Logo design process revealed in 23 steps

Learn how the creative brainstorming process works and how the logo design process flows along all the way to the final vector art. Understanding what a graphic designer does when designing a logo mark is valuable because it helps clients understand just how tactile a process it is. We’ll show you how we do it in 23 steps!

For BonFX, and any designer worth his or her salt, logo design is an iterative process. Many dead ends are encountered looking for the one right idea. But those dead ends are like pieces of marble that are chiseled away from a sculpture, as the artist “frees” the image trapped in the stone. In the case of a logo designer, the “stone” is blank white paper, and the chisel is a No. 2 pencil.

I’m going to walk you through my creative and technical process for creating the logo mark “BonFX”. I’ve run BonFX as such for over 10 years, and was Bon Communications before that. Now, BonFX has changed several times over the years, but with the advent of my new blog at www.bonfx.com, I decided a new look and feel was in store. The cobbler’s children are finally getting some shoes! My previous logo was a very simple, overly-austere type based mark relying on Akzidenz-Grotesk, one of my favorite typefaces (that I did quickly and ended up sticking with for some time). I wanted something warmer and friendlier, but I’m not a big fan of using handwriting fonts for logo marks. I decided to just brainstorm to see if I could get to “loose”, “friendly”, “fun”, buy yet convey a sense of restraint, balanced by a refined corporate sensibility. Let’s commence and see how it went!

Last step first:

First, let’s start with the end and then work through how I got there. Here is the final logo in production now on my website and collateral, in black and white:

process-23-done

Now we’ll run through 23 steps of this logo design process and see just how crazy it got. All good logo design processes follow a similar path.

Step 1: Brainstorm logo concepts

The first step in creative is brainstorming is to just improvise some visual ideas guided by the research done in a previous cycle of work. In this case, since I was the client and the designer, I already had worked out my goals for aesthetics, evaluated my competition, and decided where I wanted to end up. The important thing at this stage is to generate too many ideas and leave nothing unexplored, even if it seems at odds with the research and stated objectives:

process-01-brainstorm

Step 2: Bring a logo design concept into further focus

I had an initial visual I wanted to pursue, on a chunky box theme:

process-02-bag-idea

Step 3: Pursue even random logo design concepts beyond simple lines

But no…and then I was off down rabbit trails when I realized the initial “box idea” turned out to be a “bag idea”. Even though I wasn’t going to use the idea, I still make it a point to let my pencil enjoy itself and get creative and make wasted ideas look nice. Well, they aren’t really wasted really. What’s more fun than doodling? And what’s better than coffee?

process-03-coffee

Step 4: Free associating logo design concepts

I’m really getting out there, trying to get sillier so that I can get some perspective on where I need to be. A banner? Why not? I need to “say” something fun with the logo I’m looking for…I’m drawing quickly, very small, and generating lot’s of free association ideas:

process-04-banner

Step 5: Remain unhindered in your creativity as you hunt for the right logo design concept

Hmmm…what is that happy lamp thing from Pixar movies? He’s fun. Can he help shine some light on my new logo?

process-05-lamp

Step 6: Never give up, but keep iterating, and always letting your creative juices have their way

Ok, no light from the lamp per se, but I’ve filled a sheet of paper at this point. No luck yet. It’s the end of the road for this creative burst…

process-06-billboard

Step 7: Give yourself plenty of white space as you pursue the logo design concept

So I grabbed a new sheet and went right back at it. Let’s look and see some places this next creative brainstorm took me. There is something about a blank sheet of paper that forgives the past, keeps only the good, and invites the artist to explore:

process-07-new-sheet

Step 8: Try all the different directions for a logo design that you can reasonably and quickly prototype

I really felt like I wanted that square idea from earlier to work. It was a feeling I was after, and I thought it was squarish, but not quite. I needed movement. Can I move some lines around inside a square? Stability and playfulness?

process-08-square

Step 9: Try a different angle on your logo design concept when your current perspective fails

Nope, not working. So let’s go with the “stable” thing, keep the straight lines so we avoid looking like a 60’s psychedelic poster. Oops, I went from the 60’s music poster to the 50’s movie poster. Fine, fine…I see “staring Charlton Heston” floating somewhere…

process-09-3d

Step 10: Work diligently to trap the mood of the logo design, but don’t worry about specific designs

Maybe we can stack some blocks? Have some grown up fun? Maybe not. I’m not sure about the fun idea at this point, but I’m thinking we need friendly and I’m groping again to get there. This is too disorganized but I like the freedom concept that is lurking in this one. It’s about mood at this point, and not about execution or final design. You need to trap the mood and then explore that. I’m committed to hand drawn letters for sure:

process-10-stack

Step 11: When the right path to take on your logo design presents itself, you will know it

Nope, too rigid. Let’s speed the pencil up and get the left brain to take a breather. The left brain often starts saying “I know best, give me the pencil” and you start listening to it. “You want lines and grids” it says. So you start drawing lines, but lose emotion. But I don’t want boxy lines and grids! I want to break out of this entirely. Right brain takes the pencil:

process-11-handwriting

Step 12: Refine the vision for the logo design

That felt good! Let’s jam on this free-flowing theme and eschew all manner of lines and grids. Left brain at this point is observing, slack-jawed, and wondering where this is going, grumbling like a back-seat driver, waiting to say “I told you so!” However, I get the idea to use the structure of flowing lines to build up something more substantial and weighty:

process-12-handwriting-2

Step 13: Try variations within a tightly narrowed focus for the logo design

After coloring this in, I get an ah-ha moment. I grab another sheet and rapidly sketch out some variations on the free flowing handwriting thing:

process-13-handwriting-3

Step 14: Refine the logo design concept using the freedom of pencil to bring out what might be the details of the final art

I quickly flesh out and fill in another handwriting sample:

process-14-handwriting-4

Step 15: Eliminate extra logo designs and narrow the options to only a few concepts

Ah…I can see where this is going. This is not it, but is like it. Let’s get even loser and write in a manner that will produce lines expected to be further improvised on. I narrow it down to four looks and now things are getting clearer and tighter:

process-15-print

Step 16: Arrive at the final logo design and complete the brainstorming process

I now see where I want to go. We are getting friendly, stable, professional, and clean at the same time. This one is it…

process-16-final-print

Step 17: Begin production of the logo design by beautifying and clarifying the lines and curves by redrawing them

Now we transition out of the brainstorming phase of the logo design process and into the production phase. The first thing we must do is blow this little tiny sketch way up and clean up and solidify the lines. The beauty of working small and then going large is that you capture a lot of gesture that is lost when making larger movements with the arm. The fingers do an amazing job on a small level. I scan the sketch in and blow it way up in Photoshop. I then blur it so I can’t see precise lines, and then fade it back to about 50% gray. I’m going to draw over this print out which is now about 5 inches across, up from about the 1 inch of the original:

process-17-blurry-print

Step 18: Produce the final preliminary drawing of the logo design and make it ready for vector art production

Now I use more controlled flowing movements of the pencil to establish graceful defined lines. I then color the whole thing in to see what, for the first time, the final logo design is going to look like. It’s like one of those Polaroid moments, when the fuzzy film gets some clarity and you know for sure if you got the shot or not. In this case, I got what I was after:

process-18-final-drawing

Step 19: Draw the logo design in Illustrator

I scan this drawing back into Photoshop and adjust levels to get my grays to nice charcoal blacks. Now it’s ready to be imported into Illustrator. I proceed to use the Pen tool to hand draw all the same lines one final time in vector. This gives us the ultimately clarity and crispness. If something in the logo design was off at this point, it’s way too late to fix it. However, minor refinements are easy and expected at this point. I balance out some spacing, tighten a few lines, etc., and Left Brain is happy to get of the bench and make itself useful. Left brains work best when you tell them what to do, not why to do it:

process-19-vectors

Step 20: Import the logo design into final production software

I’m basically done with the core artwork in Illustrator. Now I need to import the logo into Fireworks where I have my web page design mocked up and ready for production. I improvise a variation on the color scheme for the header of the site:

process-20-fireworks

Step 21: Release your new logo design to the client and the world

I export the graphics and import them in to my WordPress template using Dreamweaver and move it to the web and check it out in Firefox. This logo design is now live!

process-21-firefox

Step 22: Recap and compare the steps to see the final drawing of the logo design to the final vector art

So how does the approved sketch compare to the final production ready logo design? They should be about 90% the same, where the final 10% is refinement and not fundamental design change. I think we see that clear hear. I’m pleased with how this went:

process-22-compare

Step 23: A closer look at the final art for the new logo design

And our last step is back to our first step, and we take a closer look at the final art. What a great trip it was!

process-23-done

In Conclusion:

I hope this was an enjoyable read for you, and that you learned a few things about the logo design process you didn’t know before you started. Also, I hope that you understand a bit more about our creative brainstorming process and how it might apply to your logo design project.

Thanks for reading!

Further logo design process examples:

Comments

  1. says

    Hi David: I love seeing “behind the scenes” on all manner of graphic and fine art. Have you been over to Illustration Class (www.illustrationclass.com)? Von Glitschka has an amazing collection of up-close tutorials. Very inspiring…

  2. says

    Hi Diane:

    No no! The logo was drawn by hand in Illustrator. Hey, I love Fireworks but not that much! I placed the logo drawing PSD in Illustrator, drew over it, and then copied and pasted it directly into Fireworks. I didn’t belabor the Illustrator step. I could have made it 24 steps and shown one more step of the logo half-done in Illustrator.

    Thanks on the gracious comment about the logo and the sketches. I think I enjoy the process of creating something more than looking at the end result, which is what intrigued me enough to make this post. I kind of feel bad for all those ideas that didn’t make it, the ones I got to know so well along the way…

  3. says

    Diane, looking at the pictures I can see how it might be a tad misleading. I see in the Fireworks image I have the letter selected with the subselect tool so you can see the vectors. I did apply the color to the vectors in Fireworks for this version only because the colors we already sitting there, and since I was only going from Illustrator to Fireworks RBG / HEX, I simply landed the logo in Fireworks and grabbed the HEX for the dark brown and applied it. I then tweaked “FX” to be white and added a very slight shadow to the whole thing (2px offset, 14px blur, 40% opacity)…

  4. says

    I like the sketch on step 18… what pencil size is this done in? Glad to see so many sketches too, a very important part of the process. Nice end result too!

  5. says

    Hi Jacob: All the sketches are done with a trusty No. 2 click pencil, 0.7 lead. The earlier concepts are simply very small, drawn fast and loose and then blown up larger for this post. Number 18 was drawn and colored over the faded print out from the previous step. I blew it up from about an inch to 5-6 inches, gaussian blurred it, faded it back 50%, and then printed it out for re-drawing. So when I rescanned it back in and made that shot for the web, I had to reduce it to get it to fit, which gives the impression of much tighter lines. It’s at this point that I can see if the concept truly has legs, but usually I don’t get this far unless I’m 90% sure.

  6. says

    Hi Doug

    I was looking for web sites to point my students at to re-enforce the idea which you summarise so well at the beginning. Try and try again using the paper as the stone and the pencil as the chisel until you reveal a masterpiece. All too often students jump straight into the computer to generate an image – mistaking the facility and polish of the computer for what should instead be a good idea.

    It has been hard work finding development examples. Too many designers, including me, seem to lose or throw the sketches and thumbnail developments away or bury them in a drawer once they have achieved the solution.

  7. says

    Hi Scotty: The computer is the easy part, and with all the “drawing” ability the computer has in applications like Illustrator, it seems to make sense to many young designers to skip the “hard” and “unnecessary” part of physical drawing. A computer won’t generate a good idea, though it can play a role in that process.

    It’s true it’s hard to find complete examples of the logo design process. I really wanted to present as much as possible here. I’m going to capture the process for some other work on a more detailed example in the future.

    Have you checked out illustrationclass.com? Von Glitschka posts the process for several complete illustrations with hi-res files you have to download. The whole process including client revisions is catalogued.

  8. basilmathew says

    hi doug u’ve done a great job to get an extraordinary logo of ur own . nice seeing all ur sketches.

  9. says

    Truly great post. I always love reading how the puzzle gets put together. Thanks for graciously sharing your entire process.

  10. says

    This is one of the best behind the scenes looks at a logo design process I have seen. Thanks for giving us an insight .

  11. Daniel says

    I hate to be that one guy who posts a negative comment, but I saw a lot of intriguing logo concepts on your sketch! Why did you settle for such a boring typographic logo? Also it doesn’t look like you’re using that logo on your site.

    It’s a nice article though, and well written.

  12. says

    @ Daniel: I just completed a redesign of the site in the last few weeks and really felt compelled to go minimal, based on where I want to take the new content for 2010. I wanted to integrate quite a few things under the hood of one blog including a focus on typography. As always, pressed for time, I had to make an on-the-move design decision to roll back to a very simple clean look so as not to stumble over any unnecessary design issues. There’s only so much time in a day! In the end, I hope content triumphs over form at BonFX!

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