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The Secrets of Successful Logos

How Twitter, Digital Chocolate and SmugMug symbolized their brands.

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See page 2: Six Design Tips for Logos

The inspiration for the iconic blue bird that's come to represent San Francisco-based Twitter Inc. didn't come from the company's founders, or even a high-priced marketing firm. It came from the users. Soon after the 2006 launch of the micro-blogging site, people started referring to their individual messages as "tweets."

"The best thing we did was listen to how people were using the site and how they considered the brand," says co-founder Jack Dorsey.

Twitter's logo works well because it is "reflective of the community spirit behind the site," says Matt Mickiewicz, founder of the Melbourne, Australia-based crowdsourcing-design website 99designs Pty Ltd. "It's fantastic."

An effective logo, like Twitter's, should communicate the purpose of the business and the values that the brand represents. "A poor logo doesn't mean a business will fail, and a good logo doesn't mean it will succeed -- it just helps," Mickiewicz says. "Ultimately a good logo is something that people recognize instantly and relate to."

There are any number of ways to devise a logo, but it's essential that the end result is unique and accurately represents the business, says Cono Fusco, creative director at LogoMojo.com, a Deluxe Corp. online services firm.

Here's a look at how three small businesses came up with logos, when they were just starting out, that have become synonymous with their brands.

Twitter's Blue Bird

The original Twitter bird
The original Twitter bird

As the bird references caught on, the Twitter team opted to purchase the "Birdie" graphic from designer Simon Oxley who had uploaded it onto iStockphoto.com, an online stock library of royalty-free images for purchase. The bird has since gone through several iterations.

"We then built [the bird concept] into the marketing, logo and typeface itself," Dorsey says.

Twitter did make one branding mistake: purchasing stock photography. They don't have exclusive copyright ownership of the image, and the original design is still available on iStockphoto for anyone to purchase and use for about $10.

The Digital Chocolate Bar

Digital Chocolate
The current Digital Chocolate logo

People told Trip Hawkins that the logo he created for his mobile gaming company, Digital Chocolate, was too complicated, busy and colorful. Ten million gamers later, Hawkins begs to differ.

The multicolored logo is a candy bar embossed with the words "Digital Chocolate," and radio waves emanate from a bite out of the bar. "It illustrates that we make convenient internet games that have instant gratification, just like eating chocolate," says Hawkins, whose company is backed by $44 million in venture capital. "Our customers are really busy, and we're a bite-sized snack of fun."

The logo helps tell the company's story. What's more, it's colorful, easy to read from a distance and can be converted to black and white or resized without losing its luster, according to Fusco. But because it requires a four-color print job, Fusco says he wouldn't recommend the design to start-ups on a limited budget.

SmugMug's Smuggie

The current SmugMug logo
The current SmugMug logo

Sometimes the best logo ideas happen by whim. Like when Don MacAskill and his father Chris were developing a Mountain View, Calif.-based photo-sharing site, they couldn't decide on a company name. When several friends and family suggested "SmugMug," they worried that the name sounded negative and misleading.

"We didn't want people to think we were selling coffee mugs," MacAskill says.

But they decided SmugMug would work as a temporary name until they found something better. To allay his misgivings, MacAskill opened Adobe's image editing software Photoshop, typed a colon and the capital letter "D." He rotated the image to create a simple smiley face and tacked it on the end of the word SmugMug.

Low-Cost Design Alternatives
Crowdsourcing a logo through an online design-contest site can help keep costs low because business owners can name their own price. Usually, the higher the offer, the more options they'll have to choose from. Another alternative to hiring high-priced design firms are online graphic design companies such as LogoMojo, Logoworks by HP and The Logo Factory Inc. Their teams of professional designers can create multiple logos, typically for $200 to $600, depending on complexity.

"It took me less than 10 minutes to create the logo. I honestly thought it was going to be a throwaway," MacAskill says. But it stuck.

Eight years later, SmugMug has more than 50 employees and hundreds of thousands of customers. The SmugMug smiley face, known as "Smuggie," has developed a following.

"It's a little more polished now, but it's still the warm, friendly, accessible logo that our customers fell in love with," MacAskill says. "Our customers threaten revolt every time we talk about changing it."

Smuggie is an example of what designers call a "napkin" logo -- a concept quickly sketched out by its creator on a napkin during a business dinner or on the back of an envelope in a meeting. "These are created without pressure and are considered just an idea to work with to develop into the voice of the company -- or in this case, the face," Fusco says.

A problem common to logos created by those without design experience is that they try to say too much. Fusco says clients often send sketches, asking his design team to add more colors, funky fonts and too much detail. "In the end it looks too busy and doesn't speak to the target market," he says.

One reason Smuggie works, as good logos often do, is because it can represent the company even when the business name is removed.

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Kara Ohngren is a freelance writer and part-time editor at YoungEntrepreneur. Her work has appeared in publications including Entrepreneur Magazine, The New York Times, MSNBC, The Huffington Post and Business Insider.

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