The Categories of Logos

Why Talk About the Categories of Logos?

I love to design logos. As a graphic designer, nothing is more satisfying than learning so much about a client’s business that you’re able to create a trademark that represents it clearly. And when a client is excited to use their logo on every facet of their business you know you’ve done your job well. Being able to deliver the right logo for every situation takes knowledge and skill. Knowing the categories of logos and their applications is a key part of the creative process in logo design.

Everyone has their own ideas surrounding what a logo is and what it should be. But, not many people know about the different categories of logos and how best to apply them. In this post, I explore the categories of logos. I also discuss a few new trends in logo design and what they entail. For my examples, I will be using graphics of my dog-nephew, Finnegan, to illustrate the differences between the types and categories of logos. Isn’t he cute?!

Finnegan the Fox Terrier picture and mascot logo. An example of one of the categories of logos.
Finnegan the Fox Terrier and mascot logo example.

First, What Is a Logo?

A logo (or logotype) is simply a graphic mark that identifies a company’s products or services to the public. It is the trademark under which a company does business. A good logo is unique, concise, memorable, and functional. There are many ways to categorize logos; but, for this blog, I will attempt to break logos down into two main categories with distinctive subcategories.

It is also important to note that a logo represents a brand but is not the brand itself. If you compare a brand to a country the logo is its flag. But a brand is much more than the sum of its tangible and intangible parts. And that is a topic for another blog post.

Two Basic Categories of Logos

A logo can fall into one of two categories by its primary elements: typography-based and pictorial-based. A typography-based logo is any logo that relies on unique letterforms and words to create a unique identifier. A pictorial-based logo uses an illustration, symbol, or stylized picture as its uniquely defining feature. Pictorial-based logos may also include type, but typography-based logos do not include pictures.

Typography-based Logos

There are wordmarks and lettermarks. You can probably guess what the major difference is by the name, but let’s dig a little deeper.


Wordmark logo and example of one of the categories of logos.

A wordmark is a logo that spells out the name of the company. They can be one word, a combination of words, and even made-up words. A wordmark looks simple at first glance. However, the design of a good wordmark is deliberate and considerate. What makes wordmarks logos is the distinct features of their structure. Features such as letterforms and font treatments help to make a wordmark unique. Furthermore, fonts and letterforms have perceived personalities that have a subconscious effect on the viewer. For example, due to font choice in a wordmark, the viewer may perceive a company to have any number of brand attributes such as modern, expensive, friendly and even trustworthy.


Lettermark logo with FFT which stands for Finnegan the Fox Terrier. An examples of one of the categories of logos.

A lettermark is a logo that uses an abbreviation or initials of the company name to create a unique identifier. Similar to a wordmark, you need to consider the qualities of letterforms and fonts when designing a lettermark. Good lettermarks are just as expressive as any wordmark. Monograms are lettermarks with highly-expressive attributes.

Pictorial-based Logos

Four subcategories of pictorial-based logos are mascot, symbolic, abstract, and emblem. It is important to note that pictorial-based logos are often inseparable from their names. We all wish we could be Nike or Apple; however, most businesses won’t reach the same level of recognizability from their logo without their names visually connected somehow.

Mascot Logos

Mascot Logo Example

A mascot logo uses a character or stylized depiction of a person as a defining element of the logo. You often think about their associated mascot when you think about Wendy’s, KFC, Pringles, Mailchimp, Green Giant, Mr. Clean, and multiple sports teams. They integrate well into a logo with text. However, when seen on their own, they are instantly recognizable as the identifiers of their respective companies.

Symbolic Logos

Symbolic logo with an icon that resembles Finnegan's head as a cartoon in a circle in front of the words Finnegan the Fox Terrier. An example of one of the categories of logos.

A symbolic logo uses a simplified picture or symbol as the defining element of the logo. You can think of these as modern hieroglyphs. They are sometimes used in place of text to represent a company. However, the company usually needs to have a very established brand before this is recognized independently. Therefore, before you can recognize a symbolic logo on its own, you typically have to see it combined with its written name. Great symbolic logo examples include Apple, Dominoes, Twitter, Batman, Green Lantern, and Hootsuite. (Arguably, one of the best logos globally, Apple, is the best example of this. Apple has made its symbolic apple icon synonymous with its company name. As a result, they no longer have to spell out their name for their audience to know who they are.)

Abstract Logos

An abstract logo makes use of an abstract symbol or icon (that doesn’t necessarily have to represent anything in particular). The simpler the abstract symbol, the better it is for recognition. By making the abstract symbol a specific colour, you can create a distinct look and feel based on colour psychology. Big companies like Pepsi, Spotify, Nike, MasterCard, Adidas, CBC, and Mercedes use abstract logos to help define their brand.

Emblem Logos

Emblem Logo Example

An emblem logo combines text and imagery inside another structure like a badge or patch. These are in the pictorial-based category because emblems require shapes and symbols. They attempt to capture the essence of the company in a kind of coat of arms. These types of logos lend themselves nicely to patches, stickers, social media profiles, stamps etc. Universities and colleges use them to represent more than one side of their institutions in a concise logo. Think Starbucks, Warner Brothers, General Electric, UBC, and UPS, for example.

Are There Any Other Categories of Logos?

There are hybrids of each category of logo discussed in this blog. In addition, however, different categories attempt to explain the multi-faceted nature of logo design. These categories are unique in that they describe design systems rather than categories of logos. Furthermore, they are dynamic by nature which makes them responsive, adaptive and variable.

Responsive Logos

Responsive Logo Example with progressively smaller sizes

You can’t discuss responsive logos without discussing responsive web design. When a website serves information to the screen of a handheld device, its content becomes more streamlined. Information and content on the website pare down to only necessary, easy-to-read chunks. By streamlining information in this way, a responsive website is more accessible to consumers across devices. This is the basis of responsive design–a design that changes for the size of the device. As a result, logos are viewed in smaller sizes as well. However, most logos are hard to read at small sizes, so responsive logos are helpful.

Responsive logos are a series of progressively simpler identifiers designed to be viewed at incrementally smaller sizes. They are the logo design answer to responsive web design. If you reduce a logo to its most basic elements in incremental steps, you create a responsive logo. Joe Harrison illustrates this concept on the Responsive Logos website. However, responsive design works best with big brands because they have brand recognition beyond their name.

Adaptive/Variable Logos

Adaptive/Variable Logo Example
An adaptive/variable logo was created to represent the energy and movement of a dog that is always on the go.

Some logos are experiments in design. They may come in a few standard versions but can warp, mould, and crop to fit the format of the medium. Most of these are typography-based, and a surprising number of them are for art galleries. It is this avant-garde approach to logo construction that makes an adaptive logo so experimental. An adaptive/variable logo can also be seen as a design system tailor-made for a tradename that creatively captures the entity’s personality.

A great example of a new variable logo and identity is that of Serif by Pentagram. To see this in action, check out the article on Creative Review.

Another great example by Pentagram is the Tribeca Festival identity refresh. Again, the dynamic way they’ve played with the existing logo and new typography create a visual representation of a gathering of people coming together for a festival.

Another example of an adaptive/variable logo is the logo for the Reykjavík Art Museum by Karlssonwilker. The logo is in 3D as a representation of one museum in three different locations. A change of vantage point provides the name of a site of the art museum.

Final Thoughts

Knowing a bit about each logo category and subcategory can help in developing logo options. While categorizing logos may be slightly subjective it helps to know these categories before starting a logo design. Specific categories of logos communicate different attributes to an audience. For example, mascot logos make brands seem more playful, approachable and personable. On the other hand, mascot logos are less serious. You likely would not want to use a mascot logo for a bank or traditional institution built on professionalism and trust.

For the example of Finnegan the Fox Terrier, I think the mascot logo works best. It is a close representation of Finnegan and makes a personal connection. However, it is fun to break the rules and play with alternative design choices. For example, Finnegan the Fox Terrier could be represented less obviously with an abstract logo. The most critical part of logo design is matching the logo to the brand.

I personally love to create symbolic and abstract logos. The potential for using the icons in future branding endeavours is an added perk. Their uniqueness also adds value to a brand. It is easy to see why these subcategories of logos are so popular.

Matching the category of the logo to the brand is a topic for another blog article. Be sure to check back for updates.

For insights on the importance of logo design as it pertains to your business be sure to check out my blog series What Does Your Logo Say About You?

Do have a business in need of a new logo? Connect with me by email for a consultation or visit to check out my work.


Damask for the Masses: Part II

Mixtape damask is the second pattern in the punk damask series because I wanted to pay homage to the mixtape. While audio cassettes have recently had a modest revival with hipsters and record companies for their low cost in production and their difficulty in conversion to digital format, long gone are the days when people would share mixtapes.

Mixtapes Were a Sign of Friendship

I can remember how much it meant to me to get a mixtape from a friend. You could almost measure the depth of a meaningful friendship by the number of mixtapes that were carefully prepared and shared. It was always appreciated the amount of time it would take to fill a 60 or 90-minute tape with carefully curated songs. How close the new music would match your personal preference or challenge your perceptions of music would also indicate how well your friend knew you. Sometimes songs were strategically recorded from the radio when they aired for the first time. Other times it was a collection of new favourites.

Single cassette punk damask unit

Explicit content was all the rage in middle school. It seemed like the parental advisory sticker was less a deterrent than it was a call to action.

Mixtapes Were a Form of Contraband

Sometimes it was a way of sneaking music into the house that otherwise would have been banned from consumption by juvenile ears. Often purposely mislabeled “Tiffany” or “Wilson Phillips,” these tapes would contain the likes of Mudhoney, Soundgarden, Nirvana, Ministry, the Ramones, Public Enemy and Pearl Jam. Explicit content was all the rage in middle school. It seemed like the parental advisory sticker was less a deterrent than it was a call to action. When your favourite band didn’t have the sticker, they were said to have “lost their edge” to appease the PMRC. Looking back, it seems as though it was just another form of rebellion that no one paid much attention to.

Full cassette punk damask wallpaper pattern

Mixtapes Had a Life of Their Own

The mixtapes had a life of their own too. If played in a rogue player, they could be warped, chewed and mangled, forever changing the playback and quality. My mixtapes were no strangers to the Canadian winter neither, often suffering from hypothermia and never fully recovering. Those mixtapes were unique (usually the only ones of their kind in existence). They would still be played through the stretched and garbled sections and parts held together with Scotch tape. It meant I had a special version of a song that no one else had.

Mixtape Damask as a Punk Tribute

As an ode to the mixtape, I have created a damask pattern that is friendly and organic. Its flourishes and leaves integrate into the image of the cassette so well it may go unnoticed. Much like the collection of mixtapes I kept in my youth, this pattern holds meaning beyond its hidden imagery. Like a damask pattern, the more unique a mixtape, the better it was. It is symbolic of the lively collections of tapes that played in car stereos on road trips. The pattern reminds me of pregaming, basement hangout and campfire sessions. It is a reminder of the carefully crafted thematic compilations for every occasion.

However, my mixtape collection is no more. I no longer own a cassette player. Nevertheless, my love for all kinds of music has remained. But lost are the mixtapes of my youth.

If you liked this article you might like other articles in this series like Damask for the Masses Part I and Damask for the Masses Part III.

Do you have a custom pattern idea? Share it with me by email through my Cyan Bold Design website.


Damask for the Masses: Part I

I find the ornate patterning of damask intriguing. The medieval botanical and whimsical flourishes intricately woven into beautiful infinite patterns are striking even by today’s standards. Damask’s versatility as a reversible fabric with an inverse colour pattern on the other side makes it even more enjoyable. While damask has a reputation for being ostentatious and overly dramatic, I felt it would be an interesting side project to blend damask patterning with a “punk/rock” sense of rebellion. A sort of damask for the masses. This first experiment discusses the origins of damask and attempts to blend traditional with contemporary.

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Origins of Damask

Damask pattern has traditionally been associated with the wealthy and elite. Although originally created in China, it was traded in the prosperous medieval craft centre of Damascus. As a result, damask patterns became synonymous with the exotic and luxurious. Because of their versatility and attractive design, medieval kings and queens sought to acquire damask tapestries and textiles of their own. In fact, medieval royals went so far as to get monks to steal artisan secrets. They’d also smuggle silkworms to have ways of producing their own unique patterns.

As a result, damask textiles have seen several resurgences in popularity over the centuries. The Baroque period was highlighted by artworks of grandeur and exuberance. During this period, damask was used in many different ways–including upholstery, wallpaper, and curtains. However, it was arguably at its peak in popularity during the Industrial Revolution. At this time, mass production made what was once considered a rich person’s textile into an affordable textile for the working middle class.

Modern Take on Damask Patterns

Today’s modern technologies have led further towards the democratization of damask by making the pattern even easier to draw and produce. Traditional motifs are cast aside for whatever patterns catch the eye of the consumer. Furthermore, damask has stepped away from the classic reversible fabric to one-sided prints in some instances. My experiment seeks to further the dialogue on what can be classified as damask through edgier and more “punk/rock” subject material. Not having access to a loom or a weaving mechanism myself (at this point), I hope to showcase the possible use of modern damask patterns through images and digital mock-ups.

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My first damask pattern in a series of patterns is a damask skull. This is what damask looks like when someone decides to meld traditional flourishes with edgier modern imagery. Skulls have become a bit of cliché in punk and rock, so it was important to make sure the skull wasn’t too obvious and that it still contained traditional flourishes seen in older damask patterning. As a result, something once considered luxurious is given a new life in a different subculture. It becomes a damask for the masses.

Do you have an idea for a cool damask pattern but need some assistance creating it? Connect with me over email through my website

Check out my other articles in the Damask for the Masses series or try to make a pattern following my seamless brush pattern tutorial.


What Does Your Logo Say About You? INSIGHT TWO

Why You Need the Right Logo for Your Business

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. You can then focus your narrative and clearly communicate your expertise. As well as a key identifier, your logo, says “I know what I am doing.”

Avoiding Logo Clichés

“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.” Unfortunately, this is a common misconception about the role and use of a logo often made when 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 tiring long list of things that have been exhaustively done already. Using any design cliché also risks appearing as though you are trying to copy someone. You should avoid copying to capitalize on others’ success because it 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.

Real-World or Abstract Icons in Logos

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. So 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 stylistically make it your own. 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 more design options in terms of fun typography for a wordmark. 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.

Clichés and Copyright Infringement

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 competitors’ logos and search for things similar to what you are proposing to design. If your proposed logo looks similar to something 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. It also helps to see if it looks like anything that could be mistaken for something else too. For example, the new Meta logo makes use of an infinity symbol which has been commonly used in many logos before it.

This doesn’t mean you couldn’t emulate a particular style for effectively creating, for example, a retro-style logo. It does mean that 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 the right logo for your business. 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!”.

If you’ve enjoyed this you will likely enjoy the next blog. What does your logo say about you? Insight THREE: My logo says, “I communicate well. Check out previous articles in this series like What does your logo say about you? Insight ONE: My logo says, “I am deliberate and purposeful.

Let’s chat about logos! Send me an email or visit for more learn more about my work.


What Does Your Logo Say About You? INSIGHT ONE

In business, our actions must be deliberate and well thought out. Whether to create awareness, make money, foster relationships or simply reward customers, every effort requires some thought before execution. In addition, actions a business makes are also open to public fanfare or scrutiny. Therefore, it is crucial that a business’s image matches its overall purpose and is created with deliberation. Creating a deliberate and purposeful logo takes a bit of forethought.

Creating a Deliberate Logo

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 is how that business operates. For example, suppose a business’s logo is a bit messy. Perhaps, the letter spacing is slightly off, it’s a little pixelated, there are weird-looking letterforms, or the icon/symbol is difficult to decipher. People will wonder if that is an indication of the attention to detail a customer can expect from that business. It is easy to venture down this “good enough” path to save on time and cost. However, creating a quick logo and calling it a day is somewhat a “false start.”. Re-designing a logo after it is already on business assets is a costly endeavour. If the logo is done right the first time, this will not happen.

Being deliberate in all aspects of your logo and keeping it clean and simple is not as easy as it seems. However, it is of utmost importance to ensure 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. Ensuring that your logo is a scalable vector file is one way to achieve this. (Look for files such as an EPS, SVG, or AI for your logo collection.) Keeping a logo clean and simple also means assuring that your logo doesn’t look like something unintended.

Get a Second Opinion

The 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. You will 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.

Think About Your Target Audience

Consider your audience and their affinity to certain things such as typefaces, colours, and letterforms. By using their preferences you will save yourself from alienating the people you are trying to reach. For example, your audience might be predominantly online, which generally means they read sans-serif fonts regularly. It also means they might prefer to see things with higher contrast. The resulting insight tells you 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 have a company designing a unique software that helps people with vision challenges, you would want to make sure your logo was well-spaced, a bit larger and had a significant amount of contrast. You would make sure nothing in your logo is too abstract and that there are no unique letterforms. 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 is best.

NOTE: 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.

Final Thoughts

Take the time to think about where your logo will exist, who will see it and in which media it will be from the beginning, you can make some deliberate and purposeful design decisions that will 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 notice some of the best designs, 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.

Need help with your logo design? You can learn more about how I approach a logo design in my article Add Value to Your Logo Design Process by Creating Options. You can also connect with me by email or through my website


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 everything. I can put it on my website, business cards, packaging, signage, social media pages and letterhead. Once I have a logo, I can brand everything easily.” Unfortunately, this is a common misconception about the role and use of a logo often made when 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.

The Argument For a Logo Budget

In business, your budget is always top of mind. 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 created in haste and regretted soon after that. Logos created with little 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 make sure, it is saying the right thing about your business from the very beginning. It is also essential to understand that your brand is so much more than your logo. However, starting your business conversation with a carefully executed logo can speak volumes about your brand.

Reasearch Your Logo Options

People make inferences about the world around them daily. Big businesses will sometimes take advantage 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 companies 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. This shouldn’t mean things are developed by chance in a vacuum. It does mean that 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. You want to make sure it 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 out there. These should 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 to develop 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.

The Difference a Good Logo Makes

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. A good logo tells the world what kind of business you run and what type of business you aspire to create. It is for all these reasons that extra care and effort should be taken when approaching logo design.

Want to read more? Check out the next article in the series – What does your logo say about you? Insight ONE: My logo says, “I am deliberate and purposeful.”

Need help executing your logo designs? Connect with me by email through my Cyan Bold Design website.


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 piece of the proverbial pie. It is a blessing and a curse for the small business owner looking for someone to do graphic design work. 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. This is why I have come up with 4 questions to use to interview your graphic designer.

As a small business owner or solo entrepreneur, you need to trust the person 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 scary. After all, you’ve had to take on all the responsibilities of 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 decide where to focus your time and effort most effectively.

4 Interview Questions for Your Graphic Designer

I understand the things that run through a business owner’s mind when outsourcing anything, let alone graphic design. Will the contractor comprehend your desired intentions? Will they be as attentive and careful in working for your company as you were in building it? Is the cost going to be worth it? Can I get this somewhere else for less? Can I do most of this myself?

You can answer these questions during your first meeting with a graphic designer and by checking out their work online. However, having a list of critical questions prepared to ask your potential graphic designer will help you with this significant decision.

1) How did you become a graphic designer?

The answer to this question should tell you about the designer’s educational background. Some schools in Canada are affiliated with the Graphic Designers of Canada (GDC) and the Registered Graphic Designers (RGD). Both The GDC and RGD serve as professional governing bodies with codes of ethics and goals in elevating the graphic design profession while advocating its value to society. Not every graphic designer is a member of these professional groups. However, their certification should come from a partner 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. Still, they 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 inform 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 contact a recent grad. It would be best to remember that an instructor usually directs student work that guides the creative process. The more a student can tell you about their work, the more they understand what their designs accomplish.

Recent Work

This question should also lead to a conversation about recent work and a quick 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 you haven’t seen enough work to decide, feel free to ask to see more work samples. An experienced graphic designer should have several pieces that relate to the kind of work you are offering.

No Speculative Work, Please.

Never ask a graphic designer to create a design for you for free to decide on hiring them. While some graphic designers might take you up on the offer, this practice is “spec work” that most professional graphic designers won’t do. You wouldn’t expect a hairstylist to give you a haircut for free on 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 the process that involves listening to your requests and taking feedback to complete a design. Involving you in the core design decisions means the research and development phase will create informed concepts. You want someone who will provide viable options in early concept development and further refinement as you make design decisions and give feedback.

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 is taken to ensure that you get the designs that work for you. (I will discuss more on the sound design process vs. the cost in a later post).

4) What are your rates?

Lastly, it is important to discuss budget and money upfront when you interview your graphic designer. You are looking for someone who will be upfront with you about payment expectations and varying pay rates. You want to set clear expectations, or else you may open a dialogue for negotiation.

Hourly Rates

Most graphic designers have an hourly rate based on their years of experience, capabilities, work quality, 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 work spans several weeks of full-time employment or if you arrange a retainer agreement. You can also expect rates to change based on how you will use the designs and whether or not you need all rights to the graphics in perpetuity. Finally, don’t be afraid to ask how many rounds of feedback you get with the project fees and what to expect if a project requires more changes than estimated.

Print Management

It is also essential to ask if your graphic designer will handle printing or if that aspect of the project is up to you to arrange. Graphic design fees are generally for the design only unless you express the need for print management upfront. Most graphic designers will charge a mark-up for managing the printing. However, your designer will usually have a printer they trust in mind to ensure 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.

Project Management

Most design professionals will be truthful about their expertise and have partners they trust to do the work they are not experts at doing. This work can be anything from web design to search engine optimization (SEO). However, when your designer is responsible for an entire project that includes work from outside their wheelhouse, there may be a mark-up attached to services for special projects. In addition, if one or more third parties work together on a project, you could expect to pay a project management fee. On the plus side, when your designer works with other professionals they trust, they are working efficiently.

However, if you were to find other third-party professionals to work with your designer, there is a chance it might cost more—the extra cost results from an inevitable get-to-know-you period that may hold up the project. This is why finding a designer you can trust to be upfront about project management and all possible costs incurred on a project is critical. Bringing strangers together to work on a project can also lead to unforeseen problems like clashing personalities and miscommunication.

What is your budget?

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 is not a way of probing you for big bucks but 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. Your designer will let you know what they can do for you and what they will do for that price. Your budget is likely to be accepted if it is close to the value of the project. It is usually an excellent place to finish the interview once fees have been discussed. You’ll want to exchange information or let your candidate know what you have decided.

Final Thoughts

When 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 interview your graphic designer a bit more. Be sure to add a few questions about your specific project. 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.

Need more advice on creating an effective logo? Connect with me through my Cyan Bold Design website or read my blog series What Does Your Logo Say About You?