THE COMPREHENSIVE GUIDE TO USING SYMBOLS IN YOUR LOGOS

The history of logos
November 16, 2017

THE COMPREHENSIVE GUIDE TO USING SYMBOLS IN YOUR LOGOS

HOW TO DESIGN LOGOS USING SYMBOLS

Before we start talking about how to design a logo, there are some important procedures that every artist (that’s what we call true and inspirational logo designers) must know about. Just like designing and building a house, designing a logo is comprised of different steps or phases. If a designer goes through all these phases, he will be able to design logos that are aesthetically pleasing, functional, and evergreen.

    The most important thing before starting any work is gathering the intel that you will be working off of. This information includes:

  • the story that you want your design to tell,
  • the preferences of the people who you are working for,
  • the taste and likings of the people who will be viewing the logo,
  • the different ways that the logo will be used, and
  • the different mediums where the logo will be used.

We admit that this is a long list and a very demanding task, but if you want your logo to handle the test of time, following this list is essential. Feel free to blend these practices with your own to come up with the best way of converting ideas into visuals.

KNOW WHO YOU ARE WORKING FOR

Who wouldn’t like to know for sure that they have reached the end of their project successfully? This happens when you come up with something that not only pleases your clients and excites the target audience but also stands apart from the competitors and, most importantly, makes you happy.

The challenge is starting from a blank page and then making your way to the successful end. An important way of ensuring that you accomplish what you set out to do is to take into account the wishes of the client.

WHY ASK CLIENTS?

Every designer has to start with this step. Why? Because like it or not, the client is the one paying for your design. Your client is the first party that you need your creation to please if you want it to be viewed by the target audience and the competitors. Therefore, it is a good idea, before starting the project, to sit down with the clients and have an in-depth discussion about their expectations and listening to their ideas. Some things you can do ask are:

  • What are the products or services that your client is offering?
  • Ask for any literature about their products/services like brochures, photos, web links or anything that can provide you with additional information about the client’s business. This will not only help you understand the client, it will also help you later on when you are trying to come up with visual ideas.
  • What are the words that best describe your clients and their products/services? Try to come up with nouns that are related to your client’s products and services and adjectives that describe those products and services.
  • Is there something that the client wants to suggest like “The logo must consist a turtle in some form”, or “The logo should only contain primary colors”, or something like that.
  • What are the demographics of the client’s target audience?
  • Who are the client’s competitors?
  • Ask the clients to name some logos that they like and some that they don’t like. This will give you a ballpark to play in. It will also help eliminate ideas that you might have wasted your time on.

Note: Logos are serious business not only for the client but also for the designers. So, when you’re talking to the client, make sure you take copious notes. This will help you in two ways. First, it will help you record all the information that you extract from the client. You can go through it again and again during the logo creation process. Second, it will tell the client that you are serious about their logo.

KNOW WHO IT’S REALLY FOR

The logo that you are designing is not for you, nor for your clients. It’s for the viewing pleasure of your client’s target audience. You need to keep that in mind. Even though you started with the client, this is the end game.

KNOW THY AUDIENCE

Ask the clients to describe their perfect buyer persona. Almost all of your clients will be able to answer this question in quite detail. The target audience must be identified and clearly defined before you begin your work.

KNOW THEIR LIKES AND DISLIKES

What kind of media do they like? Should you be designing a logo that is preferred by social media, billboards, t-shirts, or something else? If you are working for a company that makes clothes for teenagers, go through some fashion magazines to get a feel of what teenagers are going for nowadays, what is trending, what is evergreen? What movies do they like? What kind of music are they listening to? What kind of colors are used by the websites and social platforms that are catering to this demographic?

KNOW THE COMPETITION

In order for you to design a logo that is unique and stands out from the crowd, you need to look at what the competition is doing and how they are going about their business. Gather some promotional materials to find out what their logos are like and how they are being used.

Now that you have all the information that you’re going to need, let’s start the process.

KEEP IT SIMPLE

Perhaps the strongest example of “simple and elegant” is the Bayer logo. It began as an intricate and complex heraldic shield. Later, it was stripped down to its minimum and has become globally recognizable ever since.

Not only that, but if you pick up the logos of top companies, you will find that they share a single theme. All of them give off a sense of effortlessness, and lightness. Nothing seems over the top, there are no heavy lines that try to tell the world how important the logo is. Most great logos appear to be the simplest representations that could be thought of.

When looking at a Picasso, many people might think, “I could have done that.” But of course they didn’t. Similarly the sense of ease and playfulness is the reason for many logos’ success.

DO GOOD TO FEEL GOOD

Another common theme among the top logos is that of having a clear concept and doing the public some good. Every great logo talks to the public about making their lives better, about making the world a better place, to solve a customer’s problem. It is that promise that gives some logos immortality while others wither and die. No matter what shapes you choose or what renditions you create, this optimism must be conveyed through your creation if you want to have your logo etched in the minds of the public.

PERSISTENCE

This is the key to a great looking logo. According to Babe Ruth, who is known for his long-standing record for home runs, but his strike out are not so commonly known, “Never let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game”.

You need to have the same kind of attitude towards your work. You will have to face near-misses and dead ends while you work on your next project. Here’s where you use your Undo command and start over. Start fresh.

Another way that you can go is to change course. Most of the time, sticking to what you’re doing is the best course of action and brings results in a little while. But what if the lack of inspiration and the feelings of tension and frustration bring you to the point that you are ready to take a hammer to your monitor? What then?

Here’s where the detour comes into play. If you feel fed up of what you are doing or what you have done so far, change course and redirect your efforts in another direction. Take up other concepts and start running with them. Get the list of nouns and adjectives out. If you have done your work properly, you will have a few or more sketches that relate to some of those words. Start working on those. If you start getting results, great; otherwise, at least your mind will be fresh from the break and your level of frustration will be considerably decreased.

A SHORT HISTORY OF SYMBOLS

Humans have been using symbols to express themselves from time immemorial. They have used these symbols or drawings to communicate entire stories and personal narratives, to show someone or something’s significance and many other purposes.

Symbols are still used widely for various purposes. They can represent an ideology, they can explain something abstract, or they can show the significance of a group of people or a community.

THE ICTHYS OR THE CHRISTIAN FISH

This is one of the most famous symbols in the world. It consists of two intersecting arcs. They both start at the same point and extend beyond the intersecting point in such a way that they resemble the profile of a fish.

This was a secret symbol that early Christians used to identify each other. This was a time when Christians were being persecuted. When two people met, one would draw one half of the fish and if the other would draw the second half, it would mean that they were both followers of Christ. That is why it came to be known as the “Jesus Fish” or the “Christian Fish”.

COAT OF ARMS

Another symbol used throughout Europe is the “Coat of Arms”. It is used to denote an army, a group of people who share the same cause, or even family lineage. The Japanese have their own version of this called the “Kamon”.

This was a secret symbol that early Christians used to identify each other. This was a time when Christians were being persecuted. When two people met, one would draw one half of the fish and if the other would draw the second half, it would mean that they were both followers of Christ. That is why it came to be known as the “Jesus Fish” or the “Christian Fish”.

THE SWASTIKA

Now this one doesn’t need any explanation. Everyone knows the fearsome symbol used by Hitler. But, what most people don’t know is that it was used even before Hitler selected it. Before it became a symbol of fear, it was a symbol of good fortune and luck in different religions. It has many variations.

Nowadays, signs and symbols have become so ubiquitous in our lives that we have lost all awareness of them. We are bombarded with hundreds of symbols that impact our subconscious in different ways.

An effective logo speaks to the audience and captures their attention in a positive way. They ignite feelings inside the target audience and compel them to take some action.

Here are some more famous symbols that you must have seen from time to time. They all convey different emotions, concepts or ideologies.

BENEFITS OF USING SYMBOLS

Not every company has a symbol or a group of symbols for their logo, but the companies whose logos contain symbols have some benefits that they enjoy. Including an abstract symbol or picture in the logo guarantees that the brand’s name will be recognized far more quickly than a rendition of its name.

Also, once the symbol has become familiar to the public, it will personify the company or the brand that it is representing. A good example of this is the Nike swoosh. It does its job without needing any text to convey its meaning or the story that it tells.

If you look at the above pictures, you will find that the possibilities are endless. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are infinite ways that a symbol can be used to interpret various ideas, themes, or concepts.

This bodes well for designers as it means that, for any project, there are literally millions upon millions of solutions and all they need to do is to come up with three or four out of those million possibilities.

Just think about it. If a simple circle can be used in so many ways, what can you do when you have multiple shapes and each shape has a million possibilities and all these shapes can be used in different combinations?

USING BASIC SHAPES

An efficient way to start your project is to try combining different simple shapes. You can merge, trim, intersect, multiply, or warp different shapes like circles, squares, rectangles, triangles, and ellipses to create simple yet effective logos that are eye-catching as well as functional.

You can use as few as one or two basic shapes which you can rotate, warp, resize, reposition, repeat, or overlap to produce all types of simple yet elegant logos. You can even play with different colors. But you have to ask yourself if you want a simple design or a complex design? If it is a complex one, just how complex should it be? How will the icon be used?

PLAY WITH MATHEMATICS

There was once a time when all this designing meant that a person will sit at his desk or table for hours with different brushes and pens and a whole sheaf of paper in front of them. That time has long gone. Now software allows the designers of today to come up with highly creative work in a fraction of the time that it took before. They also help the designers be more creative with their work and explore previously uncharted territory.

Among the many facilities that technology has granted logo designers, the latest gift is that of the virtual tools that can be used to transform any shape into a 3D rendition. These tools can be deployed to generate logos while using the most basic of shapes.

You can also apply different tools like rotate, transform, or repeat to the basic shapes that you are using. They will get you varying results starting from the precise to the casual logo.

Many designers believe that experience is the best teacher and they prefer to explore these tools when trying to design a logo. Others think it better to spend excessive amount of time with manuals or the help menu. It’s basically up to you.

COMBINING DIFFERENT SHAPES

If you have a command over different softwares like Photoshop, Illustrator, and Pathfinder, and we’re sure that you do, why not try to combine different dimensional shapes to create an abstract logo? These sofwares are used to stack different shapes together in any of the millions of combinations. These tools are used to create the perception of reality as well as reality bending designs.

Not only can you create these symbols by using softwares, you can also create them by hand and then upload them to the software and use different tools on them.

Although the time for paper and pen is long gone, we would still suggest working on pen and paper sketches by hand before you hit the big league and start using all kinds of softwares. Once you have a basic idea of what you want or which direction you want to go in, you can go to your computer or your laptop and start playing.

FREE FORM DESIGNS

Up till now we have kept ourselves limited to designs that stayed in the boundaries of the shapes that we were using. But there are a lot of designs out there that do not follow any given shape known to man. These are called free-form designs or logos. They are built by using shapes that do not fall under the category of rectangular, elliptical, or triangular.

DIMENSIONAL FREE FORM LOGOS

If you want to create something more complex and intricate, you can create 3 dimensional logos that have free form shapes in them. These shapes can be shaded and given shadows to create the illusion of depth. Drop shadows are also used give the logo a realistic feel and look. Try different approaches before settling for the one that you think is the best.

A VANISHING POINT

Do you know what a vanishing point is? It is the spot where all parallel lines in a picture meet. Artists create one, two, or three vanishing points in their pictures or logos to give the impression of depth. When creating multi-dimensional images and logos, this technique can come in handy.

Do some research on other ways that you can convey the illusion of depth through two dimensional media. It will help you out a lot with your upcoming projects.

USING LINES

A line is one of the most effective tools in any logo designer’s arsenal. You can use lines of different weights and styles to construct something abstract or representational. When creating designs that are dependent on linework, try out different weights, styles, caps, and joints before deciding on the perfect one.

If you are going for a hand drawn look, you can generate lines like these easily. For a more realistic look, you can actually draw the lines with your own hand and integrate it with the other elements of the design later.

REPRESENTING REALITY

This is what we do. We come up with different ways to attract and engage the masses by using symbols and shapes to depict things, people, places, feelings, expressions, actions, and ideas. Designers have the ability to take anything and turn it into their representation of a brand or a story.

Take a look at the different interpretations of a cat. If, for example, you are working with a vet or designing a logo for the latest and tastiest cat food, you can get your inspiration from here. Take the idea and roll with it.

Or look at the way a teacup or a coffee cup can be used in different ways. It’s all up to your imagination.

REPRESENTING REALITY

This is what we do. We come up with different ways to attract and engage the masses by using symbols and shapes to depict things, people, places, feelings, expressions, actions, and ideas. Designers have the ability to take anything and turn it into their representation of a brand or a story.

Take a look at the different interpretations of a cat. If, for example, you are working with a vet or designing a logo for the latest and tastiest cat food, you can get your inspiration from here. Take the idea and roll with it.

You can build a sunset scene by using nothing other than circles and rectangles or use a software to generate 3D shapes of trees and animals. How about circles and ellipses in different combinations to make leaves.

Explore different ideas that involve contrasting shapes and styles like ornate swirl fills or geometrically rendered objects. You can offer your clients and the viewers a wide range of effects that you can add in a subtle way in your logo.

You will notice here that if you just start integrating two or more basic shapes, you can render concise, detailed, and elegant representational logos.
You will see a lot of ellipses and circles in the logos that we have in the market right now as compared to squares, triangles, or rectangles. That is because curves have a natural beauty that attracts people and edgy and pointy things have been a sign of danger and thus we tend to shy away from these things.

Always keep in mind that building a theme and compelling people to be curious about that theme occurs when you give them something to think about or something that talks to their innate nature as a human being.

If you still remember what we talked about at the start of the article, you will know that you have in your possession a list of nouns and adjectives that the clients had given to you. Go through that list from time to time to come up with a range of materials and ideas when considering different elements for your logo.

HOW SIMPLE CAN YOU MAKE IT

The eagle is an extraordinary, powerful and agile bird that inhabits all types of terrains; from forests to mountains. Characterized by steely eyes, widespread wings, and a strong beak, it can be represented in the simplest of forms to convey the message of power, agility, and aggressiveness. The perfect example for this is the logo for the Philadelphia Eagles.

Other examples of using simple shapes and lines to depict some emotion or idea are:

The question that arises here is: How much do you simplify the elements of your logo to make it attractive, raw, and engaging? Obviously, there is no “right answer” to this question. It is completely up to you.

Depending on your research about your clients, their products, and their target audience, you must decide just how much to convert a real-life creature into a logo.

Here you have a few simple lines coming together to form the silhouette of an eagle. The basic black and white color depicts power, while the edges in the beak and the other lines portray not just raw power but also aggressiveness.

Gracefully tapered and boldly rendered, the artist has used a repetition of curved lines to show majesty. The black and white combination and the absence of color portrays raw power.

This is just an example of what could be done by selecting anything and then turning it into its simplest form. The toughest decision you will face will be what to keep and what to leave behind. As you are creating a logo, you will face some space issues.

YOUR LOGO’S PERSONALITY

Just as a person’s appearance and personality traits play a major role in terms of how that person will be judged by others, the same factors affect the way your logo is perceived by the viewers.

How will you convey the aesthetic quality of your logo to the target audience? Will it be done through simplicity? Or will it be done through complexity and colors? Will you depict a logo that is casual and friendly? Or something that means business? Will the idea of the logo be in-you-face? Or a subtle hint?

Again, it is up to you and the way you use the different elements of your logo design and how much of an element you use.

USING PHOTOGRAPHS

Just because you’re a designer and hot a photographer, doesn’t mean that you cannot use illustrations in your logos. The trick is to use photographs while staying within the boundaries of your skills. Use them when necessary.

For example, if you have a car company as your client, you can go for an image of a car stripped down to its essentials.

Another thing that you can do is to take a picture of a car from various angles, select the best one, import it into Photoshop or Illustrator and trace its form loosely or precisely, whichever one you want, to create the perfect look. Once you have traced the contours of the car, you now have a ready-to-go vector drawing that you can use in a million different ways. Explore at least half a dozen options before you settle for something.

You can go for a silhouette car standing in the foreground while the sun shines down in the background. Or you can use the photo that you took of the car and give it a watercolor filter.

Just make sure what emotions you are conveying through your logo. Just a little bit of alteration to your logo and you can convey a whole range of feelings through them.

GETTING HANDS-ON WITH IT

A lot of designers are skilled painters. They know their way around paints, brushes, pencils, pens and pastels. Nowadays, you can get the same thing with different softwares and tools. If you think your client’s audience will react positively to something that looks like it has been drawn by hand, you can go for that too. If you don’t know about drawing or painting, hire a good illustrator.

HALFTONING

While we are talking about pictures, we should also mention the process of half toning. It converts the light-to-dark values of a photograph into a pattern of tiny dots. By varying the sizes of the dots, you achieve light and dark areas. If you are working on a logo that needs to elicit nostalgia in the audience then this is the definite way to go. You can give your logo the appearance of a newspaper print from the era when today’s technology didn’t exist.

THE HUMAN FORM

One of the elements that has been comprehensively explored is the human form. Even though people and their parts have been depicted for centuries in all forms and types, there are still infinite new ways of to convey the appearance of humans.

USE YOUR HEAD

You can use anything from the human head, the hands, human emotions, or human experiences. You can even go for human facial expressions.

Heads and faces are easier to incorporate as they can be used in a multitude of ways. The face can be portrayed without drawing the eyes, nose, ears, or the mouth. You can explore the endless human representations that can be built around the shape of the head, the human facial expressions, or the human senses of smell, sight, touch, and hearing.

THE HANDS

Hands are very versatile and can be used as an extension of an element or individually. Hands are generally used to represent organizations that are involved with taking care of humans like healthcare institutes, social services, NGOs, and community relations. Hands convey the message of connection, conflict, cooperation, or rebellion, depending on the way they are used in a logo.

You can also use the form of a hand and fill it with a gradient, a color, or a picture. Hands can tell a person to go or to stop. They can represent writing or drawing. The raised fist conveys rebellion or freedom.

EYES

Eyes can be used to convey a wide variety of emotions. They are incredibly beautiful in their form and can be used in different ways. If you are designing a logo for a security company, you could use one eye to convey the message of watchfulness or use the eye to represent farsightedness and wisdom. You can experiment with different types of eyes and different shapes of eyes. Integrating different colors can also produce varying results. You can go for a close-up if you want and show just one part of the eye.

THE HUMAN BODY

People are very sensitive and receptive to forms that look or feel human. Consider the example of a person who walks into a dimly lit room and sees something that looks like a person. Later when that person switches on the light, he finds that it was just a coat hanging on the wall or maybe something else. You can use the human body in a caricature form or in an abstract way to convey different feelings. The personality, gender, age, attire, all have something to contribute to the figure. Change one of these things and you can change the entire outlook of the logo.

HAVE A LITTLE FUN

This is not only for logos, you can have a little fun and explore art a little bit more. What you need to do is to select an element in Photoshop from an actual image. The element could be the central attraction of the image or it could be something on the side. Feather the edges of your selection slightly and then copy-and-paste it into a new document. Now go crazy and see what sort of designs you can come up with by rotating and repeating the element in different ways. Try rotating it at different angles to come up with new shapes and styles.

Once you’ve come up with a result that you like, try applying different filters to get different results. See if you can improve on it or not.

ENCLOSURES

Another thing that you may have noticed about various logos is their use of enclosures. Enclosures are an excellent way of adding the final touch to your symbol. They bolster a logo’s thematic conveyances. They are also used to generate contrast and define the territory of the logo.

LESS IS MORE OR NOT?

So which one is better? The logo with the minimum amount of elements and colors or the one with the elaborate presentation that looks like a visual overload? That is up to the three things that we researched on at the start. The client, the audience, the products.

A logo for a financial institution might be best if it is presented in a straightforward way and the logo of a bar, a carnival, a DJ, or a pub might need to visual overload.

MIX IT UP

What we have shared with you so far can be considered as just the tip of the iceberg. As you very well know, the part of the iceberg that is showing is only 20% of its total mass. The rest 80% is hidden beneath the water. The same is the case with Logo designing using symbols.

Most of the techniques that were used here, were used in isolation and according to a single style approach: simplified, dimensional, linework-based, modern, photographic, and so on. Now it is up to you to take it further. Try combining two or even three different approaches to a single element or a photograph and see what you get.

The best designed logo will be the one that takes into account what the company stands for, what is the message that the company wants to convey, who are the target audience of the company and what they like. If you have these things down, you won’t have any problem identifying the elements that you want your logo to have and combining them together to come up with something unique and creative. Something that stirs up the clients’ emotions and compels them to take some action.

Try out the things mentioned above and let us know how you used them to come up with the best logo design ever.

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