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Logo 101: Research Is Your Superpower

Logo 101: Research Is Your 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:

Love thy neighbor

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.

Blips and Blops

👀 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?

Featured Image for What Goes Into Creating A Logo
A bird logo, okay?

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.

🙅🏽 What is the relationship between a logo and a brand?

A logo is not a brand. Let's get that out of the way right off the bat. It surely is an integral part of your brand. We must start with this distinction. A lot of business owners will think:

All I need is a logo, and we are good!


What is the relationship?

Sure, a logo is the first impression someone will see of your business, but your brand is the overall soul and interaction of your business. The logo will get folks to the door, but your brand will nurture them when they walk into your world. You need your brand fully developed for your logo to sing like a canary in the summer and become an agent of change!

Think of your brand in two sections:

The surface and the sub-surface. The visual. The magic behind the scenes.

The surface will contain your logo, but it is DRIVEN and DEVELOPED based on your sub-surface brand development. This is super important to understand. The sub-surface will include vision, mission, market research, competition research, and, most importantly, positioning & differentiation. There is more work in the subsurface. The subsurface will provide clarity and direction that will fuel the development of your logo. It's easier to design in the fresh air than smog.

If you haven't done that sub-surface brand work - guaranteed your logo development will be less impacting than if you had done that work. An exceptional logo designer will be doing that work for you as well as developing the logo. Or, if you do have that work done, then your designer will LOVE you for having a clear toolbox for them to work with.

Ok, we have shown the connection of a logo to its brand. While this article is in a logo specific deep dive series - you HAVE to drill this into your head. The best logos will have a fair amount of brand development done beforehand. Period. A brand and logo will always be connected at the hip. Married. In relation to each other.

Now, these next sentences will be more impacting.

A logo is the visual representation of your business.
A logo is a vital part of your visual identity.
A logo is the Word made flesh of your business.
A logo is the distillation of your brand in graphic form.

No pressure.

Also, this dry definition if you like boring: 

Logo, noun: Also called logotype. A graphic representation or symbol of a company name, trademark, abbreviation, etc., often uniquely designed for ready recognition.

You see that last sentence? 'ready recognition.' That comes from clarity. Knowing what you want to be recognized FOR. That's part of a logos job.

🙏🏻 Ask Questions Before Logo Development

I remember a creative director telling me, "It's just a logo, no one cares as long as it is simple and says the company name clearly… don't spend too much time on it." - In theory, this is a thought that has some merit to it. But then that is also the words of someone who doesn't want to take their time and do something impressive. Not to say you can't make a logo that is super awesome super quick - just that it is rare, and your attitude towards the logo development process should be a little more - patient.

Whether this is your own brand/business or a client of yours - you need to be asking some tough questions - and answering them:

What am I doing to make the world better through my company?
Who are my competitors?
Why should someone pick my company over my competitors?
What are my values?
What is my mission?
What is my vision?
Where do I see my company in 5, 10, 20 years?

All the questions make up a universe

Catch my drift? These fundamental questions are more important than 'what color do I want to make the logo?'. 'what font do I want to use?' naptime. Think deeper. Uncover the story of your brand. You will have more to work with. Your logo will have legs to stand on.

🎨 An Example - Personal Brand Logo

My personal brand refresh I am working on for 2020. On the surface, it is for an artist in the mediums of photography, poems, and random design/art. It's easy to gravitate towards incorporating a photography element — a pencil, something simple and easy. But, what if you asked more questions? What if you started to develop your brand more to develop a richer connection that your public may have with you through a logo? That's the kicker. Connection. Nike, swoosh, sports, best, must-have. Mailchimp, monkey, cute, best email list management, love it!

Identity for Inalienable

By asking myself more questions, I concluded that I wanted to incorporate a personal story into my brand and logo. When I first developed the sub-surface, I kept coming back to a story I often run across. My last name is ALWAYS misspelled a certain way even after I speak back the spelling again. #eyeroll. That story always gave me a smile when I recalled it. Oh, wait, there is a brand moment. Pause. Capture. Sub-surface action happening now. Because I lassoed that smile moment of my life - I developed the pseudonym of fliptheu. The 'u' and 'e' are always transposed in my last name — time to make fun of it and create something fresh from it. Now I have a story that my logo can grasp onto. From that small amount of work, I developed a cool U mascot to be my logo. Something different, fresh, not like the rest. I stood out. Swoosh. For the brand refresh - I may stick with the U logo. But, since I have grown and matured, I am asking myself harder questions. How vulnerable do I want to be? Will my logo reflect that? What are my values now?

Ok, one last time.

A logo is the visual amalgamation of your brand — the visible billboard of your values. The graphic representation of your services. A golem molded from your mission. The mark that everyone will know you by.

It has to stick. It has to endure. It has to command recall. Memory. Recognizability.

The next article will talk about Market Research. What the heck that even means and how it is essential for logo development.

I hope this has helped you understand part of the logo process.
Peace Out!

🖥️ The Needs

Hope Academy is a school for kids with Dyslexia located in Concord, CA. They hired us to help communicate what they do to prospective parents through their website. We also did some basic brand strategy and positioning for them as well, as they felt a little lost on how to connect with their audience in a meaningful way. 

🙅🏽 The Challenges

There were a couple of challenges in this project. One was learning all there was about Dyslexia. We always try to learn as much as we can about the industry we are working in. Learning about Dyslexia provided challenges in trying to ingest factual and helpful information. We even contemplated using a ‘Dyslexic’ typeface until we realized, they are sort of useless and don’t have much data backing that they are effective. Another challenge was learning how to communicate and position Hope Academy’s goals and offerings.

🙏🏻 Our Approach + Solutions

We started the project off by doing a discovery session and learning about Hope Academy’s goals, offerings, and approach. This helped us make strategic branding decisions on how to position and visually communicate Hope Academy on their website. Part of our discovery sessions led to helping shorten their URL, develop a plan to offer a resource center to help educate parents, and general cleaning up of their content to make it more concise and impactful. Our design approach was to have a modern, gridded feel that would help create definable sections of information. We wanted to make sure to break up the content into blocks to help potential parents with Dyslexia not get overwhelmed while learning about Hope Academy. We also chose typefaces that were not too heavy on character and were incredibly legible. Another design decision we made was to go on the warmer end of the color palette along with utilizing textures to really connect on a human level with Hope Academy’s audience in a positive way. We utilized Invision to prototype a website design to make sure we were hitting the mark in real-world applications.

☕️ The Deliverables

We developed a fully responsive website design, improved color palette, and strategy to help Hope Academy be the best and most positive force online that it can possibly be. So far, they are at full enrollment through the next couple of years. That is neat! We used Elementor Pro to build the site along with Gibson typeface by Canada Type, and Covik Mono from Oh No Typeface. What a fun project.

Hope Academy Desktop Design Review
Hope Academy Mobile Design Review

🔥 The Needs

Dave at Transmit Studio needed a new brand identity as his was outdated and did not reflect his brand promise. He was also looking to pivot to just WordPress Development and needed an identity that would set him apart from his competitors and reflect his personality. 

🎒The Challenges

One of the challenges was that there was no brief. Literally Dave knew he needed a new look and strategy, but had no idea what he wanted. While a blank slate is a dream it can also be a huge challenge. The other challenge was that the industry Dave was in was very saturated, so his identity really had to stand out. 

✏️ Our Approach + Solutions

Our first step was to get to know Dave and the goals he wanted to accomplish with his brand. We asked him about his strengths and weaknesses. We asked him why he should be hired over his competition. With every question, we asked we realized that he had an amazing personality and that customer service was his superpower. Those were our anchor points of what we needed to communicate in his brand identity. We designed a Transmit Studio robot that was at your WordPress service, making his client’s life magical. We named him Ubie - short for Uber Awesome! It was a smash hit! The typeface used in the logo was a nod to coding, adding another fun layer to this identity.

💣️ The Deliverables

We developed a logo, logotype, logo variations for a wide range of logo use, color palette, typography use all packaged up into our custom Brand Style Guide. Dave won with this identity and he is set apart visually from his competition.

⭐️ The Needs

Jason and Kat hired us to create a custom wedding invitation design for their wedding. They wanted to tell a rich story of their life together and personalities with the design. 

👉️ The Challenges

The only huge challenge with this project was to find a high-quality letterpress that was affordable, and local. We have usually used Dependable Letterpress in San Francisco, but they were a little out of budget. After much research, we found a printer in Concord called Red Dog. They were super awesome and did an incredible job. 

💣️ Our Approach + Solutions

We really got to know Jason and Kat to learn about their lives together, We found out that they loved traveling have lived in some really amazing cities. We decided to tell that story with a custom illustrated invitation front. We illustrated the three major cities that Jason and Kat have lived together, marking rich adventures together. For the RSVP and main info card, we mimicked a muni ticket and expanded upon travel in S.F. as that was Jason and Kat’s Save The Date. A nice tie-in! We had the front of the Invitation letterpress and set upon a custom thick paper color to add an element of depth. Jason and Kat were beyond happy, and so were we.

🙏🏻 The Needs

Stuart from Digital Elite hired us to come up with a web design for Getronics. Getronics is a global company that specializes in technologies like AI, Smart Office, and other solutions to help people work better. The design needed to be tech-forward, communicate Getronic’s new brand and set them apart from the competition.

☕️ The Challenges

One of the main challenges was working with their team in the beginning. Their Brand Manager was incredibly difficult to work with (blog coming soon). The other huge challenge was the amount of content that Getronics had, and how to pair that down and communicate with laser focus. Another challenge was that no one from the Getronics team knew what they wanted other than “High-End Tech”, which is very subjective. But, challenges are what make you better if you can take them on positively.

😃 Our Approach + Solutions

The first step was to get buy-in from Getronics. The way we were brought into the project was a little tough, so we had an uphill battle. We started off by learning everything we could about Getronics, and then connect with the company that developed their new brand to understand Getronics core principles. We developed a few homepage designs that ranged from experimental to corporate(semi-boring). The homepage exercise was to get buy-in from the Getronics team. We nailed it. After finalizing an overall look and feel, we then created a ‘kitchen sink design system’ design to help modularize the website design. Meaning, we could have 40 or 50 sections to play with and pull into each design scenario. 

💣️ The Deliverables

We created a main web design base, a kitchen sink design system that was built with Elementor after it was designed. We also created a typography scale for desktop down to mobile.

🙏🏻 The Needs

Team Bubbly hired us to implement a design and to come up with animations to spice up the website. I put this in our portfolio as the site came out fantastic and the animations were super challenging and fun. We were also hired to be design consultants for aspects that were not covered in the original design.

🎒The Challenges

One of the major challenges was that Team Bubbly will have heavy assets to show in their portfolio. This greatly affects load time. We had to come up with a strategy to serve up heavy assets while having the website load in a reasonable timeline.

🎨 Our Approach + Solutions

We first came up with animations that might be very cool and got approval from Team Bubbly. The idea was to come up with areas on the site where a user would hover over an element and bubbles would animate from the hover. This would only apply to the desktop breakpoint but makes for a very unique experience. We broke the animations into chunks around the elements on the site to have them scale easily. We also came up with videos starting to play in the background on hover and not loading the asset until hover. Super fun!

💣️ The Deliverables

We used Elementor to build the site, and After Effects to develop the animations as Lottie Files.

Bubble Animations
Hover to video animations

👉️ The Needs

Tyler at Attribytes hired us to develop and evolve Attribytes’ brand. He was the brand manager at Attribytes and knew what he wanted to evolve his brand to. We were excited to be working with Tyler and Attribytes.

⚒️ The Challenges

One of the challenges is that Attribytes has so many products that were very technical in explanations. The challenge was how do you communicate better and look beautiful while you do that? Another challenge was to look contemporary but not trendy and have this new look not become a dead trend within a year or less.

✏️ Our Approach + Solutions

We worked closely with Tyler to understand Attribytes brand, its principles, and what its promise was. We even got a walkthrough on using the app that is their main product that houses all of their services. By learning all about the intricacies of what Attrbytes does and see what it’s customers use, helped inform our design decisions. We used a web design to develop a set of icons, textures, and expand the existing color palette. We also used a web design to help flesh out simpler language and consolidating content down to digestible chunks. We also worked on an intro sequence for their mobile app using their new design language and illustrations. We had a lot of fun!

💣️ The Deliverables

We custom-designed and built with Elementor a brand style guide in the Attribytes website to house the following assets: color palette, typography palette, textures, iconography, illustrations, and web designs.

🙏🏻 The Needs

Josh at Renew King hired us to take his brand to another level. He runs a service that helps insurance companies with retaining customer relationships and get Google Reviews along with other marketing tasks. His current website was not communicating clearly what they do along with looking outdated and mish-mashy.

👉️ The Challenges

One challenge was to understand fully what Renew King offered service-wise, and how to communicate that with design and illustration. Another challenge was that Josh needed to use a lot of the assets we developed for Canva and his marketing efforts. We needed to think about our designs being easily exportable and importable. 

✏️ Our Approach + Solutions

As we do with all of our projects, we got to know our client and their core principles. We really pushed ourselves to understand the product and tap into what its superpower was. We developed illustrations to quickly communicate the power of Renew King and all of the tasks it helps business with and Renew King’s positive impact on businesses. We then developed a contemporary web design that was unique to others in his industry. The web design focused on pockets of information making the user look at chunks of information and take it in easier. Finally, we re-worked Renew King’s logo to be a touch more modern, cleaned up, and ready to rock in this modern era. We choose a font from Future Fonts to be whimsical corporate in personality. 

💣️ The Deliverables

For all of the textures, icons, illustrations, and brand elements we made them easily importable to Canva. We modernized Renew Kings logo and developed a color palette. We wrapped all of these assets into our custom Brand Styleguide.

I had a FANTASTIC experience working with Tickyboom. From our first call to discuss my web design to the delivered product, I was impressed. They communicate well, have solid processes, and use software that makes it easy to track everything on the project. 

Aside from my experience working with them, they are also just really good at what they do. I can’t wait to do my next project with Tickyboom!

Josh, CEO @Renew King

👉️ The Needs

Chelsea, the owner of Pump Up The Jam hired us to develop a brand strategy along with a brand identity for a new business she was opening. Tasty ass jams. Pump Up The Jam was born. 

🧒🏻 The Challenges

One of the challenges was that this was the first business Chelsea was starting, and no idea what she wanted or what she should want. The other challenge was to figure out what type of packaging she could use and what legal obligations she had to adhere to for her label design. It was fun to learn about this industry and help her along the way with design and information that would be useful to her journey.

☕️ Our Approach + Solutions

We started with a very basic brand strategy in defining PUTJ’s audience, core values, and promise. Developing the promise was foundational: “To provide tasty ass jams”. This led the rest of the visual development. We tapped into 90’s hip-hop and party jams. We wanted to communicate liveliness and personality without being over the top cheesy. Simple is always best as you can do so much with simplicity in your brand rollout. A simple P with a crown set in pink. Pure perfection. We then took the identity work and developed a label system to start Chelsea off with her first few jam drops.

🔥The Deliverables

We developed a strategy, brand identity, and color palette wrapped up in our custom Brand Style Guide for Chelsea to access. We also designed a label system for Chelsea’s first few jam drops.

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