Logo design: how it works and why it matters

Branding Logo Design

Logos are the visible tip of the marketing iceberg. While our marketing strategies, propositions and segmentations might remain hidden from view, the logo design proudly takes centre stage, ready to represent us and all that we stand for.

To see how ubiquitous the logo is in a modern capitalist society, just take a look at any High Street, car park, commercial television station, sports ground, or even your own wardrobe, cupboards or refrigerator.

Logos are, almost literally, everywhere – making it vital for every marketer and graphic design to understand why logos matter, how logos work, and how you make sure you get the right logo for your situation.

What is a logo?

Put simply, a logo is a combination of words and graphics which should be unique to your organisation, product or service. This simple concept can usually be broken down into one or more of four key elements:

(i) Typography

This describes the way you choose to lay out the words, letters and numbers in your logo, usually the company or product name. Typography includes the choice of font, spacing and alignment. In a logotype or wordmark, the typography plus colour palette might be the only elements involved.

(ii) Graphic

A pictoral or abstract graphic can move a logo beyond the simplicity of a wordmark. Well-known companies can eventually leave the graphic to stand alone – most of us could probably make the connection between the iconic apple graphic and the computer company it represents, or the elongated ‘swoosh’ and the global sportswear phenomenon it promotes. Less well-known brands can also benefit from graphic elements of course, either integrated with the brand name typography to aid recognition, or standing alone in certain space-restricted branding opportunities such as social media posts.

(iii) Colours

It’s easy to discount the choice of colour as a subjective preference, but decades of research into the psychology of colour choice suggests you do so at your peril. However ‘woke’ your own views on men wearing salmon pink, you might not want to rely on your market responding to it as a masculine or ‘power’ choice!

(iv) Strapline

This could be considered a slightly contentious inclusion here, since some marketers see the strapline a part of a logo, and some argue it is very much separate. To be fair it’s probably a bit of both, depending on whether the logo and strapline are created and used together, or are more often kept separate (indeed one logo can often outlast several changes of strapline). There’s a whole ‘nother article to be written on the art of the strapline, but for now it’s enough to recognise that you do have the choice of whether or not to integrate one into your logo design.

What is a logo for?

So these are the practical elements which make up a logo. But what exactly are we trying to achieve by pulling these elements together into our own logo

  1. First and foremost the logo is there to help people more easily identify something. Human beings are visual creatures, and logos are intended above all to capitalise on this by providing a simple visual device which people can easily remember, recognise and then relate to your business, organisation, product, service or even concept.
  2. If the primary aim is to identify what you have to sell, it follows that it should also help differentiate you from what others have to sell. Making sure it stands apart from competitors is therefore vital (unless you are using the dubious but increasingly common tactic of seeking advantage by association, such as where discount supermarket brands align their logos and wider branding as closely as possible to those of the market leading brands).
  3. It used to be said that you have only seconds to make a good first impression. Without wishing to alarm anyone, the latest cognitive studies suggest that you might actually have a lot less than that – perhaps even 1/10 of a second or less. When your logo is the first aspect of your branding that a customer encounters – perhaps on a business card or sponsorship hoarding for example – it has a clear role to play in creating that first impression and setting the right tone for your future relationship.
  4. A talking of sponsorship hoardings, a logo can also be invaluable when you are trying to create an association between a situation or moment and your brand. Sports sponsorship is a great example of this – you only need to look at the board behind any modern pre- or post-game sports interview to see how desperate sponsors are to place their logo in shot for just this purpose.
  5. Last, but definitely not least, the logo can play a role in communicating key information about your brand. I say can because this is by no means the case for every logo, and where it is done there are definite degrees of subtlety.
Fed Ex & Amazon Logos

Fedex’ embedded arrow, for example, makes a reasonably subtle association between the company and its commitment to rapid delivery. Less subtle – but equally celebrated – is Amazon’s logo, which manages to communicate at a glance a huge amount of information about how the company would like you to see it: a smile (happy customers); an arrow (quick delivery); and a line from A to Z (selling everything you might ever need or want).

But does my logo design really matter?

OK, so the logo has a lot of roles to play and clearly a logo of some kind is important.

But is getting exactly the right design really all that important?

Well, I would certainly concede that the logo design matters most in situations where the five factors listed above are most important. If you are operating in global markets, then a simple visual identifier can be vital in helping you overcome language barriers. If you’re in highly competitive consumer markets, then clear differentiation and communication of brand values could help provide the edge you need. Similarly your logo will be vital if you’re looking to extract the maximum possible value from a major sponsorship programme.

But does it therefore follow that the logo matters less when these factors do not come into play, for a regional or niche B2B company for example?

Well, yes and no.

Perhaps yes, a bit, because at the moment your company might not be operating in a market characterised by language barriers, high levels of competition and pro-level sports sponsorship! So fair enough, perhaps you do have a bit less to gain or lose by your choice of logo design.

But equally no – not least because very few people can be sure exactly what the future holds for their business, organisation, product or service. You might be small and niche today, but can you be sure that will always be the case – that you won’t grow, go international, or need to fight off new entrants to your market?

But the main reason that logo design should matter to everyone, regardless of size, sector or situation, is that having a strong and effective logo will make all of your sales and marketing objectives – awareness, differentiation, engagement and growth – that little bit easier to achieve. It might only be a marginal advantage at the moment, but as any sports fan will tell you, big advantages are normally made up of lots of marginal gains.

The truth is that by taking some time and finding the right support, it really isn’t that difficult or expensive to create a logo that can help you unlock all of these advantages and (hopefully) last you well into the medium and long term.

But how?

Well, that’s enough about logos from me for now, but design colleague Faye has picked up the story with a follow-up article looking at exactly how you can make sure your own logo project is a successful one.

In the meantime, click here to read more about our brand and proposition services, or contact our team today to discuss how Leader can help you develop your own logo, brand identity and market proposition(s).

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