Logo design II – A closer look at what actually constitutes a logo and what you can expect when you commission a designer
What is a logo?
The term logo, short for logotype, is used loosely to refer to a number of different things: it may refer to an icon or symbol, or an alphabetic configuration that identifies a brand; these can be used separately or in combination, and possibly in conjunction with a tag line. A logo may represent an entire company, a product or service line, or a single item.
A logo can consist of different elements – a symbol, a text identifier, and an explanatory tagline.
Symbol or icon
Often, an iconic mark or symbol – sometimes called an isotype – is used to represent a brand. Ideally, this mark will be created specifically to convey the values and ethos of the brand. For lower-end design projects, the mark may not be not an original creation produced specifically for the purpose; instead it may be chosen from a range of clip arts or stock symbols, in which case, even if re-coloured and customised, it is possible that two companies will use the same symbol. If they operate in different sectors this may not be a problem, although there is always room for undesirable confusion.
Logotype or wordmark
Not all company logos include a symbolic element: some are more accurately described as a wordmark – an identifying “alphabetical configuration” – usually based on the company or product name, initials etc. in a particular typeface. This may be a standard or modified typeface, or a bespoke design specifically produced for the purpose.
Often logos are made up of a combination of symbol and text elements; this kind of logo can be called an imagetype. Combining text and image helps to avoid confusion and distinguish clearly between brand logos that use similar symbols.
Not all brand names are descriptive, so a tagline offers the opportunity to clarify by providing a little more information about the company or product. It’s important to remember, though, that a logo should be simple and readily understood: too many words can distract and confuse. Note that tag-lines may also be inappropriate for smaller scale versions of a logo as they will simply be illegible.
A logo consists of various graphic and text elements used in combination to represent a brand. There may be a number of defined and acceptable arrangements for use in different situations.
A logo needs to work effectively in different spaces and sizes. For example, social media headings often require a small square avatar and a horizontal banner-style image. Your designer will probably provide you with a number of alternative arrangements of symbol, wordmark and tagline, which can be used in different situations and at different sizes. These acceptable configurations are called lock-ups and are the only arrangements that should be used.
More about Wordmarks
Wordmark logos can seem very expensive if you believe that all that is needed from the designer is to select a suitable typeface, style, font size and colour. In reality, though, there is likely to be a lot more work and “tweaking” before the wordmark is complete.
When made available to be used within computer software, every typeface and font is exactly defined with specific kerning (spaces between characters) and precise positioning and size of each element, from the dot over the lower case I to the relative height and length of the three horizontal bars on the capital E. This is how the original typeface designer has decided that the font works best in a general sense and situation.
But when a designer is creating a wordmark, he is looking at something very specific. By altering the length or height of a cross bar, extending or curtailing the curl of a serif, tightening the kerning, etc., he can produce a functioning and effective unit rather than a combination of separate characters. These adjustments also produce an original creation and help ensure your logo is not the same as any other.
As well as looking at the space within the logo, your designer will also consider the space around it, and recommend how it should be used alongside and in relation to other texts and graphic elements in order for it to retain its identity and effectiveness.
The usual colour words such as blue, red, green etc., are of no use when talking about a logo, and terms like dark teal or light ochre are likely to conjure different effects for different people. In order to be sure your logo is always produced correctly, your designer will need to tell you the exact shades to be used. Digital and print applications use different colour formats, so you may have a set of RGB values for screen, such as R212, G20, B90, which may also be expressed in hexadecimal #DF0294, plus a pantone code or CMYK values C10 M99 Y40 K3 for print projects.
A logo needs to be scalable for use in different sizes for different projects. To do this, you need a vectorial version – usually an .eps or .ai file – which can be stretched without losing resolution. Image formats such as JPG files may be suitable for use in a specific situation, but, similar to the repeated copying of an audio file from tape to tape, they are compressed each time they are saved and become “fuzzy”, and if they are re-sized, they lose definition.
A vectorial version of a logo can be re-sized without losing resolution.
When your designer has created a logo that you are happy with, he should provide you with a vectorial version, which you will be able to scale up or down to use in different sizes. He will probably also provide you with the versions you need for the common social media platforms and one to include in your email signature. You should also be given information about the different lock-ups, how to use the logo in black and white, and the exact shades used in the logo itself, perhaps together with a recommended colour palette to be used in collateral. Sometimes all this information is included in a Visual ID manual (note that there may be an additional charge for this document) and the deliverables for a logo project can include scores – sometimes hundreds – of digital files.
So far we’ve looked at the logo in isolation, but a logo is not the same as a business brand. In the next article in the series we will look at how the logo is used in combination with other elements to create a brand.
Even for an apparently simple wordmark, there’s a lot to think about and it pays to have the work done well by a designer who understands the importance of the details. If you’d like to talk to us about a logo, branding, or other design project, you can send us an email or call on 0798 661 3437.