Approximately 1,000 Words
on Logo Design
Logo for a (fictional) artificial diamond company.
The source for this (fictional) ‘company’ was a short story published in 1981, so I decided to go in a somewhat retro, 1980’s ‘futuristic’ direction. The above logo began as a text treatment / word mark. Please click the link below to read my case study:
A word about fonts: As with anything, exercise caution and care when choosing fonts. A good font is both legible and stylish, distinctive but not clichéd. If you’re incorporating a letter or words in your logo, they should be clear and legible at very small sizes (more on that later). The font used for this logo, however was hand drawn.
I experimented with hexagonal and octagonal bases for the letterforms. I chose octagonal. The crystalline structure of diamond is cubical, with 8 carbon atoms per ‘unit cell.’ Octagons would also align with each other better than hexagons, both vertically and horizontally, in rows and columns, staggered or not.
The thickness of the strokes and counters was determined by eye, starting with the lowercase “s.” Originally, I considered a simple “OS” digraph. Those initials, however, could be interpreted to mean almost anything, so I went with the full name. The placement and orientation of the ‘stencil’ lines / breaks were determined by my personal judgment. The final letterforms can be used solid, or can be used as hollow outlines, with a stroke thickness equal to the width of the stencil lines / counters, though this is less legible than the solid version.
The full name text treatment is reasonably legible, and the frequent 45 degree angles of the letters allow a silhouette of a cut diamond to be placed into the resulting spaces in the word mark, hinting at the company’s core product. Unfortunately, the two lines of text, when stacked, are of obviously uneven length. Centering them can ameliorate this discrepancy somewhat (by adding bilateral symmetry), but I continued to explore other ways of arranging the letters.
Enter the square: Square, circular, or other logos with proportions close to 1:1 are preferred, because they can easily be used with additional text in horizontal arrangements (lines / rows) or stacked vertical arrangements (columns). Unusually long or wide logos can be difficult to arrange in small areas, and on physical objects with contrasting proportions. This can lead to legibility problems and wasted space, both of which appear amateurish and unprofessional. Although “Ono-Sendai” can be broken up into 3 groups of 3 letters, my lower-case “i” is not the same width as the rest of the letters. In my square arrangement (as seen at the top of this article), the extra space this leaves on the lower right is utilized by moving, enlarging and repeating the diamond icon, thus filling the space, improving symmetry and suggesting the company’s product. Ono-Sendai likely being a Japanese company, the square arrangement, with a border, also suggests the traditional oriental signature seal (inkan / chop / hanko).
That awful color problem: Preliminary logo design work should be done in black and white. The legibility of the logo must come above all other concerns. In the earliest design stage, color is an unnecessary distraction. Colors, if not already decided upon by the client, should be added after the basic geometry of the design is finalized. A good logo must remain clear at small sizes, and in a single color application, as would likely occur in the real world: embossed (no colors), engraved (no color), single color printing (on promotional materials, inexpensive products, etc), small sizes (promo items, business cards, receipts, etc). Multiple colors, gradients, highlights and drop shadows may be added if desired, but they should not compromise clarity of the logo at small sizes and in one color applications. Ideally, multiple variations of the logo should be prepared in parallel: one color (black and white or single spot color), multiple flat colors (spot colors), and full color with gradients, shadows, and similar effects (spot colors or four color process).
Colors must be chosen with care. They should be eye-pleasing while reflecting the character of the company and industry. Clichéd colors, dated colors and unpleasant contrasts should generally be avoided. Examine the logos / brand identities of other competitors in the same industry to identify any trends in color and style, and decide whether to follow the pre-existing trends or deliberately break with them. As with many facets of design, less is more: one or two major colors (complementary), plus a minor accent color, should suffice for most purposes. Warm-cool pairs (red-blue, orange-blue, yellow-purple, yellow-green, red-yellow, etc) work well, provided that they are chosen and used with care. The major colors, if two or more, should be divided into primary and secondary. The primary (or dominant) will be your color of choice for one-color logo applications on white substrates, and for backgrounds & large areas of color. Gray (usually a cool gray) is a common accent color, but any color with less contrast than the major color(s) should work. When executed properly, this primary-secondary-accent palette can be applied to anything: stationery, uniforms, websites, vehicles, etc.
In the case of this Ono-Sendai logo, I chose a blue color, primarily to reference blue diamonds. The most famous diamond in the world, the Hope Diamond, is blue; and blue diamonds have semiconducting properties as well, making them a potentially useful material in advanced microchip manufacturing. This shade of blue should be easy to reproduce on computer or TV screen as well as in four color process printing (unlike a neon or metallic spot color). Blue is a popular color in manufacturing (Ford, GM, Koenig & Bauer) and technology (IBM, Intel, HP, Facebook, Twitter), and this is its only drawback: it is rather common and not terribly distinctive. If this problem occurs in your design, you may wish to tweak the saturation of your color, or push it toward either end of the spectrum (warmer or cooler), or add a contrasting secondary color.
So, working from a very small amount of hypothetical ‘guidance’ from our fictional client, and a dose of imagination, we have developed at least two useful logos (stacked horizontal text and stacked square text), a secondary diamond icon for use as a favicon or other extremely small uses, chosen a primary color, and have the basis for an entire custom alphabet / font, should the client desire it (say, for model names, advertisements or other branding).