Brand Identity: What Factors Make a Good Logo?

125 years of Coca-Cola

There are many areas of graphic design that I have ventured into within the last couple years: book cover design, website design, broadcast storyboarding, environmental design and much more. Out of all of the areas, my favorite by far is brand identity design. There is a certain thrill and satisfaction that comes with designing an iconic symbol for a company. That company has put their faith in you to design the face for their entire organization and to differentiate their brand from their competitors.

Work space

What makes brand identity design the most challenging is the fact that the icon you’ve designed is usually the first and last thing a person sees during their experience with the brand. There are many things that factor into making a successful, everlasting icon that can (and hopefully will) be used for decades to come. One of my favorite designers, David Airey, summarizes it best:

Keep it simple. The simplest solution is often the most effective. Why? Because a simple logo helps meet most of the other requirements of iconic design.

Make it relevant. Any logo you design must be appropriate for the business it identifies. For example, as much as you might want to use a fun design that makes everyone smile, its approach is not ideal for businesses like the local crematorium.

Incorporate tradition. Trends come and go like the wind. With brand identity, the last thing you want is to invest a significant amount of your time and your client’s money in a design direction that looks dated almost overnight.

Aim for distinction. Begin by focusing on a design that is recognizable. So recognizable, in fact, that just its shape or outline gives it away.

Commit to memory. Quite often, one quick glance is all the time you get to make an impression. You want your viewers’ experience to be such that your logo is remembered the instant they see it the next time.

Think small. Your design should ideally work at a minimum of around one inch in size without loss of detail so that it can be put to use for many different applications.

Focus on one thing. Incorporate just one feature to help your designs stand out. That’s it. Just one. Not two, three or four.

David Airey also goes on to explain that, sometimes, rules are made to be broken. This might seem contradictory, but when appropriate, yes—by all means—break the rules…as long as the rule you are breaking is for a damn good reason.

Some of the most successful logos have been around for nearly 100 years. The one I speak of, and arguably the most identifiable, is the Coca-Cola logo. Since 1887, the Coca-Cola logo has relatively stayed the same with exception of a slight hitch from 1890–1891. The logo was changed drastically and met poor response from consumers, so was then reverted back to its original from years past. Over the years, with its first revision in 1941, the Coca-Cola logo has only undergone minor changes to its lettering, keeping its traditional, simple, narrow-focused style intact and well-recognized.

Below is a video that was released by PBS as part of a web series called Off Book that explores cutting-edge art, internet culture and the people that create it. This video, The Art of Logo Design | Off Book | PBS, features some of my favorite designers and their take on logo design.


Photo credit: 1890 version of Coca-Cola logo courtesy

Airey, David. Logo Design Love: a Guide to Creating Iconic Brand Identities. Berkeley, CA: New Riders an imprint of Peachpit, 2010. Print.