What Makes a Good Logo

In its May 15, 2003, 35th Anniversary 'American Icon' issue, Rolling Stone magazine ranked the following logos as the 8 best logos of the past 35 years –

CocaCola, Playboy, Apple, IBM, Nike, McDonald's, Starbucks, FedEx

“Part advertisement, part genius, these are the modern hieroglyphics that world can’t get out of its head!” Gavin Edwards of Rolling Stone wrote about them in his article 'The Logo.' What made those logos that successful? They might belong to different businesses but there are certain elements common in those logos. Those elements are the basic factors that should be considered when designing any logo. Let’s enlist them in no particular order.

A good logo should be Simple

Simplicity is the key to brilliance.
Bruce Lee | Martial Artist, Actor, Philosopher, Filmmaker

"Less is more." Nothing needs to be complex to feature something unique. A good logo is always effective without being put too much in it. The simpler it is designed, the easier it is on the eyes and the faster it registers in minds. For example, look at the Nike swoosh, the distinct curve works on its own –

Nike vs. Thai Talay Restaurant

Previously Nike used to feature its name cradled within the Swoosh, but is using the stand-alone Swoosh as its logo since 1995. Minimalism at its finest!

A good logo should be Coordinated

In order to be successful, you have got to have coordination.
George Potter | Trade Unionist

Most of the logos have two major parts – 1) a graphic mark (a symbol or icon) and 2) a company name (logotype or wordmark). It also may use a supporting tagline. When designed as a unit, each part of your logo must support the other well in order to stand out as a good logo. For example, the Harley-Davidson logo remains as a bold, powerful sign that is ready to lead and is popular among the young specially the males.

Harley-Davidson vs. 3D Farms & Machine LLC

It’s just a bar, a shield and the corporate name that catches all the praise because they are coordinated in a very attractive manner.

A good logo should be Effective without colour

I think the truth is black-and-white.
Nancy Grace | Legal Commentator, Television Host

A good logo does not rely on colour or lose its soul when turned into black and white. It leans more heavily on shape and composition. Your brand mark must work whether it is presented in black and white or in color. If the message of your logo is not conveyed properly when presented in black and white, no amount of colour will transmit it.

Burger King vs. Fierce Photography

For example, when reproduced in black and white, the Burger King logo is still recognizable and appealing.

A good logo should be Focused

I'm focused on going out every day and doing my best.
Maria Sharapova | Tennis Player

Logos are not studied but quickly viewed. It needs to communicate its message immediately. If it’s a good one, just one feature should be enough to help your logo stand out. Just one, not even two. And that feature should never focus on something not related to the brand. For example, how to create a logo related to France? When you think of France, you think of The Eiffel Tower. But the French Property Exhibition logo cleverly uses just the tricolor of the French flag. The logo solely focuses on one relevant element – property. And it looks like an ‘open door welcome’.

French Property Exhibition vs. Braun Dental

It’s French. It’s Property. It’s Exhibition. Perfect!

A good logo should be Unique

Treasure the things about you that make you different and unique.
Karen Kain | Ballet Dancer

Your logo needs to be distinctive from your competitors. This will let viewers know right away that your company is different. For example, the FedEx logo designed in 1994 has won over 40 design awards and is often regarded as the best creative design ever. What makes this simple design so unique? The subliminal arrow locating rightwards symbolizing forward movement and thinking.

FedEx vs. Titan by Merten

Can you see it? No? Click on the FedEx logo.

A good logo should be Memorable

For me, being memorable is more important than winning.
Ricki Lake | Actress, Producer

In order to get past all of your competitors, your viewers’ experience should be such that they can remember your logo at a single glance. If so, then your service or product can be recalled easily the next time they need a service from the industry you belong. For example, look at the current logo of Shell –

Shell vs. Barrett Systems

The use of contrasting colours, the balance between negative and positive space, and a smart use of straight and curved lines make this logo interesting and one to be remembered.

A good logo should be Versatile

I liked being versatile my whole career, it kept me working.
Robert Klein | Stand-up Comedian, Actor

The favicon size is 16×16 pixels only whereas a billboard usually more than 16×16 feet. Your logo needs to be adapted to be used across all media effectively and still not lose its integrity. When your logo is reduced in size of around one inch or placed on a loud background, it should remain distinct and recognizable. It should ideally work on everything from a pen’s cap to a truck livery. For example, the tiny HSBC logo is prominent even when printed on the pen –


But the same can not be guaranteed for the MAFSCO logo.

A good logo should be Describable

If you can't describe what you are doing as a process, you don't know what you're doing.
W. Edwards Deming | Statistician, Author

Your logo should reflect the nature of your business and what kind of product or services you offer. But carefully avoid showing obtrusively what product you sell or offer as a service. For example, Families, a logo designed for the Readers Digest publication, doesn’t have any family illustration incorporated –

Families vs. A.D.S. Videography

But you can still see the family… Can’t you?

A good logo should be Timeless

Classic, to me, is something that’s timeless, enduring.
Ralph Lauren | Fashion Designer, Business Executive

Only the neutrality of your logo can make it timeless. Stay away from fads and trends. Trends come and go. Leave it for the fashion industry. Skinny jeans were for girls even 5 years back. And who wears bell-bottoms now days? But your logo must stand the test of time. It is designed to build trust and loyalty of your brand over long term. For example, the Omega Watch logo was designed in 1894 and has never changed till date –

Omega vs. IBM

Whereas the blue horizontally-striped IBM was adopted as company logo in 1972, but has remained iconic since then.

A good logo should be Relevant

I think the first things that are relevant are that things should work well; they should function.
Robin Day | Furniture Designer

A logo should be connected or appropriate to the business it identifies and the target market. The approach to a law firm’s logo would be completely different from that of a crayon brand. For example, just compare the following 2 logos. Which one do you think is more appropriate?

Puma vs. Arlington Pediatric Center

Anyway, Arlington Pediatric Center has recently changed their logo. It doesn’t give that ‘suspicious’ feeling anymore. But look attentively at the letter C –

Arlington Pediatric Center

Seems like now it has something to do with obese scorpions!

So, now when you know what a good logo is, do you think you too have one? If you realize your logo is not up to par, it is not too late to make a change. The case of the award-winning FedEx logo is already mentioned. Another interesting fact about this logo is that Federal Express reduced the amount of color used on vehicles (planes, trucks) and saved hundreds of thousands of dollars in paint cost with the refinement of their logo.

Federal Express vs. FedEx

Also notice, how the first Playboy logo was way beyond what you see now. The globally renowned rabbit head wearing a tuxedo bow tie was adopted in 1953. Since then, it was never changed.

Old Playboy vs. Playboy

Playboy magazine even claims it once received a letter at its Chicago, Illinois offices with its 'bunny' logo as the only identifying mark, appearing where the mailing address normally appears. That is the power of a good logo… instant identification of brand.

This article is written by me and reflects my personal opinions. It does not necessarily reflect others' opinion on the subject. The purpose of this article is simply to promote design awareness. If you choose to use any content featured at LOGOYOGi.com on your website, credit would be much appreciated. Please note that not all logos / designs used in my articles are copyrighted to me, but rather their respective owners. In the event that there is a problem or error with copyrighted material, the break of the copyright is unintentional and noncommercial and the material will be removed immediately upon presented proof.

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