Milton Glaser, the legendary graphic designer best known for the "I Love New York" logo, says that it has to do with simplicity. "You want to move the viewer in a perception so that when they first look at [the logo]...they get the idea, because that act between seeing and understanding is critical," he recently told the graphic design blog Design Informer. We expanded Glaser's point and compiled a list of four characteristics that distinguish great logos from the legions of the not-so-great.
Your logo should stand out and be recognized among the slew of others in the same market space. Matt Mickiewicz, co-founder of Sitepoint.com, suggests staying away from overly used icons, like globes and arrows. And according to graphic designer David Airey, you should keep in mind that a logo doesn't need to say what a company does. "The Mercedes logo isn't a car. The Virgin Atlantic logo isn't an aeroplane. The Apple logo isn't a computer," he writes on the popular logo design site Logo Design Love. So don't feel like your coffee shop's logo needs to show coffee beans.
Strong logos translate well across different mediums. Will your logo evoke the same meaning on a business card as it will on a billboard? "Keeping the design simple allows for flexibility in size," writes Airey. "Ideally, your design should work at a minimum of around one inch without loss of detail." Mickiewicz adds that when a logo does not reproduce well on a small scale it causes problems for a brand's clarity and value. Also keep in mind that it should reproduce well in black and white; the fax machine isn't going away any time soon.
Before embarking on any sort of marketing campaign, you must first nail down your target audience. A logo needs to accurately reflect a company's culture and values: the company's essence. "Designing for a lawyer? Ditch the fun approach. Designing for a kid’s TV show? Nothing too serious," writes Airey. Doing some market research is critical, too. Mickiewicz warns that color is a major attribute in determining the appropriateness of a logo design. "Different colors are associated with different meanings in different cultures. It's important to think about how the colors in your logo reflect your brand values and the services or products you sell," he says.
Milton Glaser created the "I Love New York" logo in 1975. Thirty-six years later, shirts and tchotchkes bearing that ubiquitous emblem still line the walls of gift shops around the world. "I did the bloody thing in 1975, and I thought it would last a couple of months as a promotion and disappear," said Glaser in a 2009 interview for Big Think. Eddie Opara, a New York-based partner with the international design firm Pentagram, says that it's the neutrality of a design that makes a logo timeless, citing the NBC Universal logo as an example. "You look at the clean lines, the symmetry, the modernist structure, the neutrality behind it...and it really exposes the timeless quality," he says. Even though it's been changed over the years, the timeless elements remain.