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How to design a unique logo
You know the drill. A new project starts. Timings are tight. You look for insights, surround yourself with research. Anxiety starts taking over. You look at the problem from different perspectives. Upside down, left and right. And then, while pouring yourself a good cup of coffee, aHa! the moment finally arrives. You’ve nailed it. Later on, while confidently presenting your idea, someone eviscerates your ego with a cruel “It reminds me of something”.
For me, designing a logo, the visual representation of a given entity, has always been an endeavour through simplicity. I can’t help it. I like simple things. And I think I’m not alone. Look at the most celebrated brands in the world — simple visual metaphors. Look at all the recent trends not only in graphic or visual design but also in product design. Flat design. Simplicity. Minimalism.
Good logos to be simple, iconic and smart. And obviously, they must be a good fit. They should tell a story that is appropriate to the entities they represent.
But aren’t logos supposed to be unique?
In a way, the purpose of logos is to identify a company's products and services and distinguish them from its competitors. Therefore, it is important for logos to be unique. However, I question the feasibility of aiming for the absolutely unique, never-before-seen logo. Nowadays, you just can't be sure.
Apart from the intrinsic dynamics of capitalism, entrepreneurship is the new global norm. Everyone is looking to strike out on their own, to invent their own future. Start a business. Have an online shop. Build an app. Create a new brand.
The number of websites worldwide has already passed the 1 billion milestone. Over 100 million businesses are started every year. And not to mention the number of apps hitting the App Store every day. And you know what? Nearly every single one has a logo.
The sheer number of existing logos sets us on an unrealistic search for uniqueness. More often than not, that great idea you have has already been done.
Think about the vast number of designers and agencies working on projects for similar clients around the world. We all visit the same websites, read the same books, watch the same shows, have the same education, references, influences, idols. It will be similar. It's only natural.
To illustrate this, imagine asking different bakers to make a bunch of cupcakes. You would get a vast variety of different tastes and colors. But in the end, they're just a bunch of similar-looking cupcakes.
The simpler the execution of a logo is, the more likely it is that you'll find numerous similar solutions. Finding a balance between simplicity and uniqueness has become the most difficult-to-solve identity design paradox.
So, what do about it?
Bear in mind that similar logos are not always problematic. You need to take into consideration aspects such as the degree of similarity, the industry in which both companies operate, and whether or not they are competitors. And most importantly, could their customers become confused in the end?
Because, in the end, that is what matters. A unique logo should be distinctive in the minds of the target audience compared to other choices in the market, not necessarily unique among the countless number of companies in the world.
That being said, I have tried to summarise some personal logo design tips that might help you create something - who knows - somewhat unique.
1. Stay true to the brand
The first step in creating a unique logo is to understand the essence of the brand. What is the purpose of the brand? Who is the target audience? What values define the brand? All of these aspects shape the brand's identity and help differentiate it from its competitors. We can use the brand's essence and what sets it apart as inspiration to creating a logo that is both distinctive and representative.
If you are not provided with a framework containing this type of information before starting the project, you can work together with your client to define it. If you do not know where to begin, I can recommend the "Three-Hour Brand Sprint," a well-documented and useful set of brand exercises that can help you get started.
Such a framework is often called a Brand Model or Brand Framework and basically consists of a diagram that summarises all the elements that make up the brand identity. I think it is one of the most valuable tools in the ideation process, mostly because it serves as both inspiration and a compass in the creative process. There's no formulaic approach to using it, but I often end up asking myself questions like "Does this look fit the personality that we've defined? Is the story behind the symbol aligned with the Brand Mission?". I usually include Vision, Mission, Values, Attributes, and Personality, though other designers and branding professionals may incorporate additional or different elements.
2. Be aware of the competitors
It always helps me to gain some perspective. When you realise that most clients and brands are acting locally rather than globally, it becomes clear that you should focus on the specific market they are in, rather than the entire world. You need to consider your client's competitors, not every company on the other side of the world. Meticulously research them, including their logos, colours used, and visual metaphors. Study them deeply and keep them in mind throughout the entire process.
By understanding what other companies in the same industry are doing, you can avoid falling into common design clichés. A brand should strive to occupy a unique place in the market, and having a unique logo is an important aspect of setting it apart from its competitors.
Below, you will find two monograms from two well-known international design agencies. Although not a case of plagiarism, both the aesthetic and the colours used are similar enough to suggest a missed opportunity in differentiating their brands.
3. Use reverse image search
Conducting a comprehensive trademark screening can be costly and time-consuming. It is a specialized service provided by trademark lawyers and is very often not even offered by design agencies. Thus, it should not be the designer’s burden to research and be aware of all logos available in the world. I’m not saying that copying something is okay, but it’s not your task to ensure that something you create has never been seen before.
That said, you can perform a rudimentary screening using Google reverse image search. It is a tool that helps you find similar images on the internet. Go to Google Images, click on the camera icon, upload an image of the logo you’ve designed, and cross your fingers. It has helped me veto ideas that I thought were good only to find out they were kind of common. If you feel like diving deeper, you can also conduct a reverse image search strategy on TMview, a tool from the European Union Intellectual Property Network that lets you search trademarks in their database.
These are valuable tools, but they can also be heart-shattering for a creative. Don't let your creativity be discouraged by the fear of finding something similar.
Creating a unique logo is difficult and requires careful consideration and research. But I believe that with these tips - staying true to the brand, being aware of the competitors, and utilising tools like reverse image search - you have higher chances of creating something that can stand out in a saturated market. While absolute uniqueness may be challenging to achieve, creating a logo that is distinct and representative of the brand is the ultimate goal.
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