(Last Updated On: May 11, 2022)

For a creative entrepreneur launching a new project – whether it be polishing up a personal brand or building a completely new creative business – one of the most exciting steps during the conception of brand identity is determining what your creative logo will look like. Your logo, after all, acts as both the first impression for potential clients and a trigger that reminds consumers of their experiences with your business. But creative brands are as complicated and nuanced as the people behind them, and designing an impactful logo that is both aesthetically intriguing and representative of the creative business itself is an arduous process that goes far beyond a pretty logo.

Designer Tatiana Mac is an art director at Portland-based marketing and advertising agency eROI. Her experience extends from small local brands all the way to corporations like Taco Bell and Nike. Patrick Sanders, another Portland-based designer and creative director, is similarly well-versed in building strong brand identities from conception to execution. Artrepeneur chatted with Mac and Sanders on understanding the role of the logo within a creative business, along with tips on how to design a creative logo that leaves a lasting impact.

The Logo Isn’t Everything

The way that your creative business interacts with clients doesn’t start and end with a logo. A creative logo is not your brand and it isn’t wholly representative of a brand’s identity. While the logo is often the first impression of your creative business, it is only a single element of a fully realized brand. What does your brand present to the world? What is the story you want to resonate with clients? How do people feel when they interact with your creative business? Logo designs can’t answer all of these questions. Understanding where a logo fits into an overall creative business strategy is the first step.

“It’s important to educate first because there is this misconception that the logo is everything and that good branding is simply putting the logo onto every bit of marketing. The logo is just the first thing the client is likely to see, but there is an entire brand behind it that is more important than the design of a logo,” explains Mac. “An important first step is doing the homework and really thinking about your creative business’s brand. Not just the service or product that you offer, but the story, and how you want people to feel when they think about your brand. What is the narrative? If you can’t answer those questions you won’t be able to build a successful creative logo because a successful logo acts as a symbol for the entire narrative.”

If the logo isn’t everything, then we must consider all of the other ways that clients will interact with your creative business. Mac suggests imagining your brand like a character in a story and considering the way that character will be presented to the world. Ask yourself a few of the following questions: What platforms will you use to market your creative business? What kind of language will you use in social media posts? What is the tone that other marketing materials will put out, and how do you want that tone to be interpreted by consumers? Who is your marketing strategy meant to attract?

Sanders advocates the same holistic approach of treating a creative business brand as the sum of its parts. “It’s important to do a lot of boots-on-the-ground work first and really understand the brand and the people behind the brand from a 360-degree perspective. How does the business actually function and what are the emotional components of a brand? Take that step back and don’t think of the logo as a single deliverable but rather, consider how a logo can be a symbol of all those others processes.”

Do The Research

It is easy for visual-minded creatives to get wrapped up in the aesthetics but it is important to separate yourself from your business. What resonates with you may not resonate with your customer. For creative businesses, Mac notes that it is important to step out of the equation and research your end-consumer and use demographic trends as cues. “Something we hear a lot as designers is ‘I don’t like it,’ and that’s a really bad way to approach a logo design. Unless you are the end consumer, it doesn’t matter if you like it or not.” Useful data can be acquired from simple Google searches or by using recognized research experts like McKinsey to analyze your industry and tell you “everything down to what color resonates best with your customer demographic,” Mac says.

Sanders stresses researching the logos of other creative businesses in order to look for opportunities for distinction, especially when designing for yourself. “Treat yourself like a client and don’t cut corners when it comes to a personal brand just because you know how to design,” Sanders says. “It’s not going to help you get to that end goal any faster. Think of your current position and places you can differentiate yourself. Look at the people who are already doing what you are doing. Look for the similarities. What is everyone doing? What is no one doing? If a logo is the first impression, figure out how to distinguish yourself from the rest, step away from what everyone else is doing and create something that differentiates yourself.”

Stay Away From Clichés

Many of the best logos are the ones that slowly divulge information rather than throwing it all at you at once. Think of large global brands like FedEx, Nike, Penguin or IBM. It isn’t immediately clear what these companies do from just looking at their logo. Rather, they function as symbols that are able to stand alone. For a creative business, it’s especially important to think outside the box and demonstrate to potential consumers your talent for creative design.

“I get a lot of clients that take the logo very literally like, ‘if the logo doesn’t have children’s handwriting how will people know it’s a preschool, or if it doesn’t have a pizza cutter how will people know it’s a pizza shop.’ And the problem is that is the way a lot of creative logos are. So although it is helpful to identify what you or your business is, when you create a logo like that you are just a blade of grass in a landscape of identical logos. Whereas, a really successful logo doesn’t immediately tell you what it is. It’s the logos that work with the figurative or with metaphors that end up resonating more. It’s the logos that, once you see it you can’t unsee it.”

Consider All The Options for Your Creative Business

Just as you should be considering your overall creative business brand from every angle, you should consider every potential version of the logo. Mac prefers exploring a concept through repetition. While in the beginning stages of actual design, she sketches out as many ideas on paper as possible and takes the time to step back and let the concept marinate before putting anything on the computer. Likewise, the focus is on form, opting for only using black and negative space until she has arrived to the right design.

“Focusing on the form will ultimately allow you to come to a stronger creative logo. You should always sketch out as many ideas as possible and then start mixing and cutting, just focusing on the form itself. All of the little details – color, spacing, font – those are all things that come afterward on a more intuitive level. Having a clear concept first is much more important,” explains Mac.

The next step is figuring out if the logo is actually functional. A complicated logo may look pretty on paper but may not translate to every medium. As Sanders points out, “You have to think about all of the places that logo will live.” A logo can be placed on many more mediums than your business card and website; in fact, it can be translated to any number of physical and digital spaces.

“A big mistake is not considering all the mediums that a logo can live on. It can be etched, embroidered, put on a patch, hand painted, put on a t-shirt, the possibilities are endless,” adds Mac. “A complicated logo isn’t going to look good everywhere. You should always shrink it down as small as it goes and imagine it blown up on a 100-foot banner. If it still looks good, that is a successful logo.”

Kevin Vaughn
Kevin Vaughn

Kevin Vaughn is a writer and photographer focused on food and culture in Buenos Aires, Argentina. His work has appeared Munchies, New Worlder, Remezcla and Savoteur.

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