What Makes a Logo Great?

I am something of a logo design and typography geek. I have been known to message companies on social media to tell them how much I enjoy their new logo redesigns, among other things. A great logo design pleases me.

I had a professor in college that used to say that if a logo didn’t work in black and white, before adding whatever colors you planned to add, it simply didn’t work. At the time I didn’t fully grasp that, but now I do. I always start in black and white.

There are some other things that I feel make a logo design great.

A Great Logo Communicates Accurately About the Company or Organization

This doesn’t mean it has a bunch of words in it. If a logo is truly great, it doesn’t need many words at all. Nike has no words in it, and yet it conveys the soul of the company quite well.

A great logo also doesn’t need to communicate in a literal way. Again, Nike is a great example of this. There are no shoes in the logo. There’s just a swoosh. But that swoosh conveys emotion, activity, and the essence of the Nike brand.

A Great Logo is Designed with Your Customers in Mind

For a logo to really work well, the designer has to put in a bit of research time. She doesn’t just draw a picture. She researches the niche a company is in, and figures out what will and will not communicate to your customers.

In other words, a Logo, to be great, isn’t just something the business owner likes and thinks is pretty. A Logo needs to be something the target audience responds positively to.

About ten years ago now, I  was asked to create a website and brochures for a small company that was going to edit and publish fan fiction ebooks. The idea was interesting, and since Amazon hadn’t yet cornered the market in this department, I thought it had a great deal of potential. The problem was the logo.

The problem was the logo. Ugh. 

They insisted I use their logo that they paid to have designed for them. In fact, they had sketched it out, and the logo design company did exactly what they asked. The company was publishing sci-fi fan fiction, but the logo was a pile of burning books. Now, the owners loved this logo very much, and couldn’t see why this was a problem. It killed their business before they start it. When they went to a sci fi convention to pass out business cards and brochures, people thought they were with a religious group promoting censorship based on the logo, and inspite of everything else in the brochure and on the website.

Make sure to know your audience well enough to be able to predict if a logo will have negative connotations in their minds at first glance.

A Great Logo Looks Good on All Platforms and Media

Just because a logo looks good on your computer screen, in isolation, does not mean it’s great.

What does the logo look like on the web? What does it look like as a profile picture on social media? What does it look like printed out on your home printer? Does it still look good on a small business card? Are you using it for pricing labels?

A Great Logo is Usually Simple

What Makes a Logo Great?

I think the exception to this is the original Juicy Couture logo. I’m not really a fan of their clothing, but the logo always makes me swoon. It’s a vintage style crest, flanked by two Scotty dogs (where normally you would see lions or dragons).  It works so well in all of these areas mentioned, that the fact that it is somewhat complex is irrelevant.

I have had clients ask me for some very complex things as far as logo design goes. If a client has a very specific idea in mind and is insistent on it, I don’t usually balk unless it is absolutely not going to work. However, simpler is usually better.