One of my least favorite tasks as a branding strategist is having to tell a client that their current logo or website design does not represent their brand in the best light. The responses I get range from "Yeah, we know, but we needed someone to confirm that" to "But everyone loves our logo!" Loving a logo, or any brand identity or product design element for that matter, should not be the bottom-line basis for design decisions.

Design-- including logos, colors, websites, typographical elements, fonts, packaging, etc.-- is as much about consistency with your brand as it is about style and preference. When creating a logo or brand design, here's what you need to keep in mind. 

What you like is different than what's on brand.

Just because you find your logo pleasing to the eye doesn't mean that it aligns with your brand message. Keep in mind that subconscious factors such as color and design "say" something to the viewer about who you are.

A real-world example of this would be the most recent Starbucks logo change in 2011, the fourth logo design change in its history. In this latest version, all the text was dropped, the mermaid made the sole focus and her color was changed from black to the iconic Starbuck's green. It communicates a "strong" brand, as the image and color stands on its own, sans text.

A visceral response is not that same as an intellectual one.

To the point above, many entrepreneurs will test a logo's effectiveness by asking their family, friends and clients "Do you like this?" But the real question to ask is "What does this say to you?"

As Malcolm Gladwell highlighted in his book Blink, thin slicing is the visceral response we have to something, without thinking. It's that instant feeling you get.  One study from Google found that it takes about 50 milliseconds (0.05 seconds) for visitors to form an impression about your website and determine if they will stay or go.

Whenever I need to test a new logo for a client, I start by asking a few people I know to tell me their first visceral impression of the logo with the simple question "how does this make you feel . The answers always provide a great insight into how the logo (or other visual element) is coming across.

Test your current logo. 

If you find yourself stuck in a logo design conundrum, one way out is to see if said design passes the "on brand" test. Here's how. 

  1. Write down some of your most key brand distinctions. What do you stand for?
  2. Turn those distinctions into a series of questions in order to "test" your logo. Create a question for each quality and rate it on a scale of one to 10. As an example, let's say one of your most important brand messages is being family friendly. On a scale of one to 10, how much does this logo say family friendly to you?
  3. Evaluate your logo's brand effectiveness. Remember, you are just going with your gut visceral response, usually the first number that comes to mind. I suggest you do this by yourself, no input from anyone else. Then ask a few other people to do the same. Keep in mind you are evaluating the logo based on your visceral response to its brand alignment -- not what you "like"-- and make sure that you show the logo mark only and not the name of the company, since this can bias the responses.  

Take action. 

Based on the scores you get in the exercise above, decide on one of the following actions. 

  • Leave It alone. If you scored between an 8 and 10 on the majority of questions, then chances are your logo lines up just fine with your brand messaging and you are good to go.  
  • Give it a facelift. If you scored between 6 and 7 on the majority of questions, then chances are your logo may be working overall, or there are elements of it that are working, and with some tweaks in color, layout and design, you could bring it into full alignment with your brand. 
  • Dump it now. If you scored between 1 and 5 on the majority of questions, then chances are your logo, regardless of how much you (your wife, your team or even your customers) like it, is not fully aligned with your brand and therefore not the strongest choice to represent you in the marketplace. Start over, and find a logo that you like and that positions you properly. 

Designing a logo isn't an easy task to begin with, but being clear on what you are trying to say -- not just what pleases your eye -- will take you a long way toward creating a logo that communicates who you are and what your brand stands for.