Art of Logo Design by Niyam Bhushan

Art of Logo Design

Copyright January 2006: Niyam Bhushan. Inspired by the vision of Osho. Published under the Free Documentation License (FDL)


01: Must Be A Shape

A simple, vector, shape. Exactly like a glyph.

Imagine the alphabet with a new character-shape added to it. Thus, a logo has to be the most primal shape you can imagine. At times, a logo could also contain more than one shape in it.

02: Must Be Scalable

As a shape, the logo must scalable from about 5mm mm in size, to about the size of a football field, without distortion.

To test the scalability of your logo, start with a logo that is scaled to 5mm in size, make a copy double its size, and go on doing this until you fill an entire sheet. Then print it out and see if the shape loses any detail or suffers from any sort of distortion.

Sometimes, a minimum scalable size of around 1 cm is also acceptable, though it does limit the use of the logo conditions where you have to use it less than this size, for example on a tie-pin, or printed on components or products at that tiny a size.

03: Almost A Square Or A Circle

The logo must have a bounding box that is almost a square or a circle.

A logo that is too tall, or too wide, will suffer when you scale it down to a maximum size of 5 mm tall or 5 mm wide. The second dimension will almost disappear.

04: Convert Strokes to Rectangles, Curved Strokes To Outlined Shape

A logo cannot contain a line or a stroke as its element. Each line or stroke in a logo, must be converted into a thin rectangle, so that it appears to be a stroke.

The famous IBM logo does not have stripes. It appears to have stripes. In reality, those are thin rectangular boxes cut to form the contours of the letter-shapes.

05: Add A Mnemonic Factor

Most logos are forgotten moments after they disappear from view. To aid memory recall, the logo must have something unique and unusual about it, that aids its recall.

The logo of apple computer has an icon of an apple, but the ‘bite’ on the right- hand side is its strong mnemonic factor.

06: Play With Negative Spaces Or Counter Spaces

The apparent empty space or empty spaces around the shape or shapes of a logo, must also tease. If someone looks into them, a new shape should also emerge that adds to the visual metaphors of the logo.

The shape of the Adobe logo contains two triangles pointing down, and one arrow going up. The empty spaces around these shapes forms a stylized ‘A’ shape.

The logo of Hindustan Times contains two horizontal rectangles, followed by two vertical rectangles. From a distance, they echo the letter shapes of H and T.

07: Logotype Is Not A Logo

A logotype, no matter how stylized, cannot be the logo. The only time a logotype can become the logo as well, is if the name it represents contains four characters or less.

Examples: IBM, BBC, NeXT, SONY, NDTV, NBC, CNN, and a few more.

However, using alphabets creates a problem: the meaning of the logo would only be understood by those who can read that alphabet. The vast majority of the world cannot read English. Try the sub-continents of China and India as an example, where two-thirds of the world population dwells.

Never be short-sighted about designing a logotype as a logo that only English- literate people can understand. If successful, the logo will be used in markets and for audiences you cannot imagine.

Poor examples of logotype as logo: Microsoft, Virgin, Airtel.

How ironic that all these three brands are making a great push to enter non- English literate markets with their products and services. Of the three, Airtel is targeting illiterate masses with its mobile and telephony products. Most of virgin’s products and services can also appeal to illiterate people who can afford them. Ditto for Microsoft’s speech or telephony products.

08: Mascot Is Not A Logo

A mascot is an illustration and therefore makes a poor logo. The Linux community suffers because it only has a mascot, the penguin, but not a unique logo.

Air India has its Maharaja as a mascot, but also has a logo that is unique and is emblazoned everywhere as well.

What the logo can achieve, the mascot can never achieve. A mascot is optional. A logo is never optional.

09: Illustration Or Photo Is Not A Logo

A logo is a simple, primal shape, that captures the essence of what it represents.

It achieves this without using tones and shades like a photo would, or strokes and sketchy lines like an illustration.

A logo is powerful, because it is so simple.

10: A Logo Is Colorless

Always design a logo as a black on white shape.

Then draw a white on black version. This to test how it would look against a black background, say a black tee-shirt.

Then draw a simple outline shape, which is neither black nor white – just an outline shape. This to check how it would look if you emboss or engrave it on a surface, such as a glass door, or on leather, or have it cast in gold or another metal.

You add unique, corporate colors to a logo solely to use unique color combinations for creating a corporate or brand identity. Seldom do you notice that a logo gets used in black-and-white most of the time, such as on continuation sheets, and even while faxing or photocopying, where it gets devoid of its colors.

11: Use One Or Two Colors If Possible

Each color you add to a logo almost doubles its costs of production. A logo with three colors is expensive to paint or produce on non-paper surfaces. One with four or more becomes even more difficult.

Designers try to justify four or more colors by convincing clients the logo will be economical to reproduce using the CMYK colors of printing, such as on desktop printers or in offset printing. However, a client also has to use a logo on non- paper surfaces, where CMKY may become impossible or difficult and expensive.

12: Colors Must Be Web, Print, And Video Safe

Use colors that can be represented on the web using

  1. the web-safe palette of 216 colors, or the expanded web-safe II colors;
  2. offset printing on coated and un-coated paper, such as newspapers;
  3. video-safe colors, such as broadcast television.

Sometimes a color could be visible on the screen, but cannot be produced accurately in print, or vice-versa. So be careful while choosing colors for a logo. The color must fall in the common color-gamut of all the three media.

13: A Logo Cannot Have Metallic Colors

How will you represent metallic colors, such as gold or platinum, accurately on the web, in print, and in video? None of these media reproduce metallic colors with their color models.

What will you do with your dependency on metallic colors, if the logo has to be etched, embossed, or engraved on a metallic surface, anyways?

14: Test Inverse Colors

Sub-consciously, you tend to design a logo to be used against a white background. It could be eventually used against a black background, so invert the colors to see if it retains its look. If not, you may have to add a white box around the logo, and that may just break the logo.

Test the color version of the logo by placing it against backgrounds of white, black, and various other colors.

Test the logo by placing it against one of the colors that matches one of the colors of the logo. How will you invert or preserve the color combinations of a logo in such a case? Will you place it against an enclosing box of white or black? Or would you use the black-and-white version of the logo against colored backgrounds.

The Benetton logo is an example worthy of study. So is the Apple logo, gracing so many differently-colored iMacs.

15: Must Be Able To Fax Or Photocopy A Logo

This is only possible if the logo started out as a simple shape design. The Deutsche Bank logo is a superb example of a logo.

The logo of Wipro is the poorest example of logo design. It violates almost every guideline laid down in this book, and hence suffers from a complexity of problems in its reproduction across various media.

16: Can It Be Ported To Other Surfaces Or Media?

First, check if the logo is weavable, so it can be used on all types of textiles.

Then, check if it can be etched or engraved, like on wood, metal, marble, plastic, and several other surfaces.

Can you represent the logo as an embroidery?

Check if it can be embossed, such as on leather, paper, plastic, or other surfaces.

Can you create a landscaped version, such as on a lawn?

The Mercedes Benz logo effortlessly passes all the guidelines mentioned in this book.

17: Summarized Logo Incarnations

To summarize, a logo must have the following mandatory incarnations:

  1. Full-color, CMYK version, for offset printing.
  2. Full-color, spot color version.
    1. The colors used are labelled using an industry-standard, such as Pantone. The colors must also be defined with their web-safe equivalents.
  3. Single-color, spot color version, for applications where using more than one color is not feasible.
    1. The spot color, defined as a Pantone or in another standard, must also be reproducible in CMYK offset. Define the web-safe values as well.
  4. Grayscale version. Tones of gray represent the spot colors.
  5. Black-and-white version. With no other tone.
  6. Line-Art version. Like an outline. Sometimes the black-and-white version works just as well, but be careful.

18: Play With Enhanced Versions

After you have made your six basic incarnations of a logo, play with the full- color version, embellishing it with soft-pillow shadows, lighting effects on its surfaces, applying textures and surface-maps to see how it evolves.

Watch how MTV plays with its logo in their short, channel-id films.

19: Explore The Third Dimension

How will you play with your logo as a 3D version? The need will arise when the client wishes to create a sculpture of the logo, or for purposes of merchandising.

The golden arches of MacDonald’s are architectural symbols for their outlets, and therefore have to have height, width, and depth.

The HBO movie channel, plays with their logo in 3D for all their channel ids. So does MTV.

20: Enhance The Logo For Animation

For television graphics, it is wonderful to have a logo that can be animated. See how you can play with its shapes and dimensions to create a memorable animation sequence.

Animation is also required for mobile phone graphics, flash presentations, and more.

Sometimes, even a simple fade-in of a logo can have a powerful, commanding impact.

21: Test The Logo For Over-Inking

Check if your logo has fine details, such as hairlines or hairline gaps, sharp jutting or pointed edges, or closely-placed shapes. If it does, chances are these details will get lost when the logo is scaled to a small size, or the ink used to print it spills a little more.

Here’s a quick way to test your logo. Reduce it to a small, say 5 mm to 10 mm size. Print it on a desktop bubble-jet printer, using a tissue paper or blotting paper as the media. If all those details get distorted or simply vanish, clean up your logo.

The Tux mascot of Linux suffers from this problem when reduced to a small size. It is an illustration and not a logo.

22: Go Beyond Unimaginative Alphabet Tweaks

Almost all logo designs today, are nothing but the initials of the name they represent, tweaked a little bit here and there. It just shows the designer is being unimaginative or loves mediocrity.

Here are two ways of going beyond alphabet tweaks:

  1. Draw a shape that captures the essence of what it represents.
    1. Be careful, this does not mean you end up drawing an icon. For example, the logo for an on-off switch cannot be an iconic drawing of a light switch. It has to be a circle with that simple line in the centre.
    2. Radio-active waste cannot be represented by the trashcan icon that graces most desktop computer interfaces. It has to be the circle with the three slices converging at a centre circle.
  2. Tweak the alphabets imaginatively for a whole new meaning. This will show the use of secondary imagination.
    1. For example, take a look at the logo of Goodwill. Note how the alphabet ‘g’ also looks like a smiling face.

23: The Viewer’s Imagination Must Get Drawn Into The Logo

A viewer who gazes at the logo must get drawn into it, using her imagination to draw the undrawn.

Some part of your logo must be left formless. The form you draw must jump into the reader’s imagination and give form to the formless.

The logo must conjure up visual cues or visual metaphors in the reader’s imagination.

When a shape is thus actively invoked in the viewer, it becomes a logo. You have to know how to master this art of invocation.

24: Complement A Logo With A Logotype

Once the logo is done, use expert typography skills to typeset the name or word it represents. Do this by:

  1. Choosing a font that reflects the essence of that name or word or the culture it has to represent.
  2. Use expert typography techniques, such as kerning, tracking, ligatures, condensation or expansion, to create a seamless, uniquely set typesetting. This becomes the logotype. An example is the logotype of Dunhill cigarettes, with the tall ascenders.
  3. In the logotype, add a small, discrete mnenomic factor as well. The dropped ‘e’ in the intial logo of Intel was great. Look carefully at the way ‘Microsoft’ is typeset. The ‘o’ and ‘s’ are joined through a subtle cut, gently echoing that this corporation makes operating systems.
  4. Avoid gimmicky fonts or lettering for the logotype. A great logotype has to endure and not look tired once the gimmicks wear out.

25: The Art Of Selecting A Logotype Font

Choosing a font for a logotype is a non-trivial task. Some organizations commission typographers to design a complete collection of matching serif and sans-serif fonts for their use. A whole book can be written on how a corporation or an organization should choose a set of two or more fonts for all its communication.

Only highly-skilled and experienced typographers or designers can capture the essence of an orgniazation in the subtle nuances of the font and typographic settings they choose for the organization’s fonts.

An example of such commissioned work: Stanley Morison designed the famous Times New Roman font for the Times newspaper in London. More recently, the Ecotype font was custom-designed for The Economist newspaper, with further revisions a few years later.

British Airways commissioned a new typeface family called ‘Mylius’. A team of specialist typographers worked to create the custom family, and is also involved in finding complementary sets in arabic, chinese, and other languages.

26: A Logotype With A Long Name or Many Words

Suppose a long name has to be used as a logotype, or two or more words have to be used together for a logotype. Place the letters and words such that the logotype becomes more squarish than wide. Or a main word becomes more emphasized.

Remember the secret of secrets: a logotype is nothing but a word or words strung together to form an unique ligature. Viewers should just look at the total shape and without reading each letter, instantly recognize the word or words.

Example: The calligraphic style of Coca Cola. I doubt many people worldwide can even read those letters. Or those who can, read it everytime they look at it.

27: Let Gravity Play Between The Logo And The Logotype

The logo will often adorn the logotype. How you place the two together is an amazing, intuitive art and understanding of gravity in the universe.

Every satellite, planet, star, and galaxy in the universe is perfectly placed in motion in a huge cosmic balance.

You have to find exactly where the logo has to be placed next to a logotype. Is it to the left, top-centre, to the right, or an unusual place between some ascenders, or a place where magically some hidden lines guide the eye.

When you find the magic positioning, it will feel like a strong magnetic pull. Like a dowser finding water several metres below, aided by nothing but a twig or a tree branch.

28: Overall Positioning In Emptiness

Once you have bound the logo and the logotype in a gravitional pull, carefully decide how they adorn an empty space. Should the logo appear at the top-left, or the top-right, the top-centre, or the bottome-centre, or the centre, or another unusual position?

Ditto for the logotype.

Once this is decided, create a strict style-book, that ensures the logo and logotype are always used in the correct proportions, at the designated position. Test this with a sample business card, letterhead, website front-page, packaging box, newspaper ad, brochure cover, TV graphics, and by pasting these on a sample product, and on merchandising such as tee-shirts and coffee cups.

If it rings everytime, you’ve got it.

29: Add A Leitmotif Element If You Wish

Consider playing with a leitmotif element to discreetly complement your logo and logotype. Sometimes, this could be the slogan of a brand or a company.

‘Just Do It’ for Nike, ‘Think Different’ for Apple, are a few examples.

Sometimes, this could be a visual element, like the curvy line on the left-hand side of every LG electronics communication.

The most daring leitmotif that does not seem to be a leitmotif, is the crazy, wild, colorful, fun approach to design used by Swatch. You don’t even have to check for the logo or the logotype. You just know the colorful plastic band with a plastic watch, wrapped around a wrist, is a Swatch.

30: Finally, A Logo Is Not Really A Logo

It is a Yantra. A cosmogram.