Designing Logos

The one thing you should always be able to determine from a business card or business publication is its origin. If you do not notice the company or division responsible, then the document failed.

The two most common devices used to identify documents are logos and nameplates. A logo is an artistic element or graphical treatment of a company, product, or division name. A logo can be as simple as Mercury’s winged foot or as elaborate as the custom lettering on a soda can. Some logos combine art and lettering, others rely solely on art. No matter what, a logo must be easily identifiable as yours and yours alone.


A nameplate is the name of a publication.

A nameplate is nothing more than the name of a publication as it appears on the first page of the publication. A nameplate is most often plain text, with little or no art. Yet “plain” text can be as distinct as artwork. The nameplates of the New York Times and USA Today would never be confused. A nameplate conveys an image. The Times is an old, traditional newspaper. USA Today wants to look more up-to-date and modern. In many cases, a nameplate and logo are one and the same.

Keep It Simple

Simple nameplates and logos work best.

We keep repeating this, but it is the mantra of business document design – keep it simple. Unless you are preparing publications for a design studio, artistic talent takes a back seat to clear communication. A logo is the single most important design work you will ever be assigned. No other design is recycled with the frequency of a logo. It must stand the proverbial test of time.

Name Your Image

Your design process began when your company was named. In a corporate setting, you might not have had any say in the company name. Many companies are older than any living employees, so you have to make do with what you have. If you did select the name, consider how your clients react to it. Names should be short and to the point. If possible, work a descriptive noun into your company name or logo.

Before you get too far into logo design, think about your company, division, or publication name. Your name should convey who and what you are. With the exception of professional corporations, such as law or medical offices, most business names should meet the following criteria:

  • Short,
  • Informative,
  • Owner independent, and
  • Non-regional.

These are suggestions based on the notion you want to expand the business beyond a region, especially in this Internet age. Local celebrity does not matter, and regional loyalty can be a detriment.


People are more likely to remember a short name.

Short names are easier to remember – and easier to work with from an artist’s perspective. If a name is long, consider testing out an acronym. International Business Machines takes a bit of time to say and a lot of real estate on a business card. IBM is short. Consider American Telephone & Telegraph. The company’s name has long been AT&T. No one we know uses a telegraph.


Descriptive names are not original, but they are remembered.

Notice that both of the company names we have mentioned describe what the company is. Everyone knows a business machine in today’s world is a computer. AT&T is “Ma Bell” to a lot of people. A name, at least in its long form, should inform the public. Telephone & Telegraph states exactly what the company originally did.

Blue, Inc., tells the public nothing. If your name is not informative, it might not be the first one clients think of when under pressure. If you make widgets, mention it. Then, when a client wants a widget, they are already thinking of part of your name.


Naming a business after an owner – unless the owner is a celebrity – serves no purpose.

The most common naming sin is a company named after an owner or founder. You could argue that many companies are named in this manner without dire consequences. Many more businesses have had to change or modify their names – hence you do not remember them. Businesses are sold. A new owner might damage the business and the founder’s name. Pinacle Widgets and Widget World are possibly better names than Smith’s Widgets.


Use a regional name only if it defines the product.

Finally, a name should be non-regional, unless the region is strongly associated with the product. While Maine Lobster might be a great resturant name anywhere, Boise Pizza doesn’t have the same charm. New York or Chicago describe pizza, but Boise? We think not. Word’s like national and global work well, since they are vague. Still, it is best to not use geography most names.

Thankfully, company names can be changed. If you think that the name you have to design a name for is not a great starting point, mention it to your superiors. Maybe thay have an alternative. Then again, maybe your boss likes his name on everyone’s business card. If so, change the name when you buy company.

One Logo (Almost) Fits All

A logo must be used constantly to be effective. You should not have a collection of logos. Good logos work in a variety of formats without losing their usefulness. The most common mistake is designing a logo at a large size, in color. The result is a logo that does not work well for all types of documents.


Design logos which work well at any size.

Strong logos work at sizes from one square inch up to a square foot or larger. The easiest approach is to avoid fine lines and details. Good designs are quite bold. A logo might appear on a business card or on a magnetic sign stuck to the side of a car. Moving signs have got to be easy to read.

No matter how solid your design is, you might have to perform some touch-up work at various sizes to improve the quality. For example, if you include a globe in a logo, the larger the logo appears in a final document, the more detail you might allow.


Avoid extravagant use of color when designing logos.

Never assume that a logo designed in color will reproduce well in shades of gray or in black and white. Reproduction quality is more important than ever with facsimile machines and photocopiers converting your beautiful color logo in a black blotch. Therefore, you have to design a logo keeping in mind everything that might happen to it.

As you design a logo, test it by faxing it to yourself, photocopying it, any anything else you can do to test the resiliancy of the design. These tests make designing a color logo more time-consuming, but the results are worth the effort.

Selecting Typefaces

Typefaces leave impressions.

Typefaces convey information. There are traditional, classic, modern, and wild faces – each implying your business fits into a category. The best way to classify the image of a typeface is to look at it and consider the first thing that comes to mind. Most likely, the image you receive from a face is the same your clients will entertain.


One thing to consider is the availability of the typeface. Availability is important to sign makers and commercial printers. A custom or rare typeface can add to the cost.

Our examples attempt to match typefaces to company names. With thousands of typefaces available, it should be possible to find the ideal match for your needs. We own thousands of typfaces – it is always possible to match a face to a name.

Quality Matters

Typefaces used in a logo must work well at a variety of sizes. Lettering styles are as distinctive as artwork, so you do not want to change typefaces as a logo is enlarged or reduced. Using only the best typefaces will make your design life much easier.

Recall that True Type and Adobe Type 1 faces are hinted. Smaller fonts are less detailed than larger fonts of the same face. Scalability is essential for good logo designs.

Using Art

Artwork for logos always falls short of masterpiece status – there is only so much you can do that works on a business card. Never forget that the purpose of most logos is to communicate, not to impress clients. Many business logos rely on “meaningless” dingbats or clipart. Remember, many print shops actually send business card work to dedicated service bureaus. These cookie cutter cards tend to use the same few symbols.

You can design your own unique artwork that is simple, yet effective. The artwork should reflect what your company does. Simple polygons and circles with lines removed, swirled, or other simple effects are not effective. If your company sells sport fishing equipment, then use a fishing pole, fish, or hand-tied fly for your logo. Do not try to use landscapes such as images of streams unless the connection is obvious.

Software Suggestions

Design logos with scaling in mind. Use vector-based illustration software to create logos that look good at any size. We favor Corel Draw and Adobe Illustrator, but you can use any major illustration software.


  • Keep logos simple and easy to reproduce.
  • Select a meaningful name, when possible.
  • Match the typeface to the business.


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Writer: C. S. Wyatt
Updated: 21-Oct-2017
Editor: S. D. Schnelbach