Leading Branding Expert for Small Business

Whether you’re a start-up in the market for your company’s first logo or an established organization looking to rebrand (Top 20 Signs It’s Time to Rebrand), a strong and memorable logo is the best way to positively impact your brand’s first impression. A potential customer, client, vendor, investor or employee forms an opinion in seconds, so a bad logo could potentially doom your business without you even being aware of it.

THE HARD COST OF A BAD LOGO

Your business runs on dollars and cents, so let’s look at the cost of bad logo design for a small business. Depending upon the size of your company, here are a few brand assets that could be impacted if you had to change out a bad logo:

  • Website: (Assuming you have a decent site and just need to change out a new logo and possibly a new color scheme for bars, text and graphics) $500 – $2,000
  • Stationery design and reprint: $500 – $2,500
  • Online banner ads redesign: $500 – $2,500
  • Print collateral redesign and printing fees (brochures, flyers, ads, thank you cards, etc.): $1,000 – $3,000
  • Swag (promotional items such as pens, coffee mugs and notepads): $500 – $3,000
  • Trade show booth/exhibit displays design and reprint: $250 – $2,500
  • Interior signage (3D logo on lobby wall): $250 – $1,000 
  • Exterior building signage: $500 – $10,000
  • Vehicle wrap applied to one car or van: $1,500 to $4,000 

GRAND TOTAL: $5,500 – $30,500

THE INTANGIBLE COST OF A BAD LOGO

You only get one first impression. A poorly conceived logo can deliver the wrong message about who you are and what you do, leaving a prospective customer underwhelmed or skeptical about your organization. When a prospect doesn’t connect with your brand, you just lost potential revenue. The longer you put off developing a professional logo and brand, the more missed opportunities compound. You might not even be aware that a big prospect walked away from your company because your brand identity was confusing or outdated.

Employee ramifications 
What does a poorly executed logo portray to your own employees? They want to know that you’re an organization with high standards that cares about them and the future of the company. In addition to lost productivity and employee morale, not investing in your most important brand asset (your logo) may lead them to think that you won’t invest in them either.

THE RED FLAGS OF A BAD LOGO 

Your logo is an important investment for your organization. It’s crucial to your business that your logo is easily recognizable by your target audience. A great logo is compelling, unique, timeless and connects directly to your product or service. Let’s take a look at the red flags of a bad logo, so you can avoid costly mistakes.

Red flag #1: Lack of a color strategy 
Many inexperienced designers often use way too many colors in a logo design, with inappropriate color combinations or randomly chosen colors to provide a client with a large number of color options – in hopes that they will like one. This is not a strategy for success and can create amateur outcomes. 

I’ve designed hundreds of logos over my career and learned that there are five main ways that business owners typically land on a color selection for their logo:

  1. Personal/spousal opinion
  2. Pantone trends
  3. Copy and paste
  4. Color psychology
  5. Differentiation
  • Personal/spousal opinion
    I can’t count the number of times I’ve been at a networking event and asked a business owner why they chose a certain color for their organization. Often they’ll say something along the lines of, “my wife likes the color teal,” or “I like the color orange so that’s what we went with.” There is zero strategy with this approach and I highly recommend against it. Your logo is for your target audience, not you. Your personal taste in color may not be the same as theirs.
  • Pantone trends
    Have you ever worked with a graphic designer that recommended a PMS (Pantone Matching System) color because that color was “the color of the year” according to PANTONE®?

Do you get my point by looking at these color samples? I don’t recommend allowing a graphic designer to apply a color trend to your company’s logo. Color trends come and go quickly and there is no sound reason to use them on a logo that needs to last for at least the next decade, if not longer. 

  • Copy and paste
    Often times a business owner will do their own research on their competition and choose their logo color based on their top competitors in the marketplace. Just because your top competitor(s) uses blue as their dominant color in their color scheme doesn’t mean you should use it as well. In fact, you should probably stay as far away from it as possible to differentiate your brand from the competition. When a potential client looks at your competitor’s logo and then yours, everything starts looking the same, or worse, it looks as if you copied your competition, especially if you’re not as established as them.
  • Color psychology
    Advertising agencies and marketing firms are often guilty of offering color psychology as a color selection process for logo design. The pitch sounds something like this: “Hey John, your company is very passionate, so you should use the color red in your logo design because red signifies passion and energy!” The only problem with this pitch is that red also signifies danger and anger and has different meanings to different cultures. This is why clients need more of a holistic approach when it comes to choosing a color for their company’s logo identity and is why I recommend the below option, differentiation. 
  • Differentiation 
    When I say the color “brown”, what company do you think of? Are you thinking UPS? Whenever I’m giving a branding seminar or facilitating one of my branding workshops and we’re on the topic of color, 99.9% of the participants will say they think of UPS when asked the above question. That is because UPS OWNS THE COLOR BROWN, not just in the courier industry, but every industry! You can’t forget their boxy brown trucks or their old slogan from the early 2000s, “What can brown do for you?”.

Look at the UPS logo below compared to their competition. Not only do their competitors never use brown, but even their top competitors’ color schemes are different from one another. This did not happen by accident. They are differentiating themselves through color just like you should.

Red flag #2: A logo was created by an amateur designer
I often run across business owners who are looking to save money by either quickly designing their company’s logo themselves or having a friend or relative design it for them. As a business owner myself, I understand the temptation. Hiring a professional graphic designer can cost thousands of dollars. However, the investment in a great logo is minimal in comparison to what an amateur logo will cost your business in the long run.

In addition to a DIY approach or hiring your nephew, here are few reasons why many logos appear amateurish:

  • The logo was outsourced to a logo design contest website 
    This may seem like a quick and cheap way to get a logo designed, however, these sites are populated with amateur/entry-level designers who have been known to submit stolen work as their own. Contest sites are also known for designers submitting logos containing clip art or stock vector graphics into their logo design submissions. This can lead to infringement and trademark registration issues on a chosen logo design that the client believed was an original design.
  • The wrong contractor is commissioned to create your logo 
    Other than the name of your business, your logo is your most valuable brand asset. Just because an online/local provider (sign maker, printer or website developer) says they can build you a logo as an add-on to their existing service offerings doesn’t mean you should take them up on it. 

    Your goal should be to hire a professional and credible identity designer who is trained and highly skilled in creating brand identities; one who understands the principles of design including contrast, balance, emphasis, proportion, hierarchy, repetition, rhythm, pattern, white space, movement, variety and unity. 

    You are rolling the dice when you let a production artist at your local sign shop develop your new logo identity. Hiring such an individual typically leads to a frustrated business owner who wasted time, energy and money on an amateur logo they now own and will more than likely have to replace sooner than later.
  • A crazy cheap logo package was available online 
    Avoid websites that promote ridiculously cheap logo packages and cookie-cutter logo templates like the plague. You get what you pay for. If your logo looks amateurish, then so will you and your business you’ve worked so hard for.

Red flag #3: A logo that is too complex
An overly complex or busy logo is a bad logo. Simple, clean and bold should be the ultimate goal when developing your company’s logo. Complex logos will lose detail when viewed or printed at a smaller size. Remember, your logo needs to look great in one color on a promotional item such as a pen. Many logos will fail the “pen test” because they contain too many details such as outlines, drop shadows, multiple colors, duplication of elements and gradients. 

Below are three examples of complex logos to avoid.

When I’m developing logos for my clients, I try to include an icon if possible. A simple and unique icon makes it easy to use on social media channels (example below). Overall, logos are memorable because of simplicity.

Logo Design and Brand Assets for National Document created by Damon Andersen

Red flag #4: A logo using the wrong font(s)
The right choice of fonts can make or break a logo design. When choosing a font for a logo, it is important to understand the overall signature. The signature (example below) is the structured relationship between a logotype, brandmark and tagline. If there is an icon as part of a logo, it’s key that the font complements the style of the icon without competing with it for your audience’s attention. 

Psychology of fonts and logos
To get the emotion you want your target audience to feel when they see your logo font, your designer must understand that different types of fonts elicit different moods. Below are a few font type classifications and the emotions they exhibit. 

  • Serif: Formal, respectable, traditional
  • Sans serif: Simple, stable, sensible
  • Modern: Progressive, strong, stylish
  • Display: Friendly, eccentric, unique
  • Script: Feminine, elegant, affectionate
  • Slab serif: Important, bold, impactful
  • Modern serif: Glamour, clean, luxurious
  • Black: Dominant, significant, reputable
  • Condensed: Precision, tightness, practical
  • Monospaced: Techy, code-based, accurate
  • Decorative: Unique, embellished, lively
  • Grunge: Twisted, jittery, abstract
  • Vintage: Retro, old-school, classic

Combining fonts 
It’s one thing to understand font classifications and the emotions they convey, it’s entirely more challenging to pair fonts into a timeless and unique logo that your customers will have an emotional connection with. There are no ironclad rules on pairing fonts, however, as a best practice, I recommend using no more than two fonts in your logo design. Restricting the number of fonts will improve the overall legibility. Combining fonts is part art and part science and is what separates professional designers from amateurs.

The worst font of all time
Voted by design professionals worldwide as one of the all-time overused and most annoying fonts is Comic Sans. Please do not use this font for your company’s logo in any way, shape or form. Comic Sans was released in 1994 by Microsoft Corporation. As a casual font, it is more appropriate for an elementary school poster project than the font of a professional organization. Just for fun, below are some well-known logos that have been recreated using Comic Sans. You can quickly see why Comic Sans should never be used for your professional logo.

Images via Comic Sans Project Tumblr

Red flag #5: A logo design based on the latest trends
There is nothing wrong with a designer being inspired by current logo design trends, however, you want your company logo to stand the test of time. You do not want to go through a complete reboot in a couple of years because an amateur designer wanted to experiment on your company’s identity with the latest and greatest logo design trends. Doing so could cause long-term and costly repercussions once the logo falls out of date. Being trendy could cause more harm to your company’s image than you might think.

Red flag #6: A poor quality logo that doesn’t transfer well across mediums
Your logo will be used in a variety of ways. At minimum, your company’s logo should pass the following criteria:

  • Scalability –
    Your logo needs to be able to be scaled down to an inch wide (remember the pen test). You never know how small of an application (mobile phone screen) you many need to apply your logo to in the future.
  • Format –
    Your logo needs to be built in a vector format in a software program such as Adobe Illustrator. This format allows the logo to be enlarged without losing quality and appearing pixelated in large-scale applications such as a billboard or building signage. Also, third-party vendors such as promotional advertising companies will always require a vector format for items such as t-shirts, pens and notepads.
  • Looks good in black and white –
    Sooner than later you will need to use your logo in a grayscale format or reversed in white on a darker color.
  • Flexibility –
    Not only is it smart to have a horizontal version of your logo (think upper left corner of your company’s website), it can also be valuable to have a stacked/square version of your logo, too. Having this type of flexibility will allow you to apply your logo to a coffee mug or use the icon portion of your logo as a social media profile picture or favicon (URL icon).

It’s also very important to have your logo versioning in order. As a client, you need to request from your designer that you receive all of your logo versions in color (CMYK, Pantone #, RGB, black & white, HTML), format (AI/VECTOR, EPS, JPG/PNG, PDF ) and lock-up (horizontal, stacked, icon only) versions just in case your designer decides to change professions or the dreaded worst case scenario… gets hit by a bus. 

Below is a screen grab from a client where I provided versioning of their logo (76 total versions). This included all of the above, plus separate versioning for their tagline inclusion.

One way to ensure that your company’s logo is used correctly and transfers well across mediums is to have a brand guidelines manual created. Creating standards helps organizations who will have two or more people touching the logo. The guidelines should include the criteria that was outlined above and any visual assets, brand messaging, mission statements and font usage. Below are samples that I’ve developed for a few of my clients.

Logo Design and Brand Guidelines for White Lotus Group created by Damon Andersen
Logo Design and Brand Guidelines for PMCC created by Damon Andersen
Logo Design and Brand Guidelines for Laundrytap created by Damon Andersen

FINAL 2 CENTS

A bad logo design is bad for business. Alienating potential customers can cost your company in terms of perception and trust. It can cause your target audience to subconsciously question your validity and drive them straight to one of your competitors. 

Your logo is an investment. Don’t risk your logo with an amateur designer. Choose an experienced, strategic identity designer who will strive to make a simple, clean and bold logo design for your company.

If you’re ready to take the first step toward a memorable, flexible and easy to reproduce logo identity, drop us a line at 602.695.1305 or write us a note to learn more about how our logo creation process can benefit your company’s next logo project. Check out our logo identity work to see how Damon can help you connect with your prospects.