The beauty behind graphic design is that the designer never has to create anything twice. However, there are some definite 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 logos have? How come that with such key elements like logos both designers and customers often rely on mere intuitions? 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 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.
Fun fact: The word logo comes from the Greek word „logos” meaning „word”
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. Given that reading and writing were only the sports of the rich, it helped common people orientate. This is how the first 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 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-drawn logo can forward strong and elemental messages in a blink of an eye. This is how logos became more than just nameplates.
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.
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 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 iterating their plans 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 such decisions 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?
Each customer has a given target audience, service and taste, ergo, there can't be three good solutions. We can't choose one with the customer based on our emotions then revamp it.
Briefly, these steps include (in my working process):
Research: I start by making a profound research on my customer and the needs of their company (more on this in my next post). Then I adjust my research to the needs of my customer's audience. Somewhere in between is the idea that will lay down 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 I'd like to present, gathering all my professional knowledge to put an outstanding logo on the table.
Iteration: The second step is followed by presenting my first version, the time 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 opinion on what their company needs, so our first blunders should not come by surprise.
In such cases there are usually three possibilities:
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!