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Newsletter #840: The “How to Create a Useful Logo” Issue

[Welcome back to the Damn, I Wish I’d Thought of That! newsletter. This is text of the great issue all of our email subscribers just received. Sign yourself up using the handy form on the right.]

A great logo is worth all the hard work it takes to make one. But before you get too attached to yours, run it through these tests to make sure it’s something you can actually use:

1. The little square box test
2. The conference sponsor test
3. The remove something test
4. The T-shirt test
5. The crappy graphic test

1. The little square box test

How does that nice, wide logo work when you’re faced with fitting it into a 70×70 pixel box? Thanks to the world of Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and all those other social sites, your logo needs to work as a small, square icon. If it doesn’t, sometimes a secondary, modified version of your primary logo will work. But if that fails, you might be better off starting over.

The lesson: You can avoid a lot of future headaches by making sure your new logo passes the Twitter avatar challenge.

2. The conference sponsor test

Go to any conference website and find their sponsors section — the one with all those logos mashed together — and try sticking your logo into the mix. Is yours still readable? Does it stand out? Does its size and shape play well with others? When it’s out in the real world, your logo will often be mixed in with others — so test it early and often for this.

The lesson: Logos don’t live in a vacuum. Mix yours in with others and make sure it can still stand out.

3. The remove something test

Somewhere your new logo has an extra line, swoosh, or globe. Trim, cut, and simplify. When it comes to logo design, stick to the mantra “less is more.”

The lesson: The simpler the logo, the more usable it’ll be over the long run.

4. The T-shirt test

Before you fully commit to a logo, try it on a T-shirt first. It’s a great way to see it in the real world, away from other logos, text, computer monitors, or anything else that may be influencing your feelings toward it. Someone across the room should be able to see it, read it, and say, “Hey, that looks great!”

The lesson: You know you’ve got a great logo when you, your employees, and your fans would be proud to wear it.

5. The crappy graphic test

Your designer will hand you beautiful, high-res versions of your logo. But out in everyday use it’ll be scaled down, suffer through file exports, and be misshapen. To really test yours, stick it in a banner ad with three other logos, add a line of text, and export it as a cruddy image file. If you’ve got lots of subtle elements and thin lines, you’ll see just how quickly those disappear.

The lesson: If your logo survives tests 1-4, it’s probably a good logo. But only the great ones survive the crappy graphic test.

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  1. Mari July 7, 2011 at 11:02 am #


    Your article breaks down of one of the most important considerations a graphic designer delves into when beginning a logo design: the specific applications in which the logo in question will appear.

    BDE (before the digital era) most typically considered applications were business card, letterhead, envelope, scalable for print advertising and/or large format signage, and the ability to appear in one color: still valid and still just a general guideline. With versatile, memorable, and simple imagery developed by a knowledgeable design professional no client should encounter the frustration of any of your tests, especially your Test #5.

    A product, a brand, a service, an organization, a company must convey a consistent message. The designer’s mission is to create a timeless and appropriate image suited to the client’s purpose, and reproducible in various media regardless of scale or process.

  2. Carol July 7, 2011 at 1:16 pm #

    Gosh, I wish there was a way to comment on the Facebook “Like” I gave this article. Didn’t even see the “Like” appear on my FB wall even though my settings would allow this. What plug-in are you using?

    I so agree that a simple, square logo that survives bad reproduction is important. Thanks for the reminder!

  3. LJ July 7, 2011 at 4:39 pm #

    As a Dallas t-shirts and embroidery business, I can tell you that at WikiThreads we receive our share of crappy graphics. People will be happier with the finished collateral or t-shirts if they heed this advice. I love the square box test as that is a new one. One more suggestion…since many event sponsors are printed in black and white on the back of a free t-shirt, check to see if you are happy with the logo in black and white or a single color.


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