12 Logo Design Mistakes To Avoid

12 Logo Design Mistakes To Avoid

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This was an article I originally wrote for the Sep / Oct 2010 edition of Layers Magazine, it has been republished here with permission. You can see pictures of the article in print at the bottom of this article or you can view the PDF here. The article is targeted towards designers, rather than business owners.

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One of the easiest ways to distinguish a company is by having a unique and memorable logo; however, creating a unique and memorable logo is not as easy as it sounds. Here are 12 common logo design mistakes that amateur logo designers often fall victim to. In no particular order…

1. Typographic chaos

Typography in logo design can make or break a design, so it’s vital you know your typographic ABC’s. A logo should be kept as simple as possible while still portraying the intended message, and for this to happen, one must consider all typographic aspects of the design.

Don’t use too many fonts or weights (two maximum). Don’t use predictable, crazy, or ultra thin fonts. Pay close attention to kerning, spacing, and sizing and most importantly, ensure you’ve chosen the right font(s) for the project at hand.

Easy Speedy

EasySpeedy: Take note how this logo uses just one font family but with different styling. The italic letter-forms convey speed while the bold emphasizes the ease of the service.

2. Poor font choice

As touched on above, when it comes to creating a logo, choosing the right font can make or break a design. Font choice can often take as long as the creation of the logo mark itself and it should not be done briskly.

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Spend time researching all the various fonts that could be used for the project, narrow them down further, and then see how each one gels with the logo mark. Don’t be afraid to purchase a font, modify one, or create your own. Also, keep in mind how the logo’s font could be used across the rest of the brand identity in conjunction with other fonts and imagery.

Emotive Analytics

Emotive Analytics: All fonts have their own personality, so you should choose the right “font personality” for the job at hand. The font chosen in this logo is much more serious than, say, a hand-drawn font, which would convey very different attributes.

3. Too complex, too abstract

Simple logos are more memorable as they allow for easier recognition; however, for a logo to be memorable and stand apart from the crowd, it must have something unique about it, without being too overdrawn. Not only does simplicity make a logo more memorable, but it also makes the logo more versatile, meaning it can work over more mediums. For example, a logo should work on something the size of a postage stamp and on something as large as a billboard. Don’t make your logo too abstract either.

4. Relying on special effects or color

If a logo requires color or special effects to make it a strong logo, it’s not a strong logo. To get around this, work in black and white first and then add the special effects or color later. This allows you to focus on the shape and concept rather than the special effects. Don’t use drop shadows, embossing, or other layer styles to gloss up logos — a good logo will stand on its own. You can also make different variations of a logo to ensure it works in colour or grey scale.

Opus Grex Logo

Opus Grex: Although this logo has gradients and colour, if we took away these effects it still has a strong form.

5. Using raster images

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A logo should be designed in a vector graphics program such as Adobe Illustrator to ensure that the final logo can be scaled to any size, enabling the logo to be applied easily to other media. A vector graphic is made up of mathematically precise points, which ensures visual consistency across all mediums and sizes. A raster image (made out of pixels, such as what you would find in Photoshop) can’t be scaled to any size, which means at large sizes, the logo would be unusable. Use a vector graphics program when creating logos.

For further explanation: Raster vs Vector.

6. Settling for a monogram

One of the more common mistakes of the amateur logo designer is trying to create a monogram out of the business’ initials (e.g. Bob’s Hardware would become a logo made out of B & H). Although this sounds like a smart solution at first, it’s rather difficult to build credibility or convey an intended message with just the initials of a company. You can certainly explore this route, but don’t settle on it unless you can create an original, creative, and memorable solution that reflects the business’ goals.

Also, try not to shorten a business name into acronyms until it has been around for a while or if it suits the target goals. HP, FedEx, IBM, and GM never started out as acronyms — they became acronyms after many years of high-profile exposure.

7. Using visual clichés

Light bulbs for ‘ideas’, speech bubbles for ‘discussion’, swooshes for ‘dynamism’, etc. These ideas are often the first things to pop into one’s head when brainstorming, and for the same reason should be the first ideas discarded. How is your design going to be unique when so many other logos feature the same idea? Stay clear of these visual clichés and come up with an original idea and design.

Just Creative Design Logo

Just Creative Design: A pencil on its own would be a visual cliché for any illustrator or designer; however, if you use a cliché in a creative and unique way, then your logo will be much more memorable. Have a look at my personal logo, did you ever notice the hidden J, C, and D?

8. Copying, stealing, or borrowing design

It’s sad that this has to be said, but it’s an all-too-common practice these days. A designer sees an idea that he likes, does a quick mirror, color swap, or word change, and then calls the idea his own. Not only is this unethical, illegal, and downright stupid but you’re also going to get caught sooner or later. Do not use stock or clip art either — the point of a logo is to be unique and original.

9. Getting too much client input

A client is paying you as a professional designer to come up with a relevant design, so you should direct the client to the best possible solution. The best way to do this is to offer your expertise, not by letting them direct the project (entirely). If a client asks for a misinformed change, explain why it may not be such a good idea and offer a better alternative. If they still refuse, try sending your own design decisions as well as their design suggestions. They will often realize that their suggestions may not have been the best; however, you as a designer should also realize that you also, are not always right, so try giving the client’s suggestions a go — who knows where it will lead.

10. Providing too many concepts

Loosely linked to the above point is providing the client with too many options. This again means the client will have too much say over the design direction of the project. If you provide 10 concepts to a client, more often than not they will choose what you consider, the ‘worst’ design. A good rule of thumb is to only send one to three concepts that you personally could see working for their business. Of course, the number of concepts you send can change from project to project, but once you feel confident enough as a designer, these one to three concepts should nail the project on the head every time.

11. Not cleaning up logo files

Logo files should be one of the cleanest files you ever deliver a client. Node points should be kept to a minimum; curves should be as smooth as possible and without overlap. Shapes should be combined, and if your logo is symmetrical, it should be perfectly symmetrical. Everything about the delivered file should be perfect and as minimal as possible. Imagine if the client needs to blow up the logo to put on the side of a truck. If the logo has any mistakes, these will now be clearly visible. Make it perfect.

Redwave Systems

Redwave Systems: Take note of the hidden wave in this logo design. As an example of cleaning up files, this wave would have to be knocked out of the letters “W” and “A” rather than having a white wave shape sitting on top of the letter-forms.

12. Not delivering correct files to client

Delivering the right files to your client is one way to ensure that your client never comes back asking for revisions or different versions of a logo. It also ensures that the logo gets displayed correctly in all circumstances, which should be supported by a style guide.

You should give your client four high-quality files per logo variation — this means providing a spot-color file, a pure CMYK (no spot colors), a pure black file, and a pure white (knockout) file. These should generally be in EPS, TIFF, and JPEG formats. You can provide a favicon too, if you’re feeling nice.

A Closing Word

These logo design tips should help you become a better logo designer in theory, however, it’s important to state that although lists such as this are a good starting point, they should not hold you back — rules are made to be broken & there is no ‘right’ way when it comes to logo design. Sketch, explore and create! Then repeat.

Below you can see this article as featured in Layers Magazine. Thank you to those who sent me pictures of the article!

Common Logo Design Mistakes in Layers Magazine

Common Logo Design Mistakes in Layers Magazine Page 2

Agree? Disagree? Have you got any other common logo design mistakes to add?

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93 thoughts on “12 Logo Design Mistakes To Avoid”

  1. Love your work Jacob but I kinda agree with Mike a little bit. I’m sure to some your logos seem cliche, it’s really in the eye of the beholder.

  2. Mike, Kiren,
    Fair call, I also agree however Layers Magazine actually asked to use my logos as the examples. I could have used other examples for my own blog, but I had already written it all so it made sense to use it on here. As for the logos being cliche, you’re right it is in the eye of the beholder.

  3. Thanks Jacob. I have created a number of Logo designs, but I did not noticed that these mistakes may happen. Again thanks for your article.

  4. Clear writing…..Great article. the pencil cliche for me its original – creating extraordinary from the ordinary. Thanks Mann!!

  5. Nice one mate! You’re so right about the cliches, but it’s very hard to take them out of your mind when your client is asking to use them. It’s very hard to make them understand that “their good idea” is not actually such a good ideea….

    Great post!

  6. Great tips as always Jacob, avoiding the cliches is something I strongly agree with (YESSSS!) how many times have I seen the that lighting bolt used for electricians in the Yellow Pages. Far too many.

    Uour Redwave Systems is an awesome little logo good work mate.

  7. Great post Jacob, Good positive article. As for your logo, why not use it to demonstrate, as it is your own logo you have to have a sense of pride or you wouldnt be able to keep looking at it everyday. Great work.


    Mali – Eating Design

  8. Using Vector programs to create your logo is an essential part of it as Raster limits you to size and scale factors while still maintaining clarity.

    On the whole an excellent article. Thank you.

  9. Thanks a lot Jacob.
    Great info on disasters some designer makes.
    1 mistake according to me to avoid:
    dont think that the logo u make shud always reflect the business it does.
    i mean a condom company cant have condom in its logo!

  10. and of course the j c d stands as well for jacob design not only for just creative design all of that is hidden in the pencil – but its nice and thanks for so many creative tips and contributions, glad you found a job in N.Y. again, how is it going there? let us know! take care!

  11. typing erased one word

    just creative design
    jacob cass design
    and the pencil tip : all the same

  12. Fantastic tips and another great article, all are very simple however its amazing the amount of people who don’t abide by the simple things and end up creating horrors of logos

  13. Great article! Thank you for sharing these tips with us. I’m very happy to say that my ArtByJB.com logo seems to fit very comfortably within these recommendations, so I’m happy to have found that out as well. 🙂

  14. I noticed the letters in your logo almost right away and thought it was smart and very creative! Which of course portrays your image perfectly! That is good brand power to me!

  15. Typeface, NOT font.

    #1 rule is that he logo has to have a strong communicative concept based on a solid research phase.
    #2 rule it must be simple work in one solid color at any given time.
    #3 rule it must be reproducible at less than 1/2″.
    #4 rule it must communicate without literacy.
    #5 rule is that a logo is so important, as the most valuable asset to a company, that it should only be attempted by true professionals.

  16. Awesome article. Logo design is truly overlooked as a finely tuned craft. Unfortunately, my clients like to take what I’ve given them and become the designer… and eventually I end up with something I leave OUT of my portfolio.

    Good luck to ya brother.

  17. Nice work with the article Jacob. I think a couple of the major signs of inexperience are poor typeface choices and relying on effects/colour. Talking of effects, I hate when I pretty much know what software and effect/filter was used just by looking at a logo.

    If anyone is interested, I posted a short article that discusses three important factors when designing a logo.

  18. Thanks for a great article. I am new on the design team and always looking for useful tips. I also enjoyed reading all the comments.
    Using your logo shows that you know what you talking about. Why not use a condom in a logo – would that not be original??

  19. Time has proven that simple conceptual logos are the most memorable. Nike, apple, IBM, Husqvarna. They all utilize a simple recognizable brandmark will great success. Imagine Nike with a running figure, holding fire in it’s hands, hurdling over a bench.. not likely. Stick with proven simple conceptual design.

  20. Rory,
    Thanks re the Redwave Logo! I’m going to be writing up a process article for it shortly, for a book. I’ll post it on here at a later date.

    How could I forget! New York is going great, really love it here. I plan to stay for a while… at least another year, at least.

    Great tip about not always having to make the logo reflect what the company does as a business. There was this analysis of the top 100 brands of the world… only 6 of the 100 actually depicted what the business did.

    I agree, thanks for the link to your article. It also has some very valid points.

  21. Funny – I notice the JCD right away, but never saw that it was a pencil until I read it in this article! Interesting how different eyes/minds will “read” an image.

  22. Jacob (or anyone that could help) I started working as a freelancer, and have a few logo designs to do, but I need a contract like for yesterday! I have been looking online and they are either too long or hard to read. Can someone guide me or share a link to a sample, please!? I want to do this the right way and cover myself at the same time. thanks lots! =)

  23. Thanks for sharing. Will take this into consideration when designing a logo. Really good article 🙂 thanks for the effort !

  24. First, you broke rule #5 about the logo being a vector graphic with your own logo.

    Secondly, I break rule #5 all the time if it suits the client’s needs and media they will use the logo design for.

  25. Fantastic, relevant article…an enjoyable read, especially as I’m trying to get into a little less layout design and a little more logo design.

    One logo that springs to mind here is an automotive logo; the company is insanely strict, as they should be, as to usage of their logo. They supply agencies like ours with updated copies of their logo once every so often.

    The most recent one proved to be a disaster. Their advertisements in our most recent magazine printed with only the emblem, no accompanying text. We pulled the file open, which promptly assploded with shadows, ‘unknown shading types’ and a brazillion paths. The logo needed a metallic effect to jump, and they’d done it with all sorts of special effects.

    It was only a problem because they had set the white text to overprint and we couldn’t safely re-save the document without it appearing damaged. I’m still not sure what resolved the issue, all I know is it was a fiasco to sort it…

    TL;DR: even well-established companies seem to suffer from a bit of horrendously bad file and logo practice from time to time…

  26. Point 5 should be number 1 on this list, before you start doing anything make sure you are creating it in the correct format.

  27. Great article!

    Another frequent mistake, in my opinion are:
    very small objects and gaps, which limits the possibilities to reduce the logo, for example when it is necessary to print on a pencil or pen.

  28. Hi!, this is a really nice article. I am a very new designer and enjoyed designing logos because it really squeeze my brain and enhance my creativity. I feel good when i know that i didnt commit on some of your points and I feel bad when I noticed that i really did that mistake you said. ne thing on my mind now is, can u be a good logo designer in particular if you are fully employed? I mean, does it have to be a full time job to make a good concept?

  29. Angela,
    You may have found a solution already, but you see my contract resources here:

    My logo is actually in vector. I am sure you could receive the same results in Illustrator if you had a go.

    It was in no order, but you are correct, it should be in the right format.

    You provide 4 separate files for different uses. CMYK, Pantone, RGB & Black & White all need different set ups.

    No worries, you have to make mistakes to learn! Everyone starts somewhere. As for being a “good logo designer”, this is very subjective however I think with enough practice, you can get to where you want to be!

  30. Hi, I’d love to cite your article in a speech I’m giving in my Business communication class. Do you by any chance know the volume number for Layers Magazine, in which this article appeared?
    Thank you,

  31. @Roy When talking about cliches I’d mention the ubuntu figures rather than the light bolts, I wish I can just hang them all dead! Hangman should be “HangUbuntu”

  32. “Have a look at my personal logo, did you ever notice the hidden J, C, and D?” – Haha, that was obvious for me, but I never saw it was a crayon 🙂

  33. Very well written article Jacob. I was just looking for good articles on logo design and find yours. It really helps me. Great job. Thanks for the guidance.

  34. These are some very good suggestions. I would also add that the typography style should fit with the style of your business (modern, traditional, etc).

    I like the suggestion about the logo working for any size; it’s important that even when you have a small black and white logo, like often used on business cards or stationery, that it still is clear and readable.

    Also, I agree the logo shouldn’t be too complex. However, it is important to make a creative logo. It can be minimalistic, but also be creative or even inspirational in it’s design.

    Lastly, choose several of your favorite logos created and have your friends and colleagues help select your final design.

  35. First of all thanks for such a wonderful article and tips. One of the thing that I practice, I would love to share with you.

    I never use end number of colours for logo design.

  36. I agree, never use super thin fonts! You don’t want people ignoring your website because they can hardly read what your logo’s all about! Great posts, I’ll keep these tips in mind when designing logos 🙂

  37. Don’t forget outlines. More than once i have received logos with outlines, when you have I re scale it I have to adjust the out line,

  38. I don’t believe in any of these rules.

    One simple reason:

    Multiple award winning logo: City of Melbourne. Created by Landor Associates.

    Relies on both color and trend.

  39. The author just did not mention that this is a point of view. Some tips are correct some.. are contradicted by the examples. Just my point of view…

  40. Love your article! As an embroidery digitizer i run into difficulty digiting too thin fonts, three dimension effects and shading in a logo, to have the logo stitched out identical to the art. Have a heart designers and keep embroiderers in mind. : )

  41. Lovely article, thanks for sharing these tips as many clients overlook the logo and brand based on their own beliefs. We always encourage our clients to keep things simple.

  42. Great article.- Couldn’t agree more regarding number 4, special effects. I think floor reflections deserve a special mention too. They are bad enough when none of the letters break through the baseline, but when lowercase letters have descenders …. words fail me.

  43. Thanks for sharing! This was very detailed and truly is necessary for us to know this. We are just designing a logo but we are not aware on what we need to avoid. This article opened my eyes to the other aspects I needed to see. Keep it up!

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