What Makes a Great Logo?

Three guiding principles to help you create a logo that really stands out

William Probus
Modus
Published in
5 min readDec 3, 2019

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Photo: NordWood Themes/Unsplash

“I’ll know it when I see it.”

Yuck.

To a designer, this non-specific direction can be frustrating to receive — but there is a glimmer of value hiding in those shadows. Most people can identify an objectively great logo when they see one, even if they can’t tell you exactly why it’s great.

That’s the thing about logos. The quality of a logomark is mostly subjective. Mostly. But great brand identity is designed to stand out. It sets itself apart, both from the drafts left on the cutting room floor and from competitor brands.

Brand identity designers are challenged with catching lightning in a bottle. They must create a symbol that is at once simple, unique, relevant, meaningful, memorable, adaptable, and brand-appropriate. (Whew.)

Distilling that many qualifiers into one purified, vectorized mark can seem like a tall task — but it isn’t an impossible one.

I thought I’d share the rubric I use to evaluate my identity work before a client ever sees it. Bear in mind, this is neither an exhaustive way to gauge the quality of a logo, nor is it a quantitative measure. Logo design is admittedly a squishy science.

My ultimate goal is a happy client running a successful business, and that success must begin with a solid brand identity. As I work through a client’s design brief, here are three qualifiers that keep us headed in the right direction.

Can the logo be effectively recreated by hand from memory?

This is the single most effective test I’ve found to determine if a logo hits the mark. If a logo can be replicated from memory by the average person with a Sharpie and a little imagination, it is both simple enough to stand for a complex idea (like a company) and remarkable enough to plant its flag in the wrinkles of the human brain.

Need an example? Let’s think for a moment about the Nike logo. Unless you were raised by wild hogs away from Wi-Fi and sneakers, you’re almost certainly able to recall the shape of the Nike logomark. If challenged, you could probably hand-draw a fairly…

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William Probus
Modus
Writer for

Writer, Creative Director, & Brand Identity Specialist. Currently: Senior Designer at Augusta National Golf Club | WilliamProbus.com