What should I use in my logo?
August 12, 2005 7:23 AM   Subscribe

Problems encountered in designing a logo...

I've been charged with producing a new logo for my company. My remit is vague: has to suggest an association of universities, unity, ideas, learning.

My problem is that I can't think of anything to represent these things other than the horrible cliches of mortarboards, lightbulbs, handshakes etc. I'm just drawing a blank. I feel hamstrung from the start - I want a really good concept to underlie this design, but I just can't get past these images.

If anyone could offer general advice on what a good logo should look like, that would also be a massive help.

Many thanks.
posted by godawful to Media & Arts (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
There are a couple of good logo generators online. The best I've seen is LogoYes, which does charge $99 for the completed logo, but, if you can afford that, it might be worth it.

As for ideas, I'd suggest maybe a profile of a human head with something suggesting the brain. That sounds to me a bit less common than the cliches you mentioned.
posted by cerebus19 at 7:35 AM on August 12, 2005

There's a reason design firms are paid very well for this sort of thing. LogoYes is pretty terrible, but I guess you could use it if your company isn't too concerned about the image it projects.

One thing you could do to draw inspiration is look up similar companies on Brands of the World and see how they've handled it. I wish I could give you more specific advice, but a good designer is going to need to know all aspects of your business before sketching out ideas. I do appreciate your reluctance to use lightbulbs and mortarboards, though: at the very least your judgment is good.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 8:22 AM on August 12, 2005

IANAD(esigner), but I went through the process of designing a logo a few years ago with a very talented group of designers. They devised a chart as follows:

The y axis was the various audiences the logo was intended to appeal to, like parents, doctors, researchers, etc., and the x axis was a list of adjectives and phrases that described the program, like "supportive," "community network," and "research-based." They then checked off which phrases appealed to which audiences. When they were finished, we had a visual representation of the shared values of all the audiences we were targeting with the program. For example, from the chart, we saw that everyone cared that the program was supportive to families, but not everyone cared about whether it was informed by the latest research.

They then came up with a list of these shared attributes and brainstormed around them. I guess it depends how your brain works--if words might inspire your illustration--but I thought it was a very effective way of going about it. I hope I've described it clearly. If not feel, free to e-mail me.
posted by Sully6 at 8:36 AM on August 12, 2005


A good logo should "look like" something that represents the spirit of your company/product. This should be apparent without even seeing the name of your company/product.

Sully is on the right track. If you're thinking about topical images such as light bulbs and mortarboards, you're not going deep enough into the thought process behind a good logo.

As a start, what's the reason behind the association you speak of? What are some defining characteristics of this association? What audience are you playing to?

I always remember an excercise my illustration teacher made us do where we'd take a huge sheet of paper and divide it into 100 tiny thumbnail squares. We then had to illustrate the same concept differently in each of those 100 squares and we had 15 seconds to spend on each thumbnail. Anything, no matter how silly gets drawn in that sqare. After you've shed those mortarboards and handshakes in the first few sqaures, some surprising concepts might come to the surface that make sense. Then revise, revise, and revise.

Come back to this again the next day and repeat. If you haven't filled a wall or pad with sketches, you're probably not sketching enough.

I'd say a good logo is about 20% actual execution and 80% thought behind the concept. Thats why a $50 logos-R-us.com may look sharp with it's swooshes and properly kerned type, but it rarely captures the spirit of a company.

Now get sketchin!
posted by FearTormento at 9:07 AM on August 12, 2005

Thanks guys. At least I realise now that this should be a hard task, and that I'm not the only for whom this might be a week-long exercise.

I shall be graphing and sketching tonight.
posted by godawful at 9:14 AM on August 12, 2005

If the only symbols you can come up with end up feeling like clichés, then they probably are and should moste likely be avoided.

If a symbol isn't mandatory, perhaps consider a wordmark without an icon -- choosing and implementing just the right typeface may be all you need to encompass all the themes that are required.
posted by Robot Johnny at 9:41 AM on August 12, 2005

I second the recommendation to avoid cliché entirely by exploring a wordmark. Take the time to find a typeface that expresses the vision of the client. For an educational institution this will most likely be a sans serif. Explore enhancements by creating a ligature or some other moment of surprise within the wordmark - but quiet elegance is key. Wordmarks are unfettered by style and will have more longevity than a clichéd mark. Make sure the client understands this when you present the solution.
posted by quadog at 12:02 PM on August 12, 2005

Draw out all your ideas, even if they're cliches. Exhaust your cliches. Seriously, draw out logos of lightbulbs wearing mortarboards and shaking each others anthropomorphic little hands. Take it to the logical extreme. When you have them all sitting out in front of you on paper, the specific shortcomings of each cliche might become clear, and might lead you in a more creative direction.
posted by 4easypayments at 1:27 PM on August 12, 2005

What FearTormento said: go wide conceptually first. I am not a designer, but I work with many. The graphic design company I work for doesn't necessarily fill a wall with sketches, but we follow that go-wide principle and it tends to work out well.
posted by weston at 5:39 PM on August 12, 2005

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