Updating or Changing Your Logo: Thinking it Through
Your logo represents your company visually. It’s an identifier, not a mini-seller you are sticking on everything. A visually strong logo should identify at a glance your company, association, or organization. Your logo is an important part of your brand. It makes a major impact on how the public, consumers, the media and others think about your organization but it rarely should describe your business. Paul Rand says that “a logo derives meaning from the quality of the thing it symbolizes, not the other way around. A logo is less important than the product it signifies; what it represents is more important than what it looks like. The subject matter of a logo can be almost anything.”
With so much riding on your logo, how do you update or change it? Maybe you’ve expanded your products and services, combined with another group, or simply outgrown your logo. Sometimes you’re the communications person and all you’ve got for your logo is some old graphic file you found on the server that’s not really looking great. I once got a call from a larger client who had lost their logo files – as in lost all of their high-resolution quality logo files. Fortunately, we had their logo images on file, had updated the logo, and were able to send the files to them.
Business Insider has a great article showing popular logos and how they have changed over time. There are some big surprises! Here are a few tips to help you assess your logo situation and think strategically about making changes or updates.
Be honest about your logo. Evaluate how the logo is used . Organizations make massive investments in their logos and build their brands around them. Logos hold equity for a brand, so a change is something to consider carefully. Sometimes the concerns about the logistics of a logo change or replacement overwhelm considerations about the logo itself. But it’s important to look at the logo and ask some hard questions:
- Accuracy – Does the logo accurately convey what you do? Is the logo more about values? Personality? Activities?
- Feelings – What feelings does the logo inspire for you? Is it a symbol you are proud to put on your materials, clothing, building, etc?
- Perception – How do other people, outside your organization or company respond to the logo? Are their feelings similar to yours or different? Can they tell from the logo what you do? Who you are? What you represent? Is it simple enough that people can understand it, while unique enough to set you apart?
- Current – Does the logo’s color scheme, presentation, rendering appear to be current with modern design trends?
- Simplicity – Does the logo identify your business or organization? Does it do it with simplicity?
- Timeless – Does your logo work well today? Will it work well tomorrow?
- Memorable – Will people remember your logo? Does it stand out in some way as distinctive?
- Versatility – Does the logo render well and accurately without any pixcelation? Will it fit correctly for the uses you need it for, without being stretched? Can it be sized small, large? Will it look nice in a digital format? On the side of a building? On a publication?
- Sizing – Does the logo render well in multiple formats? And is it understandable in those formats? Can your logo work well on your website in a header bar, on a banner or presentation slide where it’s enlarged, or
Set up external research on your logo if you can afford it. Do some focus groups to find out how people view your logo – include people who know nothing about your company or organization and people who know it well. If you are trying to sell products to consumers, attract new members or reach out to the general public to raise funds or recruit volunteers, then you’ll want to ask the core audience you are trying to recruit what they think of your logo. There are companies that can help you conduct focus groups and research your logo at a local or national level. I sometimes get hired by companies to run focus groups. Logos and taglines always seem to be a hot topic for those.
You should also consider your internal audiences. Sometimes employees, members and staff are invested in a logo too. They are also often the people most affected by a logo change – as letterhead, publications, newsletters, websites, promotional products, signage, wall art, and more can all be affected if the logo is updated or changed. They may have their own ideas too. When I worked for 4-H I worked with a lot of our local organizations on understanding how to correctly use our logo. I was horrified to find a chapter that was essentially hacking off part of the logo and replacing it with clip art. While they were trying to customize the logo to fit different topics, the end result looked terrible.
Be prepared to deal with emotions. Logo discussions can be very emotional. More than two decades ago when I was a young college student serving on her first board of directors with a local Habitat for Humanity affiliate, I led an effort to change their logo that completely failed. Yep, total failure. Our logo looked clunky and crude, and my communications committee worked for several months on considering a logo change and a graduate student at the University of Florida’s public relations school even did focus groups for us – showing our logo of two hammers building with a t-square and our affiliate name.
Focus group participants – over and over – said the logo looked like the hammers were beating each other and hurting each other -not working together. Given our organization’s mission was to bring people together to build houses with people in need, this data was concerning, as the logo was used on everything – our newsletter, website, etc. My committee recommended changing the logo to a new, crisp clean image, and focus group tested several proposed options.
I went to the Board meeting armed with data thinking this was a slam dunk to get our logo change. I had not counted on the founders of our affiliate – an older married couple who showed up for the meeting and were very worried about the rumored logo change. They made a passionate plea to the board to keep the old logo, sharing a touching story about how an old friend had helped them create the logo when they first started the organization on their kitchen table. It didn’t matter that we had data about how ineffective the logo was, or what the focus groups had said. It was very clear from the board discussion that this would totally fail. Reluctantly, I withdrew my motion for the new logo to be adopted and we never tried to change the logo again. My critical error was not in wanting a new logo or listening to the research – it was in not preparing key audiences for the idea of a new logo and helping them understand why we needed it. The issue became moot several years later when the national Habitat for Humanity office enforced a policy that made the local affiliates give up their own original logos.
So how do you know whether it’s the right time to refresh or completely change your logo? Only you can answer this question fully. But I would say that increasingly, we are seeing trade associations and fraternal societies change their logos because they often find that older logos simply don’t scale well in a tech savvy society. How a logo looks on a cell phone screen or iPad is just as important as how it looks on a flag over a building. We’ve also seen organizations sometimes change a logo because they are making a major change – perhaps merging with another group or wanting to update their look.
If minor updating can bring the logo into better use and retain the elements you like without making the logo too clunky or like a Frankensteined project – then it’s not too hard to hire a designer to do simple updates that clean up the edges and provide you with clean files. Sometimes just simple graphic tweaks can modernize a logo or clean up that old design file you found on the server and get your logo looking fresh and crisp and the changes may be subtle but will give you better tools. We’ve done many of these projects for clients, and produced updated or modernized logos for them along with style guides and training plans to help them get staff up to speed quickly on logo changes.
But at other times, a full re-design is required. If your logo is outdated, complicated, and confusing to others and to you, it may be time to consider a larger or complete redesign of your logo. We’ve worked with organizations on updating and re-designing completely their logos. We find that frequently, organizations have often disliked their logo for a long time before calling a designer. Don’t suffer for years with a bad logo – consider making changes to improve your brand and you’ll see some better results. I promise.
Logo Design Process
Logos may be small, but they require creativity and serious thought. Consider hiring a professional graphic designer to update your logo. A typical process used by a graphic designer to create or update a new logo is the following:
- Design Brief. The designer interviews or asks questions to the client about the current logo and goals for an update or new one. The designer creates a design brief.
- Research (client specific). The designer researches the industry, its history, and competitors. You wouldn’t want to end up with something that looks like your competition!
- Reference. The designer now researches current logo styles and trends that may be relevant to the design brief. The goal is not to give you something that is trendy but to give you something that works for your needs and to know what is out there.
- Concept. This is the most important part of the process, as the designer is sketching and conceptualizing the new logo.
- Reflection. Often designers re-visit their early conceptions and refine them a bit more before showing them to the client.
- Presentation. The designer shows the best proposed draft logo(s) to the client and they discuss it.
- Revisions. If revisions or adjustments are needed, the designer revises the draft logo based on feedback from the client.
- Delivery. The designer delivers the logo and support files for it to the client.
Note: If you ask a designer to come up with three or more concept logos, they can, but expect to pay for their time in coming up with a smorgasboard of choices. Some designers use a one best design concept which focuses heavily on meeting a client’s needs and producing a design for client reaction and then refinement. It’s always best to ask before hiring how the designer approaches this process and to know up front what you will see when this reaches the presentation stage. Personally, I prefer the one best design process as it helps us hold down costs, keep deadlines on track, and delivers what clients really need. If you’ve hired a designer for their creative expertise, it’s important to listen to what they have to say about what works.
You will also want to have a plan in place to introduce the new or updated logo. This plan is often linked to a timeline. Plans should be carefully worked out to arrange for signage to be changed, for letterhead to be swapped out (or used up), for website and social media channels to be updated, and for staff to be trained or updated on how and when to use the new logo. A logo roll out can be as simple or complicated as you make it. Many organizations use the introduction of a new logo as an opportunity to update branding and style guides and to re-train their staff in how to properly use their logo and express their brand.
Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, an independent PR practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media engagement, writing services, and creative design for publications and websites (contact to discuss your project, review our portfolio, sign up for our e-newsletter). She blogs about media relations, social media, public relations, and work-family balance. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven