Logo Design Process: Cooking Up a Stellar Concept

You’ve got a brand promise and message. Logo design as an end result is a visual conveyance of your brand promise. Between the two is an intermediary—the concept.

Have I lost you yet? I’ll admit, after I wrote it I couldn’t believe how succinct it was…yet somehow a bit of a mind-bender.

Think of the concept like it is a translator. Sharon’s grandmother speaks Cantonese. Try as I might to learn, I simply am not yet to the point of full comprehension. For us to understand each other, Sharon is our intermediary translating one language to another. Concepts do the same from the written language or spoken language to the visual language and vice versa.

When she translates, the message that comes out in terms of logo design is what we call the execution.

Cantonese (the message) > Sharon (the concept) > English (the execution)
‍You see how important the concept is in this equation?

We can never jump from message to execution without a concept.

More than one concept can do a similar job. A professional translator might do a much better literal job than Sharon as a translator (concept), but Sharon’s familiar ties allow her to translate nuances they can’t. Just the same, we could replace Sharon with a rutabaga as a concept, but clearly nothing would get translated because this is a bad concept. Maybe if I’m lucky I would get some rutabaga fries.

Cantonese (the message) > Rutabaga (the concept) > English (the execution)
Nutritious but very inefficient

The strength of your restaurant’s logo design is in its concept. It is the vehicle that is going to take us from A to B. Brand Promise/Message > Concept > Execution. The most effective design is one that does this forwards and backwards.

Customers will most often only see execution. The concept will have to translate back to the brand promise to assure a customer of what the business is about.

Take Evernote’s logo for example. And don’t be afraid to look at industries outside of your own. By limiting yourself to researching other Greek restaurants you’re likely to find the same ideas every Greek restaurant does.

Evernote, if you are unfamiliar, is a note taking application. It syncs up online so that you have your notes everywhere you go. No notes left behind! No, I just made that last bit up, but you get the idea.

Evernote Logo
Take a page out of Evernote's book.

The concept behind their logo came from the idea that elephants never forget. What took that concept and made it sticky, was combining the idea of notes and elephants. Conceptually this could have taken the shape of an elephant taking notes or an elephant on a notebook. Maybe it could have been an elephant with a pen for a trunk. They worked with their concept until they came up with the concept of an elephant with a turned page for an ear.

In the recent post 10 Tips to Building a Lasting Logo, coming up with your concept is bouncing back and forth from step 7 and step 8: mind mapping, sketching, and referring back to your brand promise. As you start to develop concepts you might find that your message isn’t quite on target, you can always go back and adjust that as well. There is no straight line to crafting that perfect concept. Sometimes you bounce back and forth a bit. Don’t limit yourself to a specific structure of doing things if it is not working.

Taking a message to a concept is no quick feat. Where we tend to start is with our mind-map. This involves taking your meticulously crafted message and deconstructing it. There is no hard and fast rule that you must mind map, though. This simply tends to be one of our more effective techniques to use.

Choose the keywords in your message that you feel best represents the message. The other words are just as important, they put the keyword in context. They allow your brain to work in a direction that’s going to help you craft the concept.

Mind map with ideas connected by lines and colours
Source: http://www.tonybuzan.com/about/mind-mapping/ 

Tony Buzan popularized and trademarked the term Mind Mapping.

These are his: 7 Steps to Making a Mind Map

1. Start in the CENTRE of a blank page turned sideways. Why? Because starting in the centre gives your Brain freedom to spread out in all directions and to express itself more freely and naturally.
2. Use an IMAGE or PICTURE for your central idea. Why? Because an image is worth a thousand words and helps you use your Imagination. A central image is more interesting, keeps you focussed, helps you concentrate, and gives your Brain more of a buzz!
3. Use COLOURS throughout. Why? Because colours are as exciting to your Brain as are images. Colour adds extra vibrancy and life to your Mind Map, adds tremendous energy to your Creative Thinking, and is fun!
4. CONNECT your MAIN BRANCHES to the central image and connect your second- and third-level branches to the first and second levels, etc. Why? Because your Brain works by association. It likes to link two (or three, or four) things together. If you connect the branches, you will understand and remember a lot more easily.
5. Make your branches CURVED rather than straight-lined. Why? Because having nothing but straight lines is boring to your Brain.
6. Use ONE KEY WORD PER LINE. Why Because single key words give your Mind Map more power and flexibility.
7. Use IMAGES throughout. Why Because each image, like the central image, is also worth a thousand words. So if you have only 10 images in your Mind Map, it’s already the equal of 10,000 words of notes!

Now, I will admit, my mind maps don’t tend to look as fun or as colourful as his examples. For me, speed is the name of the game. As long as I am moving, the words and ideas are flowing. It’s a bit like Newton’s first law of inertia. I tend to have branches upon branches that expand and fill entire pages all in blue pen. Try not to get hung up on if you are mind mapping correctly or if you are choosing the right words.

As long as you are moving you are going to get somewhere. It’s best to let go of the idea that you know the destination.

By the end of your mind mapping exercise you might find you have reoccurring themes or words. While you are still in that headspace take a second to highlight the reoccurring words. Now go take a break. You’ve got a lot out of your head onto paper, but your subconscious is going to keep working on that problem and will continue to make connections for you.

You can take this time to focus on other aspects of your business, or if it’s late, head to bed! Inspiration can come from anywhere and it may be one of those ideas that is right under your nose. Something you are doing every day might be the key concept that really captures the essence of your brand message. By mind-mapping you have created an awareness that will allow you to grab these ideas when they jump out at you.

If that eureka moment did not happen, go back to your mind map. Revisit it and look at the words you highlighted. Do they still speak to your message? Do they conjure up anything visual in your mind? Whatever it is, start doodling. Play with your ideas and don’t hold back. If need be, start another mind map and do the process again.

You might find yourself stuck and frustrated. It happens to us too. It is natural that you might feel like you are hitting a wall. At this stage we find it’s best to start drawing. Put your brain in a different gear and see what happens.

You’re not looking for a logo, you’re uncovering the concept that will give it backbone.

*UPDATE —the follow up article to this is Logo Execution: Putting It All Together

October 6, 2016
Posted on 
Author photo in a circle
Kyle Lincoln

Kyle is a logo crafter, avid reader, and writer. His experience expands across a wide spectrum of clients such as Nandos, Shaw Business, and Destination Canada. Growing up, it didn’t take him long to go from doodles to design. Kyle’s previous work in identities for conferences and events left him longing for something more enduring. He’s got a vested interest in helping businesses thrive and an eye for brand incongruences. In Vancouver he can be found scoping out his client’s location and/or the nearest gelateria and is always up to discuss your project or favourite flavour.

You’ve got a brand promise and message. Logo design as an end result is a visual conveyance of your brand promise. Between the two is an intermediary—the concept.

Have I lost you yet? I’ll admit, after I wrote it I couldn’t believe how succinct it was…yet somehow a bit of a mind-bender.

Think of the concept like it is a translator. Sharon’s grandmother speaks Cantonese. Try as I might to learn, I simply am not yet to the point of full comprehension. For us to understand each other, Sharon is our intermediary translating one language to another. Concepts do the same from the written language or spoken language to the visual language and vice versa.

When she translates, the message that comes out in terms of logo design is what we call the execution.

Cantonese (the message) > Sharon (the concept) > English (the execution)
‍You see how important the concept is in this equation?

We can never jump from message to execution without a concept.

More than one concept can do a similar job. A professional translator might do a much better literal job than Sharon as a translator (concept), but Sharon’s familiar ties allow her to translate nuances they can’t. Just the same, we could replace Sharon with a rutabaga as a concept, but clearly nothing would get translated because this is a bad concept. Maybe if I’m lucky I would get some rutabaga fries.

Cantonese (the message) > Rutabaga (the concept) > English (the execution)
Nutritious but very inefficient

The strength of your restaurant’s logo design is in its concept. It is the vehicle that is going to take us from A to B. Brand Promise/Message > Concept > Execution. The most effective design is one that does this forwards and backwards.

Customers will most often only see execution. The concept will have to translate back to the brand promise to assure a customer of what the business is about.

Take Evernote’s logo for example. And don’t be afraid to look at industries outside of your own. By limiting yourself to researching other Greek restaurants you’re likely to find the same ideas every Greek restaurant does.

Evernote, if you are unfamiliar, is a note taking application. It syncs up online so that you have your notes everywhere you go. No notes left behind! No, I just made that last bit up, but you get the idea.

Evernote Logo
Take a page out of Evernote's book.

The concept behind their logo came from the idea that elephants never forget. What took that concept and made it sticky, was combining the idea of notes and elephants. Conceptually this could have taken the shape of an elephant taking notes or an elephant on a notebook. Maybe it could have been an elephant with a pen for a trunk. They worked with their concept until they came up with the concept of an elephant with a turned page for an ear.

In the recent post 10 Tips to Building a Lasting Logo, coming up with your concept is bouncing back and forth from step 7 and step 8: mind mapping, sketching, and referring back to your brand promise. As you start to develop concepts you might find that your message isn’t quite on target, you can always go back and adjust that as well. There is no straight line to crafting that perfect concept. Sometimes you bounce back and forth a bit. Don’t limit yourself to a specific structure of doing things if it is not working.

Taking a message to a concept is no quick feat. Where we tend to start is with our mind-map. This involves taking your meticulously crafted message and deconstructing it. There is no hard and fast rule that you must mind map, though. This simply tends to be one of our more effective techniques to use.

Choose the keywords in your message that you feel best represents the message. The other words are just as important, they put the keyword in context. They allow your brain to work in a direction that’s going to help you craft the concept.

Mind map with ideas connected by lines and colours
Source: http://www.tonybuzan.com/about/mind-mapping/ 

Tony Buzan popularized and trademarked the term Mind Mapping.

These are his: 7 Steps to Making a Mind Map

1. Start in the CENTRE of a blank page turned sideways. Why? Because starting in the centre gives your Brain freedom to spread out in all directions and to express itself more freely and naturally.
2. Use an IMAGE or PICTURE for your central idea. Why? Because an image is worth a thousand words and helps you use your Imagination. A central image is more interesting, keeps you focussed, helps you concentrate, and gives your Brain more of a buzz!
3. Use COLOURS throughout. Why? Because colours are as exciting to your Brain as are images. Colour adds extra vibrancy and life to your Mind Map, adds tremendous energy to your Creative Thinking, and is fun!
4. CONNECT your MAIN BRANCHES to the central image and connect your second- and third-level branches to the first and second levels, etc. Why? Because your Brain works by association. It likes to link two (or three, or four) things together. If you connect the branches, you will understand and remember a lot more easily.
5. Make your branches CURVED rather than straight-lined. Why? Because having nothing but straight lines is boring to your Brain.
6. Use ONE KEY WORD PER LINE. Why Because single key words give your Mind Map more power and flexibility.
7. Use IMAGES throughout. Why Because each image, like the central image, is also worth a thousand words. So if you have only 10 images in your Mind Map, it’s already the equal of 10,000 words of notes!

Now, I will admit, my mind maps don’t tend to look as fun or as colourful as his examples. For me, speed is the name of the game. As long as I am moving, the words and ideas are flowing. It’s a bit like Newton’s first law of inertia. I tend to have branches upon branches that expand and fill entire pages all in blue pen. Try not to get hung up on if you are mind mapping correctly or if you are choosing the right words.

As long as you are moving you are going to get somewhere. It’s best to let go of the idea that you know the destination.

By the end of your mind mapping exercise you might find you have reoccurring themes or words. While you are still in that headspace take a second to highlight the reoccurring words. Now go take a break. You’ve got a lot out of your head onto paper, but your subconscious is going to keep working on that problem and will continue to make connections for you.

You can take this time to focus on other aspects of your business, or if it’s late, head to bed! Inspiration can come from anywhere and it may be one of those ideas that is right under your nose. Something you are doing every day might be the key concept that really captures the essence of your brand message. By mind-mapping you have created an awareness that will allow you to grab these ideas when they jump out at you.

If that eureka moment did not happen, go back to your mind map. Revisit it and look at the words you highlighted. Do they still speak to your message? Do they conjure up anything visual in your mind? Whatever it is, start doodling. Play with your ideas and don’t hold back. If need be, start another mind map and do the process again.

You might find yourself stuck and frustrated. It happens to us too. It is natural that you might feel like you are hitting a wall. At this stage we find it’s best to start drawing. Put your brain in a different gear and see what happens.

You’re not looking for a logo, you’re uncovering the concept that will give it backbone.

*UPDATE —the follow up article to this is Logo Execution: Putting It All Together

October 6, 2016
Posted on 
Author photo in a circle
Kyle Lincoln

Kyle is a logo crafter, avid reader, and writer. His experience expands across a wide spectrum of clients such as Nandos, Shaw Business, and Destination Canada. Growing up, it didn’t take him long to go from doodles to design. Kyle’s previous work in identities for conferences and events left him longing for something more enduring. He’s got a vested interest in helping businesses thrive and an eye for brand incongruences. In Vancouver he can be found scoping out his client’s location and/or the nearest gelateria and is always up to discuss your project or favourite flavour.

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