Get an in-depth look at 10 mistakes that graphic designers make when creating logos and how to avoid or remedy them. Find out what to consider when pricing a logo design. Learn how to make your logo designs better and add value to your work, so you can up your game and stand out from your competition.
- Just one negative experience requires 12 positive ones to make up for it.
- Swoosh logo designs
- Bullet-Proof Logos by David E. Carter
- How to Design Logos, Symbols and Icons by Gregory Thomas
- Idea Index by Jim Krause
- Color Harmony by Bride M. Whelan
- Pantone® Guide to Communicating With Color by Leatrice Eiseman
I’m going to talk about some mistakes that designers make when creating logos. These mistakes won’t serve you—or your client—well. If you’re guilty of any, that’s OK. No need to confess. Just stop committing these logo design sins today.
Mistake #1: Not asking the right questions or doing any research
You must always find out the client’s goals and how they want to be perceived by their audience. You also want to find out who their audience is and who their competitors are.
There are a lot of reasons for asking these questions in the first place. First, the simple act of actually asking these questions is going to set you apart from your competition. And that’s going to add value to the services that you offer, and that means that you can charge more. Cha-ching!
Second, you need to understand the client’s goals and how they want to be perceived, so that you can understand the design direction you need to take to accomplish those goals. For example, the client might want to appear more professional so that they can be taken seriously in order to get investors. Or maybe they’re an older company that wants to appeal to a younger audience, so they need to have a more modern-looking logo that appeals to that younger crowd.
Third, you need to understand the demographics of the audience that you’re designing the logo for—and by that, i mean, the client’s audience—and you need to find out their age, gender, job title perhaps—are they high-level business people or are they teenaged students, for example, and are there any cultural sensitivities to keep in mind?
Fourth, When you research what the logos of their competitors look like, you are doing some form of due diligence by NOT creating something in a likeness of another logo. Just say NO to copyright infringement! But, anyway, researching the logos of competitors will also make sure that your logo design will look better than theirs.
Finally, the answers to these questions will be the basis for the brand style—whether that’s modern, techy, fun and playful, or professional and conservative, or something else. This style should dictate the typefaces and colors that you choose for the logo. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen an organization trying to look professional, yet they’re using Comic Sans or Papyrus in their logo! I’m sure you’re laughing if you know what I’m talking about. They just won’t be taken seriously. Leave Papyrus in Egypt, where it belongs. And by the way, there was even an SNL skit about that font.
Mistake #2: Starting with implementation, not ideas
This became my process after working for a design firm, where they always approached logo design in this way. What I mean by this is when you go straight to the computer to start creating logos as opposed to first sketching out rough ideas on paper. Call me a geek, but I also like to pull out a thesaurus and look up synonyms for some of the keywords the client provided for how they want to be perceived or about the type of work that they do or the service or product that the logo might be for. This helps me think of images that I could use to depict those words in the design. For example, I recently redesigned a logo I had created a few years ago, where here was a dog and a suitcase. This was for an in-home dog boarding facility. The client had just purchased a much larger property and was moving the business there, so she wanted to add a tagline that used the word “farm” and wanted to have a farm theme. So I made a list of farm-related imagery that i could try to incorporate into the logo with the dog.
The other problem with starting with the computer—instead of with the sketches—is that you may get to a point where you don’t know how to do something in Illustrator—or in that other vector program that you’re using—and that could limit what you do with the design. Speaking of Illustrator, you are using that or another vector drawing program, I hope. Which leads me to…
Mistake #3: Not starting with a vector file
This is one I’ve seen quite often in my 20+-year career, when asking clients to send logos to be placed in a print piece or on a website. When you don’t start with a vector file, then another designer at some point—trust me, because I’ve been the one to recreate them many times—will have to recreate the logo, and that won’t make the client happy, and it will reflect very poorly on you. Vectors must be created in Adobe Illustrator or another vector-based program—not, I repeat—not Photoshop! Saving a file as an EPS from Photoshop does not a vector make either. I can’t tell you how many times a client or another designer has sent me a file that I had requested to be a vector and it was originally a TIFF or other raster format. They just saved it as an EPS from Photoshop, thinking that would be a vector EPS. It’s totally different.
Vector images are the opposite of raster images, and vectors are based in mathematical equations, so when you scale them down—and even UP—they don’t lose any quality. They are resolution independent, meaning they can be output at any resolution.
Rasters, on the other hand, are what you create in programs like Photoshop. They are pixel based and can only be scaled down without a degradation in the quality. When you scale them up, you get pixelation—meaning looks like crap. Also, rasters don’t easily allow for transparency, like vectors do, since vectors won’t have a background unless you actually add one.
You have to think ahead to possible applications for a logo—billboards, posters, vehicle wraps, stitching on clothing, etc. You and your client might assume you will not have a need for those, but, trust me from experience, it will happen. You don’t want to backpedal and have to recreate a vector file because you didn’t do it in the first place.
Mistake #4: Not creating the logo concepts in only black
There are several reasons for this. First, with presenting the concepts to the client. Early on in my career, I presented fully done colored logo designs, and I quickly learned that clients would choose a logo design based on color—mostly their personal preferences, which should not be the case, by the way; it should be about what makes sense for their audience. Presenting logos in only black allows the client to focus on the design, not the colors, which they can be swayed by without even being cognizant of that.
Another reason for creating the logo in black is to ensure that the design works in one color—no matter the color. Let’s say you have overlapping elements that are different colors, that might work fine in color, but then when you make them both one color, you can’t make out what they are. This is especially important when it comes to black/white photocopying and fax machines. But it’s also vital when it comes to applications such as embroidery on a shirt, for example. Also, there will be a need for the logo without a background to be placed onto some other company’s website or in a brochure—with their own colored backgrounds. Providing a vector file in black or white will allow for the logo to properly stand out against any color background.
So just save the color choices for the next round, with the logo design the client selects—and limit the number of colors to two, which will be the primary colors for the brand.
Mistake #5: Using trendy design elements or typefaces
Remember in the early 2000s when every company had a swoosh in its logo? You couldn’t see that, but I just rolled my eyes. Most of them didn’t even make sense having a swoosh in the logo. It served absolutely no purpose. The swoosh was a big trend, and it dated the logos very quickly, as a result. Same thing with funky typefaces. They have their place, but for the most part, simpler is better and longer lasting. Your client won’t appreciate having to redo their logo after just a few years because the typeface went out of style.
Mistake #6: Not assessing how the logo looks when it’s tiny
A little while ago, I mentioned needing the ability to scale UP a logo. But there is a need to see what happens when a logo is scaled down super small, like about an inch wide. You have to make sure that the words will still be legible and that any lines or outlines won’t disappear. I often see logos that have been designed with huge contrast in size between the text and the icon or image in it, or even between some of the words, where you can read one word but not the other at the smaller size.
I was actually guilty of this with my own company’s logo design, which is why I redid it years ago. I would never create a logo with this issue for a client, but I had done it for my own business. The logo had the business name with an icon to the left of it. It was all fine—for years even—until I sent it to a company to place it on their website—where it appeared small and with other logos. I was so embarrassed because, here i was a logo designer, and my own logo wasn’t that legible at the smaller size. The icon in the logo was too large and dominated the design, and you couldn’t read the company name very well because it was too small.
Now, if you create a pretty long, horizontal logo, you should create what’s called a “stacked” version if the logo needs to be used in more of a square-shaped space or if it needs to be used smaller, so it will be legible. Let’s say you have a logo with an icon on the left and company name on the right. The stacked version would entail taking the icon and then placing the text underneath, instead of to the right, so the design fits into more of a square shape, rather than a rectangular one that won’t be legible when it’s made very small.
Mistake #7: Not providing a brand guide with colors and typefaces—or providing a brand guide at all
Even if you aren’t providing an extensive brand style guide, a 1- to 3-page document listing the colors for print and web, and the fonts that you used, is necessary. What’s also really important is providing the color equivalents for the colors you chose for the logo.
I already mentioned creating a black-only version of the logo as well as a two-color version. Those two colors should be Pantone colors, also known as spot colors, because they’re not “built” colors—or mixes, in other words—as CMYK colors are. Spot colors are used either when a client isn’t printing in full color or if they are printing in full color and with their specific brand spot colors. That is often the case with really large businesses that might actually have a custom spot color made for their brand.
At some point, the client’s budget and their print quantity are going to dictate whether they print in full color or in spot colors.
So you need to pull out your Pantone books and find the coated and uncoated versions of those Pantone colors. This can be tricky because some colors print a completely different color on uncoated paper stock. Ink doesn’t soak in as much on the surface of coated papers, and on uncoated papers, the ink soaks in more, making the colors darker.
Here’s an example—and if you have a Pantone book, then pull it out. Pantone 123. It is clearly yellow when printed on coated paper. But on uncoated paper, it becomes orange. Now that would be a surprise for a client to see that—and it would not be a good one! The remedy is to look for close matches of that color on coated paper stock to how it looks on uncoated paper stock from the Pantone books. In this example, you would specify in the brand guidelines that the client use 123 for coated paper and 115 for uncoated paper, because 115 on uncoated paper is a very close match to 123 on coated paper.
By the way, yellow is not the only color this happens with. There are some dark blues that look purple on uncoated paper. So always consult Pantone books to check.
After you’ve done that, you need to do the same for CMYK mixes for each of the Pantone colors used in the logo—for coated and uncoated paper. Finally, you should specify RGB and hexadecimal codes for the colors for use on the web and in e-mail newsletters.
OK, that was a lot, so let’s recap what you should end up with, at a minimum, in the brand style guide:
- Names of typefaces used
- Pantone colors for coated and uncoated papers
- CMYK mixes for coated and uncoated papers
- RGB and hex values for each color
Mistake #8: Not providing what I will call a “suite” of logo files for use by the client
Let’s look at some ways the logo will be used. Clients might need to send logo files to vendors for signage or printing of mugs. They might want to create Microsoft Word documents or PowerPoint presentations. They also might need to send their logo to be used on another website, say, as part of a sponsorship deal. There are a lot of files to prepare!
For printing, you need to prepare the vector files in PDF format from Illustrator or another vector-based program, and then you need high-resolution TIFFs. For medium-resolution applications—like Word and PowerPoint—you need JPEGs and PNGs. For the web, you need PNG and GIF. You could also offer an SVG format.
SVGs are vector images for the web, so they’re not raster images, and they’re scalable without a degradation in quality, just like vector files are for print. To create these SVG files, all you have to do is open the logo files in Illustrator or another vector-based program and then save—or you might have to export depending on the program—as SVG format.
Note: You usually don’t need a JPEG of a logo for the web because JPEG is a format that’s better suited for photos and images with gradations of color. Logos consisting of solid colors, text and shapes or lines are best saved as PNG and GIF files. If saved as JPEGs, they just aren’t as crisp.
These files should all be created from those vector PDF files. Use those as your source files for everything. I create all of those PDF files first, and then I paste them into Photoshop to make the other formats.
These are the PDF files I recommend you create—but first, remember to convert all of the text in the logo to outlines so that when somebody goes to open the file, they don’t need to have the fonts. Plus, you don’t want to provide anyone the opportunity to just go in and change the font in the file either. But there’s also the issue of font licensing, and you’ll need to check the font license to see if you’ll be allowed to provide the client with the fonts, or if they need to purchase their own license. Be sure to save one PDF file or Illustrator file with the text left as editable in case you ever need to make text edits to the logo in the future. It will save you a lot of time trying to figure out what size you had that text and then you’ll just be able to make edits if you need to.
OK, for PDF files, you need:
- A black version
- A white version
- A two-Pantone color coated version
- A two-Pantone color uncoated version (if you’re using different colors for uncoated paper stock, depending on the particular colors and if they’re going to drastically change when printed on uncoated paper)
- A CMYK coated version
- A CMYK uncoated version (again, if using a different color mix for the uncoated paper stock)
Then you need TIFFs saved at 300 dpi and in black, CMYK coated and CMYK uncoated (again, placing the corresponding PDF files into Photoshop and saving as TIFFs in CMYK mode).
Now for Word and PowerPoint files, which should be 150 ppi, you need:
- A black JPEG
- A black PNG
- A black GIF
- A white PNG
- A white GIF
- A color JPEG
- A color PNG
- A color GIF
Note: PNG and GIF files support transparency. So you can’t create a white logo in JPEG format because the background will also be white and because JPEGs can’t be in layers and it’s always going to be a flat file, and you can’t do white on white.
Files for the web should be 72 ppi and in RGB mode:
- A black PNG
- A black GIF
- A black SVG
- A white PNG
- A white GIF
- A white SVG
- A color PNG
- A color GIF
- A color SVG
For the raster images, which are the non-vector files, I usually create these at about 5 inches wide or tall, depending on the orientation of the logo. That ends up being about half the size of a sheet of paper and that should be sufficient for the size the client would need for their own use. And I tell them to send their vector files out to vendors.
Shoo! That was a huge alphabet soup of files there.
Mistake #9: Not properly masking areas of a vector file
By this, I mean a vector file that has some masking done, but it’s got white shapes used to cover up other pieces of the logo instead of properly removing it from the logo via the pathfinder tool in Illustrator. The problem with this is that when you go to place that logo on a colored background, the white that’s been used to mask another piece in the logo actually shows up, and you don’t want that to show up because that really should be transparent. The solution to this is to select an area that you don’t want to have in the logo and then subtract it from the background via the pathfinder tool in Illustrator. If you have any shapes or text that have white outlines, then you need to make sure that those outlines aren’t going to end up white on a colored background either. So you need to do the same thing with those. In some case, you may intend for part of a logo to have whit background, and that’s fine, and that depends on the design. In that case what you could do is have a set of files that has a white background where needed and then you could have a second set of files that has the transparency in that area.
Mistake #10: Not charging enough for a logo design
OK, this mistake doesn’t relate to the actual design of the logo but it’s related to it, and it really pisses me off. And that is not charging enough for a logo design! Don’t undervalue this work. It’s a lot! And you’re giving the client copyrights to their logo, and that’s also worth something.
Logo design is just one part of a brand. But first, let’s clarify what a brand is. A brand is not just a logo. It’s the entire experience that prospective and existing clients or customers have with a business or organization—from the look of promotional materials to how the business or organization interacts with the clients or customers.
A good brand:
- evokes a positive feeling about a business or organization, service or product.
- attracts customers or clients.
- creates trust and loyalty with the audience, so they feel comfortable working with or buying from that company or organization.
- sets apart a business or organization from its competitors.
A poor one:
- leaves a bad impression or none at all—and, by the way, just one negative experience requires 12 positive ones to make up for that. That’s a lot of making up to do!
- is unprofessional and makes the audience have doubts about the business or company. They might be thinking: “What other details is this business overlooking? Are they going to do that if I hire them?”
- won’t inspire the audience to take action.
- is not memorable or unique.
Think about the billions of dollars that the big-name companies spend on branding or rebranding. Take Target, for example. Years ago, they completely transformed their brand, which changed how people perceive them. Every time one of their commercials comes on, you immediately know who it is even if you’ve never seen that particular commercial before. How? The power of branding—the power of their branding in particular. Each commercial has a different song and different set of products, but the colors and the style are all consistent. So, why is that important? Well, it provides instant recognition. (Plus, you might actually enjoy watching their commercials and therefore you’re more likely to remember their name.)
If branding didn’t work and color wasn’t important or influential, then everybody would print black and white sheets from our printers and we would do nothing more. But, since branding is so important, why do so many businesses or organizations skimp in this area or not even create a budget for it?
Oftentimes, it’s because they perceive design as only cosmetic, rather than the visual and strategic form of communication that it is. (By the way, did you know that many colleges require a graphic design course in order to earn a communications or marketing degree?)
A logo design is the cornerstone of a brand from which all the other marketing collateral will be created, whether that’s by you or somebody on their staff.
To solopreneurs, small businesses or small nonprofit organizations, a logo holds value—well, at least to the ones who understand its importance, and if they don’t, I’ve just provided you lots of ammo to use to help them understand. If they still don’t get it, it doesn’t mean you need to adjust your rates.
To larger businesses or organizations, it holds even more value because they 1) might have more at stake and 2) have lots of staff who need to be able to understand what to do—or not do—with the logo. Trust me, I’ve seen some weird things: recoloring of the logo in a completely unrelated color, or resizing it from its original proportions. Things you can’t think of. I don’t have kids—human ones anyway—but I imagine it would be like leaving a bunch of 4-year-olds alone in a room with crayons and markers. Bad things will happen, so tell the client how to prevent them.
So… how much should you charge? This varies based on geographic location, your experience level and many other factors… I’ve charged—and have seen other good designers charge anywhere from $2500 to $5000 to start—for the logo, files and small brand style guide for smaller businesses and organizations. Larger ones would pay into the tens of thousands of dollars. They would also need a more comprehensive brand style guide, which adds to the cost.
There are a lot factors involved with the pricing, but hopefully that gives you some kind of a guideline. Having said that, that doesn’t mean you should never charge less than what I just said. That was just a rough guideline. I do a lot of pro bono work for animal rescues, where I’ll design a website for free or their logo for free. So if you have something you’re really passionate about, like a cause that you want to help out with, that’s up to you if you want to be able to do that. Also, maybe you charge less if somebody has a logo that you just need to refine it a little bit and it’s not a complete redesign. So there’s a lot of factors involved with every single design. But I just wanted to give you some kind of an idea of what to think about when you’re pricing your work. And why if a client thinks that a logo should be $200 because that’s just this number they have in their head and they don’t understand it, doesn’t mean you should reduce your fee to meet their expectations.
You can clearly see there is so much work involved in creating a logo, and there is a lot of opportunity to add to what you’re offering, whether that’s creating a brand style guide if you weren’t doing that before, or maybe it’s that you’re going to start offering Word templates or PowerPoint templates to add to the value that you’re offering.
If you’re interested in learning more about logo design or just need to get inspired, check out the work of Jeff Fisher of Logomotives and his book Identity Crisis. Jeff is an amazing logo designer.
There’s also the Bullet-Proof Logos book by David E. Carter, the How to Design Logos, Symbols and Icons book by Gregory Thomas and the Idea Index book by Jim Krause.
These are some of my favorites that I’ve turned to time and time again over the years.
If you need ideas for color combinations, check out the Pantone® Guide to Communicating With Color by Leatrice Eiseman and Color Harmony 2 by Bride M. Whelan. These too are some of my favorites that I’ve turned to many times over the years. Links to these resources are provided in the show notes.