publisher, Nobrow, about creating a fully illustrated book about space. I then asked my old friend and physicist, Dr Dominic Walliman, to write it; resurrected a character from an old, failed logo design job back in 2007; and Professor Astro Cat was born. Over the last six years, this series has become my dream job. It’s a job about making educational books (and apps) for children, with love.
As long as you are determined to get to the destination, there are no wrong directions, just different paths. I took the scenic route, and I would encourage you not to panic if you end up doing the same. There are no wrong directions, just different paths.
Logo design is all around us. To the general public, logos serve as an instant reminder of a company or a product; to the client they’re the point of recognition on which their branding hangs; and to us designers they represent the challenge of incorporating our clients’ ideologies into one single graphic.
No wonder, then, that logo design features so prominently in our lives. In an age where everyone must have a website to support their product, service or the company behind it, the demand for a top-class logo has never been higher.
More logo designs are out there than ever before, and with that comes the challenge of being different. How do you create something original that stands out in a sea of identities? And how do we create something quickly while retaining quality?
In this article, we’ll first look at the basic principles of designing a logo and share some pro tips for finessing your process…
Before you start
01. Online design sites
Inspiration can come from anything, anywhere. The obvious resources are sites like Logo Gala and Logo Moose, but if you’re a full-time logo designer you’ll probably be familiar with them already. Widen your research to include other graphic design sites, and art and design sites in general, like Dribbble or Deviant Art. Explore further down the results pages to visit sites you haven’t seen before and also narrow your search to put the spotlight on logos in the same industry or belonging to companies of similar size, aspirations and values.
02. Learn logo 101
An effective logo is distinctive, appropriate, practical, graphic, simple in form and conveys an intended message. In its simplest form, a logo is there to identify but to do this effectively it must follow the basic principles of logo design:
A logo must be simple. A simple logo allows for easy recognition and allows the logo to be versatile and memorable. Effective logos feature something unexpected or unique without being overdrawn.
A logo must be memorable. Following closely behind the principle of simplicity is that of memorability. An effective logo should be memorable and this is achieved by having a simple yet appropriate logo.
A logo must be enduring. An effective logo should endure the test of time. The logo should be ‘future proof’, meaning that it should still be effective in 10, 20, 50+ years time.
A logo must be versatile. An effective logo should be able to work across a variety of mediums and applications.
A logo must be appropriate. How you position the logo should be appropriate for its intended purpose. For a more detailed explanation see: What makes a good logo?
03. Establish your own design process
Every designer has his or her own process, and it is rarely linear, but in general this is how the branding process is completed, which can be used as a guide to establish your own.
Design brief. Conduct a questionnaire or interview with the client to get the design brief.
Research. Conduct research focused on the industry itself, its history, and its competitors.
Reference. Conduct research into logo designs that have been successful and current styles and trends that are related to the design brief.
Sketching and conceptualising. Develop the logo concepts around the brief and research.
Reflection. Take breaks throughout the design process. This allows your ideas to mature and lets you get renewed enthusiasm. Receive feedback.
Presentation. Choose to present only a select few logos to the client or a whole collection. Get feedback and repeat until completed.
04. Price your work accordingly
“How much?” is the single most frequently asked question and it cannot be easily answered because every company has different needs and expectations. You have to take a number of factors into consideration when designing a logo/brand identity, such as how many concepts need to be presented, how many revisions will be needed, how much research is required, how big the business is and so on.
The best approach is to draw up a customised quote for each client and to do this you should learn how to price your designs, which is another topic in itself.
Jeff Fisher, a notable designer and author, had this great point in his article How Much Should I Charge: “The major point I wish to convey here is that all designers need to work smarter in independently determining what their talent, skill and expertise are worth and charge the client accordingly without question or apology. Being smart in determining what you should charge for your work will hopefully allow you to ‘work less, charge more’ in the future.”
05. Learn from others
By knowing what other brands have succeeded in and why they have succeeded gives you great insight and you can apply that attained knowledge to your own work.
For example, let’s look at the classic Nike Swoosh (above). This logo was created by Caroline Davidson in 1971 and it’s a great example of a strong, memorable logo, being effective without colour and easily scalable.
Not only is it simple, fluid and fast but it also has related symbolism; it represents the wing in the famous statue of the Greek Goddess of Victory, Nike, which is a perfect figure for a sporting apparel business. Nike is just one of many great logos, but think about other famous brands that you know and check out their logos – what makes them successful?
For more quality logos, check out Logo Of The Day or go to your local library/book store and check out some branding books. Also be sure to check out some of these logo design process case studies.
06. Avoid the clichés
Light bulbs for ‘ideas’, speech bubbles for ‘discussion’, globes for ‘international’, etc. These ideas are often the first things to pop into one’s head when brainstorming, and for the same reason should be the first ideas discarded. How is your design going to be unique when so many other logos feature the same idea? Stay clear of these visual clichés and come up with an original idea and design.
With this said, please do not steal, copy or ‘borrow’ other designs. Although, this shouldn’t have to be said, it happens too often. A designer sees an idea that he likes, does a quick mirror, colour swap or word change, and then calls the idea his own. Not only is this unethical, illegal and downright stupid but you’re also going to get caught sooner or later. Do not use stock or clip art either — the point of a logo is to be unique and original.
07. Research your audience
Creating a logo isn’t just about creating a pretty visual. What you’re doing, or taking part in, is developing a brand and communicating a position. It makes sense, then, that the first step in creating a logo should be to research these concepts.
Involving the client at this early stage is advised, as your interpretation of their brand may be different from theirs, and it’s essential that the message is clear before any actual designing takes place.
08. Immerse yourself in the brand
Before even beginning to sketch out ideas for a logo, spend some time compiling the equivalent of an M15 dossier on your client’s brand: who they are, what they do and what their demographic is.
Look at previous iterations of their logo and ask yourself what doesn’t represent the brand on these. Then compile a ‘dos and don’ts’ checklist before your creative work starts.
“Check out all the various logos your client has employed since their company was founded,” advises Martin Christie of Logo Design London. “This can be particularly interesting if they go back for many decades. You may be able to hark back to the past, if they would like to position themselves as a heritage brand, or you might be able to radically overhaul their original logo into something fresh and futuristic. This has the advantage of built-in continuity even as you present a new image.”
09. Keep all your sketches
“It’s probably a fair guess that for every logo you design you probably come up with a couple of dozen sketches before you decide which one to develop further,” adds Martin Christie. “Never throw away these early ideas; they form a valuable resource.
“Just because one of your early sketches didn’t work for another client, it doesn’t mean it won’t work at all. Go back through what you’ve done and you may find the seed that, with a bit of nurturing, could grow to become the logo you’re looking for.
10. Do your online research
Two great starting points for online research are Logo Moose and Logo Gala. One thing to be mindful of is knowing when to stop your research. It’s best to look at what did and didn’t work out of 10 relevant logo designs than swamp yourself with 50 extraneous ones.
If you’re struggling for ideas, try looking up key words in a dictionary or thesaurus or searching Google images for inspiration. If you keep a sketch book then look at previous drawings – you’re bound to have unused ideas from previous projects, so you may already be sitting on the perfect solution.
11. Fight the temptation to imitate
We all have our design heroes and sometimes we love them so much we want to imitate their styles. Well, they do say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. However, in the real world it’s just a lazy way to solve a creative problem.
Ask yourself whether the style you’re using is appropriate for the client’s needs. Do they really want a logo that has the same typeface Saul Bass used for Quaker Oats in the ’70s?
12. Don’t let clients dictate
Point 2 does not equate to doing what the client tells you. Look through the brief from your client and begin to ask questions about any vagueness or lazy brief writing you might find there. ‘The logo should be iconic’ and ‘The logo should be memorable’ are two extremely clichéd phrases you need to pull your client up about.
A man kicking a chicken dressed as Father Christmas is memorable but for the wrong reasons. So, as with all commissioned design work, you need to manage your client’s expectations, set realistic goals and find out what exactly your work needs to convey. Logo designs become iconic and memorable: they’re not created that way.
13. Mind mapping and mood boards
These sorts of tools can help you straighten out your thoughts and mix up different images and ideas. Play with keywords and synonyms and gather a multitude of inspirations from different sources onto a single mood board to see how they combine.
14. Create a board and rip it up
You could research logo designs all day as there are books and websites by the score containing examples of them. Only make mood boards out of ones that share similar values. Look at your mood board and analyse what isn’t successful about these logos. Then rip those boards up and use these rules as a guide for your own unique creation.
Ever notice that the best designs tend to have beautiful colors? That’s no accident. Choosing a great color palette is one of the keys to a great design.
Now before you cringe at the thought of choosing your own colors, you don’t have to. Using a site like ColourLovers will give you access to millions of beautiful color palettes. Just find a hex code you like, and use it in your design.
Here are some great resources for finding color palettes:
2. Don’t get carried away with fonts
Ideally, you want to limit yourself to 1 or 2 fonts. This keeps you from having to worry about tons of combinations. If you’re going to use multiple fonts, use one for the header and another for the body.
3. Have a “Swipe File”
This term comes from the copywriting world, but it’s equally applicable here. A “Swipe File” refers to instances of good copy that copywriters see. In our case, it’ll mean instances of good design that you see.
Take those examples, store them somewhere (your computer, dropbox, etc.) and then bring them back when the time’s right. Provided you don’t rip off someone else in their entirety, there’s no shame in borrowing a little design brilliance.
4. Don’t be afraid to blank out
No, not blank out in the sense of spacing out. Rather, don’t be afraid to leave blank, white space in your design. Sometimes, as they say, less really is more.
Often designs get so cluttered that some white space with nothing occupying it will actually enhance the design. This may call for a bit of a mental adjustment on your part. But with the right change, you can use this simple concept to jump past seemingly “expert” designers.
If you want a lesson in how to utilize white space, look at any marketing image created by Apple.
5. Align your objects
This helps to keep design elements in a presentable order, regardless of their differing sizes. Proper alignment is an easy way to give your images a sophisticated and professional look.
When dragging items in Snappa, grid lines will automatically appear making it super easy to line up objects.
6. Use icons to support your message
Icons are like black pepper. They can be sprinkled on top of whatever design you’re cooking up. And the icons will add extra spice to your design, ensuring that it “tastes” great.
We use icons quite extensively to reinforce the content of our blog posts. And if you want to learn from the masters, check out the Helpdesk blog for some more inspiration.
7. Follow your own design rules
Rules, what rules? The ones you set for yourself.
These probably won’t be specific rules. But rather cases across your design where you use a particular set of colors, lines, textures, etc. If you’re set on that choice, don’t turn around and do something contrary to it. Stay consistent with your “design rules”, to ensure consistency in your image overall.
8. Rinse and repeat
If you’re working with multiple designs across an ad campaign, website, or other project – it may be easiest for you to just rinse and repeat. That is, copy your design and then just swap out the elements you need changed. That ensures the format is the same, even as you change the content.
9. Use font variants
You can add plenty of variety, while still keeping things feeling consistent. The key is to use text from a single font “family”.
An example of a font “family” would be Arial which has the basic Arial font, along with variants like Arial Black, Arial Narrow, and Arial Rounded MT Bold. These fonts all look different. Yet there is enough of a common thread between them that it will give a sense of consistency when used together in designs.
10. Take full advantage of contrasts
Using contrasts helps to add “attitude” to your design, as well as make certain elements stand out. There are plenty of ways to generate contrasts too. You could use contrasting colors, fonts, or even contrast amounts of space between items in your design.
Think about it in a real world context too and you’ll see why this makes sense. A seven foot tall person (wrestler Andre the Giant, for example, or basketball player Yao Ming) get attention because they contrast with the general population. The same holds for contrasting elements in your design.
If you want to identify which colors contrast, use a color wheel like Adobe Color.
11. Use a line (or two) to create a sense of order
Lines help to anchor items in an image and create the sense that there is an overall order. Use lines in your image by putting them around blocks of text – there by anchoring the text.
You can also put lines as “separators” between various elements in the image. In this latter case, the sense of elements being separated furthers the feeling of planning and coordination in the design.
12. Plan your design
We put this tip mid-way through the list of tips to mirror where planning usually falls in most people’s graphic design process.
Rather than having planning as the first essential step, the average non-designer only begins to think seriously about their plans for a design AFTER they’re well into the design process.
The planning stage doesn’t need to be long. In fact, it can just be a minute or two. But if you know what you want to accomplish before you start designing, you’ll get things done much quicker.
13. Add text over images by adjusting brightness levels
When your design involves putting text over images, adjust the brightness level of the background image or add a color overlay. This way the background image will offset the color of the text, causing the text to be readable and the design to still look clean and clear.
14. Carefully structure your body copy
Whenever you have a body of text (i.e. paragraphs), each line should have no more than approximately 30-40 characters. That includes spaces too, so choose carefully.
If you exceed this approximate length, you run the risk of sentences becoming hard for readers to get through. And any shorter, and your lines of text begin to resemble Tetris pieces, falling carelessly in an erratic stream.
15. Think about who you’re designing for
Unless this is purely for your own personal enjoyment, you’re probably designing for a specific audience. Never forget that “who” that you’re designing for. This ensures you create something that the intended audience for your design actually wants to see and something they’ll react favorably to.
Context matters here. A dark, dingy, even creepy looking design – for example – wouldn’t be the sort of thing that you’d want to have on a website for an upscale, expensive product. The same would be true for example, with a design that feels too “childish” (in its light colors, use of squiggly lines, cartoons, etc.) for a mature adult audience.
16. Let form follow function
As much as you’ve heard it said, it’s still undeniably true – form follows function. So make sure you know the function of your design. Knowing that you’ll be able to more easily come to a form that works. You’ll have a better sense of what belongs in the design and what doesn’t.
A splash page, for example, that’s designed to only collect emails in the run-up to a launch probably doesn’t need a carousel with images. When we had our initial sign-up period – we didn’t use items that complicated our initial website. Rather, we tailored the form of the site to its function – which was getting people’s emails.
This comes down to also knowing the “why” of your design. And thinking carefully as well.
17. Keep it simple
Have you ever seen a movie – superhero movies and scifi epics come to mind – that has too many special effects. Too many explosions, speeding spaceships, giant robots, and so on. Eventually the special effects just blur together and mute out most of what’s going on elsewhere in the movie. (We’re looking at you, Transformers.)
It’s the same with your design. If you overdo it with too many special effects like shadows and tint gradients, you’ll quickly move toward a bloated and aesthetically muted image.
You can still use some design “special effects”. But sprinkle them by the handful onto your design, as you might with a bit of balsamic vinegar on a salad. Too much balsamic and it negates the salad. And too many special effects and it negates the rest of your design.
In the visual age of the Internet it’s relatively easy to create your own graphic designs, but they don’t have to look homemade.
Whether you’re designing a logo, an event announcement, a social network banner, a letterhead, or an email newsletter; you absolutely need to know five basic principles of graphic design. Graphic designer and best selling author Robin Williams explains these principles in her classic book, The Non-Designer’s Design Book.
Today we will be providing an overview of these principles using a few contemporary examples.
Proximity means grouping elements together so that you guide the viewer/reader to different parts of the message. Notice below in the template on the left, taken from Apple’s Pages, related elements are grouped together, as opposed to the linear arrangement of amateur designs as shown on the right.
Though at first the elements may appear scattered, their proximity adds unity and continuity to the page. Even if you intend on sticking to templates, it still helps to know design principles for the purposes of customizing an existing design.
Another important design principle is aligning elements in a visual and readable arrangement. Most amateur designers start off by aligning everything in the center of the page, but that’s not the only way. Again with the “scattered” looking design, we can see the alignment of elements that helps keep the design balanced. The top group of text is left-aligned, and three larger text elements are vertically aligned.
It’s important to be consistent in the alignment of elements. When you look at the design and something doesn’t feel right, play around with the alignment and see if the design can be improved.
Like the use of repetitious hooks in a song, repeating elements in a graphic design can be visually appealing. In the two examples below, a numbered list is used, but there’s also the repetition of the blue circles that make a bolder statement.
In the layout on the right, the image of the sandwiched is cropped and masked in repeating squares, as well as the use of repeated red strokes above the word “PANE.” Repetition puts emphasis on particular elements of a design, and it draws the reader’s attention to those elements.
Contrast between design elements can make a presentation stand out and get noticed. Take for example this original template from the personal graphic design site. The elements of the design are grouped together, with strong alignment and repetition of of the arrows and bullet points. But for some purposes, the original design could be a little flat.
Depending on the presentation, the use of white space can be very powerful in design. It’s useful when you want to make a direct message, to stand out above the clutter found in many graphic designs. In this BYZION business card template, the empty space helps bring clarity to the message.
A card reader first sees the graphic element, then the owner’s name, followed by the contact information. Elements on the card are balanced and uncluttered.
The same goes for this the coversheet of this Pages project proposal template. The white space provides room for the clean font style of the title, the graphic elements, and the grouped text. Don’t be afraid of leaving white space in your design. As Robin Williams points out, white space can also be a form of contrast.