I've been a graphic designer since 2006. That's more than 10 years! This field is full of people who are both self-taught, and college educated; some who have the natural instincts and some who only know how to use the tech.
Because of the variety of designers out there, I see a lot of mistakes being made, either from a lack of innate skill or inexperience/knowledge.
But I'm definitely not here to bash anyone; just the opposite, actually. I'm here to help!
So here are some branding no-no's that I see a lot and why I think they're mistakes to be avoided.
If you suspect your current branding falls into this category & want to know how to fix it, I've also included a MINI BRANDING AUDIT DISCOUNT CODE for you! Just purchase through my shop & apply the code at checkout, then I'll take a look and provide some personalized feedback to help get you out of the design-gutter.
Avoid these branding mistakes:
1 | BEING TRENDY FOR TREND-SAKE
First and foremost, there is a time & place when/where using trends helps your business become more relevant to your audience, ...and there are times/places when/where you shouldn't.
To decide when it's appropriate, you'll just have to use your best judgement! Ask yourself: does this trend have long-term staying power?
In other words, will I have to change this design in 2 years? Five? One?
Brand consistency can imply stability for your customers, so you don't want to be changing your logo or other parts of your branding too often. Among other things, people won't be able to develop brand recognition for your brand's style, right?
Here are some examples of trends that are popular right now & why I think you should avoid using them in your logo, specifically.
While watercolor is gorgeous, and it can always be used as an accent to the overall brand vibe, I don't think it should be used in the actual logo. Why?
There are two important things you need to consider when designing a new brand:
- How easily can this be reproduced in different mediums?
- Process Color Printed images
- web only images
- Embroidery (for products to sell or uniforms, etc.)
- small print (less detail)
- large print (more detail)
- How does it look in black and white, or greyscale?
- Will this design always need to be in color for it to look good? (Everybody's print budget can change; you should always have a one color version available, just in case.)
If your first thought was, 'but you have script in your own logo!' Then, fist-bump 🤜🏻🤛🏻 You're super observant!! 😉 The script in my logo is my actual handwriting; not a brush script version of it. It's actually my regular cursive, so that basically won't ever change.
What I'm actually referring to specifically, is brush script (of the more illegible variety).
Many script typefaces are absolutely gorgeous, but a lot of them are also kind of illegible & therefore it's not good to put the name of your business in it. So if you find yourself using it, just ask: can I still read this if it's really small / from a distance?
Brush or Hand-Written script is a current, but long-standing trend that's been happening over the past few years. It's becoming more prominent, but it's also evolving as the trend grows.
Because it's becoming more prominent, the trend is changing. There's less perfectly created brush-script-calligraphy, and more hand-written, personalized (humanized) script being used.
Because this is a trend, I know it will eventually fade & you'll be stuck with a logo design that's no longer relevant, meaning a re-design is definitely in your (relatively near) future and if you're not a designer yourself, you'll have to hire out the design again.
What this does not necessarily include is vintage-inspired or throwback script, with a nod to a different era. Vintage is "in" right now, as we look back to admire & celebrate what was done many decades before, with much different technology.
2 | UNNECESSARY CLUTTER
A lot of people have a list of things they want to include in their logo, assuming all of them are truly necessary in order to convey what they want, and that's just not true.
If your business is a hair salon, you don't need to have ALL the icons/graphics in your logo like: a hair brush, a pair of scissors, the chair, a mirror, a comb, AND a lock of hair being snipped, etc. It's just too much; if your logo has the word salon in it, people already have a general idea of what you offer there.
One reason clutter in a design can be bad for business is that a logo needs to be clearly view-able at a range of sizes. Extras (like adding all those icons) doesn't always work in smaller areas, like profile pictures, favicons, and business cards.
Another reason is that by showing several specific things, you can accidentally limit yourself to just the things you've shown, when you might offer more than just those services shown in the logo.
If a lawn care service logo has a lawn mower graphic in it, your logo might be telling people (subconsciously) that you literally only mow lawns.
If that's all you do, of course, that's fine. But if you offer more services than that, it's excluding other things like: leaf, weed & limb removal, fertilizing, planting, trimming, general landscaping, etc...
IMHO, I think it'd be better to leave off the lawn mower graphic & handle explaining what you offer in another way.
This is also just a style thing. I like clean lines and value simplicity in logo designs, so the designs I create tend to reflect that.
The fewer things the viewer has to look at within a design, the more he/she can focus on what you actually want them to see, and in what order.
So if you give them 1 main thing to read, plus a graphic or icon, plus a tagline or motto, then they'll tend to see those things in that order.
In my logo, the order in which I hope most people view it is like this:
- Studio (Primary text)
- 1862 (Secondary text)
- key icon (graphic)
3 | LIGHT / THIN TEXT
I'll be the first to tell you that I love ultra light-weight typography. I think it's simple and gorgeous, but I know when it's appropriate to use.
Extremely narrow or light type in a logo design doesn't always translate well when scaling the size down. It also doesn't embroider, print, or view well on the web (if not saved at the proper resolution).
Using Bebas Neue Thin can look great on a large building sign, where the viewer is standing in front of it, reading letters that are a foot tall. But scaling that same logo down for a business card might make that thin & narrow text harder to read.
It might also be harder to read on a billboard, where the driver is going by rather quickly and viewing from further away; the lines may not be thick enough to be read easily/quickly, meaning they likely won't try reading it at all.
It can be a great tool to use to create contrast, but use it wisely and in the right places, or you may have a situation spring up where no one will be able to read it!
4 | BAD USE OF KERNING / TRACKING / LEADING
For those of you who don't know those terms:
- Kerning is the visual space between letters in a word.
- Tracking is a consistent amount of added/removed space between all the letters within the text.
- Leading is the space between lines in a paragraph.
This one is a pet peeve of mine actually, and it tends to separate the "Newbs" from the experienced & professional designers.
This is also one of those things that you'll have to decide on your own. In other words, it's a judgement call. But, to help with that, you can ask yourself:
- Is there too much space?
- (If there's so much space between letters that it's hard to tell it's still a word, then yes, there is too much. If there's so much space between lines of text that it looks like a bunch of one-lined paragraphs that don't go together, you need to reduce the amount of leading.)
- Is there too little space?
- (If there's so little space between letters or lines within the paragraph, that the letters are running into each other, then you should add some more space.)
5 | USING A DETAILED GRAPHIC
This one is kind of subjective, but from a logistical point of view: highly detailed graphics can be hard to reproduce in all sizes and mediums.
Just remember, the pieces in that design don't usually become more legible or recognizable as they get smaller; it's often the opposite.
It's not that you can't use a detailed graphic, but you won't be able to use it in all the instances where you'd put your logo, all the time. So just know that you won't be able to use it everywhere, if you want it to remain recognizable.
If your logo has a fruit & veggie basket in it, when it's small you might not be able to see which items in the graphic are which.
Or if you decide to order promotional pens with your logo printed on them, you probably aren't going to be allowed to include that graphic because all the lines that create those shapes will bleed together in the print & form a blob of something unrecognizable. So keep that in mind!
In the corporate environment, I ran into these things all the time. Clients would send their logo for reproduction and we'd have to tweak it because of this or that, usually related to one of the points I've just made in #5 above.
They're not end-all-be-all suggestions though, as I said; there's a time and place for all of those things.
Design rules do exist, but they can be broken. However it's best to know what the rules are before you do, so that when you break them you're doing it on purpose!
If you're a small business owner & you're on the brink of needing a brand design, then you could use my free workbook: Unearth Your Brand.
If you just want a refresh, or a second opinion on a design you already have in place, but might be thinking about changing a bit, then you could use my Mini Branding Audit!
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