Chapter 3: Basic Design Principles Before You Start

Do you know what your brand is? Great. Now, it’s time to start thinking about the actual design. Before you plunge into Photoshop or Illustrator, familiarize yourself with the ways in which you (and other brands) are and should be building your logo to maximize its effectiveness.

The below design principles are by no means absolutes. In fact, for every best practice listed in this guide, you will find at least one major successful brand violating it without losing its success. Still, they act as useful guides to help you think about the ways in which your logo should stand out and be pleasing to the eye.

Simplicity

This is probably the most important, yet often ignored principle in this entire chapter. It’s tempting to throw as much as possible into your logo. Unfortunately, that’s probably also the worst thing you could be doing as you seek to maximize its success.

The best logos are simple. Think about Nike’s swoosh or Microsoft’s window. They convey and communicate the brand without having to get explicit about it. Minimize the wording and design elements if possible. That doesn’t mean going towards complete minimalism, but at least try to cut out elements that aren’t actually essential to the design.

Emphasis

Which elements of your logo are the most important? Is it the design, the color choice, or maybe even the wording? That question is difficult to answer, but that doesn’t make it any less important. It’s the only way you can design a logo that actually communicates what you need it to.

Once you know what’s most important, build your design to emphasize it. Make it stand out through sizing, coloring, or other design choices. A great way to find the elements you want to highlight most is making a list of everything on the logo, and prioritizing it from most to least essential.

Balance

You probably realize that your logo should not emphasize one side over the other. Avoid the leaning, which seems counter intuitive and introduces cognitive dissonance for your audience. Everything on it should fit together, and make sense together. That means not centered graphic with right-aligned text.

A balanced logo does not have to be symmetrical. But a mirror image to the swoosh, and it will look different. But it should be weighted in a way that helps your audience easily read and understand it, without having to think about it first.

Contrast

How do your individual design elements stand out from each other? Especially a logo, which might have to be reproduced in very small sizes, needs to answer that question affirmatively. Through contrast between colors and design elements, you can make sure that it remains readable and viewable no matter the size.

That doesn’t have to mean you need to go to the extreme. Stick with your brand colors. But maybe, instead of using various grades of blue, look for a secondary accent color that fits well but stands out from blue. More on colors in a later chapter.

Whitespace

Professional designers love whitespace, but that doesn’t always mean they use it right. This, of course, is another way of saying empty space – the part of your logo that doesn’t actually include any design or wording. In almost every design, it can significantly enhance its effect.

Whitespace, whether it’s actually white or not, tends to add emphasis to the design elements that do actually exist. It balances out their weight, and helps the audience focus on the right spots. Build it into your logo to make that logo simpler, but also to draw more attention to it.

Movement

Logos are inherently static. Naturally, you can’t design a video or animation that moves if you want to include it on print materials or a billboard. That doesn’t mean you can’t account for the natural eye movement of your audience, or build movement into the design.

Again, Nike’s swoosh is a clear example of this principle. Other logos suggest the same idea; think about the forward-moving T of Tesla. Knowing that readers tend to start their attention on the top left of the image, influence their movement from there with the right design.

Versatility

Don’t design your logo for a single use. Chances are that, over the life of the brad, you will need it in many places and situations. The best logo have staying power, no matter where they’re placed. That way, you can use it more, and gain further brand recognition over time.

Does your logo look equally nice as a thumbnail or blown up to billboard size? How does it translate to black and white uses? Can it work on a brochure as well as your social media outlets? The more versatile your logo can be, the better.

Memorability

Finally, never forget to make your brand logo memorable. That sounds obvious, especially after the last few chapters. That doesn’t mean it’s easy. When your audience sees it, will they easily recognize it and connect it with your intended messaging the next time they encounter it?

This design principle basically excludes logos that are solely based on common symbols or wordmarks in common fonts. Instead, creativity is key. The easiest way to memorability is making sure that your mark is unique. That’s not always easy to achieve, but it’s nonetheless crucial. Don’t be afraid to test early versions of your logo on your audience to ensure you achieve this goal.

Building Basic Principles Into Your Brand Logo

These design principles are not always applicable in all situations. Together, though, they build a picture of just where you need to prioritize as you begin the design process. They’re generally established best practices that any logo designer will aim to follow.

Use them as your guide post throughout the design process. They also tend to inform the general types of logo that we’ll discuss in the next section. In other words, they need to be top of mind from the beginning of the design process all the way to the implementation and evaluation phase.