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Logo Design is the Purest Form of Design. Change My Mind

I was recently interviewed on camera as part of a design conference in LA. Exhausted and caked in makeup to hide my jet-lag after a 13-hour flight from Australia, I sat down under studio lights to answer my first question… 


“What is the most common misconception about logo design?”

 

By James Barnard, logo designer, seasoned freelancer, design educator and devoted dad. His aim is to pass on his experience to the next generation of designers by teaching everything he knows.


Gen-AI in Branding & Design

As someone with nearly 15 years in the graphic design industry, and as a veteran of podcasts and live streams, you’d think that I’d have a ready-made answer for a question like this. But I was completely blind-sided. I had never been asked this before, and as a team of 7 or 8 producers, lighting assistants and camera operators looked on apprehensively, I spent the next two minutes stumbling through an answer. 


During the weeks following that interview, I’ve played out what I said over in my head. At the time of writing this article, the footage from the interview has yet to be released. So I can’t quite remember how I worded my response.

It went something like this:


“The biggest misconception of logo design is that because it looks simple, it’s easy. The end result of a logo design project is a reductive design that scales well, has meaning behind it and is unique to that business. But this takes years of experience to master. In summary, it takes effort to appear effortless.” 


My job is to take a litany of ideas, musings, values, beliefs and problems from my client, digest everything, roll it into a ball and spit out one single symbol that represents their industry at a single glance. Oh and by the way, if that symbol ends up looking remotely like something that has ever been used before, on this earth, then we can’t use it. 

Let’s break apart the individual traits that a designer needs in order to produce a world class logo:


1. Abstract thinking and pattern recognition


It’s both a blessing and a curse, but my brain is trained to spot meaning in the abstract. Combining shapes in unique ways is often a great way to ensure that a logo is unique, but the best logo designers can do this to reveal a hidden meaning. And this takes either savant-level, out-of-the-box thinking, or years and years of practice. 


2. Typography


At the very least a logo designer should be able to construct basic letterforms and have a fundamental understanding of typography, especially if the client is looking for a logotype over a mark. And even if the design is shape-based, we still need to be able to pair a typeface with a logo or customise an existing one to create balance with the design.


3. Colour theory and psychology 


Your client wants to build trust with their customers in the financial securities space. What colour should you choose for your logo? If you said, “Blue” then you’re absolutely right, but good luck trying to stand out in a sea of competitors’ logos when you sponsor your first trade show. Logo designers can select unique colour palettes for you, while still maintaining the core values of your business and invoking the emotions you want from your customers. 


4. User experience


Your client’s logo is going to be used anywhere from a massive billboard on Times Square, to printed onto a pen top. It needs to work in a horizontal space like a website navigation, as well as tall and narrow mediums like skyscraper advertising. Plus it should work at super high density pixel resolutions, and at the same time look legible and clear when embroidered onto a t-shirt. It’s these constraints that factor into the decisions logo designers face when creating a versatile design or scaleable options for their clients.


This is obviously a fraction of the overall experience we need; an understanding of optical illusions, cultural sensitivity and anti-plagiarism resources to name a few more. And yet logo creation remains one of the most undervalued aspects of the graphic design industry.


Michael Evamy puts it best in the beginning of his book Logo, 

“[Logo design is] the distillation of the big and complex into something simple and unique that presents one of the defining design challenges of the modern era.”


As a representative for the entire industry of logo design, what I was essentially saying in my answer to the ‘misconception’ question is that our field is one of the purest forms of design. And while I was initially worried that my answer was grandiose and maybe a little pretentious, the more I’ve thought about it, the more I believe it to be true.


Read the Interview with James Barnard HERE!


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Ali Raza
Mar 14

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