Are All Graphic Designers Logo Designers?

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This is a guest post by Erik Ford from we are pixel 8, a boutique design and marketing agency with offices in Los Angeles and New York. You can follow Erik on Twitter or read more of his writing on the wearepixel8 blog.

I am a graphic designer. Does that mean I am a logo designer as well?

I will start off by saying that the answer to that question is an emphatic no! Now, before you start screaming at your monitor, let’s examine how the outside world defines a graphic designer.

According to Wikipedia, a graphic designer is;
“… a professional within the graphic design and graphic arts industry who assembles together images, typography or motion graphics to create a piece of design.”

This is an incredibly broad assessment and therefore can be mistakenly misinterpreted to mean you can do it all. The fact is, there are a multitude of fields under the catch all umbrella of graphic design. There are print designers, package designers, web designers, icon designers, interface designers, logo designers and on and on and on. So, I will start by saying that, by simply calling ourselves graphic designers, we are not, by default, experts in any or all of these fields. And though the general public may not understand this, we, the “professionals” must accept that there are vast differences between each of these fields.

They are not readily interchangeable like your favorite hat collection. Each has its own set of guidelines, history and mythology. In fact, if you are a designer who can truly master multiple disciplines, I politely genuflect before you because I am not of your blood type. For me, I will attempt to master one field and always be students of whichever additional field I am trying to conquer.

With that said, I am not a logo designer. I love designing logos but, to me, a logo designer is a person, like Duane, who dedicates themselves to mastering this field above all others. This may seem like a strict definition of the term but I feel I have so much to learn that I would never be comfortable calling myself a logo designer.

But, this does not stop me from making daily strides to reach my end goal of being an effective logo designer and I would like to humbly share with you some tips that have helped me along the way.

Study. Learn. Repeat process.

Do you need a degree to be a logo designer? That one, I cannot answer and there is enough discourse online covering this topic more eloquently than I can. But, whether you have formal training or not, you must always be a student of your craft (even when you are a self described master). For example, if you do not know the difference between serif and sans serif, logo mark and logo type, you probably want to hit the local book store or subscribe to any of the great blogs dedicated to logo design and start reading.

It really isn’t enough to put and icon with some text and call it a logo. Every single nuance of the final art must have a role to play in the whole. And, before you can even understand that role, you have to know the terminology at the least.

Now, this can seem daunting and often times it is difficult to know where to even begin. There are literally countless books published every year covering topics pertinent to becoming a logo designer, many of which are pretty expensive. So, how do you choose which ones are right for you? Take some time out and sit in the book store and just read through a few before you purchase them. I do this on a regular basis. You can often times find me at the Barnes & Noble at the Grove drinking a large cup of coffee behind a mountain of design related books. Here is a starter list that I have found to be incredibly helpful in my journey.

Typeface: Classic Typography for Contemporary Design by Tamye Riggs

New Vintage Type: Classic Fonts for the Digital Age by Steven Heller & Gail Anderson

Logo Design Love: A Guide to Creating Iconic Brand Identities by David Airey

Designing Logos: The Process of Creating Symbols That Endure by Jack Gernsheimer

Thinking with Type: A Critical Guide for Designers, Writers, Editors, & Students byEllen Lupton

Before you know it, you will have your own personal library that you can refer to on a regular basis. Believe me. This can also be addictive. So, know when to just say no to a particular purchase if you find yourself blowing all of your profits at Amazon.

Logo design tutorials will hold you back.

Don’t get me wrong here. I love tutorials. Hell, I’ve been known to write one or two myself. In fact, the tutorials you find online, in books and in magazines are excellent learning tools for getting the hang of a specific application. But, in my opinion, what you will not glean from a tutorial is the process in which it takes to create a successful logo for a client: one based on their needs, their audience and/or their company/product. And, if you rely solely on tutorials to advance your career as a logo designer, you are doing yourself a grave disservice. Whereas, you may become quite adept at a particular tool, you will not have to foundation to use that tool.

For me, a better source of logo design education is reading about the process behind a particular logo that was developed by a particular designer. From the design brief, to the research, to sketching, to client presentation, these articles and posts are chock full of the “why” behind a logo and not necessarily the “how”. This shared knowledge will have far more of a positive impact on how you grow as a logo designer than any particular tutorial ever will.

Plus, I believe that these are tried and true examples of the process you will profit from more than tackling how to accomplish the final art in Illustrator. Why was that particular symbol used? Why did they choose that particular typography? Why did they create that particular color palette? This will aid you in making determinations for your particular project.

Here are some of my favorite posts about logo design processes in no particular order. These are by some of the best logo designers, in the field today, who have taken the time to share their expertise that have been nothing but inspirational for me.

Logo design process revealed in 23 steps by Douglas Bonneville

The Logo Design Process From Start To Finish by Jacob Cass

A Special Need Logo Design Process by Brian Hoff

Sikbox Logo Design Process by Abduzeedo

Artistic Expression: Logo Design from Start to Finish by Jacob Cass

A Complete Logo Design Process For An Eco Green Logo by Sneh Roy

troove logo design process by Helvetic Brands

Logo Process – JoomlaBamboo Identity Development by Graham Smith

Insyndia Logo Design Process by Jeremy Bolton

Logo design process of Scroll Magazine by Veerle Pieters

Logo Design: Start to Finish by chopeh

Photoshop is not your friend

This one happens to be my personal pet peeve. Logos should never be designed in Photoshop! In case you didn’t hear me the first time… Under no circumstances should you ever design a logo user a raster based application like Photoshop! Sorry for yelling, but I had to get that off of my chest. A common and, dare I say fatal, mistake made by untrained logo designers is the use of Adobe Photoshop to create a logo design.

Logos are supposed to be vector based artwork. Period. There is no wiggle room here. They are meant to be resolution independent. When you use Photoshop, you are predetermining the resolution of your document and locking that resolution in for all eternity. If you deliver a logo in Photoshop that is 300px x 200px at 72dpi, then this logo will always be in these dimensions and at that resolution. The client will not be able to scale the design up for larger use or use the logo in print collateral. Why would anyone commit such a heinous crime?

I know that I am being dramatic here, but this cannot be stressed enough. Iʼve received logo assets from clients in a Photoshop document only to be told that is what the designer delivered to them. After locking myself in a vacuumed room and screaming at the top of my lungs, I politely explained that this will not be sufficient to work with and we will have to charge them for redesigning their asset as a vector based logo (insert client locking themselves in a vacuumed room screaming their heads off). So, do yourself a favor, never launch Photoshop when you are ready to take your sketch work digital.

What the hell does all this mean for you?

It is my opinion that, if you are to be a successful graphic designer, you probably want to pick a niche and become the master of that domain. I find that being a jack of all trades usually means you are a master of none. This does not mean that you cannot be a web designer and a logo designer. But, talent notwithstanding, each field requires that you obsessively dedicate yourself to learning everything there is to learn about that field. So, just because you can layout a beautiful web page does not inherently mean you can design an effective logo and vice versa.

Photo by Eleaf

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  • http://www.wearepixel8.com Erik Ford

    Duane, thanks for giving me a chance to share some of my thoughts on logo design. I had a blast and I hope your readers enjoy it as much as I did.

  • http://www.logobird.com.au Duane Kinsey

    Thank you Erik. This is brilliantly written article. I am sure our readers will appreciate the effort you put into it.

  • http://clayrivers.com TuffyPants

    THANK YOU SO VERY MUCH!

    I’ve been saying this stuff to clients, students, and anyone who’ll listen for years.

    Keep up the good work!

    • http://www.logobird.com.au Duane Kinsey

      Glad you appreciated the post. Thanks for commenting.

  • http://fundesigns.carbonmade.com Chris

    I experiment in creating logos, I create logos, I read about logos… but I also do illustrations and photo manipulations. So that’s a no for me.

  • http://www.gonzoblog.nl Gonzo the Great

    Hi Eric,

    Thanks for a great article! Especially I’m glad you mentioned the photoshop-part! I’ve heard too much so-called logo designers who work with pixels instead of vectors (deadly sin #1).

    If interested in more about logo design, I’ve (also) devoted some articles on the gonzoblog.nl to the fine arts of logo making! Once again thanks for sharing a brilliant article, Cheers & Ciao …

    • http://www.logobird.com.au Duane Kinsey

      Logos created in Photoshop are one of my pet hates too. Thanks for the link.

      BTW…Gonzo!….that’s just awesome:)

  • http://www.gonzoblog.nl Gonzo the Great

    BTW: It should be Erik not Eric, .. I’m so sorry, ERIK! Guess you can call this automatism? Once again, great read! Cheers & Ciao ..

  • http://www.gonzoblog.nl Gonzo the Great

    BTW: It should be Erik not Eric, .. I’m so sorry, ERIK! Guess you can call this automatism? Once again, great read! Cheers & Ciao ..

  • http://www.musings.it Federica Sibella

    Hi Erik and everybody,

    thanks for this well written article. I completely agree with your Photoshop part: only vectors work for logos! And I would add: great logos work also in b&w only. As to me: I play creating logos (my logo for instance or logos for my applications) but I’m far far away from calling me a logo designer and sometimes I really think “that’s clever, that’s a genius!” when I see some astonishing beautiful logos created by “real” logo designers :)

    • http://www.logobird.com.au Duane Kinsey

      Hi Frederica, glad that you liked Erik’s post. Thanks for stopping by!

  • http://www.musings.it Federica Sibella

    Hi Erik and everybody,

    thanks for this well written article. I completely agree with your Photoshop part: only vectors work for logos! And I would add: great logos work also in b&w only. As to me: I play creating logos (my logo for instance or logos for my applications) but I’m far far away from calling me a logo designer and sometimes I really think “that’s clever, that’s a genius!” when I see some astonishing beautiful logos created by “real” logo designers :)

    • http://www.logobird.com.au Duane Kinsey

      Hi Frederica, glad that you liked Erik’s post. Thanks for stopping by!

  • http://www.chopeh.com chopeh

    Thanks for mentioning my logo process article in there, and I’m glad you thought it was useful. I certainly wouldn’t consider myself “some of the best logo designers”, but it’s nice to know that my article has inspired you in some little way.

    I have to admit, logo design is pretty new territory even for me. I’m from a more traditional web design background and have no real formal training in branding, just something I have a keen interest in and investigate a lot. I’ve been relatively lucky in that some of my designs have been recognized and more and more clients come to me only for logo design. However, I still wouldn’t consider myself a logo designer initially.

    To follow up some points in you article; I never once used a tutorial, and I wouldn’t even consider using Photoshop for logo design!

  • http://www.chopeh.com chopeh

    Thanks for mentioning my logo process article in there, and I’m glad you thought it was useful. I certainly wouldn’t consider myself “some of the best logo designers”, but it’s nice to know that my article has inspired you in some little way.

    I have to admit, logo design is pretty new territory even for me. I’m from a more traditional web design background and have no real formal training in branding, just something I have a keen interest in and investigate a lot. I’ve been relatively lucky in that some of my designs have been recognized and more and more clients come to me only for logo design. However, I still wouldn’t consider myself a logo designer initially.

    To follow up some points in you article; I never once used a tutorial, and I wouldn’t even consider using Photoshop for logo design!

    • http://fundesigns.carbonmade.com Chris

      I experiment in creating logos, I create logos, I read about logos… but I also do illustrations and photo manipulations. So that’s a no for me.

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  • http://deseynerseyecreations.net/wordpress Lisa Raymond

    Thanks, Erik and Duane, for posting such a complete and thought-provoking article! I, too, have been the victim of the “logo bandit” – the Photoshop logo. I usually see this when asking for the vector logo but “so-and-so built the website and the logo”, and I end up with the same problem everyone else has experienced. Thank you also for the reference materials list; now I know what to add to my learning repetoire.

    • http://www.logobird.com.au Duane Kinsey

      The Photoshop logo is an all too common problem Lisa. Thanks for stopping by and leaving your thoughts.

  • http://deseynerseyecreations.net/wordpress Lisa Raymond

    Thanks, Erik and Duane, for posting such a complete and thought-provoking article! I, too, have been the victim of the “logo bandit” – the Photoshop logo. I usually see this when asking for the vector logo but “so-and-so built the website and the logo”, and I end up with the same problem everyone else has experienced. Thank you also for the reference materials list; now I know what to add to my learning repetoire.

    • http://www.logobird.com.au Duane Kinsey

      The Photoshop logo is an all too common problem Lisa. Thanks for stopping by and leaving your thoughts.

  • http://leightonhubbell.com Leighton Hubbell

    Nice article. I’m glad someone took it upon themselves to write on this topic. I think it is a common misconception that all graphic designers are logo designers. Much like the idea that all graphic designers are web designers and web designers are coders, etc. Not at all true, when it’s all said and done.

    Like anything in the creative fields, to be truly great at something, it takes practice and a lot of drive. Whatever you create, it’s got to be special.

    I’ve also written an article for all those who aspire to be a logo designer, or just need a little reminder. Here’s the link: http://leightonhubbell-logos.com/2010/02/24/so-you-want-to-be-a-logo-designer/

    • http://www.logobird.com.au Duane Kinsey

      Thanks for leaving a link to your post Leighton. I have also tweeted it. Cheers!

  • http://leightonhubbell.com Leighton Hubbell

    Nice article. I’m glad someone took it upon themselves to write on this topic. I think it is a common misconception that all graphic designers are logo designers. Much like the idea that all graphic designers are web designers and web designers are coders, etc. Not at all true, when it’s all said and done.

    Like anything in the creative fields, to be truly great at something, it takes practice and a lot of drive. Whatever you create, it’s got to be special.

    I’ve also written an article for all those who aspire to be a logo designer, or just need a little reminder. Here’s the link: http://leightonhubbell-logos.com/2010/02/24/so-you-want-to-be-a-logo-designer/

    • http://www.logobird.com.au Duane Kinsey

      Thanks for leaving a link to your post Leighton. I have also tweeted it. Cheers!

      • http://www.gonzoblog.nl Gonzo the Great

        Hi Eric,

        Thanks for a great article! Especially I’m glad you mentioned the photoshop-part! I’ve heard too much so-called logo designers who work with pixels instead of vectors (deadly sin #1).

        If interested in more about logo design, I’ve (also) devoted some articles on the gonzoblog.nl to the fine arts of logo making! Once again thanks for sharing a brilliant article, Cheers & Ciao …

        • http://www.logobird.com.au Duane Kinsey

          Logos created in Photoshop are one of my pet hates too. Thanks for the link.

          BTW…Gonzo!….that’s just awesome:)

  • http://bonfx.com Douglas Bonneville

    Great article and strong opinion. Love it. I can’t count the number of times I’ve gotten “logos” from clients in…Word. Powerpoint. Or as a .wmf file (though it’s been a few years on that one). I’ve also gotten 3rd generation faxes and poorly printed letterheads as “source files”.

    Personally, I’ve always enjoyed recreating a logo from a poor source. It’s kind of a passive craftsmanship kind of thing. Almost therapeutic. And then you get to “fix” the subtle things the first designer missed. And then the client loves you because the logo looks so much better.

    Man, there is a great side business idea. “Logo recreation” instead of “logo design”!

    Thanks for including my tutorial too! Love what you do here. Keep it up!

    • http://www.logobird.com.au Duane Kinsey

      Hey Douglas, I also get the same ‘kick’ out of fixing logos that come in poor formats. In a peculiar way it is kinda satisfying.
      “Logo recreation”…*lol* ;)

  • http://bonfx.com Douglas Bonneville

    Great article and strong opinion. Love it. I can’t count the number of times I’ve gotten “logos” from clients in…Word. Powerpoint. Or as a .wmf file (though it’s been a few years on that one). I’ve also gotten 3rd generation faxes and poorly printed letterheads as “source files”.

    Personally, I’ve always enjoyed recreating a logo from a poor source. It’s kind of a passive craftsmanship kind of thing. Almost therapeutic. And then you get to “fix” the subtle things the first designer missed. And then the client loves you because the logo looks so much better.

    Man, there is a great side business idea. “Logo recreation” instead of “logo design”!

    Thanks for including my tutorial too! Love what you do here. Keep it up!

    • http://www.logobird.com.au Duane Kinsey

      Hey Douglas, I also get the same ‘kick’ out of fixing logos that come in poor formats. In a peculiar way it is kinda satisfying.
      “Logo recreation”…*lol* ;)

  • http://twitter.com/DrummerGall DrummerGirl

    Great article. Thank you.

  • Mick3015

    Can’t tell you how many times a client will email their logo to me on a business card with an array of colors in the background and expect me to blow it up to use on their full page ad! 

  • http://www.wearepixel8.com Erik Ford

    Duane, thanks for giving me a chance to share some of my thoughts on logo design. I had a blast and I hope your readers enjoy it as much as I did.

  • http://www.logobird.com.au Duane Kinsey

    Thank you Erik. This is brilliantly written article. I am sure our readers will appreciate the effort you put into it.

  • http://clayrivers.com TuffyPants

    THANK YOU SO VERY MUCH!

    I’ve been saying this stuff to clients, students, and anyone who’ll listen for years.

    Keep up the good work!

  • http://www.logobird.com.au Duane Kinsey

    Glad you appreciated the post. Thanks for commenting.

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