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How to Design a Better Logo

Think of your favorite drink, shoes or car. More than likely, you have a distinct visual in your mind: its logo. While it takes time to amass an emotional connection to a brand, the first step to building a recognizable business is creating a memorable logo.

“A company’s logo encapsulates an entire business strategy in one visual element,” says Kyle Wai Lin, adjunct professor at Miami Ad School in San Francisco and art director at 99designs, a graphic design marketplace.

A logo is your face to the world. It needs to be just as distinguishable as the products or services your company offers. Whether you’re creating a logo from scratch or giving it a facelift, consider the following tips to brand your small business.

Start With an Idea That’s Aligned With Your Brand

“In this digital age, we’re all too quick to go to the computer when we should first clarify an idea or narrative before designing a logo,” Wai Lin says.

Instead of just designing an aesthetically pleasing logo, Wai Lin advises business owners to dig deeper and think about ways to incorporate the business’s mission, if possible, conceptually through shape, style and color.

Ask yourself:

  • What do you do or sell?
  • What are your core values?
  • Who is your audience?
  • What do you want to articulate?

Make Your Logo Specific, but not Limiting

A logo should tell your customers what your company stands for, says Ian Aronovich, president and co-founder of GovernmentAuctions.org. “If you’re a bakery, you should consider using breads or cakes as part of your logo rather than something ambiguous like silverware,” he says, noting silverware can imply a sit-in restaurant.

Business owners should also be careful not to limit themselves with overly specific imagery, as it can hinder future expansion in your business strategy. “Let’s say you’re a business that sells chocolate candies,” Wai Lin says. “If you sell more than that down the road, having chocolate as your logo may bottle-neck you into a category.”

Sell a Feeling

Not all logos have to sell a product. They can sell an idea or feeling, too, Wai Lin says, pointing out the Nike “swoosh,” which represents the wing of a Greek goddess known for victory, strength and speed. Symbolism allows for future growth without sacrificing brand connection.

Make it Simple

Logos that are too complex can be less memorable and recognizable to consumers. To ensure simplicity, your logo should be clear and appealing, even in a black-and-white format. “You want a logo that can stand alone,” Wai Lin says.

For optimal marketability, a logo should also look the same whether it’s printed large or small, on envelopes, plastered on billboards or embroidered on T-shirts.

Trademark Your Logo

Before creating marketing materials, it’s important to do a trademark search. “If a competitor has your name or a logo similar to yours trademarked, they can require that you stop using it,” says Terri J. Shapiro, executive director, brand and media relations at Deluxe Corporation, a business consultancy based in St. Paul, Minn. “It’s worth spending the money up front for the peace of mind.”

She recommends websites like legalzoom.com, which walk you through the trademark search and filing a trademark application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).

Consider the Color

A well-balanced logo has one or two complementary colors, one of which is dominant and enables brand association, Shapiro says. “Think IBM blue, Coca-Cola red, Apple white,” she says.

The meanings of a color can also differ from culture to culture. “To an American the color red can signify ‘warning’ or ‘danger’ or ‘love,’ but to someone from China, red can represent good fortune and joy,” Wai Lin says.

For his government database’s logo, Aronovich chose navy blue because of its association with depth, expertise and stability. “That’s what we wanted to communicate to our customers,” he says. “We’re experts, and you can count on us.”

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