A Bad Logo is Like a Good Mug Shot

New logo? No worries. Logo development is super easy. You just fire up the old internet machine, visit some “createyourownhiplogo.com” website and complete the three following steps:

  1. Pick a random shape

  2. Pick a stupid animal

  3. Pick a flat letter or uninspired symbol

 Boom! Hit enter and then you have your very own inauthentic logo. Meanwhile, somewhere a graphic designer dies a little… and so does your brand’s reputation.

Truth: Logos can’t be bought on iStock or eLance. A logo isn’t a little doodle on a cocktail napkin (though it can start there). And you can’t just plug-and-play a logo design online. With logo development, there are no CliffsNotes or idiot’s guides. It’s not a madlib – it’s a difficult process that takes a massive investment of time, energy and creativity.

Scared yet? Good, you should be.

An authentic logo is an expression of the brand, the people, the proposition. A logo is a promise. So, if you’re not 100 percent invested in logo development, get out and don’t let the door hit you. You’re not doing yourself any favors; you’re not doing the brand you’re working on any favors; and, most importantly, you’re not doing your customers any favors.

At WhiteSpace Creative, we take a different approach to logo development from, say, googling “Free Logos.” And while the following isn’t an exhaustive step-by-step guide, it does represent the amount of work that should go into professional logo development.


Step 1. Discovery

This is where WhiteSpace starts the conversation and hits the books (internet) for research. When we develop a logo for a client, we want to understand their goals and values, so we can understand which brand traits are the most important and need to be represented in the mark. To do so, we ask a ton of questions and we develop personas (we actually give these personas names and assign them wants, needs and other aspects of human behavior). By engaging and collaborating with the client, we are able to understand exactly what the logo needs to reflect – all before we even think about a shape, color or font.

At this point, we also like to survey the landscape of the industry (The competition? Audience? Non-competitors in the industry?).  When we engage with the industry, we get a feel for the lay of the land and see how the logo can be positioned and extended to achieve the ideal results.

We aim to know as much about the client, the consumer and the industry as possible, which increases the odds of us creating a mark that matters. And that’s the business we’re in – making things that matter. When we develop a logo that resonates within the industry and speaks to the client and customers, we’re developing a brand people can believe in. This all starts with our process of collaborating with the client, investigating the industry and understanding the target audience.

Step 2. Sketch

This is where the dirty work starts. We grab a pen or pencil and some paper, sit down and freaking sketch… a lot. We sketch around the research; we sketch around client-provided information; we sketch, sketch and sketch. We make the sketches quick and we make a lot of them. By the end our hands are ink-stained, our fingers are cramped and our vision blurs. And when we’re done, we sketch some more. And when we’re really done, we make a pot of coffee and sketch some more.

Step 3. Select and Create

After we’ve exhausted every option (or lose feeling in our hand), we take our staggering pile of sketches, tape them to our back wall and analyze them until our eyes cross. We bring in copywriters, account people, other designers, managers, VPs (notice a trend – we like to collaborate) and we select the sketches that speak directly to the items we learned in the Discovery phase (Step 1).

Once we’ve narrowed them down, we move into initial designs – develop tighter sketches or throw them on the computer to get a better feel for the mark. Even though we’re moving toward more in-depth designs, we still like to keep them in black and white. We do this to keep the focus on the positive and negative space, the balance, the focus of the mark and the idea. People get attached to color and can lose focus on other important aspects.

Step 4. Refine

This is our longest step – so we wear our comfortable shoes. It is also where the magic happens and the black and white sketch comes alive! At this point, we dive into the color palette, start refining typefaces and stroke weight, and analyze the balance. A lot. We are aware, though, that we can refine the shit out of anything, but budgets are budgets and, you know, deadlines are, well, deadlines. As much as we would like to tinker until the seasons change, we do our best to work efficiently with the goal in mind (see: previous comment about budgets and deadlines).

Step 5. Extend

And now we hit the homestretch. We’re sweaty, our hands are cramped and gnarled, and the low fuel light is on. Now we look back on the material from the Discovery phase and see where this is going to land. We also develop brand guidelines for the mark (the dos and don’ts of this logo), concept some brand collateral and explore other places the logo can go. Our design may be complete, but with any logo we develop, the design is not the ending, it’s the beginning.

While this process isn’t as easy as logging into some logo generating website our old college roommate shared on Facebook because it was trending, we are absolutely committed to the investment of time and energy. A strong logo is a promise, an agreement and a reflection of everyone involved in the brand – agency to industry, client to customer to company. A bad logo, conversely, is like a good mug shot – no matter how good your bad logo is, it’s still bad and now everyone knows what you did.

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