If you have zero ideas, it is best to start simply.
Start with moodboards
You’ve got a sense of the type of work you want to create, the vibe you want the brand to have. The first stage of designing a logo is to gather examples of other brands that fit that vibe. You shouldn’t just find logos that are in the industry you’re designing for. Instead, cast your net far and wide. Gather lots, if you narrow down your selection too much, you run the risk of inadvertently copying. You want the moodboards to cover a wide spectrum – throw some wild cards in there.
In industry, we then ask our clients to take a look at the moodboards, and let us know what they like, but perhaps more importantly, what they don’t like. This gives us a clear direction about where we can push the ideas, and what visual languages we need to stay clear of!
Often, we use a program called Figma to create our moodboards – it makes it easy for clients to comment, but you can just as easily set them up on artboards in illustrator. Let’s take a look at the moodboards we created for our client, James:
We then asked James for feedback:
After feedback, we can then keep the brands that got a positive reaction close to hand – we like to pop them on our artboards before we get started as a reference point. This way, if we ever get stuck, and run out of ideas, we have something visual to hopefully kick start us again!
Type is a great place to begin when faced with that ‘blank page’ feeling because you already have something to work with (hopefully) – the name. By replicating the organisations name in a wide variety of typefaces you begin to have some visuals to kick start the creative process. It is useful to see the letterforms in both capitals and lowercase so that you can spot any areas of interest. Do the letters sit well together? Is there potential for some or all of the letters to interact playfully in some way? Are there any areas you could naturally exaggerate? What happens when you begin to consider scale, perspective, orientation, weighting etc.?
In terms of where to trawl through font options – Adobe Fonts will provide you with a good selection, and you won’t have to pay for typefaces during the experimentation. For the odd, more unusual typeface you might also use dafont.com or losttype.com for some beautiful ones!
At this point, it is useful to work in black and white – it will make it much easier to concentrate on the letterforms. For the Hatari project, we knew that it was unlikely that we would utilise an additional icon, as the wider brand was going to be quite detailed. Therefore, begining with type felt like the ideal place to start.
Very rarely will a font be used ‘straight out of the box’. There will be lots of tweaks you’ll want to make to ensure that the logo is balanced and correctly weighted – but I’ll come onto that later! For the Hatari project, we felt that the logo needed to be more organic and tactile, so Beth started some cutting and sticking to create bespoke, hand formed letters. The more tactile process immediately produced results that felt aligned to the vibe we wanted to go for. Similarly, with our rebrand of the Manor House, our designer Peter got very messy with a pipet and indian ink and created a logo that had presence.
Make decisions on the wider brand
Usually, if the wider brand is looking quite complex, designers make the decision to simplify the logo, and vice versa. Therefore it is often a wise idea to start exploring the wider brand whilst developing the logo. Playing around with colour, pattern, shape, illustration, photography will steer some of the decisions around the logo. Take the brand we developed for LOTOS, the illustration style that emerged for all design ideas was vibrant and detailed:
Keeping the logo simple is often a good place to start. Don’t dismiss the ideas that have felt too ‘easy’ – just make sure you place them in context (i.e. if your brand is on packaging, design the packaging). Do they work? Designing in isolation can often be a mistake. If you get to the place where your logo is ‘perfect’ you’ll be less willing to make changes once the wider brand takes shape.
Michelle has written a blog post on how to choose an illustration style.
Designing a mark
Sketching is your best friend when designing a mark! Often the idea that is perfect in our minds eye doesn’t translate when we digitise it. So exploring as many options as possible will help you sieve through and find the good ones.
The mark doesn’t need to be literal. But it can be.
For Office Landscapes and Bell Jar Flowers we took the more literal approach. Drawing lots of different plants and flowers respectively. Remember the brand words you’ve selected and concentrate on finding the right tone.
For marks that require a level of abstraction, it is useful to play with as many different options as possible. You may find a sketchbook useful in this instance, sketching any initial thoughts and allowing yourself the space not to become too precious with any idea. There will be some marks that work perfectly in your minds eye, but don’t quite translate when down on paper. There will be others that will be happy accidents that have the right tone for the wider brand.
Often, there is a point in ideation where you need to just push through. You will have a few ideas that could work, and the thoughts that immediately came to mind will have dried up. Remember, design is a process, not the end result. If your final outcome is exactly what you imagined at the start of the project – then you haven’t designed anything!
Working as part of a team is also very useful in this stage of branding, being able to bounce ideas off each other and pass the baton to someone else when you’ve run out of steam can be very valuable.
Then, there will be other projects that require a stylised approach. For example, Charnwood Brewery’s brand was always going to include a fox. But the mascot that we now know and love as Clarence could have looked very different! Jo’s task when designing Clarence was to produce a fox that had a personality – easier said than done!
Design multiple options
We would always recommend designing a number of options for both the logo and the wider brand. Some design agencies would disagree, and feel like the client should be presented with just one idea – the best one! Whilst I appreciate that few point from an idealistic standpoint, and see its benefits, I also believe that the act of generating a number of brand options can strengthen the ideas stage. When you have a clear favourite that is working well, turning to the other options and thinking ‘how can I make these as good’ is a very useful exercise.
Then comes the detail! A logo will be seen over and over again, and it needs to be pixel perfect. Sometimes, especially when designing a responsive logo, it is the simple logos that require the most refinement. You may wish to make letterforms thicker in places, or change the kerning or leading. Whatever your tweaks, try to test as many ideas as possible (and save them) so that you can make decisions between them at a later date.
Assuming you are working in Adobe Illustrator, and are using a pre-made font, you will need to convert the font to outlines. This will mean you’ll be able to tinker with it as much as you like by using the direct selection and path tools. At this point, it is worth ensuring that you can read the logo from further away, that the text is legible and that when made small, the logo still works.
Then, I think this quote can often be applied to logo design too: