There is more to a good logo than just good design. There are graphic design principles and unique backstories that make it stand out. We’ll answer what that special value in a logo is through examples in this article.
A great logo is so much more than the sum of its parts. This simple graphic element should represent your brand identity and help you connect with your target audience.
But what does this mean in practice? What makes a good logo, exactly?
While personal taste might have a huge impact, there are several key factors that make a logo design iconic and immune to tastes and changing design trends. In this article, we’ll cover the basic elements of a good logo. And for a more practical take, we’re looking at timeless logo examples and explaining why each logo works.
The key elements of a good logo
Each logo will consist of different design elements such as typography, graphic elements, color scheme, etc. But every great logo has to tick these 5 boxes in order to succeed.
- Simplicity: A good logo is like a joke—if you have to explain it, it’s not good enough.
- Memorability: If people look at your logo for just 5 seconds will they be able to recreate it from memory?
- Relevance: A logo has to match the brand and reflect the brand promise.
- Distinctiveness: Following relevant industry trends is important, but what makes your company/logo different from the rest?
- Versatility: Does it deliver the same impact across a range of uses, from giant billboard signage to business cards?
Let’s dive a bit deeper into each of these characteristics with some notable logo examples.
It’s been said a million times and still rings true—less is more. There are dozens of successful logos that keep it simple and minimal, and yet are timeless.
Think of the Nike swoosh. It might be a simple checkmark, but it is perfectly dynamic thanks to its slanted look like it was nonchalantly sketched with a stroke of the brush. It represents movement, determination, simplicity, affirmation. And it is perfectly paired with the brand’s motto—”Just do it”.
This is an example of a simple design that is iconic, that even one stroke is enough to tell the story. The Nike logo is one we see everywhere, and yet we don’t get tired of it.
Sometimes a simple logo is more than just that. Sometimes it hides a secret message, like the one of FedEx. This timeless logo has an arrow in the negative space between the letters “E” and “X”, alluding to their service—they move and deliver things for you.
At first glance, it’s a two-color logotype with a geometric sans-serif font. But thanks to this “secret message” and a color scheme that’s fairly uncommon, FedEx has a simple logo that works perfectly.
The 5 seconds test is a good way to check if your logo idea is memorable enough. Let people look at your logo for 5 seconds. Then ask them to tell you what it looks like (or draw it). If you close your eyes and think of Coca Cola, you’ll immediately remember the memorable logo’s signature cursive lettering and vibrant red color.
What’s even more impressive about this logotype is that it’s really stood the test of time, since it’s barely evolved in that it’s more than 130 years. Frank M Robinson, who was the bookkeeper of the inventor of Coke, John S Pemberton came up with the logo. He said simply that “C’s would look well in advertising”. And boy, was he right! But why?
Well, Coca Cola is an exciting company name (and especially at the time when it was created), so a logotype that celebrates that was a great way to build brand recognition.
The cursive typeface found on the Coca Cola logo is appealing to young people and children (it kind of reminds you of something you’d see in your favorite storybook), while the bright red color inspires a sense of optimism and energy: the exact effect of a delicious sugar rush!
Not every logo manages to stay intact for over 100 years. However, tweaks and clever rebranding can always help your logo and brand stay relevant.
The best example to learn from is Pepsi. The original Pepsi logo looked a lot different than the one we know today, but the big change came about in the 1940s when the brand introduced red, white and blue as a show of patriotism, in the midst of WWII. It first started as a Pepsi cap, but it somehow made its way to becoming the primarily used logo of the brand. It is reminiscent of the bubbles a fizzy drink makes, and the fact that it is a globe relays a message that it can be found worldwide.
Over the years, Pepsi saw several changes to their logo, however, the key components (color scheme and round shape) persisted, while other elements were tweaked (e.g. the 3D effect introduced in 2003, or the condensation droplets that gave the soda brand logo a “cool” effect).
The Pepsi logo today is more stripped down and minimalistic to suit current design trends, but still retains the core values of the brand: it’s still a proud American brand, and thanks to a redesign from 1962, Pepsi definitely differentiated itself from Coca-Cola, by scrapping the word “cola” from the title of their brand and their logo.
Another brand with an iconic rebranding that changed the course of its history is Apple.
When Apple first started in 1976, they had a very different logo design of Isaac Newton under an apple tree, and a poem by William Wordsworth inscribed in the frame. They chose Newton under the apple tree to depict the discovery of gravity. Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak and Mike Markkula sensed they were about to make a revolution, just like Newton’s discovery.
Apple didn’t stick with the original logo for long, and they hired an illustrator and graphic designer Rob Janoff in 1977 to make a new one. He came up with the bitten apple with a leaf that the company still uses to this day. His original design used a rainbow color scheme, as a nod to the fact that Apple II was the first computer in history to have a color screen. In 1998, the logo went through another redesign and since, although with small revisions, the logo is monochrome.
Unlike the original Apple logo, Janoff’s design perfectly captured the brand promise. The bitten apple, a symbol of curiosity and craving for knowledge, and the simplicity of the design reflects the fact that all of their products are designed to perfection.
A testament to the success of this logo is that Apple doesn’t even use their company name or other signage on their products. In fact, in most cases you can tell Apple products from the rest with just one glance—the timeless logo is just a stamp of approval.
What’s the first thing that comes to mind when I say “coffee”? Beans, cups, latte art, or… a mermaid?
Another key ingredient of an effective logo is daring to be different. No matter how well your logo represents the brand, if it looks the same as everyone else’s it won’t help you build brand recognition.
Probably the most famous coffee brand in the world, Starbucks, has a rather unusual logo for the industry. The two-tailed siren doesn’t resemble any other logo in the food and drinks industry. The siren is inspired by a maritime mythical character, and hence connected to a city with a shoreline - Seattle, where the first Starbucks opened in 1971.
The reason why this logo is so successful is also connected to the overall success of this coffeeshop branding. Starbucks is a pioneer of the so-called second wave of coffee, a movement that transformed coffee from a commodity (your quick hit in the morning) to an experience—cozy coffee places, hip baristas, exciting flavors to add to the bitter drink.
For that reason, it made sense that the logo should have an intricate backstory and a mysterious look that will draw people in (and perhaps even get them talking about it during those three-hour coffee sessions we’ve all had at Starbucks!).
And if someone managed to make a simple logotype distinctive, it’s Ruth Kedar, who designed the Google logo we know very well today. It’s simple, playful, and colorful - meant to tell us that surfing the internet is fun, and it encourages diversity and connectedness. In the tech world, where corporate-looking blues and greys have always been very present, Google’s approachable brand image definitely stands out.
This is also why Google is probably the biggest household name in the tech industry: so much so that their company name has become a widely used internet term: just google it!
What many consider the letter M in McDonald’s world-famous logo is actually a nod to the unique architecture of the first franchised restaurant, which had golden arches built into the entrances.
The font created for this logo is called McLawsuit (no, it’s not a joke), and trademarked for their use only. And since logotypes are probably the most versatile type of logo, a custom trademarked typeface can be a terrific investment to help you build a lasting brand image. One simple letter which you can put on anything from uniforms to food packaging and everyone knows that they’re in for a gastronomic (guilty) pleasure!
The design process of a good logo
The great American art director and creator of many memorable logos, Paul Rand had a famous quote that goes:
“Start with a problem, forget the problem, the problem reveals itself or the solution reveals itself and then you reevaluate it. This is what you are doing all the time. That is the design process or the creative process. ”
That is exactly what your process should look like: first think of what message the logo has to relay, how to accomplish that, rethink the steps and find a conclusion. Here are the steps to follow in a logo design process.
1. Creative brief
Once you have your branding strategy in place and have defined things like your target audience, mission, vision and values, you’ll want to come up with a creative brief that you can present to a graphic designer.
Usually, the more detailed you are the better: a talented logo designer will know when to follow it literally, and when to broaden the scope.
Make sure that your creative brief includes what type of logo you’re expecting (or ask for a couple of variations), as well as a brief summary of the brand promise and explain your potential customers and how you want them to react to your company logo (e.g. do you want it to inspire a sense of excitement, intrigue, trust, etc.)
No good idea ever comes out of thin air and the same is true of logo design. A quality designer or design service will put in the hours to research similar logos from your industry as well as works that match your creative brief.
3. Sketch and concept
After the initial research, a graphic designer will come up with a rough sketch or concept for your logo. This is a good point to consider if your original logo works or you need to turn the idea on its head.
Even the slightest tweak can distinguish a good logo from the best logo, so it’s important to stay critical. At first, you may not find there’s a huge difference between small details like the exact shade of a color or the kerning spacing between letters. But even a slight change can mean a world of difference (imagine the Coca Cola logo in pink; or FedEx in yellow and red).
5. Approval and delivery
Once all your revision requests have been completed, your logo designer should present you with the finalized versions, along with vector formats of the logo fit for different uses (e.g. a black and white version; brand mark you can use on social media; logotype for letterheads).
You should also make sure to include all the logo specs (font, color scheme; aspect ratio) in your brand guide so that anyone wanting to use your logo will adequately represent your brand.
So, how to come up with a timeless logo design?
We hope that by now you realize logo design takes immense design skill and talent, something no online logo maker can ever offer in the same measure.
The 5 key features of a good logo we have mentioned are certainly going to put you on the right track. But remember that before design even begins, the ideation rests on you: a great logo should tell the brand story from the very first time a potential customer sees it. And if you’re rebranding, the new logo should never stray too far from the brand identity.
To quote Sol Sender, who designed Barack Obama’s famous 2008 presidential campaign logo: “The strongest logos tell simple stories”. Start from defining yours, and the logo design will develop on itself.
If you need further logo design tips, make sure to check out our articles on types of logos, best typography as well as our guide on logo design cost. Of course, don’t forget that we have our own team of graphic design experts who can help you get the logo of your dreams!