Making your Mark: the Process of Logo Design (Part I)

Why should you care about having a graphic designer work with you to create great logo? What does it really matter? Why not just stick with the clip art creation you threw together when the company first opened its doors, or buy a jazzy new one from 29dollarlogos.com?

I’ll tell you why: because presentation matters. In the same way it matters to your clients that you provide a quality product or service, it matters that you appear professional, accountable and reliable. Your logo is a graphic representation of who you are and what you do—it is a voice for your brand, a mark of your identity.

A good logo will be professional, unique and appropriate. It’ll work well in a variety of applications and stand the test of time. Your logo is not your brand, but it can definitely serve to enhance your brand and support the work you’re doing.

People do judge books by their covers. It’s their first impression of what they’ll find inside, and it’s important. In the same way that a cover may catch your eye and stick in your head, a logo can draw its audience in and make an impression.

People also judge books on their content. No logo—no matter how great—can save a business that is lacking in either service or product quality. But it can most definitely enhance and support the content that is already there, and it can help give meaning to the story a company has created for itself.

I’d like to show you what goes on at corbin creative when designing a logo. I’m not going to touch too much on things like budgets or timelines, but on the actual technical process of researching, conceptualizing and finalizing a logo. My hard-working client Samantha Lowes—who runs the successful boutique bookkeeping business “Lowes Consulting”—has very graciously agreed to let me share the behind-the-scenes work that went into her logo design.

So let’s get started!

 Step 1: Getting to know you

When a client initially contacts corbin creative about a logo design, my first priority is to learn more about who they are and what their requirements might be, so a quick conversation will take place by phone or e-mail. A good sense of what they do and what they’re looking for is needed in order for me to fully define the scope of the job.

I send a questionnaire to every client, and I ask them to respond with as many details at possible. My standard questionnaire has twenty questions, but I will add or remove a question or two as required. I appreciate that my clients are generally super busy, and may not feel that answering to these “getting to know you” questions are a priority. But not only do their responses help me to develop an accurate cost and timeline estimate, in the long run they also save time and energy, because they act as a guide to keep everyone on track in the process of developing the best, most appropriate design possible.

The questionnaire asks about the client’s business, and about their clients, competitors, and capabilities. I also ask them to provide details on things like the image they want project, what sort of design work has been successful (or not) in the past, and what their aesthetic tastes are.

Here are a few questions from the questionnaire, with answers provided by Samantha:

Q: How would you describe your business?

A: I provide bookkeeping services to small charities, not-for-profits and small businesses. I do the payroll, accounts receivable, accounts payable, preparation of financial statements, and audit preparation.

Q: What is your long-term vision for your business?

A: I would like to continue to do books for charities, I would like the option of doing some business consulting down the road but it would be a different target market (small business/sole proprietors) but I am not sure that matters in terms of logo design/business card.

Q: What are your design requirements for this project?

A: I would like a professional business card and a logo to use on a very simple website. I guess it would be nice to use it on my invoice too (black and white invoice).

Q: What are your objectives with this design work (eg. increased sales, target a certain audience, present a certain image)?

A: I would like get new clients and to project a professional image when I go to meetings or networking events. The audience are executive directors of charities or small organizations.

Q: Have you seen any other design work out there that captures the “look and feel” you’re after for your business? Or any design work you just plain like the look of?

A: See links in email (Note: Samantha provided a helpful list of links to related work she really likes the look of.)

Q: What do you want this design work to say about your business?

A: I want it to say that I am professional, hard-working and knowledgeable.

I love it when I have the opportunity go over a client’s answers with them, because sometimes the responses in the questionnaire raise new questions (either my own or the clients). It’s also a great starting point for a full conversation on what their vision is for their business, and what I can do to fulfill that vision. But even if we can’t fit in this follow-up, the filled-in questionnaire helps me to keep to the right path.

Step 2: Getting to know all about you : Research

After confirming my client is ready to move ahead, the research begins.

My goal is to find out as much as possible about the industry my client works in– what it entails, where it takes place, who is involved, how it is run and so on. I also look into my client’s competitors. This not only not only provides a stronger sense of the competition, but also educates me as to the branding and identities they have in place, so that the work I do for my client is unique and sets them apart. I also take another look at any design work my client has indicated they like (or don’t like), and at other design work in the same vein.

Where the research takes place really depends on the specific job. I’ve done research online, over the phone, at the library, out on the street, in shops or offices, and by reading through materials sent to me by the client directly. Research for Lowes Consulting consisted primarily of in-depth online research and reviewing print materials Samantha provided and that I acquired from businesses in her area.

For me, research is an essential step. It’s where I get my footing, where I feel concepts take root and the design process truly begins.

 Step 3: Making your mark

Now I haul out my sketchbook and start getting some things down on paper.

Generally, I begin with words. I’ll brainstorm words that might inspire ideas for a logo: the business my client’s in, the image they want to project, and random (but hopefully related) words that pop into my head. Every idea gets put down on paper, regardless of how silly or unconnected it might seem at the time.

“Resourceful, understanding, insight, organized” are some of the many words I wrote down for Lowes, along with “thorough, not-for-profits, Quickbooks” and “big pile of papers, shovel, spines” (as I mentioned, I write down everything.)

After a slew of words are scribbled down, I start sketching. This involves a lot of playing around– with images, with letterforms, with symbols and lines and shading. I don’t cross anything out and I don’t erase. Some of the drawings are terrible, and some are ok. The ok ones I work on more, finessing them or discarding them as time goes on. Sometimes I end up with something I’m pleased with. Often I don’t, and I move on to another idea.

sketches for logo design
Some of my rough sketchbook concepts for Lowes Consulting.

I always leave my sketches at least once and come back to them with fresh eyes. Sometimes one or two directions will click for me quite early on in the process, and sometimes I have to step away and come back to my sketchbook again and again. I don’t stop sketching until I have a three to five solid concepts that I’m pleased with and that I believe would meet my client’s expectations.

 

Check in next week for the rest of the steps in this logo design process!