In a world where logo design is sold cheaply and even huge corporations resort to crowd-sourcing and speculative work, the pressure to prove the worth of the design industry has never been higher.
There is a huge weight of responsibility on the shoulders of the designer; not only to meet the client’s demands but also to uphold the credibility of the industry they represent.
Technical skills, while still essential, must be backed up by a business-like approach and first class working practices
Awareness of this pressure adds extra importance to the way a designer conducts their work. Technical skills, while still essential, must be backed up by a business-like approach and first class working practices – even in the realms of the freelancer.
A solid process is one way to ensure consistent productivity and results, building in checkpoints at various stages to allow continual monitoring. Commissioning a logo can be a new or daunting moment for a business and the client needs assurances they can rely on their designer. Being able to explain and lead them through the process step by step can be a real encouragement and confidence-builder for both parties.
It should be acknowledged that aspects such as the timescale and the budget will probably dictate how much time can be dedicated to each stage of the job and, with each logo being different, any process should be tailored to suit the brief. With that in mind, here are 10 points I would say are important to consider as key parts of the logo design process.
Once a fee has been agreed and any deposits received it’s time to begin the design process – starting with the brief.
The brief should outline the job and give all the information you need to complete it. It also gives a point of reference to be able to measure the ultimate success or failure of the project and without it the job should be a non-starter. If the client doesn’t provide one then there are a couple of strategies you could try.
If you’ve asked a few times and no brief is forthcoming, try something more proactive; either write your own and ask them to sign it off as accurate or put together a questionnaire with open questions that get them thinking more deeply about what they want from their logo.
See my post here that explains some of the key things that a design brief should cover.
Using the brief as a foundation, research will need to be conducted to gain a good depth of understanding of the client and their market. Factors that dictate the amount of research tend to revolve around the size, history and complexity of the client’s business and the larger this is the more in-depth and thorough the digging needs to be. But even a very small job will require a certain amount of research to ensure the design is appropriate and effective, and this stage of the job should not be looked upon lightly: time spent on thorough research now will save you time on countless amends later.
I hesitate to include inspiration as a factor in the process due to the fragile balance between originality and plagiarism, but it’s an important element and one I feel deserves a mention.
Ideally there should be a continuous process of professional development whereby designers keep themselves up to date with the things that inspire them (photography, other designers, websites, blogs etc.). However specific jobs may call for the designer to take a step outside their comfort zone and require fresh or specific thinking.
At this stage you might present mood-boards to your client that sum up various elements of your understanding of the brief incorporating some ideas of colour, style and typography drawing on the bank of inspiration you’ve been building up. This can be a particularly helpful way of keeping them in the loop and testing your proposed direction before getting too deep into the project.
Brainstorming, thumbnail sketching, doodling, even meditating! There are many different ways to progress from research and inspiration into generating ideas and everyone approaches it slightly differently.
At this stage, document every possible route you think of. Make a note of it even if you don’t think it’s ‘the one’; you can always edit down your options later and knowing what is NOT the right idea can often be as useful to you as knowing what will work.
Incorporating a concept that adds value to your work and captures the essence and individuality of your subject is incredibly important and a good amount of time should be allocated to it.
After what can be quite a ‘scattered’ period of idea generation there comes a point where you need to be a bit ruthless; getting rid of the ‘dead wood’ and starting to home in on and build upon those concepts that have potential.
Refining shapes and compositions on paper rather than taking very rough ideas straight to the computer will substantially reduce frustration and speed up the next stages, not to mention resulting in a much higher quality piece of artwork in the end.
At last we’ve moved from the sketchbook to the computer, but amazingly this is often the starting point for many logo designers!
With high quality layouts already sketched out and scanned in, artwork can now be drawn up using vector software (usually Adobe Illustrator) ready to present to the client. Although it’s not essential to work the designs up to artwork standard at this stage, it’s important to make sure the logos give a good, clear impression of how you intend them to look when finished.
At some point during the process, preferably this one (before you show your client any concepts) it’s really useful to get some space from the job. Step away, don’t look at it for a while (a few hours, a day, a week – as much as your deadline will allow) and come back with a fresh pair of eyes. You’ll almost certainly spot something that you’d like to tweak that you wouldn’t have been able to had you rushed it all straight over to the client.
One of the most nerve-wracking moments in the process is condensing hours and hours of fine-tuning into a face-to-face presentation or pdf proposal. Whether you’ve agreed to show a single solution or a specified number of routes it’s important to sell and back up your ideas confidently.
I have found that instead of simply showing the logo, it can be beneficial to present how it will work in single and full colour, large and small, reversed out of black etc. Often clients will struggle to imagine how the logo will look in context so why not apply it to a few items (vehicle livery, stationery, uniform/clothing, merchandise etc.) and impress them with your foresight? You never know, you could manage to earn yourself some more work!
Unfortunately it’s rarely as simple as presenting some concepts and asking which one the client would like to go for. There will often be at least a small amount of further development stemming from client feedback and in some very painful instances you may even have to repeat parts of your process, even going right back to the start.
Some of my best logo designs have stemmed from this part of the project. Seeing something in the flesh gives the client something more tangible to work with and can often help them give more insightful or helpful suggestions. From there you might well find yourself with a new angle to incorporate into the design, leading to a deeper and more appropriate solution.
In any case, use the opportunity to make sure the logo is refined to perfection. Once the client has approved it you won’t usually have chance to go back and change it.
That beautiful moment when the client says “YES”!
It is worth making sure you have a full and indisputable sign off so ask for a signature or use a disclaimer to make it very clear that approval at this stage will constitute final sign off and authorisation to complete the project.
Once you have that confirmation you can breathe a bit easier! Hopefully you’re as happy with the result as the client is.
At this stage many designers will request final payment of any remaining balance before preparing artwork, handing over files and transferring copyright. If this is the way you operate make sure you invoice quickly. It’s in the client’s best interests to pay promptly in order to receive the files you’ve promised.
Once you’re happy to transfer the artwork you should prepare all file formats you’ve promised (usually vector EPS, AI or PDF in relevant colour formats for print and any JPG or PNG files in RGB for web) and supply master copies via email or disc. I find it worthwhile including a basic user document which offers instructions or guidelines as to the correct use of the files, descriptions of the various formats and their contexts and colour and font information where relevant. Brand guideline documents can contain much more than that and take hours and hours of painstaking work so be careful balancing being helpful and doing far more work than you’re being paid for!
You have probably now completed all your obligations to the client. Make sure to check if there’s anything else they require or if they are waiting for anything else, even offer to help out with applications of the work in the future.
If you're a designer, how do you tend to structure your projects? Does your process look like mine? Your feedback would be appreciated.
If you're not a designer I'd love to hear from you too. Did this article explain or clarify anything particularly useful to you? Are you looking to invest in a new logo design for your company? Feel free to get in touch to discuss your needs and how I can tailor my process to you.