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Logo 101: Research Is Your Superpower

This article will go into the next phase of logo development: research and how you can use it as a superpower.

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Why is research necessary?

Along with your sub-surface brand development, research will be essential to creating that top-notch logo. Logo research is comprised of the following bits:

This one is better known as competition research. But, we don't like the word competition. It is divisive and not life-giving. The word neighbor humanizes those in your industry. It strips out ego. It makes you look at other companies with a better lens of collaboration and empowerment.

The questions you want to ask yourself are:

What is my industry?
Who is in my industry?
Who is crushing it? Why?
Who is not doing so well? Why?
Where do I see myself in my industry?
What kind of design patterns am I seeing?
Is their one neighbor you would like to emulate? Why?

You can ask more, go ahead and be spicy. This is an essential list of questions that will take you far.

After you ask yourself these questions, answer them. Spend time researching the big players, analyze how they use their logo, and execute their overall visual brand. Doing this research will be essential to help give your brain a creative, inspired framework to work with that will help spark ideas for logo development. It's all about giving your brain fodder to work with and fuel ideas.

Here are some answers I might give after I do my research:

What is my industry?

I am in the car seat industry for babies aged 0 - 12 months.

Who is in my industry?

This industry is flooded, but the big players are Graco, BabyCo, Seated, and Foobooboo. There are also a few smaller players that are middle of the road.

Who is crushing it? Why?

Graco is doing well. They have an established look and seem to be in all major department stores. I also gravitate towards their logo because it is bold and stands out with its character.

Who is not doing so well? Why?

BabyCo seems not to be doing so well compared to Graco. They look like they are trying to be a Graco knockoff, and their logo is bland, along with their overall brand.

Where do I see myself in my industry?

I see myself as easily having a comparable product to the top dogs. I think what will set me apart is my exceptional customer service and quick shipping.

What kind of design patterns am I seeing?

A lot of the neighbors I am seeing are using bold logos with hints of character in a wabi-sabi sort of way. That element seems to connect with the audience in communicating they are established, but not corporate. They are serious about safety but can have a little fun with their brand.

Is there one neighbor you would like to emulate? Why?

I would certainly like to be most like Graco if I had to choose. They seem to get the connection of what they offer and how it will benefit their audience. Their logo is impacting. After all, it is always a reminder of that connection because it stands out with its boldness and slight whimsy.

The idea of neighbor research is also to see how your logo can help you stand out. It is also helpful in sparking ideas and seeing how folks are crushing it.

By observing and analyzing the best your industry has to offer, you can begin to understand what you need to do to reach that level. That will also feed the creative beast of developing your logo.

Visual Research

This type of research is meant to help you get inspired and start to formulate design directions. If you are a designer, this will help your creative synapses fire away big time. Going on Dribbble, Pinterest, or doing a Google Search will be a great start. We will use Dropbox Paper to help create a grid or mood board of awesome logos that might be appropriate for the industry and brand we are working on. This exercise will also help us see if there is exciting new design techniques or trends we can leverage.*

* Be careful of jumping on a design trend. Use trends as an inspiration point. Trends come and go. You want your logo to last through trends and ultimately be timeless.

If you are a biz owner slash brand manager, doing this type of research will help you understand what is out there. It will also help you identify good logos from bad ones. Ingesting as much design as possible will help you make better decisions on what logo mark to move forward with. Once you have a healthy intake of design, you will be able to make better choices in marrying your sub-surface brand work with your new emerging visual identity.

Do this research in a broad spectrum. Don't worry about seeing logos you dig in your industry until after you collect and ingest a ton of non-industry specific logos. Once you feel satiated, then hop into your industry and do your visual research.

Ask yourself the following questions:

Who is rocking their visual identity?
Are these logos I am choosing timeless?
What makes a logo timeless for me?
Why exactly am I gravitating towards the logos I am choosing?
Where can I differentiate myself from my industry with my logo?
How can I make my logo transcend my industry?
What other questions could you ask?

Who is rocking their visual identity?

Man ACME widget Co is killing it. Their logo is simple and allows the business to play around it by using supporting brand visual tags. I also feel that their logo is super impacting, and I know right away who the company is.

Are these logos I am choosing timeless?*

I feel the logos I am choosing are not trendy and seem to communicate the businesses well. I can see these logos sticking around for a long time.

What makes a logo timeless for me?*

Cleanliness, impact, clarity in communicating the companies brand, memorability.

How can I make my logo transcend my industry?

I have noticed that most of the players in my industry are using bold lettering and muted color tones. I think by putting some saturation into the color along with choosing a custom typeface can set me apart, which also lines up with what I am trying to do with my brand. I also noticed no one has a logo icon for their brand. I know I want one to use everywhere as a tag to my brand, so this will rocket me ahead of others if I do it right.

*Timeless. The goal of creating something timeless is the equity timelessness builds, along with a bang for the buck. Timeless can never be truly timeless. I believe American Airlines had its logo that was crafted by Massimo Vignelli for 20+ years before they rolled out a new visual brand. To me, that is an example of timelessness in the world of logos. Let's not get the script twisted. In today's wacky brand world, logos get refreshed all the time. Is it impatience? Maybe. Is it the fact we can roll out brand visual identities easier in a lot of cases? Probably. Or it is the new way.

I still think aiming for a logo so good it will stick around for decades while doing its job with impact is a worthy goal to shoot for.

👋 What's next?

These questions will help you be better prepared once you get into the logo development stage. These questions help prime your brain and get you into the logo creation zone. That's a massive part of this exercise as well. Anyway you can maximize the creative woo in your process the better. The more informed you are, the better choices you will make and the better creative discernment you will have.

The key here is beside the visual synapse activation; you want to be walking the line of also making broader visual brand identity decisions and framing as well. The relationship to your brand core, brand visuals, and the logo are monumental. I called out the logo on purpose apart from 'brand visuals.' Brand visuals will be all the graphic elements you use to form your brand, and while the logo is part of that, it is a little more unique and will be applied the most.

I have found these questions to be helpful. But, think of this as a boilerplate to start with. Invent your own unique questions. You can't go wrong. Be creative with how you think and challenge yourself by exposing yourself to copious amounts of design. Ingest your neighbors and be honest with how you are positioned next to them. Create. Be you.

Next, we will dive into the actual making of a logo. Oh my! Until then, keep being awesome.

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