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Top 10 Questions About Logo Creation

1. Do I need a logo?
A logotype -- popularly known as a logo -- is a company's name or initials printed in a certain style and/or a symbol. A logo serves as a visual identity for a firm. Remember that more than half of all people process information primarily visually, while auditory and kinesthetic processing come in second and third, respectively. Visual identity has a big impact.

Coca-Cola's red-and-white script style enables you to identify the company at a glance even if the name itself is written in Arabic, Chinese or Cyrillic characters. Nike's wordless "swish" symbol reminds you of the company instantly when you see it on sneakers, T-shirts, gear bags or billboards.

Even a small company can create this promotional payoff with appropriate use of an effective logo. Since every company of any significance has a logo, you mark yourself as professional and credible when you too have one.

A distinctive logo used proudly and extensively gives your company a recognizable look, so that envelopes bearing it get properly sorted by customers and mugs imprinted with it reinforce customers' relationship with your company during their morning coffee ritual. In addition, the stylistic flavor of your logo -- bold, nostalgic, warm or technological, for instance -- allows you to communicate nonverbally some subtle characteristics of your company.

2. Should I create my own logo?
Preferably, no. Hire a professional. Even if you have a good idea for a logo, you'll find that a pro can take it to a level of execution that can stand the test of time. An inept logo gets tiresome quickly. In the worst case, it confuses customers and fails to create the trustworthy, positive impression you want.

3. How much does a logo cost?
Designers hate this question. It's like asking, "How much does a vacation cost?" That depends on whether you jet to Paris on the Concorde or go camping at the local state park.

At one extreme, a multinational corporation merging with another one might spend upwards of a million dollars for a logo aptly representing both companies. At the other extreme, you might be able to find a design student to create a logo for you for free in exchange for being able to use it in his or her portfolio. In the typical case, be prepared to spend anywhere from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand for an effective logo.

4. How can I best work with a designer on a logo?
First, collect examples of logos you like and dislike, not necessarily in your industry. Second, compile a list of adjectives representing qualities you'd like to convey about your company. Third, tell the designer about any color preferences and taboos. Fourth, describe the ways you intend to use the logo.

Ask to see at least three rough ideas to choose from, and expect to go through several more iterations with minor adjustments after you choose which direction you like best. Before you finalize anything, use the checklist below to assess the appropriateness of what you've ended up with.

5. Are there logo clich├ęs to stay away from?
In the Middle Ages, when most people couldn't read, shopkeepers used standard symbols on their signage that told passersby that their establishment was a brewery, a pawn shop or a tannery. Today we have a vestige of that tradition in certain images being conventionally associated with specific industries and professions. For instance, scales indicate a lawyer (scales of justice), the outline of a roof over two walls suggests real estate and a curl of smoke coming out of a mug signifies coffee.

A skilled designer can incorporate these conventional associations into a logo in a subtle manner, but as a rule try for fresher ideas than such stock symbols.

6. What about logo colors?
Good question, since colors often have a profound impact on viewers. Psychologists agree that red and orange produce excitation, dark blue comfort and relaxation, and so on. To choose appropriate colors, think about the personality you want to convey for your business. Primary colors are wrong for most high-priced professionals, while silver and black wouldn't fit the fun image you want for a kids' gym.

In addition, consider how you might extend the color scheme of the logo beyond the original context (usually, at first, stationery and business cards). Might you want to use the logo on clothing, stenciled on a van or stamped onto calculators or clocks? Certain colors (yellow, pink) a lot of people don't wear well, while other colors (light blue, gray) don't stand out well from a distance. Bright neon hues might not match the black/silver/beige of technology objects.

Selecting familiar colors and no more than two of them (including black as one color) will keep costs down wherever you use the logo.

7. How should I choose the best logo candidate?
Get opinions from people in your target market instead of merely relying on your own intuition and taste. Also, use this checklist to avoid common problems with logos:

- Does it communicate in black and white as well as in color? Some logos become incomprehensible when reproduced in newspaper ads or when sent through a fax machine. Keep in mind too that something like 10 million American men and a few women are at least partially color blind.

- Does it resize well? Try blowing it up and reducing the logo to determine its readability at different sizes.

- If the logo uses words or letters, are they recognizable? You shouldn't have to explain or decipher the logo for people.

- Is the design consistent with the personality and tone you wish to convey about your business? A high-tech enterprise should look futuristic and speedy rather than fuzzy or flowery.

- Is it distinctive? A logo that looks like someone else's isn't worth your investment in it.

- Does it arouse any unwanted associations? What you intended as stepping stones might come across to others as looking like animal droppings. If you get this kind of honest feedback, pay attention.

- Do you and others in your company like it enough to use it enthusiastically? If not, return to the drawing board.

8. How often should I change my logo?
Jay Conrad Levinson, author of the "Guerrilla Marketing" books, says you should plan to use a logo for at least twenty years. If that seems excessively long, note that you'll probably get tired of your company look much more quickly than anyone else.

Drastic change of a logo can wipe out brand equity built up at great cost over the years. This is a decision to make only with strong reasons, such as when the current logo no longer fits the business (for instance, the image of a slide rule when everyone now uses calculators and computers), when you want to emphasize new directions or when the logo was ill-chosen to begin with and you can now afford to remedy the problem.

In many cases, a designer can update a logo without producing a complete break from the current version. The continuity then maintains the recognizability you've had in the past.

9. Can I legally protect my logo?
Certainly. Talk to an intellectual property attorney about protecting your logo through a trademark. Such an attorney can also help you make sure your logo doesn't unwittingly infringe on someone else's trademark, which could produce a situation where you had to change your logo after using it.

10. What should I do with my logo?
Use it like crazy! Don't merely put it on stationery and business cards -- put it on T-shirts, mouse pads, self-stick notes, umbrellas, tote bags, pens and more. Did you know you can even get your logo onto chocolate bars and private-label bottled water? Any time one of those items gets used, it's increasing the credibility, visibility and mind share of your company.

Boston-based marketing and publicity consultant Marcia Yudkin helps business owners around the world creatively spread the word about their offerings. She's also a syndicated columnist through ParadigmTSA, a public radio commentator and the author of nine books, including Six Steps to Free Publicity and Persuading on Paper. In addition, Marcia Yudkin delivers eye-opening, content-rich, motivating seminars on publicity and marketing to business and professional groups nationwide.