Logos. They’re little things that can make a big difference to your company. In this age of iPhone tiles and fractured attention, a great logo can help make your company — while a terrible one can break it.
However, too many founders try to design their own startup logo. I’ve seen the results — and they’re rarely pretty.
While designing your own startup logo might seem like a good way for a bootstrapping startup founder to save some money, it’s one of those things (like waxing and home electric work) that you should probably leave to the pros.
I spoke with two such professionals — Zaheer Dodhia, the CEO of DesignMantic and branding expert and logo designer Carolina Correa — about the common mistakes that companies make when it comes to startup logo design.
Here’s what they told me.
Think your startup logo is “just” a logo? Zaheer says: Think again.
“Believe me, it’s not,” Zaheer tells Startups.co. “In fact, a logo is the foundation of your brand. It’s from there that your brand is born, its identity is created, and a company is recognized by.
Think of a logo design as the face of your company. You wouldn’t want to look ugly ever, so why should your brand?”
While it’s fine to learn from those who came before you, Zaheer says that when it comes to startup logos, it’s not a good idea to make something that looks like your competitor’s logo. Instead, try to stand out from the crowd.
“Unique, memorable, and stands out from the crowd are some of the words which come to mind when you see a great logo design like Nike, Apple, or Starbucks,” Zaheer says. “You’d be heading towards invisibility when you tell your designer you want to get a logo design exactly like your competitors.”
Carolina advises against ever trying to create your own logo. She even thinks that it’s not a great idea to go with the cheapest options, no matter how broke your startup is.
“If you want to establish a lasting and powerful brand, you need to hire a professional,” Carolina tells Startups.co “A lot of companies underestimate the power of good branding (where logo design plays an important part of the process) and tend to go for the cheaper options. A powerful logo is one that communicates the company’s values and takes into account their strategy and positioning within the competitive landscape.”
Zaheer points out that Leonardo Da Vinci’s famous quote that “simplicity is the ultimate form of sophistication” applies to logo design as well. Or, to put it another way? Keep it simple, stupid.
“A logo design should be a representation of your company but it should not include everything,” Zaheer says. “Having too many elements like the logos for London Olympics 2012 and CMON can simply make it crowded, illegible, and beat the objective.”
Feedback is essential to any design project — and logo design is no different. Carolina points out that cheaper options for startup logo design often don’t include the iterative process.
“You also need feedback from your customers since you are appealing to them,” she says. “Going with the cheaper options means that those parts of the design process is not included, which then means that their logo doesn’t always match the core message they want to communicate, or even resonates well with their audience.”
Carolina gives two examples of logos that probably didn’t include any customer feedback before going life: the logo for the Institute of Oriental Studies at the University of Santa Catarina:
And the Catholic Church’s Archdiocesan Youth Commission:
“The University of Santa Catarina obviously didn’t check with their customers and students to see if this resonated with them. I personally would not have much confidence or faith in the program by looking at this,” Carolina says. “And did the designer of the second one not know the scandals and rumors that surround the Catholic Church?”
Did you know that different fonts and different colors signify different industries? Zaheer says that most companies don’t — and that it’s hurting their logo designs.
“You don’t have to invest in customized fonts like big companies do but you can choose the right one that matches with your industry, product and message you want to convey,” he says. “Same goes with colors. Always design in black and white, then add in the colors to see the dramatic effects on the design. Needless to say, don’t use too many colors.”
I get it — not everyone can afford to hire a design lead for a fledgling team or even to outsource logo design. I asked our experts what a bootstrapping, relatively broke startup founder can do if they’re determined to design their own startup logo.
“You don’t have to invest thousands of dollars to design a logo but you can invest in your thoughts, time and ideas,” Zaheer says. “You can actually design a logo yourself if you know how to use the tools and as long as you know what you want.”
For those founders who are determined to DIY it, here are the top tips for making it work:
Carolina says: Just don’t do it.
“If you have no designer on staff, please don’t try and do it yourself!” she says. “If you’re a startup and building your MVP, unless you have your client, a logo doesn’t mean anything. And yes, I’m a branding professional and I’m telling you that at those early stages, a well-designed logo doesn’t mean anything if you don’t have clients.”
“However if you absolutely want something to put out there, I would recommend going for a logotype,” Carolina says. “In other words, a font-based logo. Go on a sites like dafont.com or 1001freefonts.com and type in the name of your company.
You’ll get a long list of choices with all sorts of fonts and choose one that you think matches best the personality of your brand. Once you get some revenue, then consider investing money into proper logo design.”
And if you’re still pushing forward, Zaheer says don’t just dive right in! It’s important to do all of your research, including about your industry, your competitors, and logo designs that you like for inspiration.
Your startup logo doesn’t have to be over-complicated. In fact, it shouldn’t be. Zaheer says simpler is better when it comes to logo design: “Have your business name in a clear and readable font in one (maximum two) color.”
Your logo needs to work on everything from the address bar of a web browser to the tile on a smartphone to a billboard ad. Zaheer cautions that if it only looks good on one of those mediums, it’s not going to work for you.
Carolina and Zaheer seem to pretty much agree on one thing: It’s best to leave logo design up to the experts. But hey, they get that sometimes you just don’t have the cash. Just make sure you get some outside feedback first? I don’t want to see you next to those two logos up there in the next “logo fail” piece I read.
Emma McGowan is a full time blogger and digital nomad has been writing about startups, living with startup people, and basically breathing startups for the past five years. Emma is a regular contributor to Bustle, Startups.co, KillerStartups, and MiKandi. Her byline can also be found on Mashable, The Daily Dot's The Kernel, Mic, The Bold Italic, as well as a number of startup blogs.
Follow her on Twitter @MissEmmaMcG.