There is no quick way to go about designing a logo. If you find yourself in a situation where you feel pressured to produce a finished logo design in an hour, or a day – it will probably fail to truly communicate. This is because logo design is a multi-stage process, and skipping stages doesn't usually result in a positive outcome. But, because it’s a process, you can do a great job of designing a logo without having to be struck by a thunderbolt of inspiration. I think of it as 90% methodically working through the process and 10% inspiration. My shortest number of logo design steps looks like this:
This is where you learn as much as you can about your client's business or product, learn as much as you can about your clients tastes and preferences and what they might feel they want from you. Familiarise yourself with any existing designs, brand standards documentation or other brands in the same family. Anything that is currently swirling around on the many platforms and media that make up an existing brand. It is critically important to listen carefully to everything your client has to say, but it’s just important not to do everything your client says they want you to do. It’s your job to parse what they're saying into something useful to you, and to the process.
Crucially important and not to be skimmed, competitor and industry research. It’s your job to immerse yourself in the design language of your client's world, rival brands, brands that aren’t rivals but have a similar audience, the many trends and touchstones that are available to you. The more you know about what’s out there, the better off you’ll be. Even if you end up creating something that is wildly different – you can’t succeed in being different if you don’t know what the baseline is. Another way to think about this is in terms of art, or music. Abstract and conceptual artists are almost always accomplished in traditional techniques, musicians pushing the boundaries of a musical form must first know their scales. So do the groundwork, be thorough.
This is what most designers see as the fun part. Making mood boards for inspiration, hand sketching ideas, and going as far as mocking up a few vector illustrations. The temptation is to charge ahead to this point without adequately addressing the previous two steps. But this stage will only go well if it’s done within the strict limitations you will have discovered in the previous two stages. Lao Tzu described a pot as having value because of the empty space inside it, so it is sometimes the things that constrain you that allow your work to have value. If you have skimped on the previous steps you’ll find your boundaries are ill-defined when you reach this stage. There will be way too many variables to consider and it will impossible to chart a course through limitless variation. You’ll be lost in an endless realm of possibilities. Get your direction by doing your preparation thoroughly.
I liken this stage to the ‘test and iterate’ mantra of the web designer. Just as websites only work well when they are subjected to real-world tests and then subjected to minor tweaks, logo designs need to be seen and reacted to before they can fulfil their true potential. Once again, it’s important to listen but not to follow what your work peers or client might say at this stage, but to parse their feedback using your skill and intuition as a designer. Don’t get hung up on negative feedback or try to make excuses, “it’s not the final version…” it’s your job to collect the feedback, but how you act on it in material terms that affect the design is up to you. You might even decide that none of the feedback was of any value, and this may be the case. But the point isn’t necessarily the feedback itself, it's the experience of lifting your head from the drawing board and stress-testing your ideas in the world outside for a short time. You’ll find the experience instructive even if you’re your own harshest critic. At this point you might want to loop back to any of the previous steps to get your bearings. The more solid the work you've done on the previous stages, the more useful this will be.
It is crucial to present a logo design properly for two reasons. Firstly, you need to bring your client with you so that when you arrive together on a version of a design that could become the final logo, they are properly on-side and thoroughly understand the reasoning that brought you to that design. Don’t underestimate your debonair charm, wit and savoir faire in outlining your thinking. At this point you’re selling a real product and you need your client to leave the meeting feeling delighted that they have invested in something truly worth the money. So don’t skimp on this stage, treat presenting your ideas as a crucial part of the process and prepare a presentation for each visual you’re presenting. Never email your designs off blind, if they are viewed in a vacuum two things will happen, your client will pick one at random, likely not the one you view as best and you'll have to go with it knowing that you could have influenced a better choice. Or, your client won't pick any, putting right back at the start. And the third and familiar unhappy outcome is that they will ask you to hybridise features of one or more version into a frankenlogo that has been stripped of the logic and clarity you have worked hard to produce. So always present in person if possible or at least on Skype or other remote viewing technology where you can speak and sell.
Some factors that can disrupt this flow can be in the form of a client who doesn't respect the process or is pushing for much less time to get to the final result. With the former, it's important to get approval for the process up front.If you're clear on the process you follow you'll find that most clients are on-board because they can see the logic to it. If they don't think one or more of these stages is necessary, then it's best not to begin. As for the latter, agreeing to a unrealistic timeline will make both you and your client miserable in the long run. It is far better to politely decline than to take on a logo design without the time to go through the steps properly. I hope this helps you be clear and forthright about this process, and it speeds you along the way to delivering something that really works.