What a logo does not have to be or do

Often when designing a logo, designers and clients often focus on what their logo should be. In this article, I focus on the exact opposite: What a logo does not have to be or do. A logo does NOT have to…

…be overly complicated

Often times when designing a logo we tend to think too hard and incorporate as much as possible into a logo, thus over complicating it. Instead, try simplifying the logo — yes, sometimes less is more! Here’s what a non-overly complicated logo can provide your business:

  1. Flexibility: your logo will be easier to read and interpreted at various sizes, especially when scaled down to smaller sizes.
  2. Recognizable: the more elements your logo has the more the brain has to remember various elements that make it the face of your business, in turn  making it less…
  3. Memorable: overly complicated logos tend to be less memorable. Think about some of the most successful logos: Nike, Apple, McDonalds… I bet I could give you a pencil and paper and regardless if you are a great artist you could reproduce them.

…be accompanied by a mark or symbol.

Often when many of us think of a logo, we often think of a symbol or mark, but this isn’t necessary for every logo. Try using a quality typeface or designing your own custom type from scratch.

Examples of successful companies with text only logos:

  • Netflix
  • Sony
  • Johnson & Johnson
  • Philips
  • UrbanOutfitters

…have a tagline.

Sure it’s great to have a company tagline or slogan, but it’s typically best to leave it off the logo. Lengthy taglines typically  require really small type to fit within reason of the logo size, making it illegible, while other times can make your logo appear cluttered and stuffed.

…be HUGE!

When designing any material that includes your logo, your logo does not have to be huge. When’s the last time you read an advertisement and decided to go with that companies product because they had a big ol’ logo that stood out more than anything else on the page?

If your brand message is intriguing enough a prospect will look for and acknowledge the logo that represents your brand. Here’s a funny (and very true) video for your viewing pleasure: Make My Logo Bigger Cream

…be neon colored.

Sure we all want our logos to be memorable and recognizable, but neon colors are not the answer! Effective and memorable logos are well executed and appropriate to your company’s message and brand. Use color to provoke feeling, not just to attract attention.

…the same.

As a logo designer, you’d be surprised by how many clients approach me with their competitors logo and ask me for “something similar.” I usually follow up with the question, “Why? Why would you want to look like something/someone you are trying to compete against? Why would you want a potential customer to mistaken you for another company?”

The goal of a logo should be to differentiate, stand out, and represent your business.

…follow trends.

When you think of trends typically the first thing that comes to mind is clothing and the fashion industry. Ask yourself this: What do you do with clothes that go out of style? You either throw them away or toss them far into your closet to never been seen or worn again.

A good logo isn’t cheap, so why would you want to reinvest your money into it next year? Good logos are timeless and should grow with your company.

…tell the entire story.

A logo is only the beginning for setting the tone for your brand. Your logo does not need to say exactly what your company does. Does Apple use computers in their logo? Does McDonald’s display cheeseburgers?

Recently I came across a great article on Brand Logic discussing content playing an important role in branding: “A symbol requires carefully constructed context for it to convey its intended meaning. Likewise, when seen under differing contextual circumstances, the same symbol can mean different things.” [Read the rest of the article] Another great resource on this topic is the book, Branding Gap.

Discussion and Comments

+ Add to the discussion
  1. Very true great article!

  2. Kiren says:

    I agree, simple is more but sometimes a company calls for an unconventional design. Look at the “Lever” company logo, very complex…

  3. Some useful tips there on what not to do when designing a logo. We as designers know the right things to do but its normally our clients that want the overly complex, neon coloured, comic sans font logo. The struggle is convincing the client on the reasons why things are done a certain way and explaining the advantages behind them.

    Justin – Big Click Studios

  4. Gregory Alan Elliott says:

    I agree with poster above… “…the fact that these companies spend millions on advertising to build brand awareness is what makes logos stick.” …and add, millions of dollars every year for decades on end… without this time and money your “iconic” logo will just be a squiggly thing. McDonalds can use the arches, and Nike can use the swoosh because they paid dearly for you to recognize their logos. So…

    Your Client’s Logo = Squggly Thing.

    Your Client’s Logo + $$$$$$$$$ + many years = iconic logo

  5. John G. says:

    Great article, as usual!

  6. honour chick says:

    great article and advice. keep the tutorials coming. ;)

  7. Juliet says:


    This brings in such a wonderful fresh perspective. One could apply it anywhere – like writing. It’s like considering the “negative words” in a google search. It’s so important to look at “problems” from different angles. I suppose that is creativity.

    Less is more as they say – you don’t have include everything on the list or check all of the boxes.


  8. Rob says:

    I like this point of view.. In the end, it is easier said than done. Designers are a lot of time forced into convincing their customers of its simplicity. Good designers (or account managers) are able to, of course..

    Nevertheless, great article and it is nice to think the other way around

  9. Macartisan says:

    There’s another rule.

    Logos must be designed to read well on their intended display media.

    One of our clients has a veritable zoo of logos, all of which trample on one or more of your precepts. Furthermore, they are designed for print, at a minimum resolution of 100 DPI. Guess what they look like shrunken down to fit in a 120×600 banner ad.

    I have repeatedly pointed this out, but the idea of designing logos in *weights*, as one would for fonts, is apparently too esoteric for the marketing execs who decide these things.

  10. I would ad:

    “A Logo Does Not Have to be Overly Engineered”

    Understandably logos and branding materials receive a great deal of attention and thought. But frankly I think that they should not be overly engineered. Granted, I work with a law firm and law firms rarely use logos or are creative, but I have seen many instances where analysis has caused paralysis.

  11. Laan says:

    Just a small comment from me – I have seen your button about “Hire me” which is vissible in the top of your site.
    Plenty of freelancers in my country(Denmark) could learn a lot from that.

  12. I am very newb to this whole thing and I just wanted to say that it is very true… I overcomplicate every design that I’m under pressure to create. My truly great designs only come from being able to be creative and not told what to do.

  13. vzw says:

    You seem pretty superficial when passing judgement on designers because of what they wear.

  14. Air Head says:

    You should really be thinking long term up to 2012 when it all comes crashing down. Until then Web 8. 0.

  15. Sadhana says:

    Great Article

  16. Following great trend is the key to great logo design.. I am amazed by almost 500 tweets.. great article you have here!

  17. paul says:

    You seem pretty superficial when passing judgement on designers because of what they wear.

  18. I will keep it short and simple, great post Brian. A logo represents a business, but is not the whole business. A simple, eye catching, memorable, something that peaks a person’s interest to find out more. This could be a symbol, the right font, or both for the prefect logo. The other half of the identity equation, is the placement in front of the right audience. Well maybe not too short, but still simple. Like reading on design, please keep them coming.

  19. AJ Aerni says:

    I couldn’t have said it better myself. The goal is to be memorable. The most recognizable brands are simple and are therefore easy to remember. Add the element of perceived value and you’ve just discovered why its so important to have a great brand identity.

  20. andrew says:

    A logo must be memorable,easy to remember , eye catching!

  21. [...] makes a good logo by David Airey What a logo does not have to be or do by Brian Hoff Vital Tips For Effective Logo Design by Jacob [...]

  22. Cha says:

    Nice point and tips here.

  23. Jordan says:

    Good post and valid points.

    I’d love to see something with regard to logo development that does not use huge corporate brands as examples to illustrate the points however. (They have millions of dollars constantly being pumped into top line advertising, which generates the awareness for them to be able to afford to use minimal executions of their logo e.g. mcd’s m and nike’s tick).

    How about some of the readers post some relatively “unknown” or local businesses from their area, who shine in regard to the points Brian raises?

    I’ll go first – wedding planner logo.
    Note the intertwining of ‘by’ in the word mark to symbolise the relationship of the planner and the bride to be. http://www.inspiredbylove.co.nz/

  24. Yael Miller says:

    I agree with everything you’re saying here.

    But – if you deal with small companies who intend to remain small, these rules may not apply completely.

    A lot of the above ‘rules’ are only effective for brands with enough means of projecting their brand message on a number of fronts (national ad campaigns, tv commercials, huge billboards, flagship stores).

    Small companies just need to be distinctive within their small sphere of influence. Sometimes that means NOT following some of the above rules.

  25. DrewOlsen says:

    Great post. Very Informative. Been mentioning a number of these to my clients but now I have a few more!

  26. hid kit says:

    I couldn’t have said it better myself. The goal is to be memorable. The most recognizable brands are simple and are therefore easy to remember. Add the element of perceived value and you’ve just discovered why its so important to have a great brand identity

  27. You raise an excellent point! Logos do not have to be complex in fact they should not be complex, simple is better!

  28. dresses says:

    I couldn’t have said it better myself. The goal is to be memorable. The most recognizable brands are simple and are therefore easy to remember. Add the element of perceived value and you’ve just discovered why its so important to have a great brand identity

  29. [...] but share information about yourself as well. Tell them how you work and, more importantly, why you do the things you do. Don’t be afraid to say “listen, I know you want your logo to convey that you are a [...]

  30. Excellent Article some great points to note :)

Brian Hoff
About Brian Hoff: Designer, Writer and Speaker

I’m a graphic designer living in Brooklyn, New York who loves creating compelling and useful websites and memorable interactions across the web. When I’m not designing I can be found writing, speaking and occasionally part-time teaching at colleges — all on the subject of design. I started this blog to share my passion and experiences with designers and clients. I'm most active on Twitter; say hello: