21 Characteristics of Legendary Logos

Logo design has gone out of control. There. I said it. But it’s true!

And there’s a reason for it.  Logo design has been made to look “easy” by all the no-special-equipment-needed-no-coding-required-just-drag-and-drop software available today. Don’t get me wrong. I love graphics software and these innovative apps and programs provide great facility, especially when there are tight budget constraints to be considered.

But those same application programs can create a false sense of security. They can give the impression that training, background research, and innate talent for design are unnecessary. And that impression seems to have caught on.

In recent years, I have sLogo Design Magic - Simplicityeen some crazy, over-the-top, overly-complicated and frustratingly unbalanced logos and I wonder how in the world they can be used effectively in cross-media brand management strategies.

If you’re a business owner, especially a start-up owner, you may not realize that designing your own logo or getting a logo designed for five dollars is not necessarily a time saver nor a budget bargain. And you may not realize that an amateur-looking logo can do incredible damage to the credibility of your business.

Too Many Options

The real problem with a DIY – or fast-and-cheap – logo is … you have to know enough about design to know what an amateur-looking logo looks like.

Sometimes you can go fast and cheap and get lucky. You may just end up with an awesome logo that you bought for a song. But low-cost DIY software has made it possible for anyone with a mouse and a few minutes to mess around to create logos – with no training and no insight on what makes a logo effective. An untrained eye can certainly create a business mark that has wow factor … but perhaps in all the wrong ways to wow.

Graphics software allows creators to incorporate intriguing shadows, layers, gradients, blurring, patterns, even motion – an endless plethora of special effects. Fun and interesting design options to use with unlimited preference – but that doesn’t mean you should be using them. Yes, you can create some really cool effects that grab attention and make a bold statement, but also understand that it will likely only be a bold statement for a little while. In a very short time, it will become dated. Or worse yet, cliché.
So how do you develop a legendary logo? One that will stand the test of time?


Symbol – Not Illustration

First, remember that a logo is a symbol. Not an illustration. Not a picture. Not a complex combination of all your best and most creative ideas.

Note the essential difference in scope between a symbol and an illustration. An illustration can carry nearly unlimited detail in the form of graphic imagery, colors, textures, even text labels, and usually serves a more instructional or explanatory purpose. Examples of an illustration might be a cross-section of a body organ used for a lesson in anatomy or a scene from a storybook for children or an infographic.

A symbol is usually one iconic image with minimal detail, meant to convey a single message with instantaneous recognition, for example, an arrow. When you see an arrow beneath the sign that says Restrooms, you understand that it’s pointing you in a specific direction. When you arrive, a symbol awaits you that tells whether the bathroom is for men or women. A symbol’s meaning is clear and evident in one glance.

If you’re going to design your own logo, you need to understand this critical variance in perspective. And understanding this concept will prevent you from including too much detail in the design of your logo.

Your greatest challenge in creating a legendary logo design will be to convey its message with simplicity.

In my opinion, the most effective and recognizable logos are the least complex. Logo design magic is manifested in simplicity. Many of the best may even use only one color. Minimalist as they are in design, as soon as you see them, you recognize what companies they represent. Here are some examples:

  • Target Logo Design
  • Twitter Logo Design
  • Facebook Logo Design
  • McDonalds Logo Design
  • Nike Logo Design
  • AT&T Logo Design
  • Chanel Logo Design
  • Apple Logo Design
  • Adobe Logo Design


Study these logos and determine the reasons why they work – or not, if you think they don’t work. What would you do differently and why? How would the concepts behind them be reengineered or reinterpreted for your business? Research the development of well-known logos and discover what they mean. You can learn important lessons about design and brand marketing in the process of researching what has worked for other companies – plus it’s just so interesting to learn their stories!

Here are a few logo development articles to get your research started:

15 Famous Logos And Their Hidden Meanings 

Books that Unravel the Story Behind Famous Logos 

Interesting Ideas & Stories Behind Logos of Famous Brands | Inspiration For Logo Designers  


Enjoy – but learn from your research!


The Logo Design Process

So now that you’ve put in some background time to study well-known logo design, you can approach your chosen concept from a fresh perspective.

Brainstorm different ways to represent your concept using mind-mapping to capture your ideas. What keywords come to mind that are relevant to your business? Think of as many creative ways to represent those keywords as you can and include them all in your mindmap. Then review your results and see which options offer the most potential and appeal.

Select your top three and begin with your most viable concept or idea. Again, work on building out one idea at a time.

Any graphic and logo design work I do always begins with pencil sketches. Sounds old school, but the kinetic feel of the pencil in your hand and contact with paper interconnects with the intuitive process of design. It’s a pure, organic connection. Liberating. And you won’t find yourself hindered or distracted by the bells and whistles of your software too early in the design process.

Once you have a working sketch, you can move to the computer and work first in black and white, using a professional vector graphics program like Adobe Illustrator. It’s important that you not add too many creative variables – such as color and texture – into the mix while you’re in the early development stage. Once you have some workable black and white prototypes, you can begin experimenting with other variables.

Follow the creative paths where they take you but try to keep your process under control by tracking and saving your revisions so that you can go back to previous states … when you find you’ve gone too far down the rabbit hole!

Your completed logo design, as you’ve learned in your research, should embody some powerful characteristics to achieve success as the representative symbol of your brand.


21 Characteristics of Legendary Logos

Following are my 21 characteristics of a legendary logo. Your logo should be:

1. Symbolic. Not a detailed illustration. That means no unnecessary, unexplained or confusing inclusions or special effects. That’s what I meant at the top of this article when I said logo design is out of control. People tend to go a little nuts with special effects that are cool but really have no meaningful correlation to the business they’re being used to represent.

2. Singular. Your logo should convey one key message. Two concepts at most. But no multiple disparate parts marching to the beats of their own drums. That’s what happens when you try to cram too many ideas into one logo.

3. Succinct. Your logo should be as effective in black and white as it is in color. It should not depend on color or special effects for clarity and should make balanced use of negative/white space.

4. Scalable. Your logo should be designed in a vector program such as Adobe Illustrator so that it can be resized for any application or medium without pixelating – losing resolution or clarity, most notably along edges. The best logos can be scaled down to 32×32 pixels, the size of a favicon, and still be recognizable on your browser tab.

5. Salient. Your logo should be relevant to the type of business it represents. It should make sense.

6. Sage. Your logo design should be intelligent and evergreen – able to stand the test of time. Like sage advice, your logo design should remain true and valid, no matter how much time goes by.

7. Subtle. As I kid, I loved Highlights Magazine’s hidden picture puzzles in every issue. A legendary logo can convey a message in the same way – subtly hidden in plain sight, like the arrow in the FedEx logo. Not everyone sees the hidden message at first, but discovering it becomes an enlightening experience that reveals something important or special about the brand, creates a shared understanding, and thus invites the customer or prospect who “gets it” into a deeper relationship.

8. Saturated. Your logo should have strong color that will show up with a presence against various backgrounds. Pastel logos should contain at least one darker or saturated grounding color to prevent looking nondescript against various media backdrops.

9. Solid. Your logo should be a confident design that steadfastly holds its ground. It shouldn’t look tentative and shouldn’t keep shifting or changing. A logo that is often being redesigned indicates a brand that is unstable or struggling for identity.

10. Sterling. Your logo should convey value, quality and integrity, and not infringe on competitors’ designs.

11. Safeguarded. Your logo should be respected – never stretched out of proportion, discolored, or used inappropriately in applications. It should be a staple and lead player item in your company style guide. Depending on the level of your business, you may opt to safeguard your logo by copyright or trademark.

12. Shapely. Your logo should be well-proportioned and balanced, even if its shape is asymmetrical. It should sit comfortably adjacent to any accompanying type. If the logo is a logotype, completely made up of words or letters, their spacing (leading and kerning) should make balanced and attractive use of positive and negative space.

13. Supple. Your logo should be flexible in its usage and versatile enough to be clearly visible in all forms of media – print, dimensional, and digital.

14. Sharp. Your logo should be crisp, not look blurred or like a smudge.

15. Stunning. Your logo should be memorable and eye-catching.

16. Sleek. Your logo should be smooth and unencumbered.

17. Sincere. Your logo should convey or represent honesty and trust in your business brand.

18. Salable. Your logo should have drawing power for prospective buyers, attracting attention in a positive way that helps lead to conversion.

19. Seismic. Your logo should represent the capacity of your business to shake things up in the marketplace.

20. Signature. Your logo should convey your business’s unique style.

21. Simple. Your logo should do all of the above in the simplest, most minimal way possible.

And finally, here’s a bonus characteristic – your logo has to be supported by its stakeholders. You must have buy-in to the logo concept – from your business partners, employees, customers, prospects, even the general public. If no one is feeling the love for your logo, your brand may suffer as a result.

Tall order, huh? Well, there probably aren’t any logos that convey all 21 of these characteristics but there are many that come close and this list provides the legendary logo design perfection we should all be striving to achieve. Share in the comments below the logo you think is most legendary and why. Doesn’t have to be an already “famous” one. Show us an unsung hero of a logo that needs some love!

Too tall an order to DIY? Consider working with a designer!


How to Work with a Logo Designer

The best solution for creating a legendary logo is to hire a professional. who can use graphics software more efficiently and conceptualize your vision more creatively than you can.
Here are a few suggestions for helping you work with a designer to develop your logo design.
1. Save time and money. Hiring a designer is the best, most cost effective approach to developing your logo. A designer can efficiently help you flesh out your concept and present viable options to convey it. It may cost you several hundred dollars for an excellent logo, but look at it this way: It’s an investment. What is your business worth? How valuable is your time? When your business takes off and everybody knows you, you don’t want to be sporting a logo that’s subject to ridicule.

You may spend hours on trial and error trying to design the logo yourself or trying to make the software do what you want it to do when you could be doing something more productive or more profitable. Like marketing your business to bring in revenue or following up with a prospective client or keeping your blog posting up to date. It’s a misconception that you will save time and money by designing your own marketing collateral.

And by the way, if you’re paying a low rate for a logo, and by low rate, I mean under $250, you’re most likely getting a template design – a variation on a layout that has already been reiterated several times for other customers. Your logo should require some careful thought and development time. You should not be making an arbitrary selection from a collection of random designs. Your logo should be a conceptual symbol designed specifically for your individual business. That’s what a talented designer can provide for you. Choose one carefully.

2. Provide some insights. Do you already have an idea in mind for your logo? Sometimes you may have a great concept for your logo but if you don’t share that with your designer, you may be disappointed with everything produced because it won’t fit your vision. The probability that your designer will come up with the very idea you already have in your head is not impossible, but pretty slim. Sketch out your idea, no matter how rudimentary your sketch, and give it to your designer as a starting point. Discuss the pros and cons of your idea. Be open to the designer’s opinions and open your mind to new possibilities.

3. Discuss your branding and identity. What is your business in business to do? What are its values and what does it stand for? Do you already have an established color scheme? Provide a stream-of-consciousness narrative that, verbally or in writing, tells of all your hopes and dreams for your business. How do you want people to feel when they encounter your business? How do you want your staff to interact with your customers? What kind of personality do you want your business to convey? Is there a troubling difference between the persona that is and what you want it to be? This will help your designer get a feel for your company and create a symbol that captures your vision.

4. Provide some working space. This means don’t hover. Give your designer time and room to play with concepts and ideas without you standing over her shoulder and condemning every iteration. It’s a process that takes some study and exploration to arrive at the magic place – that is, if you want a singular, legendary logo designed just for you.

This is why I prefer project rates to hourly rates – because as a consumer you should be paying for the value a professional designer with years of training and experience provides and the future value that logo will contribute to your business – not just the number of hours it takes to create it. A logo plays a pivotal role in the presentation of your brand – it symbolizes the persona of your business. Not the time to go fast and cheap on development. Give your designer some room to stretch and experiment so that the finished logo will be well thought-out and successful.

5. Accept your designer’s expertise. That’s why you hired her. Don’t be so married to your own idea or concept that you fail to recognize when it doesn’t work. You may be one who has an intuitively good eye for design, but if you’ve carefully selected a designer to work with, then trust her talent and training. She will have the technical skills necessary to present you with a logo that not only represents your brand, but meets the current technical and commercial requirements for print and online media.

Designing your own logo can be a successful, creative adventure or a disappointing waste of your time. If you’re not a designer, but have a good eye and do diligent research, you’ll have more success in creating your own brand mark. If not … just make a sound investment in the development of your brand – hire a professional designer to create your legendary logo!

Here’s some more background research on logos – enjoy this short video!

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