Logo Design: What You Need to Know Before Jumping on the Brandwagon

Your company is branching off a new division. Your organization is starting a new program. You and a couple of cohorts have quit the 9 to 5 (opting for the 24/7) and what pops into your head? "We need a logo! A fine logo, a professional logo. We'll put it on our stationery, business cards, website, brochures and business presentations! We'll wear it on t-shirts! It will make us official and respected. We'll be branded!"

Take a deep breath. In the history of design, never once did a design firm single-handedly brand a company solely by the creation of a logo. Logo design by itself is not branding -- it's decorating. The word branding is as ubiquitous today as the word start-up was in the dot com era, but few companies truly understand the heart of branding.

Branding is not the logo that you use to represent your company. Branding is to an organization what personality is to a person. We all know it's more fun hanging out with someone who is funny than someone who has no sense of humor but is wearing a cool hat, or someone who is honest than a liar with a nice belt, or someone who is reliable than someone who's a flake with great shoes. We respect people who volunteer their time and energy helping those in need no matter what they're wearing. The outfit is important when it comes to first impressions, but it cannot by itself define a person.

A logo is a company's outfit. I have seen companies spend an inordinate amount of time and money to come up with a logo, only to realize a few years later that the logo doesn't represent them effectively and they have to start the process over. Young companies get caught hiring designers to create logos reflecting who they think they should be, rather than who they truly are. Or they hope that branding will develop from the logo, rather than the logo developing from branding. An idiot wearing a great suit is still an idiot. It seems silly to let a designer define your company personality for you -- designers have a lot of practice, but what do they really know about who you are? If you watch the brand evolution of some of this country's oldest corporate giants, you'll notice that their logos all relate somehow to the logo they first created 100 years ago. Coca-Cola is still a script font; it is updated periodically, but it doesn't change much. UPS and Burger King both updated their logos within the past 5 years, but neither veered too far from their originals. These companies understood their own brands very early on. The same is true for United Way. The small round hand has been around forever and still conveys the overall message our nation's largest philanthropic organization.

Before you jump on the brandwagon, do some company soul searching. It often makes sense to hold off on your logo until you've had a chance to live with your new company or program for a month--or six. It's no sin to use temporary letterhead, simple business cards and a basic website. Just think how many marriages could have been saved had the two parties involved waited until they were past infatuation to tie the knot (or at least waited until they were sober). Gather your staff and spend a few weeks mulling over the following questions. Come up with some of your own questions. Once the answers are clear, succinct and flow effortlessly, you are ready to call in the design troupes.

What do you do?
Who do you do it for?
Why do you do it?
How does what you do benefit others?
What makes you different from other companies doing similar things?
Who are you? Describe the culture (or personality) of your company using no more than 5 adjectives.
How do you define success? Describe a snapshot of what your company will look like when it is successful.

Clarity from the start will allow you to make an intelligent choice of how to visually represent your company in the form of a logo. Your company is sure to evolve over the years; a well-designed logo reflecting the core of your company will gracefully evolve with you.

ŠArtifex Design Inc.

Audrey Nezer is an award-winning graphic designer in Seattle, Washington. Her company, Artifex Design, creates playful, edgy and effective marketing and communication materials for companies and organizations throughout the United States. Visit http://www.artifex.net to learn more (and win a prize!)

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