Let me make this clear right up front…just so there’s no confusion: A logo is not a brand. But a logo quite often represents the brand. One of the 20th century’s most influential designers, Milton Glaser, said, “The logo is the entry point to the brand.”
That statement perfectly defines the position your organization’s logo should have and the part it plays in your visual portfolio. Identity designer, Alison Hulett said, “The logo or trademark is without a doubt the ultimate ‘branding’ tool.”
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To better understand the place of the logo in organizational branding, it’s helpful to look at a little history. The word “logo” means a name, symbol, or trademark designed for easy recognition. The use of logos goes back to the early days of the Renaissance, around the 13th Century. Goldsmiths, masons, paper makers, and potters, were among the first tradespeople to use marks—pressings into gold, chiseled symbols, watermarks on paper, and simple thumbprints on pottery. Trademarks are still used for the same reason they were established centuries ago: to provide an easy method for recognizing a particular product. These “marks” made it easier to differentiate a quality product from one that was not well made. The value of the craftsmanship represented in the gold, paper, stonework, pottery, etc., could be expressed through the special, distinctive mark on the product.
It’s still helpful to think of a logo in those terms: your logo is your symbol—your mark—of guaranteed authenticity. A simple swoosh on a pair of athletic shoes transforms those modest sneakers into desirable, quality footwear with an unspoken guarantee of “authentic athletic performance.”
Logos are still the front door to products and services today. The logo or mark of an organization is often the very first impression a potential customer or supporter has of your organization. That’s why it’s important that your logo is an accurate representation of your marketplace positioning, personality, and mission. And for service organizations with “invisible” offerings (no tangible products), the logo often represents the offerings. So don’t underestimate their importance.
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Some Logo Criteria
Here are five things to keep in mind when evaluating your current logo—or considering a redesign—to align your logo with your brand essence.
Click here for more logo samples and principles of logo design.
A Critical Starting Point
A good logo design starts with a solid and defined brand. There should be clear focus, alignment, and linkage between your logo and everything else your company represents. It’s not possible to design or commission a logo that meets the criteria of this article unless you first have a clear and focused brand essence --unless you know your organization’s position in the marketplace, your differentiating factor, your personality, your brand promise, and what your business stands for and believes in.
If your company is struggling with any of these attributes, don’t even bother exploring a new logo design. First, conduct or host a brand strategy workshop. And if you do have a solid brand strategy, please don’t let a well-intentioned designer screw it up by not considering the importance of expressing that strategy visually.
When done correctly, this synergy between brand strategy and logo
design is referred to as “trade dress” or “visual identity.” When done
well, a good logo will be easy to read and understand, express your
unique positioning, work in multiple channels, and convey your company’s
voice and tone.
For more information about modern logo design, principles, and examples, click here.
Here's branding expert and author, Al Ries, on the importance of the shape of the logo.