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The First Impression: The Importance of a Good Logo

A logo is a graphic element, symbol or icon designed to serve as the emblem of a company. Well-designed logos create immediate viewer recognition and serve to promote the company and to attract potential customers. This unique, visual identity can be used on everything from billboards to business cards and even small promotional items like pens. Given its versatility and potential market appeal, the design and selection of a logo is every bit as important as the company's name.

The Components of a Logo

When most people hear the word "logo" they think of a single symbol or graphic. In reality a complete logo is made up of three parts:

Logotype: The logotype is the name of the business set in a unique typeface or arranged in a particular way. A good example would be the stylized type of the "Coca Cola" brand name.

Icon: This is the actual symbol or brandmark with its high visual appeal, for instance the Nike "swoosh."

Slogan: The slogan is either a brief description of the company or a phrase suggestive of something the company does especially well. The Kentucky Fried Chicken slogan, "Finger lickin' good," would be an example of such a phrase.

These three elements may be used together, separately, or in any combination but all are necessary to have a fully formed company logo.

Elements of an Effective Logo

In order for a logo to "work" it must do the following things:

portray the company as unique in its field

symbolize forward thinking, contemporary qualities

convey a clear, recognizable image to the consumer

Some things to consider in achieving these qualities include the following. A logo must:

function in many different contexts, potentially even in foreign languages (If you plan on doing business in foreign countries be careful not to pick a symbol that would be offensive in another culture.)

function in many different sizes from billboards to small formats like business cards, letterhead, or small promotional items like cups or keychains (Make sure your logo "blows up" and "shrinks" without losing its appeal and recognition.) work effectively in color or black and white

be unique enough to avoid confusion with other companies but not be outlandish or "over the top"

Logos and Branding

Branding is a level of business recognition achieved when the business name, logo, and marketing materials function smoothly to create a company image that is both appealing and recognizable. The slogan or tag line aspect of the complete logo is especially important to the branding process. Some of the most successful tag lines have become part of American culture:

"I can't believe I ate the whole thing." -- Alka Seltzer
"Is it live, or is it Memorex?" - Memorex
"Keeps going and going and going." - Energizer
"It takes a licking and keeps on ticking." - Timex
"Mmm! Mmm! Good!" - Campbell's Soup
"Good to the last drop." - Maxwell House
"You've come a long way, baby." - Virginia Slims Cigarettes

You know a product has achieved successful branding when someone asks for a "Kleenex" rather than a "tissue." When branding occurs, the brand name has become synonymous with the product produced.

The "Don'ts" of Logo Design

Simple designs work best for logos. You are attempting to catch the eye and to give the brain something it can instantly memorize. Avoid using:

heavy decorations
smooth gradient color transitions
the image of a living person
complex imagery
culturally sensitive imagery

Also avoid the use of religious imagery or national flags unless you are committed to being associated with the connotations of such usage.

The "Do's" of Logo Design

The top ten best tips for logo design are:

Keep it simple. The best shapes are geometric. Free form shapes will work, just be careful that the image doesn't look like it's falling apart or falling off the surface on which it's placed.

Engage your audience with clever "tricks" or "hooks." Consider this image of a regional zoo in Texas. The stylized "f" and "w" form an elephant. (See: http://www.fortworthzoo.com/ )

Think ahead and choose a design that will last. Most companies update their logos every 15 years or so. The Mr. Peanut logo for Planter's peanuts has been in use since 1916. The rendering of the figure has been progressively modernized with no loss of recognition.

Use clean, crisp lines with limited colors.

Concentrate on adaptability. Make the logo suit any form in which it is likely to be reproduced.

Make it memorable.

Make the image relevant to your business. Always keep your products and services in mind.

Choose colors wisely.

Make sure your logo won't be confused with that of another company.

Use your logo consistently across all your marketing materials to build brand recognition.

The Use of Color in Logos

Whole books have been devoted to the psychology of color. Limit color usage in your logo to three colors at most. Some things to remember:

"loud," bold colors like red are meant to attract attention

in the United States companies that want to evoke patriotic feelings use red, white and blue

more subdued tones communicate relaxed stability and dependability

masculine colors include black, gray, dark brown, deep purple, dark green, rust, and dark burgundy

feminine shades might be light blue or pink, flesh, yellow, peach, light gray, lavender, rose, mauve and pale green

while metallic tones are considered "elegant" and "expensive," those qualities will be lost when the logo is reproduced in black and white

Always ask to see a black and white version of your logo. If the essential message and impact are lost, rethink the color selections.

Good Logos Take Thought

Even small businesses on a budget should work with a design professional to develop an effective logo. In many instances the logo will be your company's first chance to make an impression with a prospective client. Every day we are surrounded by examples of logos that work:

Apple Computer's apple with the missing bite

the ornate script of the Coca Cola emblem

the Nike "swoosh"

the FedEx logo with its clever arrow (look between the "e" and the "x")

When the eye falls on these emblems the brain has already processed huge amount of information about the business before the name "Apple" or "Coca Cola" even enters the consciousness.

As you work with your designer remember that you want a logo that:

tells customers a lot about who you are

creates branding for your business

is unique and memorable

has relevance to your business purpose

sets you apart from the competition

In creating an overall set of marketing materials to attract potential customers and to grow your clientèle, logo selection is just as important as the name you choose for your business. Your logo is your graphic ambassador to the world and you only get to create that critical first impression one time.

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