The beauty behind graphic design is that the designer never has to create anything twice. However, there are some definitive elements that pop up in every project. I have been designing logos for ten years now and have worked with a variety of customers. In every case -already during the planning phase- a personal connection develops between the logo and the customer.
But how? What is this fundamental attraction that logos have? How come that with such key elements like logos both designers and customers often rely on mere intuition? Is there a way to make the design process more clear and conscious for both parties? To answer these questions we need to understand where logos come from.
The First Logos
The first cave paintings appeared around 70.000 B.C. One of the first logos of mankind featured a bison. The figure can be found throughout the world and has the same meaning „bison” everywhere and we still understand today that our (not-so) primitive ancestors illustrated a bison.
Around 2000 BC ancient Egyptians started using grid systems with a set of hieroglyphics -logos, so to speak- to record their history.
In 1381 Richard II, king of England declared in an act that every tradesmen shall note their services on a nameplate. This is how the first commcercial logos were released, which later led to the first brand wars. People might have asked themselves -„Should I spend my money in the pub with the red jug or the one with the green jug?”.
In 1440 Johannes Gutenberg invented printed press setting the stage for modern, mass printed logos. By the end of the 15th century it became common practice among pressmen to label their work with their own logos.
The time is 1956 and Paul Rand comes up with his iconic pictogram for IBM. His imaginative idea brought a paradigm change making companies realize how a well-thought logo can forward strong and elemental messages in a blink of an eye. This is how logos became more than just nameplates.
The Power of Logos
Without attempting to be comprehensive, the brief history above describes how modern logos developed. In addition, there is a noticeable feature throughout space and time.
Because of our deeply curious nature, we are driven to understand the world around us. We need visual points of reference for orientation. We’re driven by this urge – as were our ancestors and Paul Rand alike – to associate expressive faces with raw concepts in order to forward information in the best possible way.
A well-designed logo is able to display the essence of our company instantly. Instead of providing our customers with written studies describing our services, customers are given a point of reference that allows for creating a personal connection with the brand. This connection with a unique point of view is identical and enduring.
Three Different Versions
It’s common practice when designing logos that the designer presents three or four versions. Then the customer picks one, which goes under further development. This way, however, instead of focusing on proper positioning right from the beginning, we are trying to save time. If we let the customer choose intuitively from three versions that are fundamentally different, the designer puts the responsibility on the customer’s shoulder. The customer picks one version, the designer perfects it, and there is no need to run back and forth between the customer and the drafting table.
I have to add, since every customer is passionate about their logo, they tend to extremely overthink the procject meanwhile the designer is starving to death. I am not saying that this method is wrong. It’s not a coincidence that it developed and many of my colleagues work this way, but in this process we are giving coincidence a little too much space. In case of a company, making business decisions based on a hunch may turn out to be fatal.
For me it's like going to a restaurant where the waiter serves three dishes without taking our orders forcing us to pick one. What's the chance of getting the dish you want, prepared the way you like it?
A step-by-step guide to conscious logo design (in my working process):
Research: I start by making a profound research on my customer and the needs of their company. Then I adjust my research to the needs of my customer's audience. Somewhere in between is the idea that will lay down the soul of the logo. In the next two days I continue with massive sketching with this idea to let my brain get used to the concept.
All in: After the research I invest all my mental strength in the first version, gathering all my professional knowledge to put an outstanding logo on the table.
Realization: Next step is when I realize the huge mistakes I made. Graphic designers are not wizards. There is very little chance that stars align right in the beginning. Customers always have a better knowledge on what their company needs, so our first blunders should not come by surprise.
The usual outcomes are:
Everything is in place and the logo is ready:
In my opinion this outcome can mean three things. One, the customer doesn't really care about the project. Two, the customer is only looking for ideas and the logo will never be used. Three, I am indeed a wizard.
The idea is good but poorly executed:
Here is when the greatest advantages of a consciously planned approach comes in. Since it's not a randomly picked version the designer has to push forward -which would eventually end up being a bad decision- the designer can work with a material already tailored to fit the target audience containing all the graphical elements, which can go under further development until the final format is reached.
Bad idea, bad style, everything's bad:
This is not a tragedy either. With the help of the customer and some conscious questions we can see where the project is slipping and what we need to do to get it back on track. Usually, logos that make it through these situations are the ones that become truly special.
In all three cases things get moving thanks to the two days spent sketching, which is actually a great brain exercise. It enables making easy and savvy logical connections in the upcoming, more precise phases. Moreover, a conscious working manner builds trust between the designer and the customer and enables smoother communication.
By presenting a version that is built up of 90 % professionalism, 9% of the customer's influence and 1% of the designer's style, we guarantee a starting point where these relations can be customized. We go along conscious decisions while respecting the results of our research and focusing on the target audience. In the end we get a logo that truly represents the essence the company needs, a logo that both the customer and the target audience can embrace.
I know a lot depends on the designer when it comes to developing one’s own working methods. Also, customers choose a designer based on their own liking. I don't think that this is the ultimate approach one can apply when designing logos, but for me it turned out to be the most effective. I welcome other opinions.
Do not hesitate to drop me message. Let's discuss it