3 Secrets to Building a Powerful Logo
A logo is the first impression for most brands, making a connection with a new customer in just a few seconds. Above all, a logo is the number one opportunity to convey a brand’s story and feel in just a glance, which gives this mark some serious value. The treatment of colors, shapes, symbols, and words packed into a logo create possibly the most enduring imprint of a business. It is important to ask yourself if your logo is conveying the right message.
Over 90% of consumers consider visual appearance over feel or smell while shopping. This makes sense, as color is one of the first things that the human brain notices; 80% of all visual information in the brain is related to color(1). Because we are such sight-driven beings, color plays a bigger role in branding than many may realize. Especially in the COVID-19 world, color and visuals become more important as our opportunity to touch and smell a product pre-purchase is less common.
Color psychology examines how color affects human emotions or behavior. One can see it at work with an exciting yellow “checkout” button online, not only catching the shopper’s eye but reminding them of the thrill they get when placing an order. The color or colors that are used in a design can add up, conveying anything from audience age and gender to the overall company point of view. For example, a color can be timely, trendy, and youthful. Or it can be used to represent a product that is calming and soothing, or fast-acting and efficacious(2).
The basics of color psychology can be addressed on the color wheel. Red is a color that communicates urgency, boldness, or intensity. Orange can depict warmth, zest, and fun. Yellow is a great color for energy, life, optimism and cheerfulness — depending on the shade. Green is often used to depict something earthy and natural, but the color can also make someone feel peaceful and relaxed. Similarly, blue is a popular color for balance and tranquility, but it also gives a sense of security and trustworthiness. Pink and purple are both often used in a space of creativity or youthfulness. White feels clean and pure, and black conveys power, elegance, and sophistication(3).
Look at some of the Fortune 500 companies and brands. It is clear that color psychology was seriously considered — over 40% of these household names use a blue logo. From Ford and GM to General Electric and AT&T, these “trustworthy” brands are in nearly every household. The professional skincare market reflects this as well. Brands like La Roche-Posay, SkinMedica, Obagi, iS Clinical, and NeuCutis all have logos that are blue. Since blue is such a prevalent color in logos, one who strives to be a big brand may wonder if the best answer is to go blue. While this may be a logical step, a brand needs to leverage how they want to position themselves among the competition in their respective industries. Is the objective to tailor the design to what is currently standard in the industry? If a new brand’s objective is to break into the market, the goal is often to stand apart and be different from the competition. In this instance, the last thing that brand would want to do is become just another blue logo.
A logo design should be as unique as a snowflake. The simple answer is that there is no such thing as one best color to use for your brand. It is always wise to consider the audience. Will they respond to bright, youthful colors, or will they respond better to minimalism? If they are used to a certain color scheme in their products, will a new color be a refreshing take?
The natural beauty category presents a good case of a market with conventions that still has plenty of room for brands to own their identities. Green and brown are colors frequently associated with conveying natural. However, since the beauty industry is evolving toward more natural formulations, there is now a sea of green and brown. Brands looking to capture market white space should consider using other visual cues to convey that their formulation is natural and think about using color to tell other parts of the brand story.
Shape + Symbols
A logo can be considered in three forms – as a symbol on its own, a wordmark on its own, or a symbol and wordmark paired together. Having each of these forms in a brand’s toolbox allows the brand identity mark to be adaptable to specific applications and contexts. When designed strategically, the use of shapes and symbols in your logo is a great way to concisely communicate your brand’s distinguished story and function.
An analysis of Fortune 500 companies indicates that 60% use a logo that is a combination of a shape and word, about 30% just use wordmarks or lettermarks, and an elite few use a simple icon (think Nike, Apple, Target or Starbucks). The very small minority of companies who are able to use a symbol alone is the product of years of successful marketing and hard work.
In the early days of a brand, no one knows the brand well enough to associate a single symbol without text. Without words, people might not know what to call the company. In fact, the first logos of Nike, Apple, Target, and Starbucks included their names. A brand needs to take into consideration what people are seeing when they first look at the logo; the company’s name needs to be present so the association between the two can be made.
Before investing in utilizing a symbol and wordmark as a two-part logo, consider the long-term objectives as well as the required commitment to using the combination in the short-term. Using the mark and the logo together inherently takes up extra space. This can be tricky and often results in the reduction of size for both the wordmark and the symbol in smaller applications, such as packaging or business cards. However, the payoff long-term comes with the ability to free yourself from the wordmark as the association becomes established over time.
When considering symbols to adopt for your brand, less tends to be more. The reason Nike’s logo is so successful is its versatility and simplicity. It translates what the company is about without saying a word. The swoosh can go anywhere: hats, shoes, jackets, etc., allowing the wearer to bring their own personal style into the mix. The branding guidelines allow the swoosh to be any color, produced in any material, at any size. It works super small on a tag and large across the chest of a hoodie. Although simple, it packs a punch in brand story. The movement in the design communicates speed — perfect for an athletic wear company. It communicates something about the company that the name “Nike” does not do alone. In addition, this tiny symbol brings with it the years of marketing, athletic endorsements, wins, and successes the company has associated with this mark. Wearing it makes you part of the club. In short, creating a symbol for your brand unites fans, transcends language, and endures in the long-run.
In the short-term, a memorable wordmark often provides more bang for your buck. A clever twist in the letterforms can provide the clarity of the brand name at a larger, more impactful size. Consider the impact of the FedEx wordmark where the name and the message of movement are conveyed in one mark with a hidden arrow between the e and the x letterforms.
Words + Typography
Just a subtle detail in type can make all the difference in how a brand is perceived. Look at Google and the many other companies that have made the switch to sans serif typefaces. The clean, modern lines of minimalism are design trends that have taken center stage in a variety of spheres, including fashion, architecture, and home décor. Sans serif fonts are part of this movement as they are free of adornment. Their appeal lies in being more legible at smaller sizes. These fonts are non-gender specific, allowing many people to see themselves in your brand. With so many brands jumping on the san serif bandwagon, it is clear that this choice is a popular option. But is it strategic for your brand to follow suit?
A brand should investigate different type styles and determine what each of them ultimately conveys. If you are looking to convey ‘hand-made’, ‘personalized’, or ‘natural’, you may be looking at a different typeface than a brand that is looking to be seen as ‘scientific’ or ‘professional’. If you are you looking to convey luxury, typefaces and attention to details matter tremendously.
Also consider where the brand will live. Is it mostly online? Who is the audience? Will they be able to read the font at its most common sizes? Serif fonts are often easier to read at small sizes in long passages of text, while a san serif typeface is easier to read when the word is shorter or set in all caps. As with every other design component, understanding the audience and their experience turns even subtle choices into an objective conversation.
These considerations were made in Google’s famous change to their logo to save some data. Their Serif logo with all those extra adornments actually occupied more pixels and therefore more memory on their servers. In this instance, a subtle change made a big impact on the bottom line(4).
A more cautious approach is taken with type, as opposed to color, when considering whether it is better to meet design conventions or stand out. Choosing a trendy typeface just for the purpose of standing out may not age well, even though it will feel cool when you release it. There is a delicate balance of finding a typeface that can stand on its own.
In summary, consumers are always inundated with marketing from every direction. Often a company’s logo is the first thing to catch their eye. Serious consideration should be placed on the color, shape, symbols, and typography a brand chooses for their design.
Armed with these objective evaluation criteria, a brand will be well on its way to making these critical first steps effectively. The next step is learning how to take the logo and apply it to all the media you touch. After all, a logo is ultimately a small part of an overall brand identity. How the logo is used and applied is as critical as the design of the mark itself.
About the author:
Sheri L. Koetting is the founder and chief strategist of MSLK, a marketing and design agency based in New York. MSLK specializes in helping beauty brands find their voice in today’s crowded marketplace through 360° brand positioning—from overall brand strategy to brand identity, packaging, retail experience, websites and social media campaigns. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- 1. Schlottman, Andrea, and Shaneika Jeffrey. “30+ Logo Stats and Facts – New Fortune 500 List Research .” Website Planet, 5 Feb. 2020,www.websiteplanet.com/blog/logo-design-stats/.
- 2. Desai, Priyanka. “Scientific Reasons People Are Wired to Respond to Visual Marketing.” YourStory.com, Yourstory, 5 Apr. 2018, yourstory.com/2018/04/scientific-reasons-visual-marketing?utm_pageloadtype=scroll.
- 3. Trajanovska, Andrijana, and Shaneika Jeffrey. “4 Reasons Why Your Logo Color Is So Important 2021.” Website Planet, 17 Oct. 2020, www.websiteplanet.com/blog/colormatters-reasons-color-choose-logo-important/.
- 4. Rushe, Dominic. “Google Unveils New Logo at Turning Point in Company’s History.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 1 Sept. 2015, www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/sep/01/google-logo-history-new-doodle-redesign.