Logo development is a bit like an onion. When you delve into logo design with a qualified professional, you start to realize there are many layers involved in doing it right.

The core of the matter is to make sure your logo is on point in terms of brand positioning and strategy. Secondly, it’s important to hit the mark with the design to create impact and mindshare with not only your target audiences, but with those who’ve yet to hear of your organization.

Just as importantly, being prepared to address important technical issues in advance will ensure that the logo design process doesn’t bring you to tears.

Here’s how to design a logo that meets your nonprofit’s technical and practical needs:

1. Avoid superficial logo design

Crowd sourcing your project online may be a seductive option when your budget is small, but a poorly designed logo can drive people away from your brand. It’s worth the investment to get this key identifier done properly using a designer or agency with a proven track record.

2. Design your logo in black and white first

Development of logo art always starts in black and white, or grayscale, as this conveys the best sense of tone, contrast and type within the logo. This practice avoids the distraction of colour, allowing you to evaluate the work on the strength of the design alone. Save yourself the hassle of falling in love with a colour and just start with black. A solid black piece of art is also very easy to convert to all white.

3. Create a colour palette that’s effective across all platforms

Once the logo has been approved in its plain black version, then start with the colour exploration. Remember, your logo will have to look great in print, digital, outdoor, broadcast, silkscreen and other specialty applications.

If you are choosing new colours as you develop your logo, you’ll need to think about important elements such as:

  • current colour palette and whether new colours will have to integrate or replace them
  • contrast
  • colour relationships, and
  • warm vs. cool tones

A tool that I have found helpful for this task is Adobe Colour CC® which provides

  • multiple colour wheels,
  • easy to edit features, and
  • cross platform settings for CMYK, RGB and Hexachrome colour spaces

4. Make life easier by using flat colour instead of gradients

This technical consideration is important not only for digital applications but for print. Gradation may look cool, but it’s not so cool at lower resolutions on-line, or reproduced with over-saturated colours, from an in house printer, for example. If you do end up going with a gradation in the master logo, you’ll also need a flat version for just such occasions.

5. Consider your language needs

If you’re in a market that legislates the need for multilingual communications, this is an important technical consideration. Requiring more than one language could potentially double the width of your logo design. Consider when this larger mark would have to be used, and how scaling would affect the legibility.

6. Determine whether you need to incorporate a tagline

If your logo also must include a tagline, this adds another layer of complexity that needs to be visually well integrated within the logo. Therefore, creating a short and succinct line is key. Be sure that appropriate usage of this version of the logo is clearly addressed in your guidelines. For example, a logo with tagline might only be used specifically with advertising campaigns and not on corporate or informational materials. 

7. Set parameters for using your logo as a source for design elements

If you’re using a pictogram, symbol or shape as part of the logo, think about whether it might be used as an independent graphic element in your organization’s designs. How might this element be used or misused? Would deciding to permit this option provide flexibility and brand re-enforcement in your designs or could it become challenging to manage? If you’re going to allow it, be proactive: create guidelines to encourage correct usage.

8. Ensure your logo will scale well in different sizes

This is one of the most important considerations in your logo development. For easy scaling, the original design must be created in a vector format so the scale of the logo can increase or decrease in size without losing quality. The more loaded a logo design is with colour, type, graphics, taglines and multiple languages, the less successful and legible it will be at smaller sizes.

9. Be prepared for co-branding with sub-brands or external partners

Your brand architecture may call for parent brand logo that needs to marry well with a number of internal sub-brands, such as programs or events. If you’re designing the parent logo, how will that graphically integrate with existing sub-brands in terms of design and colour? You’ll also need to consider the size hierarchies inherent in these relationships.

In the nonprofit world, something called the “halo effect” may also play a role. Often partners or sponsors from the for-profit hemisphere may ask to co-brand projects with you to burnish their reputations. How would your logo design sit amongst these designs? This is a less critical technical consideration but one to keep in mind.

10. Get all of the necessary graphic and file type versions of your logo

Depending on the nature of your logo, you may need both a horizontal, or longer orientation, and a vertical or stacked version. These two links illustrate that a horizontal version may be totally appropriate for a web page header or a corporate annual report, but a stacked version fits much better on business cards or on social media.

In fact, there may be many iterations of the logo when all is said and done. When I oversaw a large national health charity’s brand identity, I was managing the use of 12 versions of a multilingual parent logo and many versions of sub-brands.

It’s also important to think about and obtain your logo in the necessary file formats including .eps, .png and .jpg.

11. Make a plan for managing logo use

In the excitement of creating a new logo, the plan for managing its use may be overlooked. But actually, it’s key to maintaining a brand’s integrity. So, planning your logo guidelines should be a part of the technical considerations at the outset. I’ve touched on some of these points above, but logo guidelines, at a minimum, should address topics such as:

  • maximum and minimum logo sizes
  • colours (including Pantone, CMYK, RGB and Hexachrome colour spaces)
  • examples of misuse
  • how graphic elements of the logo may be used
  • clear space required around the logo, and
  • when to use what version of your logo artwork, with clear explanations and illustration.

Ideally, there will be an owner of the master logo set who is well versed in all of the guidelines to provide ongoing support and approval of its usage.

Technical considerations may be a little dry compared to the imaginative pursuit of the ideal logo, but like an onion, they create a strong and deep base for a tasty final logo creation.

Katherine Moffat

Katherine Moffat

Owner and Creative Director at Stonetown Studio
Katherine Moffat is the Founder & Chief Creator at Stonetown Studio, located in beautiful St. Marys, Ontario. With a couple of decades of experience in graphic design, creative direction, branding and project management for corporate and nonprofit organizations under her belt, she also actively pursues her passion for ceramics as a maker and marketer of her work. If you’re looking for a collaboration in any of these areas, visit stonetownstudio.com to find out more.
Katherine Moffat