How to Create Business Logos From Scratch (Step-By-Step)
Whether it’s a small business selling cookies in small-town America or a Fortune 500 corporation, a brand’s logo is one of its most valuable assets. Not only are logos the face of the brand, but they’re also the centerpiece for a business’s visual identity, defining a brand’s identity in person, across social media, and anywhere people interact with it. While a logo on its own can’t define a brand any more than a color can define the car you drive, it’s the graphical representation of a brand’s identity.
In this guide, we’ll explore the logo design process in detail. Whether you’re an entrepreneur working on your own logo or a budding designer seeking a process to develop your skills, this step-by-step guide provides the path toward designing compelling business logos.
But before diving into the process, it’s important to define the characteristics of a high-quality logo.
What Makes a Great Business Logo?
At its core, a logo’s purpose is to identify and communicate a brand and its values. As such, logo design is less about art and creativity and more about solving the problem of how to communicate a brand and its values as simply and memorably as possible.
As Paul Rand, the famous graphic designer who created identities for some of the world’s biggest brands says, “a logo is a flag, a signature, an escutcheon, a street sign. A logo does not sell […], it identifies.”
In other words, the logo design process is not one to take lightly or quickly. It involves knowledge of marketing, design, and psychology, not to mention a good deal of creative problem-solving.
Take a moment to think of the logos that stand out to you and the brands they represent. Maybe you imagined Nike’s swoosh, McDonald’s golden arches, or Apple’s munched-on apple. Visually, these logos share nothing in common. Yet, they’re similar in significant ways.
Consider the following qualities that define a great logo:
- Unique: They’re original and distinct; each one stands apart from other logos.
- Memorable: Imagery that’s instantly recognizable transcends symbolism. Company logos are symbols that are impossible to forget.
- Simple: Good design is about trimming away the noise and getting to the core of the message. Great logos are innately simple.
- Timeless: The best logos withstand fads, eras, and even time. Despite minor modifications throughout the years, the examples listed above have remained largely the same for decades.
- Flexible: Finally, a logo must accomplish all these things while still maintaining the flexibility to exist anywhere and everywhere, from billboards and business cards to letterhead and t-shirts.
That said, graphic design is less about art and more about figuring out how to identify a brand and its values in a way that adheres to the principles above. Solving this problem requires a profound understanding of the brand for which you’re creating a logo.
What To Consider When Creating Your Business Logo
If you were hiring a professional designer, a freelancer, or an agency to create your logo, the first part of the process would be the discovery phase. During this phase, the designer or design team would interview you about your business, brand, and goals, among other things. Since logos serve to identify a brand and its values, the discovery phase is the foundation for any beautiful logo design. It’s the most important part of the entire process by far.
Whether you’re designing a logo for your own business or a client, it’s imperative to ask and fully answer these questions:
- What are the values of the brand’s leadership?
- What are the values the brand wants to embrace?
- What’s the business’s unique value proposition?
- What sets the business apart from its competitors?
- What are the business’s short-term and long-term goals?
The answers to these questions are what guides the rest of the process, from the style you create to the colors and fonts you choose. Professional logos communicate the answers to these questions through symbols, color, and typography. A mediocre logo, on the other hand, is confusing at best and completely forgettable at worst.
As you can see, there’s quite a lot riding on a successful logo design. And while great logos are certainly visually appealing, as you’re now aware, there’s more to the process than choosing flashy colors and sleek fonts. It’s about solving a business problem by telling your customers who you are through the medium of graphic design.
How To Create Your Own Business Logo From Scratch
Even though it’s a problem-solving process, custom logo design is still fluid and creative. Keep in mind, as you move through your work, there aren’t any single right answers to every step. If you find that more than one approach resonates with you, take it along with you. It’s certainly not a bad thing if you reach the end of the process with a few strong contenders for a new logo.
Moreover, be prepared to do lots of sketching throughout the process. Good design happens between people and between pencil and paper. Creating your logo in design software doesn’t happen until you’ve honed in on a few good designs.
With that said, you’re ready to begin. As with any creative endeavor, the first step of the process is gathering inspiration.
Step 1: Gather Inspiration
Starting from a blank canvas without any direction is difficult, regardless of the medium. Fortunately, when it comes to designing logos, one of the first things you can and should do is gather inspiration by exploring other corporate logos. This is important for a few reasons.
For starters, seeing the vast number of logos that exist fuels your creativity. Obviously, you aren’t looking to steal logo design ideas. But with an understanding of the principles of good design, you can see how other brands achieved their results. And as you assimilate these, they’ll mingle and mix in your brain, giving birth to novel approaches of your own. Even exploring logo templates is a great way to get the creative juices flowing.
More importantly, however, is that gathering inspiration is also a form of research. Logos across industries have certain styles they adhere to. A logo for a restaurant won’t have much in common with a bank logo, for example. As such, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with the kinds of styles relevant to the project.
At the same time, you still have to create a unique logo. It’s a delicate balancing act.
Finally, as you browse, save what stands out to you to a mood board. The idea is simple: save what inspires you or piques your curiosity to some kind of unstructured board. It can be a digital canvas, or you can print media out and hang it on a physical board. The idea is to get many variations of ideas across visual identity, logos, colors, textures, palettes, and typography in one place, so you can let your creativity percolate.
Mood boards are especially valuable if you’re working with clients since you can narrow them down and refine them based on feedback. Either way, you’ll inevitably start zeroing in on certain styles that resonate, which brings us to the second step.
Step 2: Identify Logo Styles
As you move through the design process, certain styles will inevitably stand out to you. As a designer, it’s your job to ask yourself why they stand out to you and if they represent what’s best for the logo design.
A few of the styles you’ll undoubtedly encounter are:
- Minimalist: Minimalist logos are sleek and well-defined but with simple details. The logos mentioned earlier are good examples of this style. Some would say this is the ideal style for every logo, but every brand is different.
- Quirky: These logos are fun and whimsical. They’re usually more colorful and sometimes have a mascot. The Duolingo app is a good example, as is just about every cereal brand.
- Vintage: Washed-out colors and simple illustrations define this style. These kinds of logos are often used in specific industries — they’re popular for men’s haircare products, for example.
- Illustrative: Illustrative or handcrafted logos typically feature much more detail than other styles. As such, they’re often more difficult to pull off, but they’re sometimes the perfect logo for boutique brands. They’re also a natural fit for sports teams.
While you should certainly choose your style carefully, it’s equally important to push the creative envelope when appropriate. Don’t hesitate to experiment with stylistic blends to create something entirely original.
Step 3: Consider Logo Types
Where style primarily describes a logo’s visual elements, a logotype describes the elements of the presentation. Like style, there are no hard rules for the types of logos you’ll see, but the categorizations are useful to keep in mind as you move through the process.
The types of logos you’ll encounter are broadly described:
- Wordmarks, Lettermarks, and Monograms: Wordmarks and letter marks are for typographical logos. While they may have small embellishments that make them more distinct and memorable, they’re essentially text, with wordmarks referring to whole words and letter marks referring to acronyms.
- Brandmarks: When most people think of business logos, they think of brandmarks. These are symbols used to identify brands. They’re usually simple, often consist of a single color, and are always memorable.
- Emblems: More elaborate than brandmarks, emblems sometimes use two or more colors and much more detail, sometimes resembling badges or shields. This format is popular among auto brands such as Porsche and Aston Martin.
- Combination Marks: Combination marks broadly define logos that use some combination of the above elements. The Amazon logo, for example, is a wordmark with a brandmark below it.
Keep in mind that these approaches aren’t mutually exclusive. Many brands have variants of each type across their visual identity. Airbnb, for example, has a distinct wordmark and logo that are used together and separately.
Step 4: Choosing Fonts
Depending on the type and style of logo you end up striving toward, you may spend more or less time on typographical elements. Regardless, there’s still a company name. Even if your design relies heavily on a brandmark or emblem, you’ll need to either find or create a font for your business name.
At this point, logo design starts getting more complex. Different typefaces convey different meanings. The right font strengthens and reinforces a logo’s message and tone. Conversely, the wrong font can make even the best logos look outdated or, worse, unprofessional.
In very broad terms, your font options include the following:
- Serifs: Serifs have decorative marks on each character. As the older sibling of their sans-serif cousins, they’re classic and tend to evoke a sense of tradition, reliability, and sophistication.
- Sans serifs: Without the adornments of serifs, sans serifs are typically more geometric, with clean, consistent lines and even strokes. They communicate minimalism, modernism, and simplicity.
- Scripts: These are typefaces that mimic handwriting or calligraphy. Depending on the font, they can convey anything from luxury and elegance to friendly and approachable.
A good guideline is to never use more than two fonts in a logo. In most cases, a single font is sufficient. But again, every brand is different, and depending on the type and style of your design, you may find yourself leaning toward a combination of typefaces.
Keep in mind this barely scratches the surface of typography. There are countless other typographical variables that impact your design, a few of which are font weights, italics, and obliques. If you’re leaning toward a wordmark or letter mark, you’ll want to explore typography in much more detail.
Step 5: Choosing the Right Colors
Choosing your logo’s colors is no simple task. Color theory, which is the study of color and how it impacts feelings and behaviors, is central to graphic design. Every color in the spectrum evokes certain moods and feelings, and the harmony you achieve through the use of accent colors can move those moods one way or the other.
On the warmer side, shades of red, orange, and yellow are the colors of passion, creativity, and energy. Used effectively, they can elicit strong feelings, but it’s necessary to assess when their use is appropriate. For example, red is the color of love and passion, but it also represents rage and danger. Likewise, yellow can convey energy and happiness, but it’s also used to communicate warnings.
On the cooler side of things, shades of blue are more relaxed and subdued than warm colors. They’re often used to communicate professionalism and dependability, with lighter shades leaning toward friendliness and darker shades toward reliability. And while blue sometimes has the connotation of sadness, this association is rare in business, which is why it’s one of the most utilized colors for corporate logos.
Green and purple, while technically on the cool side, are made by combining blue with yellow and red, respectively. Because of this, they take on some qualities of the warmer colors they’re combined with. Green, with yellow’s energy, convey growth, nature, and abundance. Meanwhile, purple infuses the calm of blue with the passion of red, which can convey luxury, royalty, and wealth.
Like typography, color theory has a considerable depth that’s worth exploring if you want to create logos that perfectly capture the brand personality. Understanding color theory, color combinations, and the harmony between them is powerful in logo design. Also, like typography, a good guideline is to use no more than two colors in your logo, neutral shades included.
Step 6: Exploration and Design
By this stage, you should have a pretty good feel for the styles, fonts, and colors you want to use, along with a rich mood board to represent your ideas. If you haven’t started already, you can start sketching new ideas that come to you, whether they’re wordmarks, brandmarks, or simply lines and shapes that you feel represent the brand.
You can also start experimenting with logo palettes and typefaces in your favorite design tool, but be cautious about investing too much energy into anything digital until you’ve narrowed your designs down to the final few. At this point, you’re playing with, tweaking, and exploring the ideas, you’ve discovered and hopefully coming up with new ones. Keep it fluid and nonjudgmental, and let the ideas flow.
Eventually, you’ll discover one or a few concepts that seem like the right direction. Go ahead and flesh them out some more on paper to make sure they’re well-defined. If you feel confident about them, you can move your sketches into your favorite design tools and start digitizing every version of your logo. Adobe Illustrator or Affinity Designer are good software options, although there are other tools that work for logo design. The important thing is to create vector graphics so your new logo scales without quality loss.
If you start digitizing with two or three ideas, by the time you’re done, you’ll likely know which logo idea is the one. If you find that you still can’t choose, that’s a bonus — it means your process lead you to more than one solid solution. If this is the case, you can experiment with different sizes and formats to see which ones provide the most flexibility.
Step 7: Final Deliverables
When it comes to the final deliverables of a logo, it’s much more than an image or a file format. Granted, if you’re delivering to a client, you should include the logo in various formats, including vector logo files in ESP or SVG and high-resolution PNGs or JPGs with transparent backgrounds. You should also include black-and-white variations with inverted colors for light and dark presentations.
But more than that, you should provide guidance on how to use the logo you worked so diligently on. After everything you learned throughout the design processes, you’ll know which fonts and color palettes best represent the brand, how to present the logo and other brand assets, and how to approach the design of other marketing materials. Put simply, by designing the logo; you’ve created the fountain from which the rest of the brand’s visual identity flows.
From Inspiration to Identity
Now you know how to create business logos from scratch. If the process seems overwhelming, a good logo template can help jumpstart any new project by narrowing your options down.
As a word of warning, be wary of free logo makers and logo generators. While they can make the process seem much less daunting, these apparently user-friendly tools have no way of understanding what makes your brand unique. Eventually, they could do more harm than good. The only truly free logo design is the one you create by learning the process yourself.
While there are various paths to explore in the logo design discipline, including color theory and typography, the process outlined here represents the fundamentals of any successful logo design. By following it through, you’ll significantly elevate your design skills for every logo you create.