Tips for getting a kick ass logo

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This is a guest post by Michael Torkildsen founder of Startup ATX, the source for all the startup news and events in the city of Austin, TX.

Let’s face it, we all want a kick ass logo to represent our company. I mean it is YOUR company, right?

But getting from nothing to kick ass is hard. Unless you already have a good idea what you want, you often walk away with, “Eh, it could be better”.

My tips on logo requirements will help you get past, Eh, to Kick Ass.

Crowd-sourcing vs a Graphic Design Specialist

I really like the crowd-sourced design sites on the internet, in theory that is. Just like good lawyers, good graphic designers aren’t cheap and they have a lot of clients already. Crowd-sourced graphic designers are competing for the bottom dollar for a reason.

Yeah, you might get lucky, or if you are just broke, I mean, running lean, then you might not have a choice. Besides, when you land funding or a large enough client, you can always get your logo redone.

Regardless of the path you choose, the following tips will help you find a good designer or at least know what to tell them to get a kick ass logo.

What Makes a Kick Ass Logo?

My general rule of thumb is that a logo should look good when faxed. Now you modern age twitter people don’t go off on me, it’s just a rule of thumb. I’m not saying you are going to do a lot of faxing.

What I am saying is that it should look good in black and white. No fancy gradients, shadows, or 3D shapes.

A kick ass logo is not your company name in a fancy font.

When using 99designs or Elance make the above requirements for your designers up front. They like to add these frills to make their sucky design look cool. It’s all window dressing. If you make these rules up front, you will get back many more great designs.

The next requirements aren’t something you can tell a designer. It’s either there or it’s not.

A kick ass logo should invoke a mental image or emotion in your customer’s mind.

It should say something about your company and complement what you stand for.

Finally, tell the graphic designer what you don’t want. Include all the logos of your competitors and tell them it can’t look anything like those especially if you are in a very homogeneous market like music or computers.

Show them logos you do like. Graphic designers need inspiration too so inspire them the direction you want them to go.

Here are some of my favorite logos.

Bare pool lounge at the Mirage. Their pitch is, “The ultimate in poolside pampering, Bare is defined by its distinctive contemporary ambiance and ultra VIP service. The DJ-spun music mix sets a lively mood as guests enjoy European-style sun bathing secluded by towering palms.”

No where does it say it’s topless or all-nude (even those it is), even the “B” is a bikini top but it does set an expectation without directly saying it.

I was doing a promotion event in Strugis 2006 when this HUGE eighteen wheeler sets up next to me with this logo on the side. I loved it instantly. Why? Because when you think of motorcycles you think of two things, Harleys and the movie Easy Rider. Desperado Motorcycles capitalizes on the second half of the culture identity with a little twist, flames, which is a classic auto and motorcycle design element.

The only thing I can think to make this logo better is if Desperado Motorcycles could be incorporated to the bottom edge of the hair/flames.

But notice how the font violates one of my rules? They used a gradient. Sucks huh?

Ironhorse is another motorcycle logo that I think just misses the mark. I love the horse’s mane, which looks like a gear, I think the eyes are done well too. However I think the rest of it looks too much like a natural horse. So the logo is almost there, half steel, half horse. It should be 1/2 Motorcycle, 1/4 Steel, and finally 1/4 Horse. Why? Because we want to leave the impression that it’s a motorcycle company. If I told you that it was an automobile company would you have known otherwise?

Pale Rider Hat Co is my logo from my last business. I didn’t know what I wanted but I had requirements. First it had to be new and trendy, yet classic instead of traditional country western theme. I wanted something more in the lines of a tribal tattoo than the branding iron look (it was western apparel) but not a tribal tattoo because it didn’t want it dated. I knew I wanted the Pale Rider initials in it. Also the requirements I listed above.

My graphic designer took my vague vision and landed there 95% on the first try. A few back and fourths and we encapsulated my vision for Pale Rider. Don’t be afraid to tell them you don’t like it. Just make sure you tell them the specific design elements you don’t like and what elements you do like, and especially the elements you love.

Does the Pale Rider logo meet requirements?

Want to see more kick ass logos? Look around next time you are in Vegas. The competition to be seen and remembered there is tremendous and a good logo helps. Also take a look at NFL team logos. There is a stream of high quality logos there. You’ll see that in most cases the designs are very simple, with little detail work, and fit the requirements I outlined above.

If you have any requirements or links to great logos, leave them in the comments section.

Michael Torkildsen

Comments on "Tips for getting a kick ass logo"


  1. Paul O'Brien

    A well timed post! I’m presently trying to figure out how to get a few logos done as efficiently as possible.

  2. Aaron Longnion

    Great to read a full article from you on this subject, Michael! I see what you mean and had to learn the hard way about what was good and what sucked by crowdsourcing the design, but then getting help from an excellent, experienced designer who understood corporate brand recognition, and used most of your same rules. Here’s my blog entry on my experience (good comments, too!):

  3. Susan Calland

    I am surprised you didn’t recommend any good logo design companies in Austin. Do you have any that you would recommend?

  4. Missy H.

    Very informative, but I am with Susan Calland, do you recommend any? I really like to get referrals.


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