How to evaluate your logo

Written by Yvan Marston

If, as the former head of British Rail once observed, design is intelligence made visible, then a logo is a company made visible. So what do you want your clients to see? As your firm grows and adjusts to the realities of the market, your logo may need to be reevaluated to reflect the new you. Here are some things to consider.

Renovate before you rebuild

Companies often too quickly ditch an old identity for a new one, says Toronto-based designer Burton Kramer, who designed the CBC’s logo in 1974. He advises seriously reevaluating the old one first. “Find out what’s good and what’s bad about the logo and then figure out if what’s bad is fixable or useable,” he says. Things to consider are color (too many colors make a logo less memorable and more expensive to reproduce) and shapes (curves signify soft, caring, support specialists while straight lines denote a more assertive and leading firm). You really have to know your audience, says Kramer, and whether that audience will change in five or 10 years. You should also find out how you are perceived in your marketplace (ask your best suppliers and customers) and how you want to be perceived.

Be before your time

“If a logo is good, it should be five years ahead of its time, instead of five years behind the times, which is where most of them start,” explains Kramer. For example, there are far too many Nike-like swooshes out there, he says. (Don’t believe it? Visit The swoosh was original in 1971 when Nike first used it, but it’s been overused as a graphic element, Kramer complains. It’s an example of people looking for a symbol without thinking about the various levels on which a logo should be understood. “Don’t be afraid to have an original logo that people can grow into,” he advises, “and it’ll have a reasonable shelf life.”

Complicate things

Symbols need not necessarily explain themselves, says Kramer. He says strong logos operate on two levels. First, there’s an initial, intuitive response, where people see the symbol before reading the letters or words to make sense of it. Then, there’s the intellectual response, where they learn what the different elements mean. For example, his CBC logo visually said ‘broadcasting’ with a “C” at the centre and smaller ones forming wavelengths moving outward. “If the audience learns what it means, and then it jibes with what they felt intuitively,” he says, “then you’ll be in their heads forever.”

The medium matters

A logo has to be reproduced in many different forms and in a wide range of media. While many logos are created for print or on-air usage, Kramer says many don’t work for signage, where they have to be in three dimensions, 60 storeys off the ground and illuminated in some way. Kramer always presents his logo concepts in several different forms — positive and negative versions as well as in colour, black and white and three-dimensional form. Designers who know their business, he says, will make refinements for various sizes (right down to one-half inch) so that your logo is always recognizable.

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© 2003 Yvan Marston

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