Logo Anatomy: What makes a good logo?
Like art, we all know a good logo when we see it. But there has to be a systematic way to evaluate one design over another. At Pennebaker, we hold these to be the key features of a successful logo.
The logo must carry the right emotional tone. It must be aligned with the product or industry.
Your logo must be memorable. And this is where things get tricky. To achieve memorability, the mark must be both simple and unique – not always an easy combo.
Your logo will be used in many different ways, so it must pass many tests: Does it look good in one color? In black and white? Does it easily scale up, for a banner or signage display? And down, to a business card?
Forward-Thinking: Avoiding mistakes in logo design
This is where experience comes into play. We’ve been around the logo block and learned a lot along the way. Here are some pitfalls that we know lead to regrets and uh-oh’s. And a potentially expensive do-over.
Just as in fashion, it’s tempting to favor trends in graphic design. But a logo du jour will quickly become obsolete. Stick to classics.
Relying on color for effect.
For the majority of applications, your logo will probably appear in color. Color printing is very affordable these days, and – this is very cool – there’s no extra charge for color on the web. But what happens when you want to etch the logo in glass? Or use it as a stamp? The shape itself must be distinctive enough to allow a one-color application to stand alone.
The more elements in your logo, the harder it will be to scale down to a small size. Rule of thumb? As long as it looks decent on a golf ball, your logo passes the simplicity test.
Even the simplest and most classic-looking photograph is not practical for a logo. It makes the logo difficult, if not impossible, to scale – or to reverse out of dark colors, or to emboss. If you must have a photo, look for ways to use it as a conceptual reference.
Your Name Precedes You: Finding the Right Logo Type
Before the design process starts, it’s a good idea to look at the various categories of logos and decide which option is a good fit for you. Here are some of your choices, along with some rationale, and examples by Pennebaker and others.
(think Coca-Cola, Disney)
With this type of logo, the name itself is stylized. A wordmark works well when a name itself is recognizable or distinctive. It is useful in retail to solidify name recognition and help users quickly recognize a store at the mall or a product on the shelf.
With wordmarks, legibility is important – but it must be balanced with custom treatment to achieve that unique, memorable quality. Warning: Wordmarks do not work well with long names. How long is long? Pennebaker, with 10 letters, is probably pushing the limit, but we do that all the time.
Pennebaker examples: Voltron, Symbio, and Vertist
(think Volkswagen, Dairy Queen)
In lettermark logos, the initial letter(s) are stylized. When to use it? When your name is too long for a wordmark. And when there’s no tangible image to be illustrated with a symbol.
Pennebaker examples: OPI International, Douglas Green & Associates, and Dickenson, Peatman & Fogarty, PLC
Symbol aka Bug, aka Icon
(think Apple, McDonalds)
In logo world, this is a simple, illustrated representation of your product or service. Symbols are best used when your name is too long for a wordmark – or when you need a small, self-contained icon to be used in your marketing.
Pennebaker examples: Texas Star Resources, Houston Public Media, and Neartown Properties
Combination of bug + name
(think Toyota, John Deere)
For those of us who, when we come to a crossroads, take it (Thanks, Yogi).
Pennebaker examples: Bristow, Griffin, and Modia
These logos use a symbol and name together, stylized to look like badge or a seal. An emblem works well in product packaging. The look of a seal denotes importance, so we see it used in government entities, like NSA.
Pennebaker examples: Elegant Edibles, Pitts & Spits, and Time Travelers
Road Map to Successful Logos
Audit of other logos in your space
Write a creative brief to define desired tone and style
Internal competition: Sketches / black & white by our design team
Internal critiques and refinement leading to first presentation
Presentation of black and white options to client
Revisions per client feedback
Show me, you say? We’re so glad you asked!
Here are some examples of our favorite logos, brought about by the process detailed above.See More Logos