Understanding Why Your Logo Doesn’t Work

Logos are an integral part of any brand, and as you sit in your office looking at yours, you realize that it’s terrible. You aren’t quite sure why, but it is. The more you look at it, the more confused you get. It has all the best elements to it: a fun cartoon animal, a bright colored fun font with plenty of “pop,” the college student who put it together for you was very positive about it, and your wife said it looked good. So why is it bothering you? It doesn’t look like everyone else’s logo, but that isn’t a bad thing right? Pappy always said to “be your own man, make your own path, and pee on dry trees.” The logo stares up at you with those cartoon puppy eyes, and you know something has to change. So now you’re here, and I’m going to help you through this with a crash course in logos that don’t suck starting with one more quick glance at your shame.

 Basement Cleaning logo

“What do you mean watermark?” -You

Now for Some Perfect Logos

Socrates postulated an impossible world of perfect objects called “Forms” that were ideal in every way. Everything we have in this world is a lesser derivative of these perfect forms, however, the closer what we have gets to the “ideal form” the better that thing is. I’m not going to pretend I have any idea what any of that means, but let’s think about it as though there are logos that are close to ideal and logos like your anime poochy that have strayed too far from the ideal, and this is why they are objectively bad in a field that seems at first to be subjective.

An ideal logo has to represent your brand and it needs to be distinctly your own. It is a common misconception that a logo must say exactly what it is that you do or spell out to people what your product is. Looking at some of the most successful brands in the world you’ll see few are very descriptive, and you may notice that their logo doesn’t change, ever. This is because they are representing a brand not a product or service and are timeless rather than trendy, not having to update to remain relevant. They are perfectly recognizable, do not face the need to be changed in the future, and have minimal ambiguity as to what brand they represent.

Perfect Logos

Some logos that are perfect. From left to right: an art dealer, a bull breeder, and a Japanese knife maker

Logos like these are often seen in international brands, but what about logos that are national, regional, or local? Can logos remain essentially unchanged for over a hundred years like Coca-Cola has when they cater to a local market? Is your mom’s casserole the envy of the church potluck? Yes, of course, let’s not be ridiculous. It’s simply harder to find a strong design team internally at smaller companies, and even harder to find great ones. Because of this, logos tend to follow trends that are born, live, and die in about 10 year cycles. Rebranding every 10 years is pretty common for this reason, but it is better if you don’t have to change your logo that frequently. Like underwear, it’s best to wear them as long as possible*.

Regional and Local Logos, Now with 100% More Character

One of the best parts about a local business, is that you can really be personable with your clients. Regional businesses also can play to this approach, depending on their size. What this means is that a local business doesn’t have to be serious in the same way a national or international brand must be. The logo can have more character, more local influence, and more personable design because, most often these are more personable companies. Having the freedom to play around with something much more unique and playful is a great way to stand out from the crowd, but for national and larger businesses, that can be much more difficult.

 Local and Regional Logos

I made these. Left to right: local, local expanding to regional, and national

Logos Aren’t Brands Aren’t Logos

Brands are interesting things, they take time to grow and cultivate, and even the best, most-established ones cannot be neglected or they can crumble overnight. A brand is more than a logo, it is the company’s presentation of itself to its customers and clients, and it is the public perception of that same company. The logo is the signature of the brand, though. It is usually the first thing that is seen by a potential customer, and it is most often what their first impression will be based upon. For this reason, a solid logo is critical but difficult to fully realize. Making effective logos takes time and experience, and you have your hands full “cleaning basements.” So what can you do?

You are Doomed

With your current logo you are doomed. Even with your world-class basement cleaning services, business won’t pick up because people have already judged you. Half of your logo is stolen from Shutterstock and the rest is a randomly selected typeface with a drop shadow. The dog doesn’t make sense, and your readability, colors, and aesthetic are all a mess. Your logo doesn’t reflect any quality that your business may have, and it certainly doesn’t instill confidence. It’s time to throw it all out and start over again.

You’ll start with an idea, perhaps just a feeling. Something you want your clients and customers to feel when they see your logo and do business with you. Next, you’ll want to start picking the elements you want to convey this feeling. What colors, what typeface, what visual elements, and what aesthetic style should be used to present the brand? There aren’t right and wrong answers for these questions, but there are good and bad answers. What happens, though, when your designer doesn’t know what they are doing, and you don’t know enough to see it clearly? Your last designer is what got you into this mess in the first place after all! You don’t need to know how to design well to pick a good designer, but you should be able to identify one by asking the right questions.

What’s Your Favorite Color?

When you interview a designer, ask questions to gauge their thought process in a visual way. In other words, try to get a feel for how they are going to approach your project in a way that you know they are already designing. I’ve never come across a good designer that wasn’t always turning over fonts and negative space in his head. Talking to a good designer, these things should come out with a little prodding. If you don’t ask, many designers know not to start going on about how a sans serif would really work better with your “clean” image, that the perfect blue is going to feel clean and fresh, and that quotation marks don’t belong in a logo. Most people seeking a new logo don’t care about that sort of thing, but not caring is how you got the last logo. So keep asking questions like, “how do you think we can have a logo that will work well online and on the side of my truck?” “Will this look good on different colored backgrounds?” “Are there places this logo won’t work as well?” “Do you think we should go with color or black and white?” “Is it true you get visibly angry at the font ‘Bleeding Cowboys’?” You’ll know the right answers when you hear them. Bad designers will try to dismiss these questions, because they won’t know the answers either. Also, good designers have killer websites and awesome blogs (just saying). Stick with this advice and you’ll be back on track with a quality logo to represent your brand. Just, maybe don’t call a cleaning service “Finders Keepers,” ya know?

*The author strongly recommends that you change your underwear everyday. This isn’t summer camp.

Join me next week for: Meet the Newly Discovered Color that Will Make Your Brain Explode

 Trivia: receive 15% off a logo design, color pallet, and headshot “mini branding package” or get 10% off your family portrait photography when you email me the correct answer to the following question with the subject “My Logo Sucks Trivia” (offer valid through August 29, 2015 and may not be combined with any other offer.)

In 2010, what company rebranded itself with a new logo that was so bad it was reverted back to the original in just one week?

Highlight for answer: The clothing retailer Gap introduced a new logo and was promptly shut down by thousands of upset Twitter users. To their credit, the logo redesign was objectively terrible, and nothing of value was lost.


Leave a Comment