10 Common Mistakes In Logo Design

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With the power of the Web, and more eyes watching than ever, it’s important for a business to communicate its unique message clearly. The easiest way to recognize a company and distinguish it from others is by its logo. Below, we go through 10 common logo design mistakes that you should avoid if you want to create a successful and professional logo.

1. Designed By An Amateur


Avoid websites that promote ridiculously cheap logo packages. You get what you pay for.

A professional business should look professional. New business owners often invest a lot of time and money in property and equipment, but do not often match it by investing suitably in their logo.

Here are the most common reasons why many logos look amateurish:

  • The business owner wanted to save money by designing the logo quickly themselves.
  • A friend or relative who claims to know a little about graphic design does it as a favor.
  • The wrong people are commissioned. (Local printers are not likely proficient in logo design.)
  • The business outsourced the job via one of several design competition websites, which are mostly populated by amateur designers.
  • The job was given to an online company that offers really cheap logos.

All of the above can result in disastrous outcomes. If your logo looks amateurish, then so will your business. A business should know where to look when it wants a new logo. David Airey offers great insight on how to choose the right logo designer1 for your requirements.

Here are the advantages of hiring an established and professional logo designer:

  • Your logo will be unique and memorable.
  • You won’t run into any problems down the line with reproducing it.
  • Your logo will have a longer lifespan and won’t need to be redesigned in a couple of years.
  • Your logo will look professional.

2. Relies On Trends


Focusing on current logo trends is like putting a sell-by date on a logo.

Trends (whether swooshes, glows or bevels) come and go and ultimately turn into cliches. A well-designed logo should be timeless, and this can be achieved by ignoring the latest design tricks and gimmicks. The biggest cliche in logo design is the dreaded “corporate swoosh,” which is the ultimate way to play it safe. As a logo designer, your job is to create a unique identity for your client, so completely ignoring logo design trends is best.

Logolounge2 has a great section on its website in which it updates current logo design trends every year. Being aware as a designer of the latest crazes is important, mainly so that you can avoid them at all costs.

3. Uses Raster Images


An example of how raster graphics can limit reproduction.

Standard practice when designing a logo is to use vector graphics software, such as Adobe Illustrator or Corel Draw. A vector graphic3 is made up of mathematically precise points, which ensures visual consistency across multiple sizes. The alternative, of course, is use to raster graphics software, such as Adobe Photoshop. A raster graphic4 — or bitmap, as it’s commonly called — consists of pixels.

Using raster images for logos is not advisable because it can cause problems with reproduction. While Photoshop is capable of creating very large logos, you never know for sure how large you will have to reproduce your logo at some point. If you zoom in enough on a raster graphic, it will appear pixelated, making it unusable. Maintaining visual consistency by making sure the logo looks the same in all sizes is essential.

The main advantages of vector graphics for logo design are:

  • The logo can be scaled to any size without losing quality.
  • Editing the logo later on is much easier.
  • It can be adapted to other media more easily than a raster image.

4. Contains Stock Art


Using stock vector graphics in a logo puts your client at risk.

This mistake is often made by business owners who design their own logo or by amateur designers who are not clued in to the laws on copyright. Downloading stock vector imagery from websites such as VectorStock5 is not a crime, but it could possibly get you in trouble if you incorporate it in a logo.

A logo should be unique and original, and the licensing agreement should be exclusive to the client: using stock art breaks both of these rules. Chances are, if you are using a stock vector image, it is also being used by someone somewhere else in the world, so yours is no longer unique. You can pretty easily spot stock vectors in logos because they are usually familiar shapes, such as globes and silhouettes.

5. Designing For Yourself Rather Than The Client


Never impose your own personality onto a client’s work.

You can often spot this logo design sin a mile away; the cause is usually a designer’s enormous ego. If you have found a cool new font that you can’t wait to use in a design, well… don’t. Ask yourself if that font is truly appropriate for the business you’re designing for? For example, a great modern typographic font that you just love is not likely suited to a serious business such as a lawyer’s office.

Some designers also make the mistake of including a “trademark” in their work. While you should be proud of your work, imposing your personality onto a logo is wrong. Stay focused on the client’s requirements by sticking to the brief.

6. Overly Complex


Highly detailed designs don’t scale well when printed or viewed in smaller sizes.

What better analogy for thumbnail images than fingerprints? You’ll notice the intricacies of your fingerprints only when looking at them really close up. As soon as you move away, those details are lost. The same holds true for highly detailed logo designs.

When printed in small sizes, a complex design will lose detail and in some cases will look like a smudge or, worse, a mistake. The more detail a logo has, the more information the viewer has to process. A logo should be memorable, and one of the best ways to make it memorable is to keep things simple. Look at the corporate identities of Nike, McDonald’s and Apple. Each company has a very simple icon that can easily be reproduced at any size.

7. Relies On Color For Its Effect


Without color, your great design may lose its identity.

This is a very common mistake. Some designers cannot wait to add color to a design, and some rely on it completely. Choosing color should be your last decision, so starting your work in black and white is best.

Every business owner will need to display their logo in only one color at one time or another, so the designer should test to see whether this would affect the logo’s identity. If you use color to help distinguish certain elements in the design, then the logo will look completely different in one tone.

8. Poor Choice Of Font


Font choice can make or break a logo.

When it comes to executing a logo, choosing the right font is the most important decision a designer can make. More often than not, a logo fails because of a poor font choice (our example shows the infamous Comic Sans).

Finding the perfect font for your design is all about matching the font to the style of the icon. But this can be tricky. If the match is too close, the icon and font will compete with each other for attention; if the complete opposite, then the viewer won’t know where to focus. The key is finding the right balance, somewhere in the middle. Every typeface has a personality. If the font you have chosen does not reflect the icon’s characteristics, then the whole message of the brand will misfire.

Bad fonts are often chosen simply because the decision isn’t taken seriously enough. Some designers simply throw in type as an afterthought. Professional font foundries, such as MyFonts6 and FontFont7, offer much better typeface options than those over-used websites that offer free downloads.

9. Has Too Many Fonts


A logo works best with a maximum of two fonts.

Using too many fonts is like trying to show someone a whole photo album at once. Each typeface is different, and the viewer needs time to recognize it. Seeing too many at once causes confusion.

Using a maximum of two fonts of different weights is standard practice. Restricting the number of fonts to this number greatly improves the legibility of a logo design and improves brand recognition.

10. Copies Others

This is the biggest logo design mistake of all and, unfortunately, is becoming more and more common. As mentioned, the purpose of a logo is to represent a business. If it looks the same as someone else’s, it has failed in that regard. Copying others does no one any favors, neither the client nor the designer.

Footnotes

  1. 1 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2007/11/09/how-to-choose-a-logo-designer/
  2. 2 http://www.logolounge.com/logotrends/
  3. 3 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vector_graphics
  4. 4 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raster_graphics
  5. 5 http://www.vectorstock.com/
  6. 6 http://new.myfonts.com/
  7. 7 http://www.fontfont.com/

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Gareth Hardy is a professional graphic designer and illustrator based in the United Kingdom. You can find Gareth at Down With Design or on a snowy mountain near you.

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  1. 1

    very informative
    Will keep the tips in mind while designing my lobo

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  2. 152

    Great, now I can continue to design my amateur logos much better :-P

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  3. 303

    Great tips, thanks for sharing :)

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  4. 454

    “7. Relies On Color For Its Effect” is really a very common mistake.
    good article for absolute beginners…

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  5. 605

    great! really clear post, nice read
    thanks for it !

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  6. 756

    Good article, as a newby designer I really found it helpful and thought-provoking!

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  7. 907

    What is wrong with you people? You’re so amazed and so affirmative, it’s like a global disease. The article may have some good points, but it’s not exactly the groundbreaking revelation from the Design God himself!!

    1
  8. 1058

    Nice article. A good logo is something every business should not skimp on. More people need to realize that the latest trend will not last as long as their company will (hopefully). Unique logos are key to brand recognition and every designer should strive to give their client just that.
    Thanks for the info.

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  9. 1209

    I love number 8.. xD You used Comic Sans!!! haha..

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  10. 1360

    Great article. There’s a prevailing micro-trend of writing these sorts of “how-to design a good logo” articles going on across the blogosphere. This one, however, takes the cake with it’s concise, demonstrable images. Three cheers!

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  11. 1511

    Nicely and briefly put.
    The examples illustrate the points extremely well.

    Well done :)

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  12. 1662

    Very nice article! very useful.

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  13. 1813

    This article gonna help me to redesign my own logo.. All-over again ….Shukriya (thanks SM)

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  14. 1964

    Very useful!! Thanks a lot, I’ll keep in mind all this tips.

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  15. 2115

    Good guidelines to follow (and break sometimes). Any of you seen/read any of Martin Lindstrom’s stuff (brandsense, buyology)? He’s got some interesting views on the future of logos and branding. Marboro did a billboard ad just displaying cowboys and no logo at all because they found out that that image is so ingrained in smokers minds it gives them a craving.

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  16. 2266

    eduardo De Faria

    June 29, 2009 9:24 am

    A good logo does not need a computer to be created. A good designer does not need a computer to create logos. And the best logos are those created before computers start to create logos.

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  17. 2417

    Agree with all, though I’m with Tom some of the way in that #7 is not an absolute. Google and Firefox look like good branding to me yet rely heavily on colour.

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  18. 2568

    Alexander Gessler

    June 29, 2009 9:11 pm

    Some good facts are in this post! I hope that clients read this article too.

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  19. 2719

    Nicolaas Van den Broek

    June 29, 2009 11:31 pm

    dissapointing article smashing, another cliched list from the traditionalist…#7 makes my head hurt.
    The advise is great for a beginners however i was expecting something more juicy from smashing. Counterpoints:
    #7
    Clearly colour can ‘make’ a logo and is not a mistake logo designers make. Yes an interesting graphic form will almost necessarily make a logo work however this statement has plenty of counterexamples. I.e. Succesfull logos that work as result of color execution. google anyone? amongst many.

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  20. 2870

    I would not agree 100% on the point: “Keep logo simple”. Look at Sony Ericsson’s new logo – it’s incredible detailed and contains gradients.Good article though…

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  21. 3021

    Excellent advices and great article !!!!!!!!!!

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  22. 3172

    I ‘am happy

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  23. 3323

    Nice article with good insights about logos.. It may help designers.

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  24. 3474

    the tips here are obvious, but there one thing I can’t agree with. There’s no guarantee that the top designer for lots of money won’t use the same concept that you can buy for $10, just because there are thousands of such concepts

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  25. 3625

    I have done quite well as a designer for some years now. Recently the phone doesn’t ring as much as it used to do and the cashflow is waning. Is it the economic crisis? I think not. The real reason is because I freakin’ hate this “profession” –to the guts– and I have an increasingly bad attitude about it. I totally agree with Mr. Alex Schneider. Quit pretending; most of us don’t give a rat’s posterior about “the client”. That’s the main problem with us “creatives”: what we really want is to inflate our egos to mounstrous proportions by winning stupid contests & getting praise from our colleagues. The world is going to be a very different place in the coming years. Is graphic design a commodity? Hell yeah. even good design. Just masturbation of the aesthetic sense.

    2
  26. 3776

    nice article,
    if i hire an icon designer, i can test these things
    thx a lot

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  27. 3927

    Wow! some people really miss the point of this article. Having a well designed logo doesn’t guarantee success, but having a well designed logo that reflects the cores of the business will certainly help in your promotion of the business. Stating business ethics is missing the point of the article and sadly shows your contempt for designers.
    The monochrome/B&W point is another one that some people don’t seem to have grasped. The logo should work without colour not because of the need to save money in print but because it concentrates on the design and impact of the logo. As for digital printing this is reserved for small runs and though the quality is very good it has draw backs, including the limitations of CMYK and material it can print on. It hasn’t yet replaced web offset or litho and it certainly won’t replace digital media.
    The logo’s I’ve created are all designed in B&W first and then figured for RGB, CMYK or Pantone. The colours may have already been decided but they can cloud the design if introduced too early.
    A great read, which should be the foundation for many readers. Remember, its important to know the rules before you start bending them.

    1
  28. 4078

    OpenGraphicDesign

    June 30, 2009 9:33 am

    I have to agree with ReadyPhotoSite, there no guarantee that an expensive designer won’t use the same concept as a cheap-o designer. Anyone, not just 20 year veterans, can come up with a good logo as long as the preliminary work, research, thought, communication and creativity have been put in place. The only way to get better at creating logos is… creating more logos. The more you do, the better you will get. -Henry

    1
  29. 4229

    Joe Baron Design

    June 30, 2009 10:12 am

    I think this was a good article. I think starting out everyone tends to break these rules, maybe one or two. I’m a big enforcer on starting in black and white. I think that sample used, could’ve been turned into black and white easily, but for the sake of the argument it made its point. It was very useful and I’m passing on this link.

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  30. 4380

    In reference to points 8 and 9; Doyald Young said “Every logotype is its own font.” After picking the right font modify certain characters for that particular grouping of letters, because the spelling isn’t going to change. The original font was designed for many possible combinations of letters. Also don’t fall into the “Pick a font, pick a color, here’s the logo” lazy design trap.

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  31. 4531

    i totally agree. but you’re preaching to the choir. how do we educate our clients to these points without crushing their egos?

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  32. 4682

    Haha, this is a great post! I just had a conversation with a new client that finally decided to stop doing design work on the cheap. The conversation was basically a run down of the points Gareth makes.

    Sharon, just crush their egos but in a nice way. If they knew what they were doing they wouldn’t have hired you.

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  33. 4833

    a good article and very informative

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  34. 4984

    do you realize how repeatedly using the word “amateurish” in your articles seems to cause an insurmountable amount of pain in my ear drums.

    1
  35. 5135

    This branding focus. I like Smashing.

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  36. 5286

    Great post! I think we all have had these conversations with a client or two. People just don’t realize the importance and power of a logo or brandmark.

    createID – cr8id.com

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  37. 5437

    @bronxgd – quite possibly the phone is not ringing as much because you have such a sh***y attitude. just sayin’

    As for the posters who don’t think that there is a need for black and white versions of logos – I think that you possibly are not aware of all the ways a logo gets used and reproduced. I have been a Sr Graphic Designer for a large international corporation for several years now and I have seen the logo used in many ways – many of them preclude the use of any color, gradient, or detail entirely. For example:
    > Promotional items. Often only one color can be used and it needs to be a solid.
    > blind embossing. for those neat-o corporate gifts like notebooks with leather covers, or briefcases
    > Silk screening
    > Awards. Often these have the logo etched into them. no gradients, no details, no colors.
    > signage
    > corporate communications that get printed on BW laser printers
    > 3D. Logo gets made into a 3D sculpture or giant 3D sign

    The list goes on. A well produced logo needs to retain its essential character in all types of use. In addition, the Designer has not done their job unless they deliver the logo with all production issues attended to: Effects expanded, transparency flattened, fonts outlined, gray scale version, flat color version (B&W), reverse (knockout) version for dark backgrounds, and all of those exported in the common formats that average office workers will need: jpeg or gif for the web and email signatures, PNGs with transparent background for those Powerpoint presentations with colored or textured backgrounds, hi-rez TIFF for the people that need hi-rez but cannot use vector files like .AI and .CD. All that stuff needs to be packed up in a nice organized fashion, including a brief style guide for all of it, and delivered to the Client.
    Another reason to hire a Professional – nothing to do with egos.

    1
  38. 5588

    Really enjoyed this post! Number 1 really is the number 1 rule – I wish more people would realise that you really do get what you pay for when you get design work done on the cheap. Thanks for sharing :-) Adam |

    -1
  39. 5739

    Kellie Frissell

    July 1, 2009 7:16 am

    Nice reminders for all of us.

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  40. 5890

    logo, simply small but big deal, good article 4 starter

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  41. 6041

    Cre8ive Commando

    July 1, 2009 5:06 pm

    Some nice and simple tips which all make sense. Here is a basic logo design walk through which aims to help designers create logos QUICKLY as well as effectively (as designers we often have very tiny deadlines to work with!). It would work well with the tips outlined above:

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  42. 6192

    While all these points make sense and are completly true to a designer customers dont care what the logo design no no’s are if they they have it set in their mind what they want.

    If they like and want 4 differnet font types thats what you do no matter what you think.
    yes its a crime but they are the customer paying your wage at the end of the day no matter what design world rules there are.

    And we were all “amateurish” at one stage or another

    1
  43. 6343

    Damn straight. Every logo designer should already know these rules. Mistake 1 – Designed by An Amateur, brings to mind a larger issue occurring in the design industry. Crowdsourcing websites like crowdSpring, oDesk, 99designs, Elance, and craigslist have convinced business owners they can get an award winning, strategy-driven logo for $50-150. These websites are quickly degrading the worth and value of logo design. Sure, logos are supposed to look cool but they’ve got to produce an emotional reaction within the target audience.

    -1
  44. 6494

    you`re 100% right with this! Many customers buy cheap logos, low quality and copied! That`s not right! The designers that copy and don`t have a personal idea are not designers, they are just humans that wants to make money without work!

    Great post!

    -1
  45. 6645

    I can agree on everything except ‘rule’ 7. I think a (great) logo must have the ability to look nice, even in a monotone setting. Great article anyway. Although maybe if you dind’t knew or felt this things from within, you maybe have to ask your self if you should do it yourself.

    -2
  46. 6796

    It is amazing how many amateurs are out there. They know nothing about logo design. Even in a recession companies should never never ever ever be cheap when it comes to logo design.

    -1
  47. 6947

    Chris Robinson

    July 2, 2009 9:20 am

    Nice article, for the beginners out there.

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  48. 7098

    I agree with them all but budget is always a factor and for that I would suggest it’s o.k. to go with decent stock art or a amateur that you can pay only if you like it.

    Charles

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  49. 7249

    Definitely a good article for beginners, but also serves as a reminder now and again for the more seasoned vets too!

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  50. 7400

    A good overview. Thanks.

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