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Logo design can feel like an ephemeral process, full of alchemy and mystery as the values and essence of an entity are distilled into a purely visual form. Truth be told, however, there are just as many practical constraints and considerations in creating a logo as there are for designing a brochure or website.
When we sit down to design a new logo, we’re usually also thinking of how it’s going to look in the header of a website, the back of a business card (remember those?), social media images, and countless other applications that branding is used for. Will the concepts we have in mind fit only within certain orientations? What are the proportions going to be? How will the design and any text scale, and can they do so while maintaining legibility?
Each of these decisions creates constraints that dictate the form of the final design. That’s good news, because once we understand the parameters we’re working in, other design decisions fall more quickly into place. To understand how this process works, let us offer you a quick overview of logo anatomy, followed by three of the most common logo orientations.
Quick anatomy lesson: logos are usually made up of the logomark (the graphical element) and the logotype (the text element). There are also lettermark logos that use only text, and logos featuring apples and swooshes which are recognizable independent of their logotype. But for our purposes, we’re focusing on a few simple types and the pros and cons of each.
Now that we have that established, let’s look at a few basic orientations and the advantages they have for different applications.
The most common and easiest to work with in your website header: the horizontal logo! Sometimes with a logomark sitting next to it like the Spotify logo or our own, or with a logomark incorporated into the text like Dovetail. The key thing here is that they conform to a roughly rectangular proportion.
These logos fit neatly into a website header, or at the top of letterhead. They tend to be the most common because of their flexibility, particularly with a separate logomark that can be stacked or used independently as appropriate. While not every idea or concept fits neatly within this mold, this is usually the starting point in the logo creation process.
Logos that are taller than they are wide are often used as an alternative presentation as seen with Aperture Content Management’s logo, though they can also be used as the primary logo format as well as with Michigan Venture and Entrepreneurial Foundation. This isn’t ideal for fitting in short, wide spaces like a website header, but should feel right at home in a publication masthead or business card. Some visual concepts, a growing tree for example, just feel more thematically appropriate in a vertical arrangement—which is something to bear in mind.
For flexibility’s sake, the goal is to get as close as we can to a square proportion, that will make our lives easier as we utilize the logo in a variety of ways.
While emblematic or “crest” style logos had a massive resurgence in the hipster movement (see your local microbrewery or roastery for what is no doubt a perfect execution of this design trend), truly they have been around since time immemorial, and show no sign of slowing down. There’s a reason they’re everywhere in the food and beverage industry: the square or rounded proportion works great on cans, bags, stickers, stamps, etc., and lets you fit in a name and slogan in a relatively compact space. It’s like the Swiss army knife of logos—the kind that borders on ludicrous with the amount of tools fit in such a compact form factor.
The most important consideration here is legibility. Make sure that the design applications it will be used in are large enough that you can still read the text and parse any graphic elements in play. Emblem logos tend to feature quite elegant and organic illustrated elements which can easily get lost at small sizes.
When we break down our practical needs and considerations before digging into the purely creative side of the design process we can chart ourselves a map of possibilities before we cast our line into the esoteric depths of design. And more importantly, have more productive conversations around the decisions made during the process! The logo design process is most certainly a creative endeavor, but by understanding the mindset and practical considerations better it can feel more like a process of elimination, and less like alchemy.