Although a company’s corporate identity can be beautifully reflected in the design of its logo, all too often shabby execution or lack of usage consistency can make an otherwise competent organization appear unprofessional. Superior design and execution of a logo goes hand in hand with an intelligent, forward-thinking branding strategy. Which artwork, colors and typestyles will combine to create a unique identity symbol that differentiates a company from its competition while reinforcing the firm’s unique selling proposition? In most instances, it takes research, thoughtfulness, collaboration and experimentation to bring such a design to fruition.
Smart, experienced designers start with the basics. If you’ve ever seen a newspaper ad in which a company logo looked blurry or just plain unreadable, you may have witnessed the effects of backwards design. Imagine you are asked to create a logo using an unlimited palette of colors and textures. So exciting! Now, consider how challenging it would be to simplify that circus-style logo so that it appears neatly, crisply and memorably in black and white. Tough job. Effective identity design is like arranging flowers in a vase. Start simply and add drama – if needed – as you go.
Logo designs should always be executed in black and white in a vector software program. What does vector mean? It means that the final artwork is resolution-independent, that the logo could be blown up on a billboard, on the side of a truck or on a wall of an airport and come out as perfectly crisp as it does on a business card. Once a logo has been designed in a vector format, it can be easily converted to raster formats like JPG and TIF for use in various applications.
Raster-disaster logos (as we like to call them) generated out of programs like Adobe® Photoshop® are limited in their use. If the logo is designed at print resolution (300dpi) at 6 inches wide, that’s pretty much what you have to work with. As that logo is enlarged, the pixels in the image begin to separate and as they do so, the file becomes blurry and muddy-looking.
Okay, more basics for logo design: No screens or grayscale effects, no gradients and no weird treatments that can’t be saved out as outlines. Turning a typeface into outlines in Adobe® Illustrator® transforms a font into a piece of artwork, a useful tool that ensures that the typeface isn’t required each time the logo is used by a different person with a different computer in a different location. This also ensures that the identity retains its precision detail and doesn’t fall prey to the disastrous effects of missing or substitute typefaces.
When we show corporate identity designs, the very first proofs are clean, crisp black and white options. Once a client indicates their preference, we proceed into color management, sometimes using a company’s existing color palette to help transition them into a new identity while retaining certain recognizable branding elements. After thorough research to ensure that we do not recommend a key competitor’s primary colors, palettes are chosen and the logo is rendered in PMS spot colors. The Pantone Matching System is an industry standard color-matching system in use around the world. Most logos are created using PMS colors which can easily be converted into CMYK for use in full color process applications or into RGB for web or broadcast purposes.
Color can be a reflection of personal taste (the CEO’s favorite color is purple), accepted industry norms (many industrial firms lean towards blue and gray), intention (red for boldness, green for freshness) or, going back to square one, a need to separate and differentiate your firm (using fluorescent pink when no one else does). As repetition is a key component of branding, it’s important that clients select colors that they actually like. Once colored versions of the logo have been approved, we render the logo in black/white (straight black and white – no screens), grayscale (using screens of black if applicable), CMYK and PMS colors in a variety of formats: PDF (Adobe® Acrobat®), JPG (compressed raster – suitable for use for most in-house applications), TIF (raster), EPS (vector) and AI (native Adobe® Illustrator® format).
Usage consistency is another important element of creating and maintaining an effective corporate identity protocol. In the best situations, a logo should exist in its original, pristine state. It should never be twisted or twirled or stretched or bloated or crowned with dancing flames, as some folks are wont to do. Just because a software program offers a myriad of exciting features doesn’t mean that employing them at every opportunity is always the wisest decision.
When commissioning a new logo design, many firms request a Usage Manual. This style guide typically comes as a neat little booklet filled with specific guidelines that detail exactly how a logo should appear in every conceivable situation. Examples include how the logo should be handled when reversed out of a color, embroidered on a polo shirt, screen-printed on signage, laser-engraved on a pen, rendered on the side of company vehicles and so on. It is an incredibly valuable tool that should be provided to multiple employees at all company locations to protect the integrity of the design.
When a company and a design team truly work together, the creation of a new or transitional identity can be an exciting, invigorating process that breathes new life into a company’s ability to make a memorable visual impact on their prospects, customers and greater community. Consistent branding builds credibility, generates top-of-mind awareness, drives sales, promotes customer loyalty and, executed in the spirit of creativity and originality, can help ensure the prosperity of an organization for generations to come.