Logo Design Competition Tips

by Dave Gouveia

When you’ve been in the design business as long as I have, you become what I call “gifted.” What does that mean? Well, the short answer is, you can distinguish between what’s good and what’s not—which is perfect for judging competitions like HOW’s Logo Design Competition and Awards.

Sure, art, and design for that matter, are subjective, and perhaps what I believe is good is not what someone else thinks can pass muster. But in design, there are a few signs when something was developed with care and passion—and when something was not. What are these magical things, you ask? Simple: Use of grids. Use of math. Proper typography. Pleasing composition. Connected color palettes. And sometimes just plain brains.


photo from Shutterstock

So fast-forward to a few months back, when HOW chose me to be their Logo Design Competition judge. I was on board. I was excited! Then I got the files, and panic set in. I had to choose ten logos, from over 600. And that was after a pre-judge. Ok, I thought, I’m sure it won’t be that hard. But it was. It was really hard.

At one point during the process, I had to get critical. Having run a studio, I began to look at things from both a creative and business perspective. It made the process much smoother, but more than a few times I thought, This is amazing! But there’s no write-up. How big of a deal is that? Pretty big from a business standpoint. You wouldn’t go to a client meeting to present a logo, throw it down, and go, “Huh? Huh? Good, eh?” with no explanation about what exactly it is that your client is seeing, and why you created it the way that you did. Rationale is extremely important, and sometimes overlooked. When submitting to a contest, it just can’t be. Period.

So I trudged along, cringing at every great identity I had to throw into the “rejected” pile because of something that really shouldn’t have happened. But I came to my final 10, and now it’s up to the rest of you to decide their fates.

And for those of you that are in need of some future guidance on what makes a great logo, or what not to do, I offer up these ten tips, tricks and suggestions.

Logo Design Tips

1. Already touched on it: Rationale. Reasoning. The viewer needs to know what they’re looking at. “It’s a foot. Okay. But why? Oh … it’s a logo for a podiatrist. Thanks. That really helps. I thought it might be an identity for World War Z Part 2.” See where I’m going with this one?

2. Imperfect vector shapes. Nothing gnaws at me more than seeing an identity with a curvy or developed graphic shape, and all I can focus on is that one stray point that happened to make the curve look like it has had a nipple removed. Oh. I see that. That teeny, tiny little bump. And if I can see it? Someone else will. Those things need to be smoothed out. Here’s an article that may help.

3. Color and non-color. Full-color logos look amazing. Sometimes they’re even necessary. But what if this logo is going into a one-color publication? What if it’s going into a black-and-white program? Think ahead when it comes to color, and almost work backward. Before any splash of color touches your logo, it has to work in grayscale. Always best to also think about a reverse, just in case. There’s nothing worse than developing something in a myriad of rainbow colors, and after being told to convert it for a one-color publication, you’ve lost all the oomph of the original and end up with a dog’s breakfast.

logo design competition judge Dave Gouveia's personal logo


4. Speaking of color, grayscale conversion. DO NOT USE A BUILT IN GRAYSCALE CONVERTER! Yeah… it’s there. And it works fast. And it does the job, but you have literally lost all control over your artwork when you hit a button that does a process for you. Only you will be able to work those black tints to your advantage, bringing out the elements in your logo that you need to. An automatic converter doesn’t care about that. You should.

5. One last point regarding color. Think about different platforms. If you’re going to print, have a CMYK version. If it’s on the web, have an RGB version. Hell, do them all. I like to have a black-only, grayscale, reverse, RGB and CMYK of everything I develop (PMS too if needed). By controlling every color, and not using built-in converters, you won’t end up with something that is 4.6% Cyan. No. Never. Just stop.

6. Bad font management. Okay, what does that mean? Well, it’s more about glyphs, or making your own tweaks. If you have an identity that uses a custom, quirky font, especially something that is meant to give the impression of a stencil, or letterpress … then for the love of all that is holy, if you have a repeating letter, DO SOMETHING TO IT so it’s not a carbon copy. That style is imperfect, so your type treatment should be as well. If there isn’t an alternate glyph for that letter (this is where opentype shines), then DO SOMETHING TO IT YOURSELF. Add a blob. Cut a corner. Just make sure it’s not the exact same letter.

7.Make your logo look like a logo. I saw a lot of nice typography. Things that could have been book covers, or great illustrative posters … but that’s not an identity. So think to yourself, could this power a company? Appear on a business card? Website? If it only would make a good T-shirt, then chances are it’s not really strong as a long-lasting brand.

8. Ensure the sizing is good. Always think ahead. If your logo has thin lines, then remember two things: Can this be scaled small and still work? Can this be blown up massive and still look as intended? If the answer to both of those questions is no, then develop alternate versions for those purposes alone, where you can manually fix up the problem areas. A 1pt stroke on a 4-inch box should probably be 2pts if the box is scaled to 1 inch, and 10pts if the box is scaled to 50 inches. Use your best judgment. It’s your logo, after all.

9.Tell a story, but not a novel. Don’t cram too many concepts into your one thing. A good mark will tell a story without visually explaining the story. But don’t also think that you need nothing beyond a mark. If your graphic is strong (like a Nike swoosh), you still need that version that says NIKE. You can’t go full swoosh all the time. Brand reinforcement means getting the name out there, and without a name, how can you do that?

10. This is last because it’s the biggest no brainer of all, and I still can’t believe how often I see this (with television and film credits and subtitles being the worst offenders). Use proper typography punctuation. An apostrophe should look like a number 9—not like a giant blade ready to hack through the two letters standing precariously underneath it.

So there you have it. Maybe the next time you develop something, you’ll think of these ten helpful items and go, Oh yeah, I should do that. It’ll make me smile if you do, because then I’ll know I’ve at least saved someone, somewhere from getting reamed out by an irate know-it-all client who will point out those issues if they’ve had a bad day and have no one but you to blow up on. Yes, designer, you will do. So don’t give them that edge.

Dave Gouveia has worked in the design industry for over 19 years. He founded the design studio 3 smaller_headshotDogz Creative Inc. with two co-workers in 2000. During 3 Dogz’s ten years in business, he helped pursue and acquire high-profile clients such as IMAX, Levi’s and Visa International.

With two entries in the publication Identity Crisis: 50 Redesigns That Transformed Stale Identities into Successful Brands, and a variety of other successful logo designs under his belt, Dave has the perfect mix of identity experience; from small businesses to corporate makeovers. He has been a design judge for various international competitions, has spoken about design and creativity for associations like the AIGA and at HOW Design Live, designed and co-authored Creative Stuff: An Activity Book for Visual Thinkers and been featured in various publications on design such as the Big Book of Self Promotion and Caffeine for The Creative Team. He currently freelances for companies such as the Canadian Cancer Society, 9 Story Entertainment and Harlequin.