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Starbucks' new logo is displayed on a paper cup carried by a customer in Halifax on Tuesday, March 8, 2011.


Think it's a fluke that an apple is an iconic symbol of technology greatness for Apple Inc., a check-mark like "swoosh" represents athletic prowess for Nike, and some people get hungry when they see the golden arches of McDonald's?

These and other company logos share important qualities: They're simple and distinctive, but far from being no-brain designs.

"Logos that are simple [and]clean are the most remarkable in sticking in people's minds," says Rosy Gocher, who founded the Victoria, B.C., company RowCDesign in 2007 after moving to Canada from Mexico six years earlier.

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No longer an image slapped on business cards, letterhead, stationery and billboards, today logos are pervasive because of our virtual world - exposure that has made it more challenging to get the look and feel just right.

For marketing, "you need a common visual thread for all your material, especially nowadays with the Internet and all this social media," says Steve Douglas, a former magazine art director who founded The Logo Factory in Toronto in 1996. "If you have a logo, it presents a professional image. You need an icon unique to you, a visual look that follows you around no matter what the medium."

One look at an apple with a chunk bitten out of it (Apple computers), a giant panda (World Wildlife Fund) or a three-pointed star (Mercedes-Benz) and you instantly know the company it represents. But it's a lofty task to create a logo with such instant brand recognition - something that usually develops only after years of existing in the mental environment.

While there's no cookie-cutter method for logo design, Ms. Gocher and Mr. Douglas offer these do's and don'ts:

Start with sketches: Put ideas on paper and then use a computer for the final design. "It's one way you can make sure your logo is original," says Mr. Douglas. "If you drop a square and circle into a desk-top publishing program, chances are someone else has done that. Doodling can give you the best ideas."

Determine the type: Based on the company and its message, choose a logo type. Will it be a traditional icon, text-based (basically the company name in a custom font) or illustrative (usually more complex). Each type has its benefits. Remember, a logo is for a client's audience - the customers - so if a company is trying to reach a market of truck drivers, it shouldn't use a wispy font - "it's not a macho image," says Mr. Douglas.

Consider the message: A logo doesn't need to say what a company specializes in. For instance, an apple isn't a computer, and the Mercedes logo doesn't feature an automobile. But some companies, especially smaller ones, want their products front and centre. Ms. Gocher cites one of her clients, Coastal Black, a family-owned B.C. fruit winery, which wanted Vancouver Island and a berry dotted trail prominent in the logo.

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Think about different media: To ensure a logo can be used across different mediums, stick with vector formats (in program like Adobe Illustrator), which allow the most design variations and can be used in every size or media application. Avoid logo design software. "Lots of people jump into Photoshop, but you get into bitmap graphics, which don't enlarge well," says Mr. Douglas. Logos should also have easy to read fonts (Ms. Gocher says commonly used fonts include Helvetica, Gill Sanscript and Futura). Using two fonts can create contrast that catches the eye, but stay away from using more than that, because it can be confusing.

Be square: Social media applications use square avatars, so have a version of your logo that can be used in a square format. "If you have a long and skinny logo, and put it in a social media program, it may shrink it square," says Mr. Douglas. He says The Logo Factory's former logo featured a little house that represented a factory, but didn't fit into any social media, so the redesigned logo in place today features a giant cog, with two smaller cogs in the company's name.

Don't focus on colour: Try creating every logo in black and white before adding colour, so you're judging it by shapes and nothing else. A logo should look great on both dark and light backgrounds. "The big companies use one or maybe two colours, for reproduction reasons," says Ms. Gocher. "You have to keep in mind the functionality of a logo - you must be able to adapt it to other needs." Colours should reflect the product or brand, for instance; orange these days signifies freshness or health, while green is associated with nature.

Ignore trends: Trends come and go, but for a logo with longevity, don't let them dictate your design. For instance, the social media phenomenon has made logos featuring speech bubbles and megaphones popular in some brands, according to the social media news blog Mashable. "Be careful with trends," warns Mr. Douglas. "In the late 1990s, there was the swoosh phenomenon when everyone and their brother decided to add a 'swoosh' to their logo, but they had to 'un-swoosh' it later on when there was a backlash. That can be costly, especially if you're a big company."

Don't copy: Analyze other logos and try to determine why they failed or succeeded, but don't aim to model your logo after the success stories. Get input on design ideas and samples. "I ask people I know in different areas of business, and people who work in marketing, and consumers what they think. It's good to do that before you launch a logo," says Ms. Gocher.

Avoid drastic redesign: It's common for companies to update or alter their logos, for instance, if a business alters its direction or business goals, or the logo seems outdated or needs refreshing. But try to maintain some of the original, brand-recognizable elements. For instance, to celebrate its 40th anniversary, Starbucks updated its logo at the beginning of this year - the deep green ring emblazoned with "Starbucks Coffee" encircling a black and white siren was replaced with just the green and white mermaid-like siren, which has been in every logo since the Seattle-based coffee company's beginnings. "Changing an established logo should be approached with a great deal of caution and forethought," says Mr. Douglas.

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