“There are many misconceptions about logos,” world-renowned graphic designer Sagi Haviv explained in a 2017 Tedx Talk. “People think they have to be interesting or pretty or move us emotionally. In fact, a logo doesn’t have to do any of that. A logo has to work so it can stick around--and over time, it builds recognition.”
Over the last 60-plus years, Sagi Haviv, alongside his partners at the legendary firm Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv, has created some of the most recognizable logos in history, including the Chase Bank logo, the National Geographic mark, the current NBC Peacock, among others. . “While the world is constantly changing, our approach to designing these identities has actually changed very little,” Haviv continued.
Great logos endure, and unlike much of the media we consume these days, they become more powerful as the years pass. In celebration of Sagi Haviv’s new Skillshare Originals class on logo design launching later this month, we asked six logo designers from around the world about how they create meaningful work and use their advice as a launching point to discuss some of Haviv’s biggest logo design projects of the last 15 years. Interested in creating your own timeless logos? Here are seven tips to help you get started.
Tip #1: Keep it simple.
“People want to let a logo mean to them what it means to them,” award-winning designer, illustrator, and art director Russell Shaw tells us. “Making it over-complicated takes away the fun of that. If you try to cram too many visual motifs on top of each other in the same logo, it’s going to be a train wreck. I suggest picking one thing that is going to set it apart and making that perfect.”
For many years, the Harvard University Press logo featured the University’s traditional Veritas shield, but on the occasion of its centennial, that changed. In 2013, Sagi Haviv redesigned the logo, creating a composition of six rectangles, forming an ‘H’ in the middle. Because the new design was simpler and less crowded, it worked best for HUP’s evolving presence not only in print but also across digital platforms.
Tip #2: Put it in context.
One of the first things logo designers learn is that their work needs to be practical. “Whatever you design for someone will never exist in a vacuum or in isolation,” Shaw continues. “It’s not about how it looks as a finished product on your screen. It’s about how it will look and feel as part of a larger system of pieces – copywriting, photography, fonts, illustrations, layouts, etc.”
When Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv redesigned the logo for Armani Exchange, Georgio Armani initially rejected it because he’d seen it on a piece of blank paper. When he saw it in the context of their full presentation, which included billboards, storefronts, and ads, he changed his mind completely.
Think about how your logo will look online and in print media--can it be scaled up or down? Can the client apply different treatments and filters without lessening the overall effect? If the answer is “yes,” you’re on the right track.
Tip #3: Get off the internet.
Graphic designers are always plugged into trends, but it’s easy to fall into the trap of creating work that looks like everyone else’s. “Your inspiration shouldn't come only from common places like Dribbble, Instagram, or Pinterest,” brand identity designer Paulius Kairevicius explains. “It has to come from completely different sources that are outside graphic design, such as architecture, nature, and so on.”
The artists we interviewed stressed this point over and over again: turn off the computer, and seek inspiration where no one else has dared to look. Unfortunately, copying and even plagiarism are not unheard of in the design industry, so staying original is key. Truly unique ideas can be found where you least expect them, so set aside any preconceptions and think outside the box. Kairevicius concludes, “My advice is to go left when everybody else goes right.”
Tip #4: Use a pencil.
“The computer will not help you connect with your creative impulses,” Haviv said in 2010. “A pencil will.” Many of the designers we spoke to have introduced new technologies and software into their workflow, but like Haviv, they also advocate for sketching on paper.
“At the beginning of my journey as a logo designer, I created everything directly on the computer,” illustrator and brand identity specialist Alfrey Davilla says. “I expected this would help me finish my work quickly and easily, but that's completely wrong. Sketching on paper at the very beginning of the design process is a much faster and effective method for trying out ideas and variations. It has enabled me to create so many different forms before digitizing my best ideas on the computer.”
Tip #5: Prioritize the client.
“My advice is to always understand the business needs of your client,” logo designer Emanuele Abrate says. “Work with them to draft a detailed brief. Designing a logo doesn’t just mean creating something beautiful. In order to be effective, it must be appropriate and convey the company's values.”
When Haviv created the current Conservation International logo, for example, he adapted to the organization’s evolving mission. The former logo included various elements like trees, a bird, and a dangling monkey, but because they refocused their efforts on human habitation, it no longer reflected the totality of their goals. As a result, Haviv’s redesign featured a blue circle (representing the earth), underscored by a green line.
“You aren’t making something that is just supposed to be cool for your portfolio,” Shaw stresses. “You are making something that is going to mean so much to the employees of the company that have to wear it, or the customers who have to interact with it, and hopefully it will live on for a very, very long time. This isn’t a piece of art that you’re making for yourself. It’s a signifying mark that has to have meaning for the company and help them succeed.”
Tip #6: Show only your best work.
Designers fill pages and pages of their notebooks with different versions of the same logo, but they only show a select few to their clients. Last year, Haviv was asked about the most important lesson he learned from Ivan Chermayeff, a founding partner at Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv. His response? Never show a client a design you’re not proud of.
Mr. Simc, a logo designer based in Lithuania, agrees. “When you start working in the logo design field, you might be tempted to show all of your work to your potential clients and your audience, but in order to be noticed more quickly and to stand out, try to limit yourself to the works that you feel are your very best,” he says. “In other words, try to focus on quality rather than quantity--it really makes a difference!”
Tip #7: Be memorable.
“The one observation that's always stuck with me is that good logos are always memorable,” designer and custom letterer Simon Walker tells us. “If you can design a logo that even people who aren't designers will admire and remember, you're onto something.”
Originality and distinctiveness are key components to any great logo, but memorability also goes back to simplicity. Iconic logos gain momentum and value over time, but they’re easy enough for people to remember right away, even after seeing them just one or two times. Ask a friend to take a look at your logo, and then ask them to sketch it from memory. If they can’t, you might need to simplify.
Want to learn more about how to create your own beautiful logo designs? Skillshare has dozens of classes to show you how.
Thumnbail/header image by Skillshare student Tako M. for Aaron Draplin’s Skillshare Original, Logo Design with Draplin: Secrets of Shape, Type and Color
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