I’ve talked a lot on this blog about what makes a good logo, but I haven’t gone in depth nearly as much when it comes to what makes a bad logo. After a bit of brainstorming I was able to come up with 11 core reasons for what makes a bad logo, and I’ll be going over them in this post.
What Makes A Bad Logo
The following are 11 traits of a bad logo.
1. Too Literal
Probably my biggest example of what makes a bad logo is trying to literally depict something rather than conceptualizing it in an abstract way.
Logos are unique in that they’re not like other types of design where the goal is to communicate a message or guide a viewer to a course of action. A logo is just meant to be a simple, versatile, and unique piece of imagery that can be used to identify a brand. It technically doesn’t have to communicate anything, and because of that logos tend to work better when they have a bit more mystique.
Take the example above. They’re both delivery logos. The top design looks amateurish because it’s literally depicting delivery. The bottom design looks more professional because it’s suggesting delivery in an abstract way with the arrow nestled in the negative space between the E and X. Most people don’t even realize it’s there! It adds a nice touch of mystery, and logo design permits for this sort of exploration.
I’ve noticed that a lot of my clients get hung up on wanting their logo to literally depict what they do. It’s okay to depict something, but getting carried away with it almost always leads to an amateurish logo design.
2. Too Color-Reliant
Another example of what makes a bad logo is an inability to strip the logo down to just black and white.
Using colors and gradients in a logo is fine, but a logo that relies on its colors lacks the versatility to be used in all of the ways a logo is typically used.
A logo needs to work just as well without color as it does with color so that it can be carved into wood, made into a steel sign, branded on a step and repeat banner, embroidered onto a shirt, printed in black and white, etc.
3. Isn’t Visible At Small Sizes
As previously mentioned, a logo will be used in a variety of different ways, so it needs to be prepared in such a way that it’s versatile enough to work in every context. One good example of this is scaling.
A logo needs to be legible even when scaled to small sizes. When designing your logo, try to envision how it would look at 16 x 16 pixels in a browser tab. If it isn’t visible at that size then it probably won’t work very well on a business card or as a profile picture on social media when being viewed on a mobile device. This usually happens when there’s too much fine details.
4. Too trendy
As I talked about in a post I wrote about logo trends to avoid, design trends may look groovy today, but they’ll probably look like a mullet 10+ years from now.
5. Too Many Fonts
Another example of what makes a bad logo is using too many different fonts.
When you use lots of different fonts in a logo, they all fight for attention and clash with each other. It ends up looking messy and chaotic. I rarely ever use more than 2 fonts in the logos I design.
6. Isn’t Unique Enough
Another common trait of a bad logo is using design cliches. A good example of this would be the classic car outline logo…
The entire point of a logo is to have a unique piece of imagery that your audience can use to identify you with. Using design cliches defeats the entire purpose.
7. Poor Color Selection
In a post I wrote last year about use of color in logo design, I generally recommend using no more than 3 colors in a logo, and making sure to use a color wheel to choose shades that complement each other.
Colors that oppose each other on the color wheel tend to complement each other nicely and offer some contrast. It’s easy to notice that some of the world’s largest brands use this approach if you look closely. Bad logos tend to violate this principle and use colors that don’t complement each other.
This something that’s often overlooked, and it greatly improved my logo design skills once I realized it — line consistency!
If you notice in the example logos above, the logos in the top row utilize fonts that match the style and weight of the lines in the accompanying icons. The bottom row shows how they look when swapped.
The top row seems more harmonious, and the bottom row just seems like something isn’t right. This is where line consistency comes in. Good logos have consistency throughout, bad logos don’t. Always make sure that the style of your font matches the style of the rest of the design.
9. Trying To Communicate Too Much
This is another trap I’ve noticed a lot of my clients falling into — wanting to communicate too many different things in their logo.
If you look around, some of the largest brands in the world communicate just one thing in their logo. Generally speaking, I try not to communicate more than 1 or 2 things in a logo that I design, otherwise it becomes too busy.
There’s just just too much going on in the example above. There’s a hand holding up a plate of food over a backdrop of the world and with a ribbon going across it. It’s too busy.
Don’t fall into the trap of wanting to communicate too much in your logo. Even if you’re a complicated business that does lots of different things, remember: it’s not the logo’s job to communicate a message. It’s just meant to be a simple piece of imagery that a consumer can use to identify your brand.
10. Lack Of Kerning
In typography, kerning is the process of manually adjusting the spacing between letters so that they appear to be evenly spaced apart. This is one of those things that requires the human eye. You can’t leave this one up to the robots.
In the example above, the design to the left appears to have all of its letters evenly spaced. The design to the right doesn’t. The spacing looks inconsistent.
Believe it or not, the letters to the left were manually spaced. The letters to the right were computer-generated. You can see exactly why this happens by looking at the red bounding boxes around each letter below, particularly the space between the A and the T. They look like they’re so far apart because the base of the A protrudes much further than the point on top, and the opposite is true for the T. This creates the illusion of more space than what actually exists. This is why logos need to be manually kerned.
11. Poor Font Selection
The final example of what makes a bad logo is font selection. Every font has its own style and conveys its own unique set of emotions. A good logo utilizes a font style that is compatible with its core values as a brand. A bad logo doesn’t.
Have a look at the example fonts above. I titled them by how I perceive them. Try to imagine using the “industrial” font for a bakery logo, or the “whimsical” font for a government agency logo. It just wouldn’t work. Font selection is important.
If you’d like to learn more about logo design then feel free to check out the 18-part video series I put together on how to design great logos from start to finish. I cover all of these points (and others) in depth, and we even have a private community where I can answer any questions you may have.
If you have any bad logo design examples of your own, feel free to post a comment below!
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