Small Business Logo Design: The good, the bad and the ugly.

Reflected Spectrum Photography just unveiled their new site featuring the logo I was pleased to design. Take a look:

During the design process, I realized many small businesses could use some design tips for their logos. And since logos are, by definition, visual, the best way to give advice is to show you the good, the bad and the ugly.

Design Criteria 1 – Legibility

The most important aspect of logo design is legibility. Is your company’s name easy to read? It sounds like an overly simplistic criterion, but sometimes designers get caught up in exciting font choices and graphics, losing sight of a logo’s legibility.

The Good

This logo is very easy to read, and as a bonus includes a tagline explaining what you can expect of the CEO Club.

The Bad

This logo is a work of art – much too pretty to designate as ugly. It is also a failure. Could anyone glancing at it tell what those letters are? Even after studying it, are you certain what it’s supposed to communicate?

The Ugly

Those malformed polygons are supposed to spell out 2012, as in the 2012 Olympics in London. It’s clearly an example of a designer losing sight of a logo’s most basic goal – to communicate the brand clearly.

Design Criteria 2 – Color Palette

Your logo’s colors need to blend and contrast pleasantly. Color theory is science, but all too often amateur designers try to put the boldest colors together to make the highest impact. Hire a good designer, or Google search for a color wheel, but don’t put blue letters on a red background.

The Good

Brown is an unusual color to use in a logo, but combined with the taupe and cranberry red, it blends to show an image of folksy charm and wisdom. Scott Hogue writes a blog and books providing life advice, so it fits.

The Bad

Combining bright red with bright blue confuses the eye, because your eyes can’t focus on certain shades of red and blue at the same time. You may see the logo vibrate or feel the need to blink. These are not the reactions you want when people look at your logo.

The Ugly

Many times, I’ve been requested to create, “Just a simple graphic of red text on a plain white background.” Many people assume that if it’s simple, it can’t be bad. Unfortunately, red text on a white background is not just bad – it’s ugly. The colors you choose influence how customers feel about your business. Do you want them to feel like your logo is like a stop sign?

(Isn’t it funny that a business named Piece of Cake chose a gift box for their logo instead of, say, a slice of cake?)

Design Criteria 3 – Visual Interest

A logo should never be boring. A logo communicates a vibe to your customers and should have visual interest. Often in small businesses, design-by-committee impulses take over, resulting in a logo that everyone can live with but no one is excited about. If you and your employees aren’t excited, your customers certainly won’t be.

The Good

Yes, this is our logo. But it has very good visual interest. It communicates that we think outside the box (or zoo, as it were), are creative and have a little bit of fun. The logo directly ties to the name of the business and draws customers’ attention to what we do – MARKETING.

The Bad

They’ve tried to spruce up the plain, boring wordmark with spacing, but it doesn’t work. Does seeing this logo make you want to learn more about these lawyers? Probably not. Many small businesses fall prey to boring visuals like this because good design requires a talented designer who costs money. But a good logo is the cornerstone of your visual communication. It appears everywhere your business is mentioned in print and on the web.

The Ugly

When you think of bars, do you immediately imagine a hummingbird? No? This logo demonstrates that even if your business name is your own name, the visual interest needs to focus on what you sell. For instance, this business would have been better off depicting a tough blue jay or even an eagle.

Design Criteria 4 – Scalability

Many small business marketing designers don’t consider how a logo will scale for different uses. Your logo needs to be scalable for every intended use – small for business cards and online banner ads, medium for letterhead and print ads, and large for building signs, billboards or vehicle graphics.

The Good

This logo is built of modular pieces that can be arranged according to where and how it will be displayed. For a long, narrow space, such as a sign on a car wash, the lighthouse graphic can be removed. For a square space, like in the corner of a website, the text graphics can be stacked. Your logo doesn’t have to be identical in every place it appears as long as it uses the same components.

The Bad

This logo is interesting, but it’s certainly not scalable. If I shrink it another 30%, the text becomes very hard to read, and the graphics begin to be indiscernible. This problem exists with most circular logos that have text around the circumference. Consider the smallest size you will need if designing a logo like this – if it needs to be on a business card, you will likely have issues.

The Ugly

I enlarged this logo, so you would be able to read the text. In its original state, the text was impossible to read. When your lion is roughly five times the size of your text, you have an ugly scalability problem.

Using the criteria of Legibility, Color Palette, Visual Interest and Scalability, rate your own small business’s logo. Is it good, bad or ugly? Need some help judging? Send it to me at, and I’ll give you an analysis.

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