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Decide what your logo is for

Will your logo be able to tell people what you do, or does it express your organisation's ethos?


What type of logo do you want?

Should your logo attempt to illustrate what you do, or will it simply be representive of your organisation?


Where will your logo be used?

How many colours can you afford to print? How large will it be? Does it need to work in negative?


How many ideas do you want to see?

Each idea takes time and costs money. Tell your designers how many ideas to come up with.


Know when to say stop

Be brave at making decisions. Indecisiveness or a long decision-chain can cost you a lot.

In some ways, programming a website is the easy bit.

It's fairly simple to write down a list of the things the website needs to do, and to define the specifics of how it should work. There isn't a lot of room for interpretation.

But getting the brand (and logo) design right can easily eat away at your budget, especially if you ask the designers to "experiment". Experimenting means heading off in every direction at once - you'll reach your destination faster if you can narrow down the options from 360° to just 10°.

Unless you give give clear guidance and feedback, the "experimentation" can easily gobble up most of your budget.

This blog explains the best way to think about your brand, give your designers a good, clear brief, and how to provide the best possible feedback about designs.

It'll save you a lot of money.

Your brand isn't just your logo

Your logo is an image which represents your organisation, in the same way a flag represents a country. The Stars and Strips says "America" to you now, because the "brand" is established. But on its own, a few stripes and a few stars doesn't give you any information about the country. It's just a representation.

Similarly, a logo isn't a method of communicating details about your organisation. It's just a flag. You communicate with voices and writing, not with a logo.

And you shouldn't only be thinking about a logo. You should be thinking about the whole brand. A brand isn't just how you look, it's how you communicate throughout your organisation. You need to define how you talk to people, your tone of voice, and the terms and language you use.

  • Do you use long words and sentences, or short ones?
  • Do you always start your communications by posing a question?
  • Do you always use close-up photos, or do you use photos taken against a white background?
  • Do you write in a highly formal style, or do you begin letters with the words "Yo dude"?

You can't expect to achieve that level of "brand in depth" if all you consider is your logo. You need to think hard about the entirety of your communications.

Contact Treeline to discuss help with your brand identity and approach to communications.

What is my logo for?

Naturally, you want a logo which seems appropriate: serious if your organisation is serious; informal if your organisation is informal, etc. And you want something which is broadly representative of what the organisation does.

But you shouldn't assume your logo will be a picture of what you do. You should choose an image (specific or abstract) which you feel represents your ethos - ecological, collaborative, innovative, stable etc.

How much information about the organisation should my logo contain?

Movie studios spend a fortune on marketing: the marketing budget for a major movie might be equal to the cost of making the film, hundreds of millions of dollars.

And movies are often "sold" with a very simple, high-concept premise: Frodo gets rid of the Ring, Luke destroys the Death Star, etc.

And yet studios can very rarely distil the essence of the film enough to make it work as a logo. Occasionally the theme of the movie is so big and simple that it can be expressed as a drawing - such as Jurassic Park - but it's very rare.

Jurassic Park logoEven with Jurassic park the designers made no attempt to incorporate themes from the movie such as generic engineering, chaos theory or family. The logo says "it's about dinosaurs" and doesn't attempt to say anything else.

Similarly, your organisation probably undertakes complex tasks with lots of detail. But you shouldn't attempt to describe them in a logo. It probably can't be done. Instead, either:

  1. Brief the designer with a distillation of your organisation's activities (the "it's about dinosaurs" approach).
  2. Brief your designer that you are not looking for a direct illustrative definition of what you do, and that the design can be abstract or represent certain ethos or approach. But explain to your designer what that ethos is.

What type of logo do I want?

There are two ways to approach logo design:

Illustrative design Figurative design

The New Line Cinema logo is illustrative. It shows a film slide, and therefore can only really be a logo of a film company.

Although the MGM lion has come to mean "a film company", there is nothing about a lion that directly illustrates movies. This is figurative design, where a non-specific item or shape comes to represent the organisation.

For most organisations it's impossible to do a purely illustrative logo which works. Most organisations perform a wide variety of roles, or provide products or services which are complex or niche, and which can't be sketched in a purely illustrative logo.

In attempting to draw something which encompasses everything, you can end up with a confusing, fiddly illustration which doesn't work as communication, brand identity or design.

Make sure you decide what approach you'd prefer, and tell your designer: it will save a lot of money if you can avoid too much blind guesswork.

Where is my logo going to be used?

Most logos need to work at a variety of sizes, from tiny reproductions in the footer of an email to huge decals on the side of a delivery vehicle. If this is the case, your designers will wish to avoid anything complex or fiddly.

Sometimes, for reasons of print costs, you may need the logo to work in multiple colours or as a single colour. It usually a good idea to consider this, even if you intend to only use your logo on a website (where extra colours cost nothing). 

Indiana Jones silhouetteSteven Spielberg and George Lucas, the creators of Indiana Jones, decided that Indy should have a silhouette that was instantly identifiable. So his hat was specifically chosen to give him a bold and simple outline. His hat is individual enough to be instantly recognisable. In a sense, Indiana Jones is a "logo" which works in 3D, colour and outline.

So tell your designer if you need your logo to work in one colour, negative, large, small, or simplified.

Would you prefer to see sketches?

You need to consider not only the time required to think of ideas, but also the time required to illustrate those ideas to a standard that makes you able to appreciate them fully.

Sketch of the FOLA logo

If you, as an individual, have a good imagination, you can save a lot of design costs by telling your designer to send over sketches. But if you're not able to imagine the finished design from a rough sketch, make sure you tell your designer this - and be prepared to pay a little extra, for the time it takes the designer to produced "finished" illustrations of each idea.

How many ideas would you like to see?

If you have a big enough budget to produce 50 concepts, that's great. But not many people do (typically 50 concepts is going to be 20-40 days of work). So tell your designer to send you (for example) 5 ideas. And based on those ideas, give very good feedback.

The worst type of feedback is "I don't like it". It tells the designer nothing and means another round of blind guesswork. But you can say something like "I don't like it because it's too dark" or "It looks too much like a competitor's logo, but I like the underlying concept - please try a different illustrative style". That will save you a lot of money, because it's more likely that the designer will get it right next time.

Know when to say "stop"

The biggest costs to you will be indeciciveness or a long decision-chain. If you change your mind about what you want, your designers will have to do more work (possibly all of their work again). And if you have to get input, approval or suggestions from lots of people, your designers will struggle to please them all. You need to have one person who is responsible for saying yes.

And if you've seen the logo (or concept) that you like, have the courage to say stop. Your designer will be a creative person, and will thoroughly enjoy the process of coming up with ideas. So unless you tell your design team to stop working, they'll probably keep going indefinitely!

So once you have a concept you like, stop all other work and focus on fine-tuning that to perfection.

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blog by Russ

creative lead