Identity design is deeply ingrained in with psychology and marketing. To design a readable identity you need to understand what works and what doesn’t work.
It’s not hard to find examples of bad logos all over the web. You can quickly tell which logos got a professional design job vs which logos were thrown together haphazardly. But some are very subtle and lie right in the middle. So how do you avoid these poorer quality logo designs?
I want to share examples of poor logos contrasting with better designs. By recognizing design patterns you’ll quickly adapt to a certain aesthetic and feel more comfortable in your logo/identity design work.
What Makes A Bad Logo?
Logos should be crisp and memorable. They should represent the brand in all ways and should be easy to recognize.
By comparison this means bad logos could have many unpleasant qualities: confusion, murkiness, over-complexity and/or poor recognition.
A great logo is easy to recognize and connects directly to the product. The Nike swoosh is a great example of quality branding. Everyone should be able to recognize it and understand what it means.
Bad logos are often too bright, too loud, or too confusing. They simply don’t make sense and don’t fit with the quality of the brand.
The biggest mistake I see is over-complication and merging ideas together that just don’t fit. Take a look at some of the logos in this design gallery. You’ll be left ruminating on how designers could actually make these and pass them off to real companies.
But not all bad logos look like this. I’ve seen logos that are so-so but still have too much going on.
This logo is a great example where it seems OK, but not great. Every element in the logo feels too bright and it seems like everything pulls for attention from the viewer.
Subtlety and layered elements work best.
Design some part of the logo to stand out above all the others. Great logos follow a give-and-take methodology where some elements are flashy while others push for more attention.
Choosing The Right Fonts
Typography is crucial to logo design because lettering is always part of branding. The lettering you choose should match the company’s goals and products.
Do not go overboard because it’ll quickly become an eyesore. For example, cursive letters with smaller uppercase letters can go well together if they fit the identity.
But here’s an example where the “C” is an octopus in the logo. To me this logo feels too busy and it’s somewhat confusing to remember. It’s not exactly bad, but it feels too busy with uncoordinated font choices.
Alternatively here’s a great logo concept for a barbecue joint. It uses different colors and font styles along with recognizable graphics.
The differences between these two logos are very subtle. Neither logo is terrible or amazing. They’re both pretty standard, but one feels more comfortable than the other.
Go with your gut when designing and be willing to change anything last minute. If you really have an odd feeling when looking at your design then there’s probably something that needs to be corrected.
However over-simplifying can have issues too. Take a look at the following logo and notice how the letters are arranged in a whoosh design.
Here’s a different all-text logo where you the fonts seem to work well together. It’s obvious what the company does. This is a good example where simplification helped the logo design.
Keep Things Memorable
I rarely think a company rebrand is needed. Or if it is, the rebranding should be subtle enough that consumers would still quickly recognize the logo.
I always look back to the Pepsi logo as an example. Their new logo is similar to the previous design and it’s not really bad.
But it does seem more confusing and it was almost unnecessary that they redesign that logo in the first place.
The previous logo had rhythm and symmetry. The new design feels fractured with parts of the inner white band extruding further than other parts. This creates asymmetry, which is a completely viable tool for logo designers.
But by comparison I’d much prefer the old logo.
This may be a subjective opinion but to me this rebranding wasn’t necessary.
Contrast the Pepsi redesign with McDonald’s which has been running their same logo for years. Their “M” has seen gradients, simplification, multiple colors and varied positions. But the “M” remains the same and it’s still noticeable decades later.
This is also true of ReCode’s newest logo redesign. It’s still memorable because it keeps that distinct forward dash between the letters.
When people connect your logo with symbols or colors it’s best to stick with them. Consistency breeds memorization and this is what you want to achieve with a great branding.
Use Relevant Symbols
Every great identity design uses some type of graphic or icon for the brand design. This icon can be used all over for social media profiles, website favicons, and for posters/banners/flyers for the company.
But always make sure your graphics are relevant to the logo. Relevancy is crucial especially for food & restaurant logos.
Here’s one just doesn’t make much sense to me. How does a campfire icon relate to Sushi?
It’s not a horrific logo but it’s certainly not the best I’ve seen. The fireplace wood uses chopsticks which do make sense. But wouldn’t it match better to use an icon of a sushi roll, a shrimp, or a related utensil(like a bowl or platter)? The fire icon isn’t terrible but I simply can’t make a connection between sushi and open-fire grilling.
One other example is this electronics store logo. It’s a
fictional store real company with the icon portraying someone with a jetpack and a computer chipboard for a body.
Edit: Updated from comments below, this logo graphic is a ram’s head with a chipboard pattern. With that in mind I do think it fits the branding much better. Here’s the design:
While the theme does fit more than I originally thought, I can’t say it’s super memorable either. But this newer updated logo concept follows a bit easier than the current logo. Although I don’t think either would work great as a favicon.
I think the ram would look better if the horns were more clearly shaped or colored to match the body better. This is where I feel it’s a little too complex. Not enough to damage the logo, but enough to leave me confused and unsure of what I was looking at. But I’m not so egotistical to think everyone would feel this way, it’s just my initial interpretation and this is merely my opinion on the design.
And in truth I think both examples here execute general design concepts well.
Text is crisp, typography choices match, and colors blend well. They are not repugnant designs by any means. They do look good. My critique is with 1) relatability in the sushi logo, and 2) over-complexity with the Aries Electronics logo.
All examples in this post are genuinely good enough to be used as real logos. My goal with this post is to outline very specific details to show how minor changes can greatly impact how an identity & branding design can appear to viewers.
I hope this guide can illuminate some important concepts for logo designers and ideally help you avoid bad design practices. And if you’re looking for logo design inspiration be sure to check out our related galleries: