The Business Edge: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly of Logo Design

If a good business logo is an asset, why are there so many poor ones in use? And which category does yours fall into?

Every business owner should understand the value of a good logo – from the last discussion, if not from other experience. There are, unfortunately, a lot of business logos out there that fall short of “good.” Every such one represents a missed opportunity for business success.

It can be argued that any logo is better than none, but I’ve seen too many instances where a badly-designed logo was a real detriment to the business. (There are, unfortunately, examples of bad business logos all around us.) A bad logo deflects wanted customers by misrepresenting what you do or the quality level you provide, and can draw unwanted callers who fritter away your time by seeking something other than what you offer. A bad logo can also just fail to draw any customer’s attention.

In general, any logo that’s less than “good” is failing to do its job, and is in turn dragging down your business image, and is thus wasting and diluting your best business efforts. Because a good logo is such a strong asset, the argument for having one goes past having any logo to making sure you have a good one. Let’s talk about some basics of a good (or better than good) business logo.

A business logo does not need to be elaborate, and unless you run a casino or a clown college, it should not be garish. What it must be, in every case, is appropriate. While “appropriate” can be a subjective thing, there are some universal considerations that can be used as guidelines:

  • The more you have invested in the business (in personal terms as well as financial), the more resources you should put into the business image, beginning with the logo. If the business is a hobby or sideline, you can scale your image efforts to that level. If, on the other hand, the business is your livelihood and intended to be your future, it’s impossible to overstate the value of a well-crafted business image – beginning with that selfsame logo. Don’t skimp on the effort, any more than you would skimp on your products, services or customer relations. There are few “capital investments” that will pay a higher return over a longer time. It’s best not to skimp on this investment, because...
  • Amateur design can be drastically counterproductive. That doesn’t necessarily mean “design by a non-professional” – but it does mean design by someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing. I’ll put it even more bluntly: Just because your niece can draw beautiful ponies or your sister is an accredited floral arranger does not mean they have the judgment to create a successful business logo. That’s because...
  • It’s not as much about specific artistic or graphic design skills as it is an ability to see the bigger picture. A certain amount of graphics skill is useful, but in the end, being able to bring more than “pretty” to the effort is essential. Even some graphics professionals misunderstand this! It takes vision, but...
  • Don’t limit the possibilities to your vision. It’s your business and perhaps no one knows it better, but that central position often leads to a degree of tunnel vision regarding how your business is seen by customers and the community. An outside opinion – outside the business, outside the family, even outside the industry – can be invaluable in developing a strong business image. Even then, strong alone isn’t enough, because...
  • The look must be compatible with your business type. This is the tough one. A logo can be an artistic triumph... and completely fail to represent the business properly. (Imagine a day care facility with its name in spookhouse-creepy letters, or an industrial repair service with its name in an elegant wedding-invitation script. I’ve seen both, and worse.) More than just the font selected, there are design elements and certain types of balance that work better with one specific business than others. The basic question becomes: “Does this look like my business?” and the followup is “Really? Or do I just like the way this looks?” The two answers are not the same... but there’s no shortage of businesses whose likeable logos are chasing away as much business as they attract.


As general as the above points might seem, they’re a crucial basis for every successive decision about a business logo. In the next few installments, we’ll get into some specifics about logo design, and you’ll see how these guidelines come into play. Which reminds me – if there’s an “ugly” to fit the title of this piece, it’s that these tricks of the trade are ones that many in the trade would prefer to keep to insiders. There are no secrets, though, and I believe that knowledge is power – that an understanding of these topics gives you, the business owner, the power to make informed and effective decisions. Knowing what makes a logo, or an advertisement, or a website – or any another ‘business creative’ element – effective may not confer the ability to create one, but it helps keep you from making poor choices, or having poor choices forced on you.

For now, it’s important to remember that even the best logo, by itself, will not lead directly to business success. A business logo needs to be well used as well as well-designed. Logos, and business image, are only part of a set of tools and practices that are collectively called branding. We’ll bring all the separate topics of this series together, under that umbrella, soon.

James Gifford is the creative director of NitroPress Creative Services in Tolland.

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