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Dan Rubin's SuperfluousBanter

Design, random musings, and the Web. Since 1977


Some Thoughts on Logo Design

A few months ago, I had the pleasure of answering a few questions for an article being written by my friend Elliot Jay Stocks for .net Magazine (Practical Web Design here in the States). Elliot quoted me quite nicely in the article, but I thought it would be interesting to publish my complete answers here, along with his questions, and he kindly gave his permission.

Note: The article itself is full of some solid information and quotes some bright minds—well worth picking up if you get the chance (as is the rest of the issue).

EJS: Please could you tell us a bit about yourself and your work with logos so far?

DR: I’ve always loved logos, and some of my earliest experiments with design were logotypes (I tend to prefer type-driven logos with minimal imagery). I don’t get as many opportunities to design logos for clients as I’d like, but I do a fair amount for friends and personal projects, sometimes for imaginary ideas just as an excuse to design a logo or logotype.

EJS: Which logo (that you’ve designed) are you most proud of and why?

DR: I’m torn between the current logo for SuperfluousBanter and a logo I did a few years ago for a real estate company that by brother was starting. I put most of the work I do into two categories: design for myself, and design for others—so those are my current favorites from each category.

In the case of SuperfluousBanter’s current logo (there have been a few over the years), the “sb” mark on an orange field sporting a lighter spiral (with the counter of the “b” over the center of the spiral) has a nice balance of symmetry and asymmetry at the same time, without getting complicated.

With the logo for the real estate firm, the business name was that of the main partner in the company, so it required a visual mark in addition to the logotype in order to communicate the type of business. Not that it was groundbreaking in any way, but the mark does its job well, without being too complicated—the more basic the shapes, the easier it is to recognize an image at a glance (important for property signage), and the better its reproduction at various high- and low-resolutions. The qualities of the mark that make it my favorite are similar to those of the SuperfluousBanter mark: a combination of symmetry and asymmetry that results in balance (it’s extremely important to have all three), and in this case, the end result was almost exactly what I pictured in my head before even sketching the first rough.

EJS: Can you name an all-time favourite (web-related) logo that someone else has designed? Why do you like it so much?

DR: It’s hard to decide, but I’ll go with Dan Cederholm’s Cork’d logo. I like Dan’s style in general, but the Cork’d logo is just elegant in its own little way (recurring theme: combination of symmetry and asymmetry resulting in an overall balance). I wear the t-shirt so much that I’ve almost worn it out ;)

EJS: What do you consider to be the current trends in web industry logo design? Are they good or bad?

DR: While there are still a lot of “web 2.0” design trends everywhere (not just online, either), in my experience these design trends result almost as much from client demand as from designers imposing those trends on their work. As I said before, I’m a fan of type-driven logos, with simple, straight-forward visual marks to support the type. Aside from the drop-shadows, bevels and other standard design clichés, I don’t think there are any awful trends per se (some people might say there’s been enough rounded type and bright, happy colors, but if a client wants their brand to be ‘friendly’ etc., more often than not it’s the right direction), but I could still do without blatant 3-D or an over abundance of filter effects. And let’s not get into the pros and cons of reflections…

EJS: Where do you get your inspiration from and can you recommend any good places of inspiration or resources (books, websites, designers, etc.)?

DR: I’m constantly searching for new sources of inspiration—my personal preference is to find as much as possible offline rather than use the web. Not only does it give my eyes some needed respite from the glare of the screen, but I find my reactions are different when reading a book, sifting through old album covers, digging through piles of magazines—the tactile experience engages more senses, and that helps get the creative juices flowing for me. As for specific resources, I think it’s useful to have good examples around (for comparison if nothing else), and the Logo Lounge series of books is a good place to start for more recent designs. A similar resource online is LogoPond (though I wouldn’t personally subject in-progress work to public examination like some users of the site). If you can find books about logo design and branding written/printed prior to the mid-1980’s, you’ll find some great examples of how to design marks without going overboard (a simple mark that reproduces well in black after being faxed will likely translate quite nicely to the web).

EJS: How do you approach the logo-designing process? Is there a system (maybe in 6 steps) that you can recommend?

DR: While I don’t have a fixed set of steps in place for any of my work (I like to think it helps avoid patterns and forces me to think from a fresh perspective on every project), I do tend to go about the problem-solving process the same way each time:

  • Find out as much as you can about the client/product/organization/person/service that the logo will represent. Without that input, a logo is just some text, lines and color.
  • Research other brands in the same market—I used to use this step as motivation to “design a better logo” or “beat the competition” but I feel that was misguided. Now I use it primarily to get a feel for what is already successful, and to know what to avoid visually in order to create something unique.
  • Sketch and Play—this step is the most random for me: sometimes I’m sketching with pencil in a Moleskine, other times I’m messing around in Photoshop or Illustrator, and a few times the good ideas have come on the requisite cocktail napkin or in the margins of a magazine. The experimentation is the fun part—it’s not always needed (if you see the final logo in your head the first time inspiration hits, get to a computer as quickly as possible and just draw the thing!), but when you’re waiting for the lightning to strike it’s a good way to try things out.
  • Design in black and white until you have your logotype and/or mark, then add color and adjust as needed.
  • Once you have something, print it out. A lot. I tend to do most digital logo work in Illustrator so everything is vector and easily printed at various sizes. Print variations in type weight/style, as well as inverted versions of your logotype and mark. Print large versions and paste them to the wall, or lay them out on the floor. Look at them for a few hours, or a day, or a few days—as much time as it takes you to really let things sink in.
  • If it’s paid work, don’t deliver final art until receiving final payment. If it’s for a friend, give them a CD over dinner.

EJS: What tools feature in your logo-making process (and how prominently, like mainly Illustrator and only a bit of Photoshop?), and can you name any that people might not know about (i.e: any apps outside of the Adobe family)?

DR: I guess I already answered that for the most part. Illustrator is my primary weapon, though anything that allows vector illustration should be fine (even if you’re designing a logo for a web site—there’s nothing worse than designing a kick-ass logo in Photoshop at 72dpi and then realizing that you have to recreate it from scratch as vector art because the client wants to make t-shirts).

EJS: What problems have you encountered in designing logos and how do you avoid them?

DR: Aside from figuring out the starting point (always a moving target from project to project), clients and their expectations/preferences are the biggest problem. That’s a bigger topic of discussion, but I retain as much creative control as possible, and let my clients know up front that I expect them to trust my opinions. If you’re firm with your client from the beginning, their expectations will fall more closely in line with yours.

EJS: What general tips can you offer for other logo designers out there?

DR: Play. A lot. Look for sources of inspiration that may not seem immediately obvious—if you’re stuck for ideas on a logo for a children’s book, start digging through some heavy metal album covers, or a stack of performance car magazines, or some swimwear catalogs. The contrast can do wonders for your subconscious.

EJS: How would you define a good logo? What elements does it need?

DR: Though I have my own, subjective thoughts on this, I’m sure not many would disagree that a good logo is one that communicates the intended message effectively. Usually that message helps define the brand in an easily digestible way. So a successful logo is one that can represent the brand (whether it’s an individual, a small non-profit organization, or a multi-national corporation).

When it comes to the actual visual elements, I prefer logos that do the above described job without being complicated. Striking the correct balance between typography, color, shapes and symmetry isn’t something that can be quantified—it will be different for every logo. I find that the logos that pique my interest the most are those with some level of balanced asymmetry: if you split a logo down the center of either axis, it should not result in a mirror image. Type is a straightforward way to achieve this, since you can very easily balance the letterforms without creating a mirror image. In fact, you’d have to work very hard to achieve that effect, to the extent that if it was the intended effect, it would likely be a more creative end result (and as such, become a successful exception to the mirror rule), for example the ambigrams of John Langdon.

EJS: What would you consider to be mistakes in logo design, be them your own or made by others?

DR: A level of detail that precludes low-resolution or small-size reproduction, including color and type selection in some cases. This is a potential issue with the preponderance of photorealistic logos that are becoming increasingly popular with software companies, but I’m starting to see it creep into other uses. I also feel like typeface selection is often not given as much careful consideration as it requires. Of course, logos can still be successful without being “perfect” by any one person’s definition.

Many thanks again to Elliot and the editors of .net Magazine.

This item was posted by Dan Rubin on Friday, June 20th, 2008.


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10 comments on “Some Thoughts on Logo Design”

  1. Posted by Elliot Jay Stocks on Friday, June 20th, 2008.

    This is a great blog post, mate – you have some really good answers. I still feel guilty about not being able to include everything you said in the article, so I’m glad to see your words published here in full. Cheers for the kudos, too. :)

  2. Posted by Dan Rubin on Friday, June 20th, 2008.

    @Elliot: I really enjoy interviews, because in the hands of a good interviewer (like you) it results in a different set of thoughts than the interviewee might otherwise have if left to their own devices. Thanks for allowing me the opportunity to be thoughtful :)

  3. Posted by Caz Mockett on Tuesday, June 24th, 2008.

    Really interesting read, Dan. Thanks for sharing it with us.

    I’ve finally managed to blog about your great talk at @media too – better late than never ;-)

  4. Posted by John on Wednesday, June 25th, 2008.

    This is a very interesting read. I’ve been messing around with logo creation myself mainly in Photoshop. I found the logo-designing process question Elliott asked especially insightful. I can see that you go through a rigorous development process to create logos for your clients. Thanks for posting it here and keep up the good work.

  5. Posted by Heiko Mauel on Wednesday, July 2nd, 2008.

    great Blog & very interesting.

  6. Posted by AdamK on Thursday, July 3rd, 2008.

    I may be blind, but I haven’t found the superfluousbanter logo :)

  7. Posted by Eugenio Hertz on Saturday, July 19th, 2008.

    To the answer about what defines a good logo… I think that this is kinda tricky.

    You have NIKE with that THING, the other THING from TDK that is a diamond, but not easily understandable at 1st sight, and that last THING from Xerox, which i personally dont know if that was a stylish ball, or whatever… It just carries a big X and make its way on the current Xerox logo renewal.

    Some clients want tricke ingenious graphic along with their brand, others wont care if you do a “letter play” (like superfluous banter), and in general people dont care that much to look and analise these works, as long as i can see these times.

    So you see brands that really comunicate what they mean, while others dont expose directly the subject, but show a harmonic piece, a nice color that combines with the subject, and others that dont do either, but still are approved and people get used to.

    I think that no matter beautiful, genius brand you got, wont be worth of much if you dont work it along the concept involved on its creation.

    Sometimes the logo itself dont comunicate at 1st sight, but a website, a tv comercial, or the media layout you use gets it, and unites the concept involved with the meaning you wanna pass. Then the people get – “oh that sign… i remember that well”.


    And all these are interlacing each other. Remember LOST series with the ARG internet game, the chocolates around the world, the acting on comic con…

    So i guess that a good logo has to give a nice and harmonic impression (directly linked to creativity, needless to say), and the meaning involved (still sometimes the harmonic surpasses the meaning).

    If you have MEANING, but not much HARMONIC… problem

    If you have HARMONIC, but not much MEANING… kinda problem but may pass

    If you have BOTH… you got an ass kicker perfection

    But dont punish yourself if you notice that you cant be perfect 7 days a week.
    – Trump and his fake hair that say it…

  8. Posted by Dan Rubin on Tuesday, July 22nd, 2008.

    @AdamK: That’s intentional :) I’m of the opinion that a logo is usually not the element on a page (web or print) that deserves the highest visual priority. Designers often make fun of clients wanting us to “make the logo bigger!” and we do so with good reason: it’s less important than the content.

    If you really can’t see it, it’s hiding right below the main nav at the top of the page, and you can see it again at the very bottom left in the footer (it’s subtle, to be sure :)

  9. Posted by Jason Rhodes on Thursday, July 31st, 2008.

    Dan (or anyone) — Is there any way to get .NET/Practical Web Design here in the states besides subscribing to it online through the .NET site? The conversion rate is so bad it comes out to something like $12 an issue. (But seeing how I’ve never even seen an issue, perhaps that’s just how much it’d cost?)

    Good logo thoughts. -Jason

  10. Posted by AdamK on Wednesday, August 13th, 2008.

    While that is true, ANY visual priority would be nice ;D

    Nice interview anyway :)

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