"I want to be original," says the young startup founder. Well, I've got news for ya pal, you never will be and you will kill yourself trying to go down that road.
Everything is a derivative of something else. There is no new idea under the sun. Now, you can see this as negative or you can realize the opportunity you have to explore and put your spin on something already successful. The best creative work I come across is stolen. Meaning, the people that made it did not come up with the idea on their own, but they put it into a new context.
I'll give you an example, my friend Luis rebranded an agency a while ago. This agency's office overlooks a harbor in San Diego. So, he took the brand down a nautical path and turned them into a rebellious rouse of scallywags. They changed their name from Digital Style to VSSL, shifted all of their lingo to mirror a gang of pirates, and even named the rooms in their space after the places on a ship (the brig, the gulley, even the poop deck).
Here's the thing, Luis found every single element that went into that brand, he didn't conjure it out of thin air. The logo, the name, the language, the visuals, even the culture of the company is rooted in life at sea.
Find something inspirational and different, then steal it.
When doing design work, it's important to get feedback. However, the kind of feedback you get will make all the difference. Without beating around the bush, getting feedback that is entirely subjective is gonna end poorly, especially if you're trying to be different. The key is to be objective.
For example, when designing logos for clients, a client will often ask someone close to them: "which one do you like?"
Chances are, the respondent won't like any of them (for irrelevant reasons) or they mask the truth out of fear for hurting someone else's feelings. Either way, the feedback to this question is shit. Always.
Instead you have to think about the goals you are looking to achieve, such as aligning something like a logo to your brand. The best way to do this is what I like to call the binary method. If you know what you want someone to feel when they look at your company, then you can also define the opposite. If you want someone to feel edgy, modern, and sleek (you should define these in your own words, mind you) then the opposite of your goal would be to have them feel safe, nostalgic, and rough.
At this point you can ask, "does this feel more modern or nostalgic?"
Following up with "what makes you feel that way?" since the reasons might be extremely personal. Granted, a logo needs to be contextualized with other branded elements to get feedback on something like its alignment to the brand.
This goes far with getting valuable feedback that you can actual improve from and makes subjectivity less prevalent. Regardless of what design project you're working on, knowing what your goal is and the ability to articulate the opposite gives you framework for getting concrete answers.
Logos are tricky and inherently subjective. Not only that, but with a slew of vendors like Fiverr, Upwork, 99Designs, and friends/family who do design work as a side hustle, it's hard to figure out navigating a new identity for your startup. So, here are the top five things all startups should consider when deciding whether or not it is time for a new logo.
Is your logo descriptive of what your startup does?
Descriptive logos detail what services/products a startup provides. For example, if you owned a computer hardware startup and your logo was a monitor screen, that is a descriptive logo. The issue with descriptive logos is that they focus on what you do rather than why you do it.
Logos should be somewhat representative of the fundamental purpose behind your startup and the emotional resonance of your brand (more on this later). Furthermore, descriptive logos are a terrible solution in the long-term, especially if they are focused on a particular technology. Reason being, we don't know how long any particular products or services will be around.
Does your logo look like all of your competitors?
Everyone loves to chalk up Apple as one of the greatest brands of all time. While the logo is the tip of their branding iceberg, it successfully demonstrates the need to stand out. Here is an example of what I mean:
You see, it would have been easy for Apple to create a blue logotype just like their successful competitors, but they would not have been identifiable at all. They would have been pegged as a copycat. The goal of a logo is to be an easily identified mark that helps people recognize your startup. If your logo looks just like all of your competitors, then your logo isn't doing its job.
Did you receive all of the proper formats of your logo when you first got it?
We're diving into the weeds here, but this is an important part of logo design. The downside to sites like Fiverr, Upwork, and 99Designs is that they do not guide users through the proper ways your logo should be distributed. For example, the logo on your website should be in an SVG (scalable vector graphic) format, not a PNG or JPEG. It's not your job as a startup to know this, but you should be informed by the designer which one to use. They also do not develop variants for specific applications like social media, favicons, or different lockups for different applications. In short, if you find yourself scrambling to make your logo work in different contexts, it is obvious that the logo was not built with those applications in mind.
Is it legible and memorable?
Effective logos are simple. The reason for this is so that they can be easily recognized in a crowded market and distinguished from other marks. Simplicity, in the context of logos, could be distilled into two key components:
Legibility (how easy it is to read)
Memorability (how well you, your team, and your customers remember it).
Your logo is not a place to get fancy with grandiose illustrations or granular details. It needs to be just as clear at .5 inches tall as it would be on a billboard.
A simple test to check for these qualifiers is to try and draw your logo from memory. Ask your team and some of your loyal customers to do the same. Are they completely off? If they are, it's time to change.
Has the brand of your startup changed?
Your logo is not your brand, the brand is the gut feeling someone has toward your startup. This feeling is hard to pinpoint without walking through a formalized brand strategy process, but it is found and felt over time.
While logos are not meant for communicating everything about the company, a good logo will be appropriate for the brand. For example, Metallica's logo would not suite a company like Gerber Baby Food because the emotional qualities are at ends with each other. Gerber wants people to feel happy and cared for, while Metallica wants you to feel the wrath of heavy metal.
The first step is understanding what the feeling you want someone to have toward your startup is. Once you can define that, you can see how your logo matches up. If they are in contention with each other, it's time to change.
How does your startup's logo stack up against these questions?