An Inside View of What Makes a Logo Great

The Logo as an Icon

By Tom Dougherty

what makes a logo great? Simplicity
Simplicity is important in logo development

What makes a great logo? People the world over have come to expect a logo when encountering a company or product — It’s so ingrained in how we size things up. A logo will stand for everything a brand represents to us — and most often within an emotional context. Just think of the famous brands and your own personal reaction to them via their logos.

You see the Coke logo and you think/feel/associate “authenticity” and “relaxing good times and refreshment.” When you see the Nike swoosh you conjure up “winning” and “personal triumph.” These companies have done a brilliant job building emotional brands and connecting them with their visual symbols.  Business logos are no less emotional nor influential than consumer brands.

It’s all a matter of association in the hearts and minds of your customers. Who could deny the emotional power in the Merrill Lynch bullish icon? From an insider’s point of view —as the practitioner who creates these symbols — there is much to consider when evaluating or creating the little piece of art that will come to represent an entire enterprise. To the layperson, the logo is just there —part of the overall impression. They don’t actually study the logo’s form, color, and style in all it’s detail. They simply experience it. But for all it’s apparent simplicity, a great logo is really quite sophisticated.

Beginning with an Idea

There are rules for logos, at least there are rules for great logos. Like great advertising, all great logos start with a solid idea. The idea is the foundation for all that follows. Without the idea, a logo is just decoration — a ship without a rudder that is unable to steer itself or the viewer towards a meaningful impression of the brand.

The idea can be abstract or representational as long as it leaves you with a sense of the company’s unique personality and purpose. Here are a few examples.  Black and Decker uses a hex shape like that of a steel nut (nuts and bolts). Along with its caution orange color and all caps bold sans serif type, the logo (symbol) and logotype (name) convey this company’s product strength and industry category. CBS literally converted its “eye on the world” into a symbol that has successfully branched into all its many content venues. Sprint’s “pin drop” from it’s signature TV campaign – “So clear you can hear a pin drop.” was used as the inspiration for it’s updated “pin in motion” logo. The distinctive and contemporary “black on yellow” color palette helps separate Sprint from its competitors.

Understanding the Craft of Logo-making

what makes a logo great? Braad Strategy
The strategy must be paramount

Craft in logo making refers here to the formal design relationships. Like the formal relationships in an architectural masterpiece, there are basic rules of entry in order to even be considered architecture — size, placement, thematic structure. The construction must be sound and plumb, and the connective relationships must be elegant and true. Anything less and the viewer focuses on the imperfections and misses the message. It’s hard to imagine Frank Gehry or I.M. Pei allowing a wall to be out of square or out of proportion (unless of course they meant it to be that way as part of the effect).

Simplicity is the Way

A logo must not be complicated. As a symbol for an entire organization and brand, it’s job is to connect with the viewer in an instant. This can only be done when the idea is direct and unfettered by unnecessary ornamentation. This goes to the idea of using only one visual “trick” in a logo. Focus needs to be on the one main idea. For example, the three logos above for Black and Decker, CBS, and Sprint use one visual device and focal point – so there’s no doubt as to where to look — “nut”, “eye”, “pin drop”. Verizon however, has diminished their impact with two separate and disparate devices – the check mark over the “v” and the stylized “z” – that lead the viewer in two separate directions thus creating confusion.

The other value in simplicity is its flexibility. A simple design can be placed on nearly anything from a blimp to a golf ball – and everything in between. Tradition had it that logos were only to be created in “line art.” This is where the forms in the logo are either positive or negative with no gradations or tones. The reason for this is that tones are more difficult (expensive) to reproduce in certain environments like signage and specialty items – like the blimp and golf ball, for example. Tones also do not translate as well in small sizes and are more difficult to print consistently. Today however as the technology focus for online and video is greater than ever, more and more companies are sacrificing flexibility for animated on-screen impact.

what makes a logo great? You decide
The old vs.the new

Check out this update for AT&T.  AT&T’s venerable globe logo (line art — above on the left) created by Saul Bass in 1984 received a more 3-dimensional appearance in it’s 2005 (tonal) update (above on the right) by Interbrand. Some designers call it sacrilege. Decide for yourself what feels more “today.”

Style and Personality

Along with the idea and craft of the logo, there is much more to convey in terms of style and personality. If the company in question is a progressive technology company, it stands to reason that the typographic style and overall design theme should be accordingly “progressive.” No sense wasting time looking at Old World calligraphic fonts, or dark and recessive colors.

The Sweet Spot

The sweet spot in logo design is found when the logo grows out of a company’s vision for itself and its customers — the very thing that customers respond to at a deep and actionable level. The best possible scenario occurs when the logo is created in tandem with a unique and powerful brand theme-line (think “Just Do It”).  This logo/brand theme-line combination or “lockup” as it is sometimes called, can then be used as the foundation for a comprehensive brand identity and visual thematic that crosses every media type. It’s then that the logo becomes a great logo and creates a formidable tool in changing perceptions and gaining market share.

(See some examples of Stealing Share’s logo design here)

First Financial Bank – Market Share – Brand Mergers

First Financial Bank – Market Share – Brand Mergers

By Tom Dougherty


First Financial Bank (FFB) is Headquartered in Hamilton, Ohio, First Financial Bancorp is a $3.7 billion publicly owned bank holding company with over 4,000 shareholders. The company is committed to satisfying the financial needs of its clients by building long-term relationships with a value-added approach. Founded in 1983, First Financial Bancorp is the holding company for First Financial Bank, N.A. which has a total of 105 banking centers in Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky, and Indiana. The banking brands are First Financial Bank, Community First Bank & Trust, and Sand Ridge Bank. The First Financial Wealth Resource Group line of business includes First Financial Capital Advisors LLC and First Financial Insurance. First Financial Bank came to Stealing Share® as a conglomeration of a few institutions, all operating under different brand names. The main banking brands could be grouped into three main players.


Brand is much more than a name but often the brand essence is most visible in e new logo an mark. The new name combines all the existing brands and elevated the corporate identity to a strategic level. Being FIRST. Careful behavior modeling and deep consumer research revealed a deep desire to “win” amongst the target audience and a belief in the power of choices. FFB was careful not to claim responsibility for the winning and success of the target audience but sought to assure them that this bank was a choice that helped winners keep on winning.

“Another step on the path to success”



Before work began on the new mark, the category was researched to find available colors and marks with the goal being both different and better then the competition. It is important when creating a logo that the color palate be distinctive and “own-able” without borrowing on the competitive set’s marks. The goal is to have the mark set apart from the competition.




Brand work always includes a review and revision of the brand architecture. All of the marks need to relate back to the parent brand.


The signature system needs to fit within the strategy. It should be timeless and help position the brand as strategic.


A brand identity Guide is an imperative. It assures our clients that the brand focus and meaning will not be come watered down and diluted over time. It provides a framework for conveying the brand in everything the company does. 4/20/07 Update: First Financial Bank 2007 first quarter results were up $.12 per share over 1st quarter 2006. Congratulations, First Financial and best wishes on “your path to success!”


Visit First Financial Bank by clicking here



Brand Identity

Brand Identity is how the strategy becomes alive

Brand identity is the final piece of the puzzle
Brand identity is the final piece of the puzzle

Once the strategy is established all visual and verbal customer touchpoints must be aligned with the new brand. As with all things visual, there are many signals between the lines that communicate to your potential customer. Color palette, typography, graphic and photographic style all contribute to the personality. However, without a core concept to drive the way, the parts can only amount to mere decoration.

The Importance of concept in logo design and brand identity

When we speak of the concept, we are talking about a central idea. In logo design, there must be one central idea that connects with customers. Further, all energies must be staged so that they are immediate and apparent. If the viewer has to work to get it, then the logo is not doing its job – being a symbol for the brand.

Simplicity as the path to clarity and immediacy

Simplicity is the only way to ensure the logo concept is immediate. Complexity adds confusion and is, therefore, a barrier between the brand and the viewer. The thing about simplicity, however, is that the elements can be elegant. It always must be of the utmost quality and craftsmanship.

Simplicity and production values

Simplicity also greatly affects the ease and difficulty in producing the logo in a vast variety of required sizes and media. Complex logos are difficult to reproduce when they are small – in addition to being unreadable. Complex logos are always more expensive to a company as well, because additional production processes are required to make them readable.

Brand Standards should be more than a set of rules.

They should promote the strategy and personality. When done correctly, Brand Standards help an organization reinforce the brand with energy and guidance. Examples with rationales go much further than direct commands. They should also address language and messaging in order to make all parts work together in concert towards a dynamic impression. In our Brand Standards, we also have a list of Do’s and Don’t’s that keep the focus tight.

In these logo and identity examples created by Stealing Share, notice how simplicity helps promote each strategy.


Brand identity is how the strategy come to life

Stealing Share creates comprehensive visual and verbal systems. It’s one thing to create a system that works together. It’s quite another when the standards help create a personality and messaging system that reinforces the strategy.