“Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” Steve Jobs
A good logo can be used in any setting. Whether it be a 16x16 pixel favicon, a website header, a business card, a black and white newspaper ad or a building sign. But to arrive there, the following must be taken in consideration.
Black and White
A logo should work in black and white. A logo that depends on gradients, tones and colors to create distinction is a failed design. It is a logo that fails to function properly when used for foiling, embossing, engraving, embroidery or icons. A good logo should be equally distinctive in any of these applications.
Here are a few companies that have fallen into the trap of “modernizing” their logo by getting rid of what made it distinctive. Look at these “before” logos in color and in black and white. All of these logos work and are distinctive in black and white, even though their color counterparts are obviously superior. In the case of PayPal, you could take the double P and turn it into an icon, and people would know it’s PayPal. Moreover, you could isolate the Microsoft waving window, and even without color, people would know it’s Microsoft Windows. Even the notch in the “o” of Microsoft is color independent.
Now take a look at the “modernized” versions of these logos and their black and white counterparts. The PayPal double P becomes a blob. eBay no longer looks like a logo, just poorly spaced letters. And the Microsoft Windows is not recognizable as a logo without color. Even the Microsoft name lost any distinction and simply became a name typed out in a font that looks a lot like the prosaic typeface Frutiger.
As a general rule of thumb, a logo should first be designed in black on a white background. Once a design works well in that setting, its color treatment can be explored.
A logo should be designed to allow for scalability, so it can be used equally well on a billboard or as a smartphone icon. For that reason, logos should be designed in a vector-based program such as Adobe Illustrator or CorelDraw. Vector graphics are resolution independent, meaning the logo can be scaled to any size without a loss of clarity and crispness.
One might assume that a “perfect” logo would be designed as a square or circle, allowing it to be used horizontally and vertically equally well. But in many scenarios, designing a square logo isn’t feasible or practical. Moreover, sometimes a horizontal logo is needed for one usage while a vertical logo is needed for another.
The following factors should be considered when designing a logo. How will it work in a horizontal format? How will it work when placed vertically? If the logo won’t shrink down to the size of a small icon, is there a visually distinctive element that will be usable as an icon (the “f” for Facebook, the “Q” for Quora or the bottle outline for Coke). For this reason, different configurations of a logo should be considered to address different applications.
I took this into account when designing the Trinity Coding & Billing logo. The primary logo was designed in a horizontal format. Because there would be instances where a less wide version was needed, the logo was also reconfigured in a stacked version, and finally as just an icon. And all three versions are still distinctive in black and white.
Still considered by many to be the worst rebranding in history, Gap’s 2010 rebrand lasted six days and triggered “Gapgate.”