The Creative Liberation Lab Notes

An official publication of Limeadestand Works

Brand protip: Forget a "logo"

June 20, 2018 | Branding and brand communications

Too many small business gurus often pontificate on the supposed importance of designing a "logo" when starting a business.  As someone who has been in the business of branding for some time, I call it bullshit.

Once upon a time, having a "logo" (I'm playing along with the incorrect usage of this word for now, bear with me) distinguished a mom-and-pop business from an established, professional-looking one. It was because at the time, designing anything decent would cost a lot of money and required either a sophisticated computer software or a seasoned graphic designer. But these days, just about anyone can slap a semblance of a "logo" and create a website and naively thinks that's all that it takes. Even the scammers these days have some convincing "logos" on their websites!

Since too many inexperienced entrepreneurs obsess too much about their "logo," they neglect the more important elements of business planning and fail to see the bigger pictures of brands.

In my experience, I have come to a conclusion that having no "logo" at all is far superior to having a mediocre one or having one but that is poorly executed and without a comprehensive branding scheme behind it. 

Not all big businesses have a logo, either. For example, Fred Meyer (general merchandising big box stores in the Pacific Northwest, owned by Kroger) only has a wordmark -- a red, italicized sans-serif that reads "Fred Meyer." Another one is Coca-Cola. Coca-Cola does not have a logo but has two wordmarks: the calligraphy "Coca-Cola" and "Coke" in a serif typeface. Both Fred Meyer and Coca-Cola distinguish their brands by the consistent use of a distinct color (red). You do not see a blue Fred Meyer sign or a yellow Coca-Cola wordmark. Other big businesses without a logo (but with a wordmark) include Microsoft, FedEx, and IBM.

The problem that I see often in small business logo design is that too often they are copycats (exposing themselves to legal liabilities), prone to be influenced by fads that would quickly become a cliche (for example, the "swoosh"- or "horizon"-like visual elements that used to dominate the trends back in the turn of the 21st century), or even worse, that are little better than some clip art they found online (and even stealing a clip art outright -- which is illegal even if it is a "free clip art"). 

Even for those businesses with a relatively decent-looking "logo" (again, when they say "logo," it could actually mean an emblem or a wordmark as well), when they lack a systematic brand document, the visual element is used improperly and in a haphazard or inconsistent manner that it defeats the very point of hiring someone to design it (note: if you hire someone to "design a logo" and they do not give you a brand document, or if you didn't ask for one, it's a sign that you really don't know what you're doing!) 

And please -- Do not fall for one of those "free logo design" websites. They claim to generate a unique design using "artificial intelligence" but all that you get is a version of some clip art (and often they won't even give you a vector file) that hundreds of other people are also getting -- even if the artificial intelligence randomizes the images so there won't be an exact duplicate elsewhere -- which, needless to say, lacks uniqueness and dilutes the value of your brands. These "free logos" also tend to expose yourself to a potential legal dispute if the design is inadvertently too similar to some other businesses in your area or in your industry).

It is NOT necessary for a business to have a "logo." But it is necessary to have a brand document that outlines what visual elements are used to identify your business and how. This document should include the typefaces ("fonts") that you should always use, what color or colors you should always use in your printed and digital materials, and how visual elements are placed always. Your visual brand is a lot more than just a "logo," but a whole package of how everything you put out in the public (and also within your company) should always appear ... so that it becomes immediately recognizable as yours. Neither "free logo design" websites nor an amateur $5 "logo design" job you find on Fiverr gives you this.

Another important thing to remember is that your brand should be relatively timeless. It should not, therefore, follow ephemeral trends or fads. It should last for the minimum of 20 years, not two years before you end up redesigning everything.