Designing a logo with Design Thinking

The estimated reading time for this post is 9 minutes

A notable part of a brand is their logo. The symbol that represents the brand will be printed and displayed digitally diverse sizes, and alongside colors, shapes, images and typography, will help customers identify that particular business.

The logo is part of a system called visual identity, which is part of a larger system, the business’ branding system.

The logo design process is different for each designer. I, for one, do the typography displayed alongside the symbol by hand, and that is called handlettering.

For the whole process, both handlettering and the creation of the symbol, I use a process called Design Thinking.

Design thinking was invented at Stanford University, and it’s a problem solving process. It consists of seven stages: defining, researching, ideating, prototyping, selecting, implementing and learning.

The best thing about the Design thinking process is that it’s not a rule, but a reiterative


Defining the project with a brief

When it comes to a Design project, Designers need to start off from somewhere. Usually, we get a mail, a call or a meeting, but that’s not quite enough. It’s important to acquire thoroughly information about the project, the company. That way, the design problem can be best defined and a better solution created.

I also will want to make sure that the person I am talking to is a decision maker in the company. It’s easy to not get the full picture when dealing with a representative or a speaker of the decision making force of the company.

Some of the topics I will try to find out are:

  • who works in the company;
  • what are the company’s branding specifics (mission, vision, values, personality);
  • finding out about the service, product, how they function, how they are sold;
  • finding out about the audience and the target market;
  • finding out about the mediums used within and without the company, how people interact with each other within the company is as important as how the company interacts with people without;
  • pricing of the product or service: this information reveals a lot of how the product is perceived in the market;

It’s important to communicate to the client that all information is important. Nothing should be left outside of the conversation. There is always that project that ends with the client casually saying something at the delivery that could have been used to do a better job.

A brief should contain all details of a project. That way, the project will stay on its track. Defining the deliverables should be easy with the information you acquire.

It’s important to remember that, with the Design thinking process, you are free to go back and forth on the stages outlined in this article at any given moment of the project or when the need surges.


Inspiration

Researching the brand, the audience, and the competitors will give an idea of the scope of the brand and the impact of the service and product on the market.

When it comes to designing a logo, it’s important to take into consideration what the client has provided but not forget to expand the creative mindset by looking further than what’s obvious.

There are different ways to collect information for inspiration. I personally like to start off by writing down words that cross my mind related to the project, either on a mindmap or on just plain list style.

I find useful to browse the web whilst throwing random words on Google to see how a certain word connects with its meaning both visually and perceptually. This exercise helps me to get out of the conventions I have of my own experience and my own perceptions of a subject.

Visually speaking, I create a Pinterest board per project to have an idea how the final brand should look like. Consuming other people’s work extensively helps to bias my mind to the style that best fits the project, and also helps me to be attentive t details that I know I want to try out.


Ideation

The ideation process is that stage where you brain dump ideas. Some people like to be restrained to 10, but I personally prefer to restrain to time per sketch in the beginning, and then pick ten.

The point of quick sketching is to allow a variety of ideas to surge. That way, you don’t need to worry about finding the perfect shape just yet. Seeking quantity over quality will allow a variety of styles, forms, and shapes that you wouldn’t have if you were stuck with one grid or look. I like to do this without the use of an eraser and preferably with a pen.

The best sketches can be selected and developed further, with a little bit more detail and time allowed to work on each.

The tools and the methods are not really important for idea generation. It depends on what works best for you, I am simply outlining what works for me, my process and way of looking for a solution.


Refinement

Refining a bunch of logos, or prototyping them, will provide a better insight and allow a comparison basis to what could work best and what would not, as well as what can be done better.

Prototyping and refining the logos will allow the designer and the client to best visually a potential outcome to the project, and thus choose a direct in which to continue working on.

A prototype is a working model, which when it comes to logos makes less sense to define as if it was a product prototype. However, some particular aspects may be found in the presentation of these prototypes, such as dummy colors and applications (for example, on mockups).


Finalization

Typically, at this stage, I will have 2-3 picks that will be selected and developed to the final stage. It’s not always so black and white, but I will always present the logo I think should be presented in the middle, after a “but” sentence. I know that the client will always have a personal favorite, but the logo that should be picked should always be the one that best represents a solution for the design problem.

Never present a logo to the client you don’t want to be picked. If you don’t want a particular sketch to be picked, don’t show it. It’s never the client’s fault to pick a bad idea, but the designer’s for showing it.

Finalizing a logo consists of making sure all the elements are outlined in a vector format, the color palette is defined, the typography is chosen and all the sub-imagery, such as icons and patterns, are ready to be applied and tested.

The finalization process is the one that will bounce you back and forth the most. Because we designers have this… Perfectionism thing.


Visibility

Make sure the logo you design is recognizable in small and big sizes, to ensure adaptability across platforms, such as on a website or app icon and posters.


Colors

It’s important to remember the usage of colors when it comes to the industry and how colors affect our brain. You can read more about that here.

Also notable, colors appear differently in different medias. Print colors are even harder to be consistent with, since it differs from printer to printer, and even in between printing rolls. The material that it gets printed on might also alter tones.

The easiest way to ensure that the brand and the logo colors will be consistent across media is to define all the color codes.

Usually, I will include:

  • HEX
  • RGB
  • CMYK
  • LAB
  • PANTONE Uncoated, Coated and sometimes metallic

Designing on sRGB will to ensure a wider color space and better compatibility between different devices. However, each display will have a certain way to read colors, called color calibration, and it’s nearly impossible to certify that the color will show exactly the same for everyone.


Spacing

One of the aspects that I am obsessed with when it comes to logo designing is spacing.

It’s important to understand that spacing is an optical illusion. Round objects, like a circle and an “O” will appear smaller to the eyes when set aside a square and an “H” respectively. So, just because the spacing between an “O” and a “H” and a “I” is the same, doesn’t mean that they are optically spaced and sized the same.

In the pictures bellow, the optical spacing and the metric kerning (space between characters) are shown to exemplify how your eye will perceive each.

Ohi Spacing Optical Spacing Grid
Ohi Spacing Optical Spacing
Ohi Spacing Pixel Spacing Grid
Ohi Spacing Pixel Spacing

The optical spacing fits better to the eye, and show better a balance between the characters. Notice how the “O” is slightly overriding the baseline when compared to the other letters so that it looks right when it comes to the size. The “I” looks smaller than most letters, therefore it gets pushed a bit further away to the right so that it looks its size.

When it comes to the spacing between the logo and the type, I like to pick an element in the logotype to create balance in the piece, like it’s shown bellow.

Logo spacing

This practice creates usage boundaries to ensures consistency and right placement of the logo across medias.


Useful tools

Pinterest

Pinterest is my favorite moodboard website. Word.

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Google Docs

I use Google Docs in an interesting way. In the start of a project, I use it to uncover information from the client. I add him/her to the document, which allows us to edit it at the same time and have a conversation. That way, I make sure we are both on the same page (literally) and helps me build the brief and the brand book at the end of the project.

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Docracy

Docracy is a great website to get a template for a contract.

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Affinity Designer

I love Affinity Designer, but I use it mostly for Illustration. It is a great alternative to Illustrator.

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rgb.to

My to go tool to convert my colors between RGB, CMYK and PANTONE. I like to add LAB colors as well, so I use Illustrator to get the LAB colors and to compare the CMYK from RBG.to.

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Coolors

Personally, choosing colors can be really painful depending on the project. Coolors has a cool “random” button that will do the start for me. I always have a mood in mind, and as soon as I find a good color, I might adjust it, then I lock it and find other 2 colors.

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Logobook

Logobook is a collection of the old logos of the world, and it can really break our conventional approach to logo design because it doesn’t follow trends.

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Logo Design Love

Another great Logo inspiration website.

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Trademark Vision

Trademark Vision searches for visually similar trademarks.

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Google Image – search by Image

A great alternative to trademark vision is to Google Image search by Image, which will come up with visually similar results.

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