In Part I of our “logo mistakes” series, we discussed a few mistakes related to how you approach a logo or branding project. In Part II, we are going to discuss technical mistakes. These are more likely to occur with inexperienced designers or company founders going into a branding project for the first time. This may also be review for many, but worth noting if you are planning on being involved in a branding project anytime soon.

Once again, let’s dive in.

Technical Mistake #1: Logo doesn’t scale

Almost everyone appreciates the artistic value of a fine illustration or an intricate wood carving. It’s the details that reflect the skill and craft of an individual. As humans, we appreciate that. However, in branding, fine details don’t necessarily translate into a well defined, memorable logo.

We live in a multi-screen, multi-device world where everyone is vying for pixel space. Our time and attention is constantly being diverted away—and marketers know this. This is why, over the last few years, we’ve seen a drastic simplification in logo design.

One good example of this is Starbucks. The ubiquitous siren has graced the coffee giant’s paper cups since 1971. This isn’t the same green logo we are familiar with today. In the 70s, she was much more detailed with a hand-drawn, illustrative-look. We’d call this ‘vintage’ today.

Over the years, the logo as evolved into a simpler, cleaner design. Why? One reason is this: Overtime, designs start to become dated and stale—it’s natural to want to freshen it up. Another reason, and this is a big one, is pixels.

Today, logos have to scale way down and still be legible. Oftentimes, your logo needs to fit into a small 32×32 pixel space like the tab at the top of your browser. Or 256×256 for an app icon. Clarity, at scale, becomes critical.

We employ what we call the “1 Inch Test”. It works like this: Whenever we are working on logo concepts for a client project, we print our initial ideas onto a single sheet of paper. Each concept is no larger than 1 inch (and black and white, which will get into next). This allows us to determine if the logo will be legible at scale and what, if any, adjustments we should make. Sometimes we realize the concept wont work and need to throw it out.

This is a great way to quickly scale down a number of your ideas, too. And don’t get me wrong, it isn’t only about pixels. We used this process way before app icons were a consideration. No matter the medium, simplicity still reigns king. As the famous French writer, poet, and aviator once said:

“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Technical Mistake #2: Doesn’t work in black & white

Before Adobe, designers used to design with paper and pencil! Ideas were sketched out in black and white without any consideration of color. At Studio 22, we still start every logo project like this. We sketch out dozens and dozens of rough thumbnail sketches on Strathmore drawing pads. I’d argue that there is no faster or more efficient way to problem solve than pencil and paper.

The advent of desktop publishing provided many benefits to the seasoned and aspiring designer alike. However, one unintended consequence was that the computer would replace the sketching process by creating more ideas, faster. The problem with this is twofold: First, the designer can now jump right into designing full color designs without going through the slower process of problem solving and sketching on paper. No more thumbnails, scribbles, or eraser dust. A sketchbook shows thinking, it’s a visual archive that can be used as a sort of breadcrumb trail showing where your ideas came from. The computer essentially eliminated this. The second problem is the use of full color in design concepts. Because sketching uses small imagery and crude lines, it inherently used the black and white test. A designer will know immediately if the concept will work in single color and scale.

Every well designed, professional logo should work in black & white. This means that proper care has to be considered to develop negative space and not rely on color or gradients to make the image work.

It’s no coincidence the NBC “Peacock”, the Target “Bullseye”, and, of course, the more detailed Starbucks logo, all work well in the solid or colored version. My hunch is that they were all designed in black and white first—maybe even sketched with paper and pencil.

Photo by Marc-Olivier Jodoin on Unsplash