Like my OverusedÂ Fonts… post, I will add to this post over time too, evolving it into a comprehensive resource. There are a lot of potential problems that can detract from a logo, but here are some of the most common.
A small business’ logo (the first version at least)Â is usually driven by nothing more than simple necessity. This is understandable, as there’s always something in the neighborhood of about 4 million (give or take) other things any business owner needs to focus on at once. Of all the requirements ofÂ starting and running a successful company, the logo usuallyÂ isn’t going to make or break it. Additionally, expenses can be tight so it’sÂ not surprisingÂ that the crown jewel of your brand is often relegated to somethingÂ fast, cheap, and easy.
However, fast, cheap, and easy seldom produce anything that can be referred to as ‘original’ or even ‘good’. Inaugural logos tend to be encyclopedias of design cliches and shoddy craftsmanship. This wouldn’t be the end of the world if they were only brief placeholders, but the pressing demands of running a business never relentÂ and so companies tend to kick around that same tired first logoÂ for years.
Once aÂ company matures it’s important that theÂ brand reflect its status. A slapdash logo design should be an embarrassment to any self respecting entrepreneur. Now that you’re a successful titan of industry, it’s time to revisit that logo of yours. Here’s a list of common logo mistakes and how to fix them.
One of the primary tellsÂ of an amateur design isÂ an over-engineered one. The temptation to add just one final touchÂ (for the 5th time) can be compelling when you’re designing from the seat of your pants, but trying to squeeze in too many elements, ideas, and effects weighÂ the logo down. Excess distractions create visual noise that rob it of clarity, dilute the brand message, and diminish its impact.
Regardless of style, a logo’s core message and the company name have to be immediately clear. Since a logo is often only glimpsed for a moment (on the side of a vehicle or out the window of a car for instance) visual expediency is critical. The eye needs to be able to consume it almost instantaneously. Even if it’s detailed, has layers of visual information, or even a hidden message, the logo as a whole has to have a cohesive simplicity.
Over-design oftenÂ results from a lack of proper scope, which incursÂ an aimless creative process that has no idea of not only where it needs to go, but when it shouldÂ stop. It’s also a consequence of creative immaturity, and a lack of confidence in the genuine power of simple but effective design principles. The tendencyÂ to double down on embellishments is a common overcompensation.
How to Fix It
Take a step back to reconsider your brand and its message. Remember, even though your logo is the keystone of your visual identity, it’s still just one piece of yourÂ overall brand. It doesn’t need to tell the whole storyÂ all on its own. It just needsÂ to convey the name and attitude of the brand, and if possible be clever enough to stick in your audience’s mind.
Find a good creative brief and walk your brand through it if need be. Focus on letting the logo reflect the overall feeling of your brand or product. If it can cleverly suggest what makes it unique that’s importantÂ as well, but at the very least itÂ just needs to feel at home within your brand.
Look for ways to eliminate or consolidate superfluous elements, stripping away anythingÂ that doesn’tÂ contribute to the clarity of the message. A logo shouldÂ be visually inventive, but if it’s a choice between simple and functional vs. over-complicated, clarity beats volume every time.
Conflicting or Redundant Subjects
Another type of over-designÂ isÂ using two or more distinct elements to convey either the same message, or entirely different ones.Â It’s a waste of the viewer’s time to process the same message twice, and having two different concepts at work in the same logo just creates friction.
Either way, elements that don’t work together toward the same purpose result in a disruptive and confusing logo. Whether you just liked both concepts too much and couldn’t bring yourself to leave one out, or didn’t feel like just one was adequate, having two elements working independentÂ from one another is just bad form.
A fundamental of design theory is the journey of the viewer’s eyeÂ through a composition. The journey should be smooth and make sense. You don’t want to introduce visual or emotional friction into the equation.Â In the case of logo design this “journey”Â is condensed. The visual trekÂ occurs very quickly andÂ isÂ processed at anÂ unconscious level, with the effects of good/bad design resulting in either emotional resonance and appeal, or confusion and unease.
Two elements functioning independently of one anotherÂ represent conflict. Competing subjects contradict the unity of the whole. They create a discordant flow to the visual journey and contribute a sense of uncertainty. It’s like using two metaphors in writing, or having two similar colors that neitherÂ compliment or contrast one anotherÂ adequately. The resulting disharmony creates an undercurrent of psychological distress.
Placement also affects whether two elements feelÂ complimentary or competitive. Proximity is often an indicator of common purpose, whereas disparate elements, create an a-focal composition. Placement effects balance which contributes to harmony.
How to Fix It
Again, consider your brand, decide which element most effectively conveys your message and eliminateÂ the others. If multiple elements support a common theme but still look cluttered, find a way to better incorporate them or look for a simplerÂ way to conveyÂ the same idea.
Too Complex, Not Scale-able
Similar to but distinguished from over-design, a logo that’s just too densely detailed or features too many finite elements will be almost impossible to scale down to smaller sizes or use in more restrictive contexts like embroidery. This “Lapel Test”, whether or not a logo can be shrunk (say to the extent of being embroideredÂ on a polo shirt), is one of the many qualifiers of good logo design.
An overly complex logo can be the result of a lot of things. A logo that’s been hastily digitized or recreated from an existing drawing or sketch, can have residual graininess or visual artifacts. A lack of consideration for a logo’s various uses,Â contexts, and the need for flexibility are often to blame. It’s easy to lose sight of the range of potential applications a logo needs to lend itself to and end up creating something picturesque but inflexible.
While some logos do feature a lot of detail, a good oneÂ should always be able to be simplified to its core elements and be distinguishable atÂ smaller sizes. Any logo should be capable of producing a simplified one-color version.
How to Fix It
First determine whether it’s a case of visual density, over-design, digital artifacts or some combination of all three. (See above for over-design). If the logo is too dense the style and graphical elements will need to be simplified to improve clarity. Reduce or eliminate textures, background elements, and anything else that unnecessarily contributes clutter. Focus on what absolutely matters, make sure those elements are properly pronounced and prune away everything else.
In some cases, details may be unavoidable and an illustration or emblem, though well designed may still begin to muddle at very small sizes. In this case, if name and icon are separate components, consider only using the text of the logo at smaller sizes. Define this in a brand standards or visual identity guide.
At the end of the day you should have both “full” andÂ one-color versions of the logo at your disposal. It should transition seamlessly across all applications, mediums, and contexts.
Bad Letter Swaps
A favoriteÂ trope inÂ logo design is to substitute a letter in the name for a graphic that representsÂ the brand theme. Done correctly this can be quite effective (some good examples here – see Black Cat, Eight, and Twins). Doing itÂ incorrectly though willÂ break your logo. You’ll typically see more bad examples of this than good and it’s become a blight of small business logos.
The trickiest part of doing this correctly is not disrupting the continuity of the word you’re inserting the graphic into. As mentioned in my points onÂ conflicting and redundant subjects, harmonyÂ is important to design clarity so preserving it is essential. When trading a letter for an icon it’s absolutely critical that the balance between word and visual metaphorÂ is 50/50.
The icon is attempting to bridge the gap between the visual and phonetic without any loss in translation. To do this it must either bear such a close resemblance to the letter it’s standing in for that no legibility is sacrificed, or be such a recognizable epitome of the word itself that the meaning is still conveyed with perfect fidelityÂ even if the spelling is disrupted. In the first example the graphic and letter share the same functionality. In the latter, the forced associationÂ of the graphic isÂ actuallyÂ compensating for the character’sÂ absence.
Problems begin to occur if the graphic doesn’t fit in with the letters orÂ doesn’t do enough to compensate for its intrusion. Not properly filling the shoes of the letter it’s replacing, or having too much contrast in size or color can make it feel disconnected from the rest of the name, which will just look like it’s missing a letter. (Enlarging a letter too much, perhaps to span two words is another common problem and has the same disconnecting effect.)
How to Fix It
Make sure the icon you’re using adequately compensates for the letter it’sÂ substituting, either in shape or meaning.Â Don’t try to force a connection that isn’t there.
Remember that size, color, and proximity all affect cohesion and the relationship of the icon with the rest of the word. Adjust them as much as needed to make the icon feel seamlessly integrated with the otherÂ characters. They’re doing the same job, so the letter/icon should feel perfectly interchangeable.
Probably the most commonly overused design feature, the crescent swoosh is an all too popular fallback in the absence of brand definition or inspiration.
Design is populated with universal symbolism used to reinforce different messages. Circles and spheres can represent unity or a global presence, corners and hard lines can lend a sense of structure and establishment. Swoops and crescents likewise represent everything from the horizon to concepts like the future, harmony, flow, motion or vitality.
Because of its simplicity, convenientÂ subjectivity, and the natural appeal of curvature in design, the crescent, semi-circle, or swoosh are usedÂ as convenient but lazy symbolism. Â The all-purpose ambiguityÂ of the swoop make it a frequent placeholder for more meaningful imagery.
They’re most frequentlyÂ employed in situations where an understanding of brand meaning, purpose, or creativityÂ isÂ lacking.Â They’re often a result ofÂ inexperiencedÂ designersÂ usingÂ rudimentary design tools. The circle shape is a common feature of even basic creative software and can be easily combined to create the stereotypical crescent.
There’s nothing wrong with using simple shapes or abstract elements to evokeÂ universal meaning or emotions, but a logo still has to feel fresh and individual.Â Even basic forms need to be imbued with unique character and storytelling. Symbolism still needs to makeÂ a personal connection in order to feel truly powerful.
How to Fix It
Consider whether or not the simple shape you’re using hasÂ a true personal connection with the vision andÂ values of your brand. Make sure it isn’t just a placeholder, but has real significance and meaning. Make sure it suggests the unique story of your company. Find ways to instillÂ it with narrative & symbolic meaning and find ways to give it hints of individuality and flair.
Make it your own or avoid it entirely. Clarity is important but so is standing out from among the herd. If you’re going to be a cliche, then you really need to embrace and own the stereotype.
A logo is utilitarian. Its primary job is to convey the name of a company, or product, but equally important is how well it communicatesÂ the unique valuesÂ of your brand. Good logos are clever, perfectly marrying visual and conceptual elementsÂ so that the connection between both is enhanced and reinforcedÂ in a memorable way.
A wellÂ designed graphicÂ is important but if it doesn’tÂ capture the spirit and individuality of your company, it’s failing your brand. I’ve seen logos that are technically proficient but creatively vacant,Â lacking that cleverness and spark that would distinguish them from stock graphics.
A Google search for “great logos” offersÂ a series of examples of logos that brilliantly combine multiple elements and concepts into a single, memorable graphic. While functionality is key, memorability is an important function of a strong brand and logo. There’s no room for blandness.
How to Fix It
Make sure your logo is as unique and inspiring as your companyÂ and its values. DefineÂ your brand in two separate ways:Â conceptual and literal. Consider both its abstract and emotional qualitiesÂ as well as the tangible imagery associated with it. Come up with two specific ideas that represent it according to these distinct values. Then find a way to incorporate the two into a clever visual metaphor.
If a particular pairing doesn’t work or the association is too forced, try something else. As with a lot of these logo fixes, getting to the root of the problem involves some introspection. Take the time to define your brand, its core values, voice & tone, etc. As you do, ideas will come to mind on how to communicate its qualities visually.
Still Need Help?
Hopefully this helps with your logo and gives you some ideas of where to start when it comes to improving it. Is your logo guilty of any of these? If you still need help, I offer Branding, Logo Design and Consultation and can provide comprehensive web or brand audits to highlight issues and offerÂ solutions. Want to go over your logo or visual identity in person? Give me a shout.