What to expect from your logo designer
When you hire a professional designer, it’s nice to know what to expect from the relationship. But for many people, graphic design—and logo design in particular—is a bit of a black box. Everyone sees the finished product when it’s polished and neatly packaged, but you rarely get to see the inputs that led to that result. In my experience as a designer, I’ve found that this leaves people with incorrect assumptions about logo design. Maybe it’s really easy? Or maybe it takes divine inspiration? Maybe designers are all cheating and copying other existing logos? Maybe only well-known brands deserve logos?
None of that is correct. You deserve a logo, and you also deserve to know what to expect when contacting a designer to create one! So here’s what an industry-standard logo design process looks like.
Step 0: Project Management
Before we even get started, I have to say one thing: the designer should be playing the role of project manager. As you’ll see below, the logo design process isn’t rocket science, but you, as the client, are not the expert, so you should not have to be in charge of running the show. You should expect your designer to be the one laying out a timeline, explaining what they will need from you, asking for your feedback, and driving the process forward. If they’re not, they’re not a professional.
Step 1: First Contact
When you first reach out to a designer for a logo (or any creative work), they will likely ask you about two things: your deadline and your budget. Most designers will take at least three weeks to turn around a finished logo, and most will charge a flat fee of at least $500. They will also lay out their process and explain, more or less, the steps I’m describing in this post. Depending on their pricing and business structure, they may also send you a contract and/or invoice for partial payment up front.
Step 2: Creative Brief
Once you’ve agreed to the designer’s terms, they will send you instructions on how to fill out their creative brief. (I share a Google Doc.) The creative brief is a tool that designers, and professionals in other creative fields, use to obtain information from clients about the parameters of a project. In order to create an effective solution, your designer needs to know a good deal about your brand and goals.
Their creative brief will ask questions like: Who is your audience? What is your mission? What three words would you use to describe your brand? They may also use the creative brief to get information about your preferences—my briefs have some fun questions that really give me insight into your style.
Step 3: Sketching
Many logo designers start the design process by sketching out a ton of ideas. Despite the power and prevalence of design software, many creative people still opt to start their ideation on paper. “Pen before Pen Tool,” I like to say!
Sketching is valuable because it gets ideas out quickly. You often have to go through a lot of bad logo ideas in order to find a good one, and weeding those out on paper saves time. Sketching also helps designers get a head start on figuring out the right visual balance of words and imagery for your logo.
You probably won’t get to see your designer’s sketches, so this will probably be the longest you go without hearing from them. Remember—they have to synthesize everything they learned about your brand from the creative brief and figure out a way to embody it in a visual mark. That’s tough! The sketching phase can take a while, because it’s where a lot of pure inspiration happens.
Step 4: Design Concepts
The design concept phase will likely be the first time you get to see your designer’s work. By this point, they have digested your brand and identified some promising directions that your logo might go in. It’s now time to run some of those rough ideas, or design concepts, past you to get your feedback.
I wrote a whole other post about evaluating logo concepts, but the basic thing to keep in mind is that logo concepts are kind of like potential ancestors of what will eventually be your finished logo. Your job is to decide which design(s) will have the best chance of eventually spawning the most effective logo for your brand.
Remember: concepts aren’t supposed to be anywhere near perfect. They’re just supposed to convey a basic idea or identity that could represent your brand. This could be a mood, an image, a pun, a flourish, an icon, a clever use of negative space... almost anything. What’s important at this stage is evaluating the strength of each design’s central concept. How effectively is that concept communicated, and how well does it embody your brand?
Different designers have different thoughts on the best way to present logo concepts. Some present digital designs while others use fleshed-out sketches. Some don’t use any color in their logo concepts while others do. My goal with logo concepts is always to present a diverse array of options, so that my client can start imagining some of the different directions we might take their logo and choose one to pursue further.
Step 5: Design Exploration
At this step, your designer will present another set of logo design options to review. They will look much more similar to each other than the logo concepts did, because they will all be descended from the concept you chose to move forward with. But there will still be a good deal of variation, as your designer has been exploring different ways to convey the central idea of your chosen concept.
The feedback they’re looking for now is a little more focused: how do the typeface options make you feel? Which execution looks most pleasing? Is the level of detail/simplicity right? Would you like to see any different arrangements of the logo’s elements? What could make the chosen concept stronger or more effective?
Step 6: Design Refinement
Based on your feedback, your designer will start to hone in on the details. They will take care of a lot of things that you might not even notice, like kerning, color mixing and blending, tiny alignment improvements, customizing individual letterforms, and more. If the shape of the W is really bothering you, feel free to mention it at this point!
Your designer will present a final or nearly final set of logos to you that now look fairly similar. Depending on the specifics of their process, there may some back and forth between you, or they may do just one more round of revision. Make sure you understand their process and know when you need to provide final feedback. Your final chance to do so will fall at some point during the refinement stage.
Step 7: Packaging
Once the design of your logo is complete, your designer will get to work creating any adaptations that your logo may need. There are all sorts of things that may be varied from logo to logo: versions with or without a motto or tagline; vertical or horizontal versions; versions with different color schemes or icon sets; RGB, CMYK, and grayscale versions; simple versions for use at small sizes; and more.
Your designer can probably infer what variations you need, but they may also ask if you have any specific use cases in mind that they need to account for. Once the required adaptations have been identified, they will execute and export each one in the appropriate file sizes and types so that you will be able to use your logo anywhere you need it.
There you have it! That’s what a standard logo design process looks like from start to finish. I hope this helps you envision the process and know what to expect when hiring a professional designer. Good luck with your new logo!