What's Your Sign?

A step-by-step guide to creating your company logo
Magazine Contributor
5 min read

This story appears in the September 2000 issue of . Subscribe »

Sometime during the process of starting your business, the words "do logo" will appear on your to-do list, if they haven't already. It's exciting during those early days to watch your logo develop into something worthy of displaying, like a flag for your company. The question you have to ask yourself is whether that combination of artwork and typography will stand up through the years. You have to get it right the first time.

That's why we're engaging in Logo 101 here. Using the example of "Robinhood Feast," a restaurant for which I helped develop a logo several years ago, I'll walk you through the steps from A to Z of designing a powerful logo.

According to Tom Charvat, a former senior vice president at brand-marketing firm Frankel & Co. in Chicago who helped with this project, a logo is typically a combination of four elements: a brand name, typography, a brandmark (optional) and trade dress (see Step 4-trade dress involves a lockup of artwork and specific colors).

1. Your first step in the process is hopefully done: You've already selected a brand name. We've selected Robinhood Feast. This choice was driven by the business plan, which defined the business as "a restaurant established in 1992 on the shores of a Michigan lake, where the meals are served on long, planked tables with robust servings, steins of beer and wine in glazed mugs, all designed to appeal to people who enjoy the outdoors, fish and game." All those considerations are important and guide other decisions, beginning with step two: typography.

2. As this article demonstrates, different type fonts impart very definite characteristics about the brand name. "You need to select typography that fits with your brand character with an eye toward readability," says Charvat. "Remember that your logo will have to extend to various applications, from signage to stationery."

We toyed with a few different type styles, such as Old World type, before deciding on this one, chosen for its clarity and the traditional look of the serif (the lines at the top and bottom of the letters).

3. This step is optional: developing a brandmark. A brandmark is a symbol that complements an aspect of your business or service such as speed, quality, value or personality.

The symbol we've chosen works on a number of levels. It includes an arrow icon that evokes the legendary Robin Hood personality. The head and tail of the arrow also work with the structure of a fish, representing the seafood aspect of the menu and the restaurant's outdoors atmosphere. You could also argue that the arrow represents speed of service (straight as an arrow, right to your table), but the imagery of the arrow/fish is what really drove the decision.

4. Step 4 begins with a combination of the selected type font with the brandmark icon to create a lockup. Charvat describes it this way: "I chose the shape of a platter to lockup the elements within a restaurant theme and to evoke large helpings." This example demonstrates the ability of a good lockup to create a sense of cohesion between the elements. This lockup also will eventually become the template for the colors of your new brand identity.

Here again, look at the color(s) needed to reflect the brand attributes. Earth tones made an easy-on-the-eye palette, and numerous variations of browns, greens and neutrals like white and black were considered (and used). The final colors applied to the lockup of the brandmark and typography ultimately define the trade dress of the logo.

One thing you need to watch out for as you explore color options is cost. "A five-color logo may look terrific on paper but can be extremely expensive to produce and will disappoint in applications that allow only one or two colors," Charvat warns. Try not to exceed three colors unless you decide it's absolutely necessary. You should also perform a logo color test like the one mentioned in "Color Me Happy".

It's not a bad idea to solicit some opinions at this point in your logo's production, particularly from potential customers and experienced advisors. If you decide to design the logo yourself, you can use a program like Adobe Illustrator, but you'll still want to seek professional advice from a designer or a printer in order to anticipate any potential problems you might have with printing and costs. It's also important to work closely with a trademark attorney, like you did when you developed your brand name for your new business.

Sounds easy, doesn't it? It can be. Just remember to keep your customers and the nature of your business in mind when you put it all together. In time, you will have succeeded in building equity in your trademark, and it will become a positive and recognizable symbol of your product or service. When that happens, cross it off your to-do list.

Color Me Happy

Your logo can appear on a variety of media: signage, advertising, stationery, delivery vehicles and packaging, to name just a few. Remember that some of those applications, like black-and-white newspaper ads, have production limitations. Make sure you do a color study. Look at your logo in one-, two- and three-color versions.

Also, remember to do a trademark search and register your new trademark. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (www.uspto.gov) is a good place to start.

Steve Nubie spent 25 years putting in 80-hour weeks in the advertising industry before becoming a freelance writer and marketing consultant.

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