In today’s global market, an unprecedented number of companies are competing against each other for customers. There are two ways in which a company can set itself apart from its competitors though. One is by the means of the line of business it engages in, and the other is through the identity it espouses.
Corporate identity is expressed by means of branding. A brand is a representation of what a company stands for, and the values it upholds. Its principal goal is to produce an image of the company in the mind of the consumer.
A logo is simply the visual shorthand for a particular brand. Logos are primarily used to distinguish a company’s products and services on the market from those of their competitors. This makes them one of the most important elements of a company’s visual identity.
In the rest of this article, we will explore the relationship between brands and logos in more detail. We will also provide a number of tips on how to design a strong company logo.
Phase One: Define Your Brand
Before getting started with any design work, you must first be clear on what you are trying to represent, namely the brand itself. As we have mentioned, a brand is a means by which a company tells its consumers what it is all about.
Different companies like to stress different things about themselves. Some focus on how their products differ from those of their competitors – they are cheaper, more durable, have more features, etc. Others like to point out that they are making a positive impact on the world at large – they use only organic materials, recycle their waste, etc. Finally, some companies focus on customer service – they give no-questions-asked refunds, offer lifetime warranties, etc.
Each brand represents a combination of ideas, values, and attitudes such as these. Take Starbucks for example. In the company’s mission statement and profile, you can find that Starbucks coffee is “grown under the highest standards of quality, using ethical sourcing practices.”, that Starbucks stores are “a neighborhood gathering place for meeting friends and family”, and other similar statements.
Once you have settled on which ideas constitute your brand, you can move on to the next step in the process of designing a logo – matching ideas to visuals.
Phase Two: Find Visual Elements That Match the Brand
Representing ideas by means of visual symbols can be traced back to the earliest parts of human prehistory. Cave paintings are an excellent example of the depiction of the lives of these people presented in the form of symbols such as animals and plants, the stars, fire, fellow tribesmen etc.
While different in terms of design, a logo functions in a pretty much identical way. It gives certain ideas a corporeal presence, creating an association between the two in the minds of people. However, there is one key difference between the early modes of symbolic representation and contemporary logo design. It lies in the fact that both the ideas getting represented, and the representations themselves, are chosen freely. The wealth of symbols and ideas at our disposal gives us ample material to mix and match, until we find just the right combination for what we are trying to say.
The evolution of AT&T’s logo is a great example of how the same set of ideas can be represented with different visuals. At the start, the bell used to cleverly represent both the noise the telephone produces, as well as the last name of its inventor, giving a clear indication that the company was about long distance communication. Later on, the bell slowly transformed into a globe, showcasing the changing nature of communication.
Phase Three: Create the Logo
Once you are set on how to express each element of your brand with an adequate visual representation, it is time to combine them into a unified whole; the logo itself. This is the part where your creativity as a designer has a chance to shine.
Logos usually fall into one of three types: the ideograph, the pictograph, and the logotype. Ideographic logos consist mainly of abstract shapes, and are best exemplified by the Nike swoosh. Pictographic logos are pictures reduced to their essential features. A good example would be Twitter and its iconic chirping bird. Finally, logotypes are logos created out of stylized text, for example the Coca-Cola logo.
These types are usually combined in accordance with a specific theme or tone. Vintage logos, like the one for Johnny Walker whiskey, often combine recognizable names in serif typefaces with images that evoke a sense of the good old times. Modern logos on the other hand go for a more minimalist design, combining abstract shapes with bold logotypes, for example MasterCard.
The key takeaway here is consistency. All elements of a logo should fit together to form an organic whole. Otherwise, a logo might end up meaning different things to different people, which is counterproductive in terms of branding.
Branding and logo design are complementary elements of a broader public relations strategy that companies employ to reach out to consumers. As such, they should always be tackled in tandem, as this guarantees that the end result will be an accurate representation of what a company stands for.
Michael Deane is a marketing executive for Printroom, and loves to find new ways to incorporate a company’s branding into different products. He also writes about the latest developments in marketing, and his greatest passion – content marketing.