Design Successful Logos

A lot of work and brainstorming goes into creating a logo that captures the mission of a company or organization, is simple yet effective, and can be printed on various media at different sizes. A poorly designed logo can make a company look unprofessional, and a logo that’s not memorable or effective can impede a company’s success.

After brief dips into inspiration, working with clients, and the defining elements of successful logos, I’ll share six real-world case studies of logos that work. One of them is for a company so ubiquitous that its name has become a verb.

Finding Inspiration
Think about what the company or organization is and does. A shipping company logo, for example, might incorporate something indicating motion or delivery.

The FedEx logo hints at its mission by incorporating a sideways arrow between the “E” and the “x.”

“I draw inspiration from everything around me,” says Ruth Kedar, a logo designer from California. “But the process always starts by meeting with clients so I can understand who they are, their unique point of view, as well as get a feel for the company, its philosophy, and the cultural environment within which it and its competitors operate.”

Inspiration may also come from other sources. “I find inspiration all around, and particularly in the great Scottish outdoors,” says David Airey, a logo designer from Great Britain. “I’m inspired by people, by nature, by life.”

“I don’t like to force creativity, although a deadline sometimes does the trick,” says Raja Sandhu, a logo designer from Toronto. “I can’t pinpoint what I use for inspiration as it can, and does, come from anywhere. Maybe nature, maybe music, maybe isolation. Some of my best ideas came to me when I was driving.”

Sandhu created this secondary logo design for Bistro 1689.

In this logo design by Sandhu, you can see a blue 3D “F” or a 3D “i.”

Working with Clients
By hiring you, clients admit that they’re not logo design experts. But occasionally, you may have to remind them of that and gently steer them in the right direction.

“Even if I know one particular design is exactly the right idea, presenting a different option will reinforce the decision in the eyes of the client,” says Airey. “Education is key. If a client makes a request for a design element I don’t agree with, I’ll explain why and highlight possible negatives.”

Before finalizing this design for an Internet company, Airey’s brainstorms produced many doodles and many concepts.

Kedar treats her client relationships as a continuous dialog. “As we start the process, I present them with many ideas and directions to further the dialog, and as we progress, the added levels of understanding are reflected in the subsequent presentations.”

She considers a client’s requests and needs as she works. “Budget, printing requirements, and personal taste are just a few that need to be addressed on a case by case basis.”

Kedar designed this identity branding for a company in Munich.

Defining Success
David Airey says that the best logos are distinctive, memorable, simple, practical and appropriate.

However, the logo shouldn’t distract from the product or organization it represents. “The design should become a ‘transparent’ conduit to the brand itself, and you ‘see’ it only as so far as to recognize the brand,” says Kedar.

Even if a logo’s all these things, a company, product, or organization must be strong on its own; the logo design will simply help it become stronger. Just as a book cover alone won’t cause a book to become a bestseller, a logo can’t transform a company that’s on the wrong track.

Now let’s jump into a few case studies. Some of these logos are more famous than others, but all are well-designed and thoughtful.

Case Study 1: Google

Ruth Kedar created Google’s logo in the company’s early days.

“I was teaching design at Stanford University in 1999 when I was introduced to Larry Page and Sergei Brin by a mutual friend,” says Kedar. “They were looking at designers to design their logo and Web site, and I was asked to present them with some preliminary design ideas. They liked my approach and design style and I was hired to design both.”

Google wanted to create a unique logo that would differentiate them from the other search engines at the time, such as Yahoo, Excite, HotBot, LookSmart, and Lycos. They also wanted it to “embody their unique vision.” Google was unique in being a simple, easy-to-use search engine, even though the underlying algorithm was complex.

Kedar and the Google team explored many designs and eventually picked the logo you know today because they felt it was both “playful and deceptively simple,” according to Kedar.

“The texture and shading of each letter is done in an unobtrusive way, resulting in lifting it from the page while giving it both weight and lightness,” says Kedar. “It is solid but there is also an ethereal quality to it.”

Kedar and the Google team wanted something subtly sophisticated, but with some humor.

“The chosen typeface is a based on Catull, an oldstyle serif typeface,” says Kedar. “Catull borrows elements from traditional writing instruments such as the quill and the chisel with a modern twist. Search, by nature, is an activity that requires we look into the past. Therefore Catull’s historical ties seemed appropriate, as did the bridging between the old analog world and the new emerging digital era.”

Case Study 2: funflip

Kedar’s studio, Kedar Designs, is responsible for the logo for funflip, a free quiz Web site.

“We wanted to create a very simple and fun logotype, ideally with simple recognizable elements that could be used throughout the Web site and as a favicon,” says Kedar.

For simplicity, Kedar chose a sans serif font.

“I chose Gill Sans, which has some fun thick and thins on the ‘u’ and ‘n’, and used different weights to add some syncopation,” says Kedar.

While Kedar did have some fun with the typeface, she wanted it to remain as close to the original typeface as possible. She started playing with the letter ‘i.’”

“Once I changed the round dot on the ‘i’ to a square, fun things like jack in the box, somersaults, and confetti came to mind,” says Kedar. “Creating a colored arc that flows outward from the letter ‘i’ was a natural progression, and it added just the touch we were looking for.”

Case Study 3: TradeSherpa

Kedar also designed the logo for TradeSherpa, a shipping company seeking to improve its public image to gain more sales.

TradeSherpa’s business model was to facilitate sales on eBay for sellers in China. The barrier for entry was that items originating from China were not appealing to buyers because shipping took a long time and was unreliable, un-trackable, and un-insurable. Trade Sherpa provided overseas sellers with a United States warehouse and a U.S. shipping address.

The company needed “a logo that was simple and friendly but at the same time provided a sense of peace of mind, which is what both the sellers and buyers were looking for,” says Kedar. “The concept for the final logo was to create a simple stylized representation of packing boxes, and the fact that the boxes are implies both packing and unpacking, which we felt addressed both our target audiences.”

“We also looked into what would be appropriate in terms of symbolism and colors to our international audience,” says Kedar.

Case Study 4: BrokerBot

Another Kedar client, Brokerbot, was one of the first smart broker Web applications. The logo had to establish reliability but at the same time take a non-traditional approach.

“On one hand, the client was looking for a logo that conveyed stability and inspired confidence in the quality (precision) of their results and recommendations,” says Kedar, “but on the other hand, they had quite an irreverent approach to the business and wanted to make a point that they, together with this new medium (the World Wide Web), were introducing a new way to build and manage your financial portfolio.”

“To convey those ideas, I chose Universe Condensed typeface, all lowercase, and used the negative space of the letter ‘o’ to convey the idea of target with cross hairs to imply bull’s eye,” says Kedar.

Case Study 5: Alatau

Raja Sandhu designed this logo for an IT-based city in Kazakhstan.

“Because the city of Alatau is the Silicon Valley of the east, it was suggested that I create something high tech, dark, and vibrant at the same time,” says Sandhu. “Alatau sits in the hills of Central Asia, and I wanted to convey that. The region’s organic nature was even more inspiration, and you’ll see that in the fiber look of the design.”

Sandhu wanted to depict a sense of air and freshness, “much like what you feel in the city. I chose to space out the lettering and give the logo design a free-flow feeling with a punch of color.”

Case Study 6: Trinvo

Sandhu also created this logo. “Like fashion, graphic design has its cycles. Right now all the rage is about shiny, glossy, and reflections.”

These trends fit Trinvo, a company that creates technology that translates languages. The logo’s liguid or gel look is a nod to the idea of words easily moving from one language to the next.

Chad Neuman is an internationally published freelance magazine writer, graphic designer, photographer, and educator from Florida. His Web site is


Posted on: June 9, 2008

4 Comments on Design Successful Logos

  1. The FedEx logo hints at its mission by incorporating a sideways arrow between the “E” and the “x.”

    Help me out here – just where is the arrow?

  2. It’s the negative space in between the E and x.
    It forms a white arrow pointing to the right.

  3. I am very glad that the process of communication was outlined so well here. Also, I appreciate that the logo is NOT the brand has been emphasized (along with the client’s needs.) These concepts are often only given token respect in school, and students often graduate with an inappropriate sense of self-importance. Not everyone is going to get a chance to design HP, and most often, barely presentable is better than whizz-bang.

  4. these are some very old-fashioned, poorly implemented logos. The fact that you choose the Google logo case study doesn’t make the others legitimate. The Google logo itself is also a weak logo – however it may sound …. I recognize in all these logos an indian way of “drawing” ….

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