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Management Perspectives: Managing the process of redesigning your company’s graphics

The process of a company logo redesign is more complicated than just hiring a designer and turning him loose.

Management Perspectives:
Managing the process of redesigning your company’s graphics

Feb 15, 2007 5:56 PM,
By Don Kreski

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Creating a new, more professional look for your company can pay huge benefits in terms of credibility and the ability to close sales. But the process is more complicated than just hiring a designer and turning him loose—at least if you want to get good results.

“A new logo or a new look really should be representative of the strengths of your company,” says Brad Caldwell, president of Anaheim, Calif.-based Integrated Media Systems. “It also needs to be consistent with your culture.” The problem is, you need something that not only looks good, but also will help potential customers recognize and want to read your materials. You want them to say, “Oh, this is something from X company. I have to read it.”

To understand how you can achieve this much from a logo or a graphic makeover, it may be helpful to look at the process from the designer’s point of view.

“The first thing I do when I design a logo,” says Tony Bonilla, a graphic designer based in suburban Chicago, “is try to learn something about my client’s company and the company’s competitors. I look for what’s special in what they do, maybe an approach that they take or a principal they have that no one else shares.”

Once he has some background, Bonilla will start sketching in a very open, brainstorming process. He says he lets his ideas sit a day or two, and then he looks at them fresh. “I’ll circle a few things, tighten them up, and then put them aside again.” Bonilla says he’ll go back and forth for several days until he’s ready to show some drawings to the client. “I always try to ask, are there two or three words that define your company? I’ll write those words at the top of my pad, and through the course of the logo development, keep asking, does this icon conjure up those three words? Does it make you go, ‘Yeah, that’s that?’”

Once the client sees the drawings, another revision process begins. Some sketches will appeal to a given client, others won’t. Sometimes part of one drawing will work with part of another.

“In my mind,” Bonilla says, “I’m constantly trying to simplify the logo down to its purest form. Sometimes it’s very, very simple—an IBM approach, but usually it needs more storytelling, a symbol or icon to get the idea across. Still, it seems like the client always tries to add too much to the logo. They’ll say, ‘Wait a minute, where’s that projector drawing we talked about, or what happened to the little man?’”

Bonilla cautions about getting too wrapped up in color, shadow, gradations, or other gimmicks. “If you can design a logo and it can translate to black and white and still be very powerful, that’s another important step.” You’ll be putting your new logo on your trucks, running it in newspaper ads, and sending it out on the fax machine. If it’s a good logo, it will work in any format.

You also want to avoid the latest graphic or technology trends. “Stay away from typefaces that are hot now, or certain things that fit into this particular year,” Bonilla says. “There are a lot of logos that you can tell were made in the ’80s or the ’90s. Yet, the CBS eye still looks as good as it did almost 50 years ago.” It’s hard to come up with a truly timeless logo, but, at minimum, you can avoid the ones that are so high style they’ll be done in a year or two.

Sometimes it’s hard to filter your own bias out of the creative process. You should like your new logo, but you also need to realize that your customers’ perceptions are more important than your own. Alfred Hitchcock once remarked that he was successful mainly because his tastes matched those of the mass of people who went to movies. If you’re not that lucky—and most people aren’t—you either need to do some focus groups or at least show the new designs to outsiders, and, of course, find a graphic designer that you trust.

“The last thing you want to do is try to give the designer ideas,” says Bob Carlson, vice president of United Visual of Itasca, Ill. “All you should be saying is, ‘This is the type of look we want.’ The point is we’re too close to our companies. We kind of get in our own little worlds, and we only think of the same kinds of things that we always think of. You want your designer to come up with something that people who work for the company never would have considered.”

Consistency is critical
Once you have the new logo or a new graphic standard, you need to protect it as you and others in your company start to use it in business cards, mailers, email, and on your website.

The largest companies publish written guidelines on how to use their logos, and they enforce them. “You have very limited time to get the attention of your clients,” says Sandra DeMond, director of marketing for Creative Technology, a staging company with offices in four U.S. cities and in Europe. “If they know right away that this is one of your pieces, they’re going to want to look at it.” DeMond says the key to recognition is consistency, and she asks everyone in the company to limit the ways they position the logo and to use certain typefaces, certain colors, and take a similar approach to copy and photographs. Smaller companies are often more flexible, but there’s a danger if the use of the logo or other graphic treatments vary so much that recognition starts to suffer.

However you decide to protect your investment, the effort and cost of creating a professional look can pay big dividends. “The biggest reason is that the look determines how your company will be perceived,” Bonilla says. “You need to look like someone who can handle your customer base, someone who can take on a new client and handle them well. Remember, your customers are going to get calls from other people. It’s the ones that they can feel good about that they’re going to give their business to.”

You can reach Don Kreski at

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