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How NOT to Design an Awesome Logo

I recently ran across an unfortunate web article called "How to Design an Awesome Logo" by Gary Simon. In it, Simon suggests that an "awesome" logo design is as easy as:

1. Opening Photoshop (mistake #1)
2. Typing some fonts (ugh)
3. Vector-tracing a raster image (are you kidding?)

This attempt at no-talent-no-problem awesome logo design is full of design NO-NOs any legitimate designer will not use.

1. Opening Photoshop

First, designers know that true logos are not created in Photoshop, even if they happen to have a photographic element... because they know the difference between vector art and raster art.

VECTOR ART: All of the pieces show in my logo design section are vector images, which are infinitely scalable mathematical drawings. That means if a client needs to blow up the logo to 100 feet by 100 feet, the image will look as crisp as it does small.

RASTER ART: On the other hand, photographs are raster images, which means they have a finite size limited by the sophistication of the device (generally a camera) that captured them. That means if a client needs to blow up a raster image to 100 feet by 100 feet, the image will become more and more pixelated as it's inflated.

Photoshop is the application most designers use to generate raster art. Vector graphics can be created within Photoshop, but the resulting file is of finite size that can not be enlarged without loss of image quality. Illustrator is the application most designers use to generate logos and other vector art. Raster images can be placed within Illustrator and maintain their own resolution within the file... so if raster and vector art are mixed, upon blowup, the vector art remains crisp while the raster art gets pixelated.

In his tutorial, Simon suggests that you start with a 600px x 500px Photoshop document. A document of this size limits you to a logo that prints at approximately 2" x 1.5" -- and no larger. He must not know the difference between screen resolution and print resolution.

SCREEN RESOLUTION: Monitors display art at 72dpi (dots per inch). That means a 600px x 500px document will theoretically appear approximately like a 9" x 7" image, although that's deceptive because everyone has their monitor resolution set differently. If you have 1260 resolution, a 600px image would come about 50% across the screen.

PRINT RESOLUTION: Printed matter displays art at 300dpi. This means an image needs to be about five times larger to appear with the same image quality as the corresponding web image.

Some people might think all they need is a screen-resolution logo, since they have a web business. But anyone who believes in their business should all believe in the potential to eventually need to print something, whether it's a business card, invoice form for a web store, or banner.

2. Typing some fonts

Hopefully, most designers give it a little more respect than this article does. Viewing, selecting, and customizing characters is a huge part of real logo design.

3. Vector-tracing raster images

The newest wave in DIY-by-non-designers is vector-tracing. This is the practice of placing a raster image and tracing over it with the vector pen tool. It has legitimate uses but recently become a way for wannabes to claim themselves "illustrators." Real illustrators, like my husband, have the talent to create singular art with nuance just for a client, a one-of-a-kind character or icon to encapsulate a brand and serve as a unique identifier.

Generally, this overuse is seen in t-shirt design, where photographs are traced into vector art and blown up--but this article has gone a step further by showing the designer tracing over an illustration! This is infuriating, since it is complete plagiarism of another artist's illustration. Of course, Simon put in a disclaimer that hand-drawn is better (But got no talent? No problem!) and anyone should buy an image from a stock agency before tracing, but the fact that he traced over a cartoon shows a real problem. This practice could get a company in legal trouble for illegal use of copyrighted imagery.

Fortunately, these methods come across in the resulting portfolio, which is full of staid, lifeless logos. I can't wait to check out his other site, which promises that you'll be designing "amazing" websites yourself within three hours! What?

If you don't know a lot, at least know what questions to ask when you consult a professional logo designer. Find out their work process, what kind of files they will provide, and whether they know how to sketch. Don't feel vulnerable and obligated to use someone simply because they've created a logo before... educate yourself, look at lots of logos you like to determine similarities between them, and find someone who will treat your project with the respect and long view it deserves!