For most businesses, acquiring or changing a logo feels like a momentous step. A logo, after all, is the face of your brand. McDonald’s is inextricable from its arches. Nike’s simple checkmark possesses almost supernatural communicative qualities.
But how do you measure the success of a logo? Short of a large-scale populist backlash on the order of the University of California’s recent re-design fiasco, success or failure is hard to quantify. There are, however, a number of questions you can and should ask as you consider a new logo. Here are the top five.
1. What was wrong with your old logo?
If your answer is “we didn’t have one” or “my kid drew it on Microsoft Paint,” then you can bet that your new logo is going to be a relative win. In most cases, however, the concerns are more nuanced. Typically, there are two reasons to redo a logo: either the current one no longer reflects your company’s character or target market (you’ve changed but your logo hasn’t), or it just looks dusty and dated (the world has changed but your logo hasn’t). The second reason is obviously quite subjective, so do analysis and tread carefully. A refresh can be a boon for business, but superfluous changes also pose a risk – at the very least, of losing what you paid for an unnecessary design service. It could be that there was nothing really wrong with your old logo at all.
2. What do you want from your logo?
Amid the excitement of getting a new logo, it’s easy to lose sight of how the item actually functions. Ultimately, the point of such a mark is to identify your business, but even this basic definition couches a question: do you want your logo to simply identify you as providing a certain service or belonging to a certain industry, or do you want it to distinguish you from competitors within that industry? If you own a dentistry practice, you may just want your logo to identify you as a dentist without the possibility of confusion. This is why so many dentists around the world use virtually identical logos (smiles, teeth, brushes, etc.) In most cases there is nothing to gain from setting oneself apart within the field– only a risk of alienating potential clientele. On the other hand, if you are looking to distinguish your brand from similar ones, it is worthwhile to choose a unique, non-obvious logo. The link between a peacock and a television broadcasting network is tenuous, but NBC’s design nevertheless served the company well, quickly taking on iconic status.
3. Does it work across media? Integrate into a broader branding scheme?
A good designer’s first order of business is to correct the layman’s tendency to think of a logo in the abstract. In fact, logos are generally material things: they exist on business cards, websites, store windows and billboards. That means they have to be legible at the scale of a penny and a hula-hoop alike, and as distinctive in black and white as in full color. An overly complex or awkwardly shaped logo may fail this test, even if it looks decent on a blank page. A great designer, however, will further propose a logo that supersedes itself as a stand-alone mark, instead forming a part of a cohesive, overarching branding scheme. Choose a color palette that you’ll be able to extend across a website and perhaps physical space. Select a typeface that pairs well with what you might use on your business cards or future ads. If you find that your logo constrains your various future design projects more than it opens up promising possibilities, then it was not successful.
4. What is the critical response to your logo and does it matter?
It’s reasonable to test the critical waters by polling your friends, family and colleagues about a new logo. However, there are a few caveats to keep in mind. First, not everyone’s opinion is created equal. Your designer is an expert (hopefully), while your friends are not. Their emotional responses certainly carry some validity, but remember that they might not have considered all the nuances of branding potential noted above. Second, not everyone is a critic – in fact, most people aren’t. Asking people to actively evaluate a logo sets up atypical conditions; most of your potential customers, unless they are graphic design enthusiasts, will not subject your logo to an exacting inspection. They’ll simply use it as a tool for identifying your business – that is, as intended. Once the logo is set and printed across your assets, you’ll have to weigh the occasional negative remark against the cost of re-design, re-printing, etc. Short of a full on scandal like the ones precipitated by The University of California, The Gap or Tropicana redesigning beloved emblems, it is almost never worth giving in. Human psychology promises knee-jerk negative reactions to change, but people eventually come around.
5. Is your design cookie-cutter generic?
As noted earlier, not every industry puts the same premium on an original-looking logo, and sometimes going into left field is even disadvantageous. A dentistry logo probably ought to look like a dentistry logo. Still, there are certain overused, cookie-cutter designs – an abstract, v-shaped man leaping for joy, a ring of crescents – that are fundamentally empty, failing even to identify a business with any meaningful concept. Something like this may work in a pinch or on a very temporary basis, but pay no more than whatever you think zero thought and a couple of minutes with Adobe Illustrator are worth.
If you’re able to answer these questions truthfully, you should be in a position to broadly assess the success of your logo. That’s probably the best you can hope for; more quantifiable rates of return tend to prove elusive with logo design. What really matters though, lies less in the product than in the creative person or team that created it. A designer who is skilled, trustworthy and responsive, who understands your business mission but isn’t afraid to challenge your design ideas, who thinks long-term and will be there down the road to carry out the innumerable little tasks that may arise, is invaluable.