Whether you’re in the middle of a logo design process, revamping your existing logo, or just starting to think about your visual identity, there are common mistakes you can learn from.
I continuously emphasize that logo creation is just a part of the larger brand design process, and not its sole concern. After all, a visual identity’s true success depends on a strong value creation story and an effective communication strategy. Today, however, we will spend some time going deeper into the world of logo design and how you can prevent common issues in order to support the rest of your brand strategy with a robust set of visual symbols. Throughout this article, I will use the term “logo” to refer to the many different types of logos that designers and clients work on: brandmarks (also known as symbolic or iconic), wordmarks (also known as logotypes), combination marks, lettermarks, and emblems.
Let’s take a look at 10 of the most common logo design mistakes. You’ll find a detailed discussion of each mistake below the infographic.
1. Your logo isn’t flexible enough
Throughout your logo’s lifetime, you will encounter many different channels where it must adapt in order to represent your brand effectively. A strong logo is only successful when it is complemented by a set of assets that contemplates variations in size, proportion, and color, among others. Too often we find logos that aren’t prepared to fit well on horizontal, square, or vertical spaces, for example. It is also essential to have a minified version of the design that you can use for assets like favicons and small avatars.
2. Your logo isn’t clear in black & white
Another common issue, related to flexibility, is your design’s lack of clarity when printed/shown in black & white. It isn’t uncommon for brand logos to appear in grayscale or purely monochrome documents like receipts, copies, or invoices. You won’t always be able to control where your logo is reproduced, or whether it is displayed in full color. In order to guarantee clarity and distinction, make sure that the core elements are still visible when the design is reproduced in black and white. Most professional designers will even tell you that should be your starting point as you take on a brand new logo design process.
3. Your logo isn’t distinctive enough
It goes without saying that your logo shouldn’t look similar to your closest competitors’. That is straightforward: you want to avoid any kind of confusion between your offer and theirs, your staff and theirs, your product and theirs. When things get trickier is when you open that comparison to brands outside of your space. It is equally crucial to analyze the market to see if there is a widely recognizable brand whose identity matches yours. Big brands in retail, politics, and similar spaces create deep-rooted associations that are hard to detach from when your logo is looking too close to theirs. Granted, it isn’t easy to check every single brand on Earth for similarity, but it is part of your due diligence to test your design choices with members of your target audience to ensure that you aren’t missing any significant red flags.
4. Your logo is offensive or discriminatory
I can’t stress this enough: in a world where exposure is a few clicks away, we can’t afford to share material that hasn’t been double (triple!) checked for discriminatory content. It is impossible to please every single viewer, but we can at least make sure that there is nothing openly/intentionally offensive in our content. Logos are symbols that carry associations, and we must carefully evaluate the shapes, colors, and typography we are pairing to see if there are silent messages that attempt against our ability to connect with the market or that come off as insensitive in relation to certain causes or issues.
5. Your logo isn’t prepared for various color systems
What do I mean by “prepared”? When a logo goes out into the world, it will be reproduced across a variety of mediums, including paper, screens, fabrics, plastics, among many others. Our goal as brand designers or managers is to ensure that we have specified what the graphic should look like in all of those mediums. To do so, color equivalencies are crucial. When you think of fabrics (like those you would use for branded t-shirts, for instance), the Pantone Color System is king. RGB dictates how we see graphics on screens. CMYK, on the other hand, is used by large-scale printers with a Cyan-Magenta-Yellow-Key ink system. A single color, as used in your logo, can (and should!) be specified in every single one of those systems in order to preserve uniformity. Think of it as translating a single word in multiple languages, where these are the “languages of color”.
6. Details are too small/hidden for the naked eye
Perhaps you and your team have been working on this design for a long time. You have invested lots of effort and thought into coming up with subtle meanings that come across in many different design decisions. While that is a vital part of logo design, there is a perspective that we must all learn to incorporate in our process: the eye of the beholder.
Remaining too close to the graphic might make us lose sight of the big picture, and miss important issues that a third person might notice instantly. Make it a habit to test your brand recipe with whomever you’re cooking it for. This is an idea that I explore comprehensively in the third section of the Lean Branding book.
7. Your logo’s visual style is detached from the product
Regardless of whether your product is physical, digital, or service-based, there’s an aesthetic style that comes together with your current offer. Selling flower bouquets commands a different visual character than selling insurance. Fashion and tech products are displayed differently. Different product types convey particular visual styles that must come across in the symbol you’re selecting to represent them. Let’s remember that a logo’s core function is to identify your offer in a saturated marketplace. A common mistake is to design a symbol that is far detached from the visual style that your target audience has come to associate with your product.
8. Your logo’s design choices are driven by what’s trendy
I am a strong advocate of staying aware of trends, so this isn’t a total rejection of the influence design trends can have on your process. Instead, the mistake I’d like to highlight here is an excessive reliance on trends to dictate the design directions we pursue during a logo design process. I’m talking about design choices led exclusively by trendiness and not based on being the right fit for the audience and product at hand.
Designing a brand identity based on trends alone can leave us with a time-sensitive, shooting star of a logo that shines bright today but quickly loses steam.
9. Your logo doesn’t convey the right emotion
Just like there is an underlying visual style users have come to expect of your product, there are also emotions linked to its consumption process. You don’t experience the same emotions while using a bank’s services than you do while flying on a plane. Consumers don’t associate the same emotions to buying a new outfit than they do to choosing food for their kids. While being edgy and bold may work for fashion, it certainly doesn’t seem like a great fit for parents looking for trustworthy food products. For them, the right emotions might be closer to reassurance, calm, and security. Figure out which emotions are salient at the time of purchase and even after purchase; then try to reflect those in the identity you are creating for the product.
10. Your logo files aren’t scalable
This is a designer’s worst nightmare: they must implement your brand symbols in different channels and sizes but your files don’t scale. Your brand’s identity ends up looking pixelated and unprofessional. In order to be accessible in multiple sizes, logo files must be created as vectorial artwork. Vector files shrink and expand without losing any quality or fidelity in relation to the original design. In other words: please have files like .ai or .eps* on hand when you are asked to share your logo — especially when you know it’ll be used to create a design asset.
* The spectrum of vector file types is always expanding. An Adobe PDF, for example, may also give whoever is interacting with your logo the opportunity to enlarge/shrink it as needed.