What makes a good logo design? Or a bad one?

You won’t need to give an experienced design pro the kinds of dos and don’ts the rest of us need to weed out the good from the bad. Trouble is, there are a whole lotta self-proclaimed logo designers out there who are better at cobbling together clip art elements than creating a logo that’s actually good for branding.

So, what does a non-designer business owner need to know to avoid paying for a crap logo? Or, even better, get a logo that nails your brand in a memorable way, and works everywhere you want to use it? We’re going to dig into that now. Because no one should waste money or time — or further confuse their branding — with amateur logo design.

But First, A Reality Check

I love logos. New logo design projects are exciting. But let’s be honest – logos are more about helping us raise our flags or mark our ground than they are about the people we want to serve. For sure a mark can give people a visual. But it’s more important that you establish your name and value in the minds of your people. You are the way to do that.

Good logo design is expensive. Yes, it’s an investment — but it’s one you should hold off on if the cost would push your marketing budget beyond the 5-15% of revenue that is considered prudent. It’s better to wait on good design than to try to spend more time and money undoing a bad design.

How Important Is A Logo, Actually?

A logo is more than just a clever icon, or spelling out your business name with a fancy font. It’s (potentially) the visual embodiment of your brand’s identity. The face of your business. A logo is often the first thing that comes to mind when someone thinks of a brand. It conveys your business’s essence, values, and personality, all in a split second. It’s important to get it right.

A logo is a visual shortcut to who you are.
– Seth Godin

Common Signs of Bad Logo Design

Overcomplication: In the world of logo design, less is often more. An overly intricate design can be difficult to reproduce on different platforms, from business cards to billboards. Plus, it can be hard for the audience to decipher and remember.

Too Trendy: While it’s tempting to jump on the latest design bandwagon, remember that trends fade. Today’s hot design might look outdated in a few years, making your brand appear out of touch.

Generic Imagery: A logo should be as unique as your business. Relying on stock or clip art can make your brand blend in with the crowd, rather than stand out.

Inappropriate Font Choices: A whimsical font might be perfect for a children’s toy store but entirely wrong for a law firm. The font should mirror the brand’s tone and ethos.

Lack of Scalability: Your logo will appear in various places—from tiny app icons to large banners. A good logo should retain its clarity and impact, no matter its size.

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.
— Leonardo da Vinci

Characteristics of an Effective Logo

Simplicity: A simple design is often the most memorable. Think of iconic logos like Apple or Nike. They’re straightforward, yet instantly recognizable.

Memorability: Your logo should have a unique element—a color, a shape, a font—that makes it stick in people’s minds.

Versatility: A versatile logo looks good in color, black and white, and across various mediums and sizes. You won’t realize how important this is until you want to put it somewhere it wasn’t designed to go.

Relevance: Your logo should resonate with your target audience and be appropriate for your industry. A tech startup and a bakery won’t have the same logo vibe, and that’s okay.

Timelessness: Aim for longevity. A timeless logo will still be relevant and effective years down the line.

Logos That Work (& Why)

Each of the logos below is effective because it’s simple, relevant to the brand, and has a unique element that makes it memorable. These logos also scale well, ensuring they’re recognizable in various sizes and applications.


Description: Slack’s logo is a hashtag or pound symbol with a unique twist. The logo uses a combination of bright colors, including blue, yellow, green, and red, to form the hashtag.

Why It’s Effective: The logo is simple, yet its bright colors make it stand out. The hashtag symbol is relevant to the brand, as Slack is a communication platform where hashtags are used for channels. The logo is versatile and can be recognized even when it’s scaled down.

Slack logo
Mailchimp logo


Description: Mailchimp’s logo features Freddie, a friendly chimpanzee with a postman’s cap. Since the company’s 2021 acquisition by Intuit, the logo + logotype version includes the Intuit name above the Mailchimp name. That makes that version too complicated to be a great example, IMO.

Why It’s Effective: The playful design reflects the brand’s approachable and user-friendly nature. The chimp, combined with the word “Mail,” immediately gives a hint about the company’s email marketing focus. The hand-drawn style makes it feel personal, aligning with the brand’s mission to serve individual creators and small businesses.


Description: Duolingo’s logo is a green owl with big, expressive eyes. The owl, named Duo, often appears in various poses or with different expressions in the app.

Why It’s Effective: The owl is a symbol of wisdom, which aligns with the brand’s educational focus. The character is cute and memorable, making users feel a connection. Its simplicity ensures it’s recognizable at any size, and the green color is bright and attention-grabbing.

Duolingo logo
Allbirds logo


Description: Allbirds, a sustainable shoe company, has a minimalist logo. It’s simply the brand name “Allbirds” written in a clean, sans-serif typeface. The simplicity of the logo mirrors the company’s design philosophy for its products.

Why It’s Effective: The logo’s simplicity ensures it’s versatile and can be used in various applications, from shoe soles to packaging. The straightforward design aligns with the brand’s ethos of creating uncomplicated, sustainable footwear.

Questions to Ask Your Potential Logo Designer

Can I see examples of logos you’ve designed for other businesses?
Before anything else, review their past work. This will give you an insight into their style, versatility, and experience.

What’s your process for understanding my business and its branding needs? A good designer will want to know about your business, its values, target audience, and competitors. They’ll use this information to craft a logo that truly represents you.

Will my logo include only your original artwork, in a unique concept developed just for me? No matter how simple the logo or how small your business is, your logo should be yours and yours alone. No part of it should come from a stock image or clipart library.

How many revisions are included in the price? Design is a collaborative process. Ensure you have the flexibility to request changes until you’re satisfied.

What file types and sizes will I receive? For various uses, you’ll need different file types (like PNG, JPEG, SVG). Make sure the designer can provide what you need.

Will I have full rights to use the logo as I see fit? Once the logo is designed, it should be yours to use as you wish. Clarify this upfront to avoid any future disputes.

Know What You’re Getting for Your Money

It’s unfortunately common for people without a solid graphic design education or experience to call themselves logo designers. A person doesn’t necessarily need years of design experience to create a good logo, but it does involve more than knowing how to use Adobe Illustrator. Too often, self-proclaimed logo designers grab a stock element, slap the business name on it, and call it a day. If you paid a few hundred or less for your logo this is likely what you got.

There are at least a couple of problems with “designers” who work like this.

First of all, the elements they use aren’t unique, and tend to be used over and over by other so-called designers who don’t have the actual design background to develop an original concept. So your logo might look like someone else’s. Not memorable at all. Another common problem is getting a design with multiple elements taken from different sources, resulting in a Frankenstein kind of logo that doesn’t present a single, cohesive look.

I will never forget the time the Chamber of Commerce in our suburban town was so excited about the new logo design they were getting ready to unveil. They’d worked with a local design firm that always seemed to land any big projects involving local businesses. This firm liked to equate themselves with Atlanta more than the town they actually operated from – sounded more prestigious, I guess.

So imagine my surprise when they unveiled the logo and it looked like the “prestigious” design firm bought an infinity symbol off a stock art site, slapped the Chamber’s name on it, and delivered what the Chamber thought was brilliant. Because they didn’t know any better.

I’m standing there thinking…infinity symbol captures the essence of the town chamber how? And which stock site did they buy it from? I did a reverse image search and sure enough – there was the same damn blue and green infinity symbol, and dozens more that were very similar.

I wish I’d saved that image search, but the one I did just now illustrates my point well enough.

Friend, if you’re OK with a “logo” like that, please go to Canva and design it yourself for $0. Don’t pay anybody for a logo that doesn’t capture your brand’s essence and doesn’t set it apart from others. If you do, you’ll just end up redoing it when you realize what a mistake it was. Like the Chamber did.

A Final Plea

Your logo is a visual representation of everything your business stands for. It might be tempting to use a low-rate designer, or to get impatient as you’re waiting to work with your dream designer. Keep in mind that a well-designed logo is an investment in your brand’s future. Please take the time to find a designer who understands your vision, and work with them to create a logo that will make your brand memorable — and stand the test of time.

Logo design for small businesses should begin with sketching out original concepts.