Why Logo Designs Fail

For a logo design to be used for years to come, it needs to follow fundamental logo design principles. Learn what actually makes a logo design functional by understanding the core principles that are needed to be followed.

May 5, 2023

Have you ever wondered why some logo designs work and some fail?

There actually are reasons to this and it is not just random. There are several principles that need to be considered within logo design. The main objective for a logo design is to work forever/ remain timeless.

For a logo design to be used for years to come, it needs to follow fundamental logo design principles. Violating these logo design principles results in ‘The Seven Deadly Signs’ within logo design.

learn what actually makes a logo design functional by understanding the core principles that are needed to be followed.

Using the ‘BLOWOUT’ method, you can identify why a logo design fails:

  1. Doesn’t work in solid Black
  2. Lack of mass
  3. Contrast is Obscured
  4. Wayward parts (Parts not in ‘sync’)
  5. Elements Overlap
  6. Shapes are Unrefined
  7. Tiny or Thin shapes & letters

Logos must work in black

At the beginning of every graphic designers career, they assume that good logo design is extravagant. This may lead the designer adding many complicated shapes as well as a variety of bright colours. Especially due to the software programs we use today, it doesn’t make it easier with all the fancy distractive tools available.

Immediately the logo design has failed. A logo design must work in one colour to ensure functionality.

This is the first important and easily identifiable principle within a logo design.

Logo design is about discipline. Understanding that you are working to subtract, rather than add. Regardless on having capability to add to a logo design, it doesn’t mean you should.

Taking away is greater than adding and you are able to communicate the message within the logo design to its audience. Photographs and illustrations contain too much ‘words’ which may result in being too noisy to be used as a logo design.

After all, logo design is visual communication, and the purpose of logos are for the end user (audience/ customers), to understand the message that is being conveyed.

The more functional a logo design is in black and white, the more likely it is to last longer. One reason for this is the fact the logo has a few components which may result in being less trendy. Trendy logos don’t last as fashion always changes.

Here’s some great examples of logos that followed fashion, but then reverted into simple logos that can work in black and white:

Logos must have weight

You may have come across ‘flimsy’ logo designs that just have no weight to them. They easily fade into the background due to the lack of mass.

These logos lack authority and presence which ultimately may be crucial for the brand.

Flimsy logo designs overall look tacky and unprofessional. Both designers and non-designers are able to identify this. If not, its only a matter of time this is realised as logo designs that lack mass are not functional especially on places such as the web.

When logo designs are thin, its hard to read/ see, and even hard when used on a webpage. Favicon’s must be considered when creating a logo design.

Logos that lack mass/ weight do not work at a small size. This can be a problem for a businesses online presence whether they have an app or a webpage

Logos are meant to be discoverable/recognisable by it’s audience which can be insured with a logo design that has weight.

Not to say all logo designs should be bold and heavy in order to be successful, but typically, these are the type of logos that work and are normally adopted by the top brands in the world.

Below you can see a huge difference between thin and bold logos. You may also notice the logo designs that work were created by the worlds greatest logo designers.

Logos must have enough contrast

‘Legibility is a function of contrast, and contrast is a function of value.’ What matters most in contrast is having enough difference in value.

Logo designs that lack contrast, fail overall as they have low legibility.

There are two different types of contrast within logo design which are crucial; External Contrast & internal Contrast.

External contrast is the difference between the logo design and its background. Where as internal contrast is the difference between the elements within the logo design. Good logo design has both of these principles.

Logos that lack this principle are typically gradient logos. Gradient logos aren’t forbidden as they can be done very well by skilled logo designers. However, in most cases they are difficult to be pulled off successfully, as they may not be able to used in one colour.

Using the right combination of colours are important. Logo designs that incorporate all primary colours immediately fail as there will be no contrast within the logo.

Logos with two light colours have bad contrast and are hard to be seen on a white background resulting in bad external contrast.

To sum up, any logo with poor internal or external contrast results in a ‘BLOWOUT’. The logo design fails as it is barely ledgible & visible.

Logo components must be in harmony

Yes a logo design must be unique. Yes a logo design must have contrast. No a logo design shouldn’t be out of harmony.

Often times there are logo designs produced that tend to follow one design style, which then changes dramatically.

Designers can sometimes try too hard to make the logo design ‘Unpredictable’. But that’s the problem… trying too hard.

Remember, just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should, and this is often the case with incorporating wayward parts within a logo design.

Logos that look out of harmony often just look lazy overall.

One case of this is when letters within logos are typically used to replace a letter.

A logo design must flow through out with perfect contrast with its elements balanced with a unique/ memorable quality.

This can be achieved with subtleness and simplicity with the use of shapes.

Manipulating shapes is a perfect way to achieve this as it typically stays within the core design principle of working in one colour, as well as having its own unique quality.

However, logo designs that ‘try too hard’ often involve ‘wayward design’ leaving the audience/ viewer confused as to what they are seeing.

Here are several confusing logos that have wayward parts as well as coming of quite corny:

Logo must avoid overlapping elements

Now understanding that a logo must work in one colour, as well as the importance of internal and external contrast, it’s pretty straight forward how having overlapping elements can result in having a BLOWOUT.

Adding back shadows to a logo design just add more design for the audience to take in.

It is definitely heavy on the eye as well as avoids having a timeless feel. This type of design is typically associated with an ‘olden day’ typographic feel.

Especially when creating word marks, its important that no bak shadow is used for better legibility.

Adding a back shadow may sometimes look ‘cool’ but being ‘cool’ is typically associated with being trendy and we know that doesn’t age well.

Word-marks that avoid back shadows often have a more fresh vibrant and modern feel, which seems as if the logo has been created recently compared to word marks with back shadows.

Back shadows must be avoided as clients them selves will soon realises the difficulties in legibility with a logo design lacks internal contrast despite having great external contrast.

Remember, if anyone of these rules are violated in any area, there is a high chance the logo will fail and need to be changed in only a matter of years.

Logo shapes must be refined

As shown previously, the worlds best logos are often bold and hold a perfect amount of mass. This is typically done with the use of shapes.

Understanding shapes within logo design is crucial and can take your work from amateur to professional.

Using refined shapes is important as it shows great clarity within the logo design giving it great contrast as well as working within one colour. You can see how avoiding 1 component in BLOWOUT can often lead to success with other components.

Shapes should be used when communication a message within logo design. Shapes actually make up everything in our world today.

Shapes are typically associated with something that someone as comeacrsoss.

Understanding shapes can give you a huge advantage. Semiotics is the study of signs and symbols which can help you understand logo design deeper.

Small or large scale, a logo must work and the best way to insure this is to use clear cut refined shapes.

Despite what style of logo design you aim to create, this principle must be at the forefront of the design.

The more refined shapes used, the more chances the logo design will be legible as well as timeless.

Logos must avoid tiny or thin shapes

Tiny or thin components within a logo design are a No No.

Similar to having refined shapes, good logo designs avoid having tiny shapes which may effect the harmony of the logo but also the visibility.

Tiny shapes within a logo design does no one justice; the audience can’t see it and the brand may struggle to be recognised.

Often times, logo designs that fail in this area, are redesigned to a more bolder and modern version.

I typically find this to be one of the most common reason for logos to be redesigned.

This may also be due to the fact that our world today uses favicon and app icons.

If the logo design has tiny or thin shapes (even letters) then the logo design fails as it is not functional.

Despite it still working in one colour, there has to be the right contrast within shape sizes that are used within the logo design (internal contrast).

As a result, it may have a negative impact on the logo design working on any background (external contrast).

Overall, BLOWOUT is extremely reliable as a guideline for logo design. It isn’t meant to restrict creativity, but rather ensure functionality.

A logo design that follows all of these principles, are often very successful and highly unlikely to be redesigned. not only that, but also the worlds best logo designers have all followed these principles whether they knew it or not.

Being a logo designer myself, I have taken the time to discover the principles of logo design and came across a book that that has inspired this blog post. The book is Logo Design Theory by Michael Schumate.

This book is without a doubt the most practical, realistic and technical logo design book i’ve read. I highly recommend it as well as using BLOWOUT as a guideline when creating logos.