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 logo is like a joke—if you have to explain it, it’s not good enough.
But have you wondered what it is that makes it good, exactly?
While personal taste might have a huge impact, there are so many factors that make a logo design iconic and immune to tastes and changing design trends. There are many good logos that stood the test of time, and in this article, we’ll focus on what made them different and timeless.
What is a logo all about?
A logo, of course, should look good. But it’s not supposed to be just a visually appealing identity of your company. It has to communicate your story. It’s supposed to be the face of it, in a certain way.
The logo is also the most frequently used part of the whole brand identity. Think of it like the photo on your ID card. You’ll use it on business cards, billboards, social media, advertisements, t-shirts, products you sell, etc. So it has to be the best logo to reflect your brand, mission, vision, and core beliefs.
Apart from that, your logo has to attract audiences and let them know what you’re marketing right away.
The design process of a good logo
The great American art director and creator of many memorable logos, Paul Rand once said:
“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.
Your logo has to be representative of your brand’s value propositions and the niche market you represent. You have to do thorough research on the competitors as well.
The logo should also be appropriate to its intended purpose and target audience. That is why you have to define the ideal buyers and the impression your logo should leave on them.
Some of the questions that will help you think of a good logo are: “What is the company story?”, “Why was the name chosen and what does it mean?”, “What is special about this business?”, “Who are my potential customers?”, “What is the brand personality?”. That should help you start the research, but surely many other questions will pop up along the way.
Principles for good logo design
Your research is done and now you have to think of a good logo. Naturally, a designer is going to take care of that, but it’s on you to provide a creative brief telling them what you want out of your logo and what personality it should have. To help you do that here are some of the most important principles designers follow when making an effective logo.
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. 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.
Another great logo that is simple, but connected to the brand’s story, is that of Mercedes-Benz. It immediately leaves the impression that it is an expensive, elegant brand. The silver color gives the idea that it is a reliable and professional brand. And the three-pointing star inside the circle is actually a propeller. The story is that Mercedes-Benz once manufactured airplanes, but decided to create luxurious automobiles instead. Each prong supposedly also represents a terrain that Mercedes-Benz covers: land, air, and water.
Close your eyes and think of Coca Cola. See what I mean? It is a memorable logo. You know all the letters, the curvature, the colors.
It is a logotype that’s more than 130 years old, and yet it barely evolved all these decades. This logo is directly connected to the name of the brand. The person who came up with the name was called Frank M Robinson, who was the bookkeeper of the inventor of Coke, John S Pemberton. Robinson simply said that “C’s would look well in advertising”. And he was right. He is also the designer of the original Coca Cola scripture logo, which was drawn in flowing cursive handwriting. Coca Cola recently made its own typeface with a more modern-day feel - TCC Unity.
The greatest competitor of Coca Cola, Pepsi, is a strong opponent even when it comes to their logos. The Pepsi globe is also one of the most memorable logos. The red, white, and blue colors are meant to be a show of patriotism since the logo was designed in the 1940s. 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 - a statement that had to be made so everyone knows they are successful and omnipresent, just like Coke.
And of course, who doesn’t remember the golden arches of McDonald’s? Apart from the fact that the logo is the letter “M”, the Golden Arches are also inspired by the literal arches that were built into the entrance of the first franchised restaurant. The font created for this logo is called McLawsuit (no, it’s not a joke), and trademarked for their use only. Together with the “I’m loving it” motto, entering a McDonald’s restaurant and going below those arches sends a simple message - here you’ll find food for your (guilty) pleasure.
A great logo should also be distinctive and immediately recognizable. A good example of a distinctive logo is Starbucks. The two-tailed siren doesn’t resemble any other logo in the food and drinks industry, and it is visible from far away. 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.
Shrouded in the luscious green color, the circular logo of the Norse mythical character in a crown can be seen all over the world. Starbucks is also a pioneer of coffeeshop branding.
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. All you need to know what brand it is is to see those four colors.
As we already mentioned, logos are a company’s identity, and they’re going to be used in many different ways and occasions. This is exactly why a good logo should also be versatile and adaptable. Logo designers usually make a few variations in the design process, and apply the logo on different backgrounds, mockups, and sizes, to see if the logo works in more than one way.
A good example of an effective logo that is versatile is Adidas. The iconic three stripes, designed by the founder Adi Dassler, represent a mountain, or a challenge yet to be conquered. Perfect for a sportswear brand—it evokes competitiveness, willingness to keep moving, being active, and spending time outdoors. Combined with the rounded typography, the stripes are even more striking.
But those three stripes are plastered on practically every article Adidas sells, and still, they look great. On the side of tracksuits, on trainers, caps, even on flip flops. And the thing is, these products come in hundreds of backgrounds, materials, and designs. The logo is used in so many different colors to look good on the design, and it never feels out of place. This logo is so versatile, that it doesn’t depend on a certain color to be recognizable.
Adidas was practically known as “the brand with the three stripes” for a while, that they redesigned the logo into the iconic trefoil. After a third redesign in the 90s, they kept the trefoil on the traditional, best-selling products and stuck with the three stripes forming a triangle on new products.
This design is used in so many other items not manufactured by Adidas, with a change in the number of stripes. Adidas is well known to be one of the most counterfeited brands in the world.
Another versatile logo also comes from a clothes brand, but this time a high-end one—Chanel. The Chanel logo is very simple—it combines two opposite facing and interlocked Cs, standing for the brand’s original designer, Coco Chanel. And often with Chanel, the logo IS the product. How many times have you seen earrings in the form of the logo? Or the texture of a purse being the embedded logo? It can be adapted in many different colors and ways, but it is still a suitable, striking view fit for one of the world’s best haute couture fashion houses.
Connection to the brand
Of course, every great logo is connected to the brand and its story, but none as much as Apple’s.
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 probably 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.
Apple was right to choose that name and inspiration since they ushered the latest technological revolution with the creation of the smartphone. The bitten apple, a symbol of curiosity and craving for knowledge, is one of the most iconic logos today, and it’s so recognizable that the brand doesn’t even use their name or any other signage on their products.
And a little extra something
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.
Another hidden message can be found in the Amazon logo: the arrow pointing from “A” to “Z” says that you can buy anything there.
So, how to come up with a timeless logo design?
What makes a good logo? Is it the design elements, the typography, how innovative and trendy it looks? Is it the simplicity of it, or the lavish goods it promises from the first look?
There are no perfect recipes or logo design tips that will spark an idea in your head at that instant. The best advice to follow is that you have to know your target audience and your brand story. No matter what type of logo you choose, it should sell that story from the very first time a potential customer sees it. And, of course, don’t stray too far from the brand identity if you’re redesigning your logo.
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.