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5 Steps to Improve Your Logo Design Process (before even touching your sketch pad)

Designing a logo isn’t the same as ordering something off of a brunch menu. You’ll never hear your client say, “I’d like a classic combo mark with organic lines, a rounded, friendly typeface, and an unexpected negative-space-twist on the side.”

What you’ll hear is, “I don’t know what I want, but I’ll know it when I see it.” Fantastic. It’s your job to come up with a design solution so embrace that phrase and run with it.

Here’s the first step to improve your logo design process.

1. Own your design mantra.

If you don’t have a design mantra, get one. Base it on your design principles and let your clients know why they are important to you.

For every logo design presentation, we reiterate that the design must be: simple, memorable, and appropriate for the brand. If you repeat it enough times to your clients, it will start to sink in.

On a few occasions, we’ve had clients throw these words right back at us. They explained why the design was not appropriate for the brand. This is exactly what you want them to do. They are opening up, participating in the process, and starting to speak your language.

2. Do your research. Determine objectives and absolutes in the creative brief.

Clients come to you because you have a skillset they don’t. Show them you’re the expert by interviewing the organization’s stakeholders and asking questions that will dial in what’s most important to them.

First, find out why they need a logo design or redesign. Are they just starting up? Or, have they been around for decades and are changing the company’s direction? Are they expanding their product line? Or, does their brand scream “old school” in blocky, collegiate letters?

Next, ask them what they’re trying to accomplish. Determining the goals up front with your client, not only gives them buy-in, it also helps your design stay on track. Ask yourself, “Does this design meet the client’s goals?” And, “Can I clearly articulate why?” If the answer is, “No,” you might find yourself up @#$! creek without a paddle. Rework it until you can say, “Yes, and here’s why…”

Think of absolutes as “must-haves” or “must-not-haves.”

For the Wendy’s logo rebrand, “absolutes” that could have been included in the brief would be something like this:

“The updated logo must include a modernized illustration of Wendy. Do not include any references to hamburgers or other Wendy’s products, since our product line is continually evolving.”

3. Identify keywords.

Sticky notes are your friend. At your next client meeting, try this simple whiteboard exercise:

  • Ask stakeholders: “What keywords describe your company today?”
  • Give them five minutes (on their own) to write the answers on sticky notes
  • Place the answers on the whiteboard and look for similarities
  • Open the room for discussion
  • Whittle it down to five keywords or less
  • Next, ask stakeholders: “What are the ideal keywords to describe your company moving forward?”
  • Repeat bullets 2-5

Let’s say the keywords that describe their business today are: safe, traditional, and trustworthy and the keywords moving forward are: modern, innovative, cutting-edge, and trustworthy. While both sets include “trustworthy,” the new words have a different tone and meaning. These “ideal” words will play an important role in shaping the brand’s direction.

For clients with many stakeholders, gather keywords through an online survey like SurveyGizmo or Survey Monkey. These tools will allow you to get answers quickly, segment the data, and produce charts that are ready to go. This can save you time and provide you with solid data to base your concepts around.  

4. Develop mood boards.

You might be thinking, “Yes, I have the keywords. I know exactly what “modern, innovative, cutting-edge, and trustworthy” look like. Time to get sketching!” (Cue: record scratching).

After racking up more than a handful of miscommunications with clients over, “What type of ‘modern’ are you talking about, Willis?”…we changed our process to include visual mood boards. Here’s one example we created using the mood board collaboration tool, Niice:


This mood board represents the word “modern” in a very geometric way. There are sharp, cutting-edge angles, a state-of-the-art-BMW, sleek greys for a cool balance, and a hint of orange that demands attention.

Was this the type of “modern” they had in mind? After a good discussion, the answer was “No.” However, we had more to show them. By the end of the meeting, one of the three boards was on-point with their brand.

Remember: Give your clients three mood boards with different interpretations of their keywords. Explain your thought process and soak in their feedback.

5. Don’t “surprise” clients with your art direction. Tell them what direction you’re headed before going into design mode.

We all know there are good surprises and there are bad surprises…the following example is the latter.

One of our clients’ rebrand goals was to “better communicate who they are and what they do.” Since their organization was based in the state of Washington, had the word “Washington” in its name, would be promoting its services throughout the US, and didn’t want to be confused with Washington DC, we got the grand idea that the shape of Washington State should be prominent in the logomark.

You’re probably wondering if we articulated this in the creative brief? Well, sort of. Here’s what it said:

“The look and feel for the logo rebrand will be trustworthy, professional/valuable, and traditional in style. Possible concepts will include: student success/growth, a cohesive system, and Washington State.”

If we could hit the rewind button, we would have been more direct and said, “Because you want to better communicate who you are, how do you feel about including the shape of Washington State in the logo?”

Asking that question up front instead of holding onto the idea and “surprising” them in round one with our thoughtfulness would have saved us a ton of time. The concept was scrapped and we discovered that a less literal, more abstract approach suited our client’s goals better.

Remember: They don’t know what they want, but they’ll know it when they see it.

So, get going and have some fun with it!  Before you touch that sketch pad, keep these five things in mind to streamline your logo design process.

  1. Own your design mantra.
  2. Do your research. Determine objectives and absolutes in the creative brief.
  3. Identify keywords.
  4. Develop mood boards.
  5. Don’t “surprise” clients with your art direction. Tell them what direction you’re headed before going into design mode.

Do you have other tips on how you improved your logo design process? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.





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