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Logos – less is more

I look at logos, fairly regularly. Scrutiny of visual identity goes with the communication field. Unfortunately I am rarely enthralled with what I see, so I have decided to tell you what I know.
The most obvious thing is that every enterprise needs a logo. It is the visual means of identifying a company, the same way we identify people by their faces. Without a logo, a company will be faceless. Even the James Bond villains who should want to be anonymous always seem to have a logo.
The question is why do people choose such infeasible, and sometimes ugly, logos for their companies? The answer to that is probably because choosing a face can be an act of creativity which is rarely allowed in enterprise. Unfortunately people should not be allowed the freedom of creativity in developing a logo either.
The development of a logo is a craft that requires discipline. The freedom of flinging colours and interesting fonts at a shape will rarely, if ever, produce a sound result. The most basic piece of advice to anyone who wants a logo is to get it developed by a professional designer.
Even this may not yield happy results. There are however five basic rules that should be followed in the process, and knowing these will either help you direct the designer, or understand why the designer does what he or she does.

Firstly, the logo has to be simple. Little frilly bits and many different colours will not be easy to remember. The most memorable shapes are extremely simple: a square, a triangle or a circle, for instance. By following the dictum that simple is easy to remember, you have the basis for a visual identity which can easily be remembered.
Secondly, the logo must be timeless. What this means is that you should avoid the design fashions of the day. Colours which are popular this year will almost certainly not be popular in a year or two. Font usage changes every few years as well. By attempting to make a fashionable logo now, you make yourself unfashionable in years to come.
Thirdly, don’t spend to much time trying to visually depict the inner workings of your company or the nature of your product. Make a few attempts but bear in mind that many of the most recognisable, memorable logos use shapes that have little to do with what they really represent. McDonalds does not use a hamburger and Coke does not use a glass of soda.
In the fourth place make your logo appropriate to your market. Brightly coloured letters and devices that don’t line up or stand straight, for instance, may be more appropriate to a toy store than an accounting company. On the other hand, a classic fint such as Times or Palatino will be appropriate to communicate the conservatism required of a major audit company.
Finally, do a distance test. Print out the logo, prop it up and step back six or seven meters. Identify the bits that blur or fade with distance and try to make them stronger and more visible. If parts of the logo are not visible from a distance remember that they will not be easily visible to your customers from a distance.
Carefully consider the font in the distance test. If it is too bold, you may find that from a distance the letters which make up the name become a dark blotch. If they are too fine they may fade to invisibility from a distance.
Your logo will have to appear small in many instances, or compete with other logos. In the case of use on the web, it will be ‘optimised’ for a smaller size. This means that many of the finer details will go missing. A distance test will eliminate most of the problems in advance.
Perhaps the final piece of advice I can give is to be patient in the design process, and give it time. Don’t expect the designer to deliver exactly what you want, immediately. Rather allow time (and budget for the designer) to reach a point gradually.
Your logo is much the same as your face. You will have to live with it for a very long time. Better to get it right and be comfortable with it.

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