What Does Your Logo Say About You? INSIGHT TWO

Creating the right logo for your business is a creative exercise that requires research, patience and a deep understanding of your brand message. Knowing what you wish to convey in your logo is the first step in focusing your narrative and clearly communicating your expertise. As well as a key identifier, your logo, says “I know what I am doing”.

“All I need is a logo!”, Maybe you’ve said it or you’ve even thought it. “After all once I have a logo for my business I have something I can put on my website, business cards, packaging, signage, social media pages and letterhead. Once I have a logo I can brand everything easily.” This is a common misconception about the role and use of a logo that is often made when it comes to starting a business brand.

A decent logo can say “I’m doing things well”. A great logo will say “I know what I’m doing and I’m doing it right!”

Nothing says “I DO NOT know what I am doing” more than incorporating some tired cliché into a logo. We’ve all seen them. The fingernail half moons, planets, rocket ships, swooshes, houses, trees, leaves, acronyms in boxes, checkmarks, stylized swoosh people and a tired long list of things that have been exhaustively done already. Using any design cliché also runs the risk of appearing as though you are trying to copy someone and capitalize on their success which can become a copyright infringement nightmare. It is best to avoid cliché altogether and create your own logo following a few unique identifier tips.

“Too many elements does not a logo make” should be a mantra running through your head when designing your own logo.

Here’s something you might not have been told before, but I firmly believe creativity is something that CAN BE learned and developed. Thinking creatively is key to portraying the unique selling features of your business. Try to use some creative thinking exercises. Forego exhaustively trying to make one thing “happen”, like perfecting that realistic representation of what your business does into icon form, and explore your options. Symbols and shapes don’t necessarily need to be obvious representations of their real world counterparts. They can even be abstract so long as they don’t detract from the overall purpose of the logo. However, if you decide to go with a logo that includes a symbol or shape icon that looks like a real world object try to make it your own stylistically. Visual double entendres, ambigrams, abstract designs and well-executed letter marks can make your logo into something special. Looking at several logos that use these techniques can provide you with inspiration. For example The Guild of Food Writers, Spartan Golf Club, MyFonts and The Pittsburg Zoo use visual double entendres. Nine Inch Nails, Abba, Aerosmith and New Man Clothing make use of ambigrams. Mitsubishi, Nike, BHP Billiton, Chase Bank, MasterCard and Sony Vaio are clever abstractions. The logos for Chanel, Toyota, Gucci, Hewlett Packard, IBM and CNN make good use of unique letter marks. But perhaps you don’t even need an icon. Keeping in mind that a logo doesn’t necessarily have to have an icon opens up some more design options in terms of fun typography for a word mark. Just look at Disney, Sony, Visa, Canon, Coca-Cola, Dell, Facebook, Budweiser, Ray Ban and Fed Ex for example. Each word mark is instantly recognizable and uses unique fonts, simple letterform adjustments and/or custom type design in a way that makes sense for their company. Another takeaway from studying logos of big name brands is their simplicity. “Too many elements does not a logo make” should be a mantra running through your head when designing your own logo.

Knowing what you are doing requires that you do your research well. It’s not enough to avoid the design clichés and try to make something original. You should look at the logos of competitors and search for things that may be similar to what you are proposing to design. If your proposed logo looks similar to something that is already created you will need to explore other options. It’s not a bad idea to have people you trust look over your logo to make sure it doesn’t look like something they’ve seen before or like anything that could be mistaken for something else too. This doesn’t mean you couldn’t emulate a certain style for effectively creating, for example, a retro-style logo. What it does mean is you’ve taken the time to make sure you haven’t created something that has already been created. The important thing is that your logo makes sense for your business and is as original as possible. If you don’t have an original logo the same will be assumed of your business.

Following these few tips can help you on your way to creating something much more than a decent logo. A decent logo can say “I’m doing things well”. A great logo will say “I know what I’m doing and I’m doing it right!”.

Stay tuned for the next blog What does your logo say about you? Insight THREE: My logo says “I communicate well”


What Does Your Logo Say About You? INSIGHT ONE

In business, our actions must be deliberate and well thought out. Whether it is to create awareness, make money, foster relationships or simply reward customers, every action requires some thought before being executed. Actions a business makes are also open to public fanfare or scrutiny. Therefore, it is important that the overall image of a business matches its overall purpose and is created with deliberation.

How to convey that in a logo is no small task. If a logo looks rushed or falls short of considering the details people will wonder if that’s how that business operates. If a business’s logo is a bit messy, the letter spacing is slightly off, it’s a little pixelated, there are weird looking letterforms or the icon/symbol is a bit difficult to decipher, people will wonder if that’s an indication of the attention to detail a customer can expect from that business. It is easy to venture down this path of “good enough” to save on time and cost. However, creating a quick logo and calling it a day is somewhat of a “false start” because re-designing a logo after it has been printed onto merchandise, signage, business cards, products, letterheads etc.. is a costly endeavour that shouldn’t have to happen if the logo is done right the first time.

Being deliberate in all aspects of your logo and trying to keep it clean and simple is not as easy as it seems. However, it is of utmost importance in assuring that nothing is misconstrued. This means spending time with your logo and making decisions based on how clear and sharp it looks up-close and from a distance. Making sure that your logo is a scalable vector file is one way to achieve this (files such as an .eps, .svg or .ai). Keeping a logo clean and simple also means assuring that your logo doesn’t look like something unintended. Clarity in design should eliminate any missteps in visual double entendre. Just take a look at the logos that pop up after typing “worst logo designs” in a web browser and you can see just how something that might have been created with good intentions could go horribly wrong. There is such a thing as being “too close” to a project, whereby you no longer see the faults in your design. Taking a step back and looking at your logo from multiple angles can help you regain perspective. Getting someone you trust to look it over and give honest feedback could also help. The important thing is not to leave anything in logo design to chance.

Demographics with specific needs may respond better to businesses that speak directly to them and understand them.

Considering your audience and their affinity to certain things such as typefaces, colours, and letterforms will save you from alienating the people you are trying to reach. Your audience might be predominantly online which generally means they read sans-serif fonts on a regular basis. It also means they are accustomed to seeing things with higher contrast which means the use of bolder colours might work well in your logo. Demographics with specific needs may respond better to businesses that speak directly to them and understand them. For example, if you had a business that was designing a special software that helped people with vision challenges you would want to make sure your logo was well-spaced, a bit larger and had a great amount of contrast. You would make sure nothing in your logo was too abstract and that no unique letterforms were used. You would also make sure to use a monochromatic colour palette with very few tints or shades, possibly a one colour logo that passes the test of an online colour contrast checker. (You’d also want to make sure you adhere to good accessibility design practices beyond your logo, but for the sake of this article I am only going to focus on the logo). By taking the time to think about where your logo is going to be seen, who is going to see it and in which media it will be seen from the beginning, you are able to make some deliberate and purposeful design decisions that should give your business the identifier it deserves. This means considering things aside from personal preference and making some decisions based on research and fact.

Knowing your audience demographic and catering to their specific needs and interests in designing a logo shows how deliberate and purposeful you are in business. Although most people will not take notice of some of the best design, poor design is off-putting and easy to spot. Carefully executed design is another way of showing just how much you care about your customers and the success of your business.

What does your logo say about you? Insight TWO: My logo says “I know what I’m doing”


What Does Your Logo Say About You?

This is the first blog in a series that discusses the importance of logo design for small businesses and some best practices in finding the right voice for your logo. Do you know what your logo should say about you?

“All I need is a logo!”, Maybe you’ve said it or you’ve even thought it. “After all once I have a logo for my business I have something I can put on my website, business cards, packaging, signage, social media pages and letterhead. Once I have a logo I can brand everything easily.” This is a common misconception about the role and use of a logo that is often made when it comes to starting a business brand.

Your logo is the identifier under which your business operates. It’s like the flag of your own personal country complete with its own culture, beliefs and supporters.

In business your budget is always top of mind, and the things that don’t immediately improve the bottom line don’t usually get a large portion of the operating budget. After all, businesses are meant to make money, and more money can be dedicated to design once it is there to spend, am I right? Not quite. This way of thinking can be counter-productive and could lead to a logo that is created in haste and regretted soon thereafter. Logos created with limited thought can appear cheap and tarnish a reputation that is just developing. The saying “you never get a second chance to make a first impression” rings true for businesses as much as it does for people. Your logo can make a good lasting impression and give you some credibility if you take care to make sure it is saying the right thing about your business from the very beginning. It is also important to understand that your brand is so much more than your logo but starting your business conversation with a carefully executed logo can speak volumes about your brand.

People make inferences about the world around them on a daily basis. Big businesses will sometimes take advantage of the psychology of colour and environmental psychology when developing visuals, storefronts and graphic identities. They will use personality and social psychology to make decisions on messaging, experiential and interactive design. Big businesses usually have the teams and resources to make a positive and lasting first impression. However, most small businesses and startups don’t have the luxury of conducting exhaustive surveys and beta tests before making decisions. Often times in a small business it is one person taking responsibility for all of the decision making. Weighing the pros and cons of every situation and taking stock of time spent on tasks that aren’t directly making money. Small businesses often don’t have the funds to hire an agency to help them with their design and marketing challenges neither. This shouldn’t mean things are developed by chance in a vacuum. What it does mean is small businesses have to find cost effective ways to develop things such as logos. While I would advocate engaging the services of a seasoned graphic designer, there are ways of limiting your costs when employing a contractor’s services. Good research and the opinions of other professionals you trust can be a cost effective way to start to develop a logo that has the character you intend to put forward. Researching on the web is the first step but should not be your last. Exploring design magazines, and books in your local book store or library can open your eyes to the possibilities that are out there and give you ideas for how you want your logo to represent your business. Doing your homework can help you when you need to involve a graphic design expert because you will have done much of the legwork necessary in developing well thought out concepts and ideas. Honest criticism is key. If you can’t count on someone to have a different opinion than yours from time to time then an exercise in finding your logo’s voice will be fruitless.

Your logo is the identifier under which your business operates. It’s like the flag of your own personal country complete with its own culture, beliefs and supporters. It should speak volumes about your purpose, knowledge, character and ability to communicate as a business. Your logo tells the world what kind of business you run and what kind of business you aspire to create. It is for all these reasons that extra care and effort should be taken when approaching logo design. Stay tuned for the next blog What does your logo say about you? Insight ONE: My logo says “I am deliberate and purposeful”


Interviewing Your Graphic Designer

It seems as though graphic designers are a dime a dozen these days. Competition is fierce and everyone is vying for their own piece of the proverbial pie. Which for the small business owner looking for someone to do graphic design work, is a blessing and a curse. Having options is always great, however, finding that diamond in the rough—the graphic designer that stands out from the crowd and suits your needs best—takes a bit of research and interviewing.

As a small business owner or solo entrepreneur you need to be able to trust the person that is offering you a service. This trust is not something that comes easy to anyone with their own business. To rely on anyone else to help with something you’ve poured your blood sweat and tears into is a scary and gutsy move. After all you’ve had to take on all the responsibilities that come with being the person in charge. However, being the marketer, accountant, purchaser, salesman, IT specialist, graphic designer and every other part of the business can prove to be too much for most people. Realizing your strengths and shortcomings can help you in deciding where to focus your time and effort most effectively. I understand the things that run through the mind of a business owner when outsourcing anything let alone graphic design. Will the contractor understand your desired intentions? Will they be as attentive and careful in working for your company as you were in building it? Will this be worth the cost? Can I get this somewhere else for less? Can I do most of this myself?

A lot of these questions and more can be answered from your first meeting with a graphic designer, and by checking out their work online. However, having a list of key questions prepared to ask your potential graphic designer will help you with this important decision.

1) How did you become a graphic designer?

The answer to this question should tell you a bit about the educational background of the designer you are interviewing. In Canada, there are schools that are affiliated with the Graphic Designers of Canada (GDC) and/or the Registered Graphic Designers (RGD). Both The GDC and RGD serve as professional governing bodies with their own ethics and goals in elevating the profession of graphic design and advocating its value to society. While not every graphic designer is a member/affiliated with these professional groups, their degree/diploma should come from a partner/affiliated school that offers a recognized graphic design program. Knowing the educational background of your graphic designer is an assurance that their work should be original, professional and warrantied. Self-taught graphic designers can be just as good as those with post-secondary training but may not have all the knowledge necessary to make the same assurances.

2) Where might I have seen some of your work? (Where can I see some of your work?)

The answer to this question will tell you how much experience your designer has outside of school. Most designers will tell you of the projects they were most proud to work on and lead you to view their portfolio online. New graphic designers will likely have a collection of student work to show and rationales to back up their design choices. It is important to note that a graphic designer with real world experience is of great value and will likely cost more, however, if you believe in giving people their professional start you may want to contact a recent grad. You should keep in mind that student work is usually directed by an instructor that guides the creative process the more a student can tell you about their work the more they understand what their designs were meant to accomplish.

This question should also lead into a conversation about recent work and a short look through a graphic design portfolio. If you aren’t impressed with a graphic designer’s work don’t work with them. It is that simple. However, if you feel like you haven’t seen enough work to make a decision feel free to ask to see more work samples. An experienced graphic designer should have a number of pieces that relate to the kind of work you are offering.

Never ask a graphic designer to create a design for you for free in order to come to a final decision in hiring them. While some graphic designers might take you up on the offer this practice is considered to be “spec work” and most professional graphic designers won’t do it. You wouldn’t expect a hairstylist to give you a haircut for free in the off-chance that you might employ them in the future to do your hair–the same goes for graphic designers. You can read more about spec work and how it impacts creative professionals at

3) What is your design process (when starting a new project)?

When you ask this question you are looking for an answer about process that involves listening to your requests, and involving you in the core design decisions while researching and developing concepts for presentation before refining and completing the designs. You want someone that is going to provide viable options in early concept development and further refinement as design decisions are made and feedback is given. Not all design projects require a lengthy process, however, knowing the steps involved in starting a new project will let you know how much care will be taken to assure that you get the designs that work for you. (More on good design process vs. the cost will be discussed in a later post).

4) What are your rates?

It is important to discuss budget and money up front. You are looking for someone that is going to be up front with you on their payment expectations and varying rates of pay. This helps clarify expectations and opens up a dialogue for negotiation. Most graphic designers have an hourly rate based on their years of experience, their capabilities, the quality of their work and the local market. Some graphic designers will even have flat rates for specific projects like logo design and visual identity packages. Some designers will also negotiate lower rates if the amount of work spans a number of weeks of full time work or if a retainer agreement is arranged. You can also expect rates to change based on how the designs are going to be used and whether or not all rights to the designs are required in perpetuity. Don’t be afraid to ask how many rounds of feedback/changes are built into project fees and what is expected if a project requires more changes than estimated.

It is also important to ask if printing will be handled by your graphic designer or if that aspect of the project is up to you to arrange. Graphic design fees are generally for the design only unless printing is expressed as a requirement of the project up front. Most graphic designers will charge a mark-up on arranging the printing, however, they will usually have a printer they trust in mind to assure the print work turns out all right. You are taking a gamble when you leave your graphic designer out of the printing process. Even if you want control of who does your printing it is beneficial to arrange for your designer and printer to communicate directly.

Be prepared to have questions about rates and fees thrown back to you. Specifically the question “What is your budget?” will usually be asked. This question shouldn’t be regarded as a way of probing you for big bucks but a way of gauging your limits and whether your terms would be agreeable for the project in question. If your budget is way off the mark the conversation will change from “what can be done for you” to “what will be done for that price”. If your budget is close to the value of the project it is likely to be accepted. This is usually a good place to finish the interview and either exchange information or let your candidate know what you have decided.

Hopefully by the time your potential graphic designer has answered these questions you have a good feel for their graphic design expertise, ability, aesthetic, process, costs and demeanour. You may want to add a few more questions that relate to your specific project (for example “Are you capable of web design?” or “Have you created any point of purchase displays in the past?”). Above all you need to be able to say “I am confident I can work with this person”. Someone you hire to work for you needs to be someone that is a good “fit”, all other answers to your questions would be moot otherwise. All that said you should be ready to discuss contracts and be well on your way to seeing your ideas brought to life by your chosen graphic designer.