The 10 Criteria Your Logo Must Meet
We have worked on countless design projects of all types, and we often have to deal with faulty logos that our clients brought to us from other designers. It pains me to hear how much money they spent on those logo designs. It pains me even more how much it costs them to replace the new company logo on identity visuals such as business cards, signage, website and online profiles.
We share here our list of 10 technical criteria every logo must meet, because you deserve an objectively good logo right from the start.
The value of a logo is not the amount of money you pay to the design agency. It’s so much more.
You will use your company logo for many years and in time you will have to use it in ways you can’t even imagine right now. The value of a logo is not the amount of money you pay to the design agency. The value is everything you do over the years to build trust in your target market.
It’s ok to choose your logo designer based on subjective criteria. However, the designer must create your logo according to the objective criteria below. If not, it will have absolutely no value. None. Don’t think for a second that paying a lot of money for a logo will mean you get a good one. You need to check for the below.
1. The logo needs to be usable on different backgrounds
A logo includes words and maybe graphics. Whenever you look at it, there is a background, be it paper or a digital background on your monitor. The background of the presentation your designer shows you is not part of the logo. It should never be. In fact, a good logo presentation needs to show your logo on different backgrounds.
Never accept a square block with the logo in it. It is the designer’s job to help you envision how the logo will look on different colours, on a wall, on t-shirts and so on.
What’s at stake: throughout the life of the logo you will have to use it on different backgrounds. You can’t avoid this. That is why your logo needs to work on a wide range of backgrounds. Having a square around the company logo will never look good.
To solve the problem, a common rule is to create different variations of the logo to be used on different backgrounds, for example a light one and a dark one.
The test: ask your designer to show you the logo on both a bright background and on a dark one. When you receive your logo files, ask for both versions of the logo.
The logo on the left blends with the background due to the gradient effect. A professional logo designer will create a logo version that has contrast against dark backgrounds as well.
If it fails: ask the designer to change the existing one or to create a new version in case the logo doesn’t work on one type of background. The designer should provide other types of contrast on different backgrounds. This should be done at no additional cost, since it’s an industry standard.
2. The logo must work in small formats
When the designer shows you a design, you see it in a medium sized preview. This is great, as you can see it well and examine all the details. However, when you actually get to use the logo, you will sometimes use it in a fairly small size. So you must make sure the logo is not too complex and that you can still make sense of it when it is small.
How small is small? Test it at about 400 x 150 pixels on your screen, although you may need to use it at even smaller sizes in exceptional cases.
What’s at stake: if your logo doesn’t work in small sizes you may not be able to use it on your website, on social media profile pictures, on business cards, on compact letterheads or on small flyers.
The test: resize the logo at a height of 150 px. Check if there are letters or details you cannot easily distinguish. Dare to go even below this height of 150px. At what size do the graphics of the logo still make sense? If you’re planning on having promotional pens with your logo on them, go as small as 60px in height.
The logo on the left has complex graphic elements that become indistinguishable at smaller sizes. The logo on the right remains perfectly clear and readable at a height of 30 pixels.
If it fails: your logo designer will have to remake the logo. They will also need your assistance to decide the elements that they can keep or remove. Your involvement will be important.
3. Vector and PNG files, don’t leave without them
Imagine going to a car salesman, paying 2000 pounds for a car and then leaving with just a photo of the car. Well, that’s the same thing as walking away from a designer with only a JPEG copy of your logo. That’s a picture of your logo, not a usable logo. What you need is a transparent PNG file and a vector file as well.
Let me explain:
The PNG file can look similar to a JPEG, only it better preserves the quality of graphics and its background can be transparent. If you don’t get the transparent PNG, you end up with a logo that always has a square around it. That practically renders your logo useless. Make sure the designer saves the PNG file with a transparent background.
The logo on the white rectangle looks out of place against the dark blue background of the website.
Still, the PNG file doesn’t solve all your visual identity problems because it has a fixed size. Try to stretch it and you end up with a pixelated logo. You may want to print your logo in big sizes, or use special printing techniques for the business cards.
The vector file is what you want. That is the master copy from which you can save your logo to any size. That’s right, any size. You can use it to print a billboard or a business card, but you can also use this file to cut the logo out of metal with a laser, or to create an animation.
The logo on the right looks pixelated when printed on a letterhead. We hope you’ll never allow this to happen.
What’s at stake: without the proper files, nobody will be able to supply you with branded collateral or anything that needs to show your company logo. The JPG covers about 0.1% of use cases, the PNG about 30% and the vector file 100%.
The test: The final design files sent to you by the designer should be at least one PNG (with a transparent background) and a vector file (.AI or .EPS file).
If it fails: ask before you start or during the process if the designer will provide a vector file. If the designer tells you they will not be able to provide a vector file, walk away immediately. Even amateur designers work with vector files, so you are probably dealing with a scammer.
4. A logo needs to be simple
Adding too much detail to a logo is a sure way to ruin it. As you are flared up by the enthusiasm of your business idea, you may feel like adding many symbolic details to the logo. You want to make sure it does express the meaning of life, the universe and everything. Do your best to resist this urge or you will help your designer fail you.
A logo that has pointless decoration will never be trustworthy. A logo can never be too simple.
Unfortunately, “adding stuff” is also a method to cover up that you’re a rookie in design. Make sure your designer doesn’t add gimmicks and effects to your logo just for the sake of making it more “interesting”.
To be fair, sometimes clients push the designer to create a complex logo. When it comes to a good logo design, less is more. Listen to your designer when they tell you there is too much in the logo.
The shadows and detailed elements in this logo design should be dropped. A logo should be simple and easy to remember.
What’s at stake: In many ways a logo can end up looking amateurish. This is the most common one. A logo that has pointless decoration will never be trustworthy. A logo can never be too simple.
The test: I admit, this criterion is not clear-cut, but the test methodology is straightforward. Ask yourself for every design element in the logo: “does this contribute to the meaning or to the readability of the logo?” If it doesn’t, drop it.
Here’s something extra you can do to ensure that your logo is simple enough for people to remember it: show your logo to a friend for one second. Then ask your friend to draw the logo from memory (but don’t tell them about this beforehand). How many details did your friend remember? If the main concept is still there and he correctly spelled the name, it’s a pass. This is a fairly good test of how memorable your logo is at a first glance.
If it fails: the designers need to remake the logo and the concept may need some adjustments as well. Help your designer by coming up with ideas and discussing concepts.
5. Test the logo in Black/White
If not you then your clients or partners will print your logo in black and white. Of course, the logo will lose colour and effects, but it should still be comprehensible. Most logos can withstand the B/W test, but it is still necessary to check to be sure.
If a black and white copy of your logo loses detail, it’s pretty much like misspelling your name.
If you plan to use the logo in b/w often, ask for a special b/w version and data file. This should have proper contrast (a colour file printed in b/w loses contrast).
What’s at stake: You may need your logo in black and white on receipts or signage. Even if that’s not the case for you, eventually black and white copies of your invoice or some branded document will be printed out. If your company logo looks distorted, you will lose people’s respect. It is pretty much like misspelling your name.
Test: print your logo without colour and look at it.
The logo on the left has poor visibility, the colours used are too similar in grayscale and detail is lost when it is printed in black and white.
If it fails: your designer can create a b/w version with proper contrast.
6. Proportions matter
Most logos today are landscape, some of them are square. These formats work well on websites and printed collateral, but make sure your logo is not too wide. With a width:height ratio of 5:1 you’re getting close to the line between a wide logo and “wow that goes on forever”.
If your company name is so long that it doesn’t fit into the 5:1 ratio, that may be a sign you need a new business name. Another issue is that long domain name. It’s better to change an overly long name before you spend money on a logo. If you can’t change the name, try to have it on two lines or go for an emblem.
Square logos can be cool, as they have stability in the composition, but be aware that the logo will always look smaller than other logos, for example on the poster of an event you will sponsor.
Tall (portrait) logos are be difficult to integrate into websites and other branded collateral. Also, they will look even smaller than square logos. A towering logo is unlikely to be visible at 60px in height. Unless there is a
good very good reason for your logo to be in portrait format, avoid it.
Make sure your logo will look clear on our website’s menu bar. That can be as small as 40px in height.
What’s at stake: A logo that is too tall or too wide will be difficult to use in collateral and online. Even more so for partners using your logo on their website or on posters. Tall logos also tend to amplify the problem of size (#2 on this list).
Test: measure the width and height of your logo. It should not go wider than 5:1 nor be in portrait format. Check to see if the logo image is clear at a height of 60px.
If it fails: if your name is too long, you must shorten it. I know this is horrible, but there is no way around it if you want a professional logo. If you have a graphic and a long name, you can put the graphic above the name and thus rearrange the proportions of the logo.
7. Avoid dubious symbolism in your logo
A good company logo will express something based on the symbolism hidden in it. Usually an intelligent symbolism will require more conceptual work and exploration and it will drive up the cost of your logo. There is no way to measure objectively the effectiveness of this symbolism. The minimal criteria is that it doesn’t contain any negative symbolism.
Before you release your new logo, show it to some friends. Friends can spot weird shapes.
What’s at stake: a logo with weird symbolism might make you famous. The bad kind of famous. At least you will make people laugh.
Test: show your logo to a few friends and ask them whether they spot any weird images. They might uncover something unsettling.
A similar logo actually exists. I don’t think they asked their friends for feedback.
If it fails: have a laugh, and then look at whether the problem is in the concept or in the execution.
8. Get the colour codes
A visual identity must be coherent, i.e. always the same. This is especially true for the colours that form it. Now, a designer can choose good colours or bad ones, but at least you should stick to one colour palette and not change it all the time. In order to do this, you need to know the colour codes. Red and blue is not sufficient, you need the actual colour codes.
What’s at stake: if you don’t know your colour codes, you cannot use your brand colours in collateral and on the company website. That will render the whole idea of a visual identity pointless. You absolutely need the colour codes.
The test: the designer tells you the colour codes of your logo colours in RGB or HEX and in CMYK (printing colour codes).
If it fails: ask your designer for the colour codes. This is an absolute must and it will take the designer five minutes at most.
This guide provides the HEX, RGB, CMYK and Pantone colour codes for both colours used in the logo design.
9. Check for glitches
Some designers use stock vectors to create logos. Ideally your logo should be completely unique, but it is not the end of the world if it isn’t. However, this can backfire badly if your designer doesn’t use the stock images correctly and cuts them in such a way that little corners and inconsistencies arise. If you have a logo based on stock vectors, you may at least want a usable one.
What’s at stake: a logo with imperfections will look amateurish and is worth nothing for your branding. Don’t pay a cent for it.
The test: zoom in the logo and check if all the lines are aligned properly without interruptions or fuzzy elements.
If you look closely at this logo, it appears the designer was in a rush and left some elements misaligned.
If it fails: glitches can happen by accident, when the designer doesn’t export the file properly, for instance. Ask the designer to fix the error or to save the file again. If it’s more than just an export glitch, you’re dealing with a scammer. Cut your losses and find a new designer to help you from scratch before you invest more money into branded collateral based on a bad logo.
10. The favicon
Favicons are little icons that show in the browser bar when you are on a website. A favicon isn’t a must and most designers will not include it in their standard service, but you should ask for one.
Favicons are small, 16×16 pixels, so you can’t just reduce the size of your PNG logo and pop it in there. Details get lost at this small size, so the designer will have to create an extra version of the logo, with a significantly simplified design.
Oftentimes the favicon can only hold a part of the logo. That part should be the most iconic element of the logo. If your company logo contains only a name and no graphics, the first letter can be your favicon.
What’s at stake: The favicon is a status symbol on the web and an essential part of your company branding. When a client has opened 20 tabs of competitors’ websites, you may want them to be able to spot yours easily.
The test: the designer sends you a favicon in which you recognize your logo or a simplified version of it.
This favicon is created from the H mark of the Haffer Finanz logo. You can easily recognize the simplified shape in the 16x16px size on browser tabs.
If it fails: ask your designer to put together a favicon that relates well to the logo.
Logo fails happen all the time. The above criteria will allow you to determine objectively if your logo will be one of them. Here are two general thoughts on how to go about your company logo design project:
- Make sure you’re working with professionals
What is the difference between professional designers and amateurs?
Professionals use protocols and verified methods to produce flawless results every time. Most importantly, they work within a framework that includes quality assurance processes based on strict standards. Amateurs work based on intuition, rules of thumb and improvisation.
- Understand your role in the design process
The better you understand your company and the context in which you want to launch your brand, the better your design brief will be. A good brief is essential to the creative design process. Further down in the process, make sure you participate in finding solutions to the challenges that arise. As a brand owner, you should cooperate, not just give instructions.
If you have an upcoming logo project and want to talk about it in detail, I’m happy to help you with that. Enter your information below and I will personally contact you for a free and confidential consultation.
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The value is everything you do over the years to build trust in your target market.