7 characteristics of a bad logo – and how to avoid them

By April 11, 2019 September 6th, 2019 Branding, Design

In my previous blog post, I shared 5 money-saving options for obtaining a logo for your new businessIt was a good start to show you, that no matter where you are in your entrepreneurial journey, you can have a nice logo and visual identity.  

However, cheap pre-made logos and logo templates can come with limitations if you don’t purchase them from a trusted source. This is why in this post, I’m going to list you the 7 signs of a bad logo – characteristics that you must avoid before purchasing. 

I had many projects where I had to build on a bad logo. But don’t misunderstand me! “Bad” doesn’t always mean that the logo itself looked ugly. No, the must-avoid characteristics I’m going to list here can be quite hidden for the first sight. But because of these hidden mistakes, you can run into frustrating limitations in the long run. 

7 must-avoid characteristics of a bad logo

#1 - BAD LOGOS ARE RASTER GRAPHIC 

I talked about the difference between raster graphics and vector graphics in this post. In a nutshell, raster graphics are built up from little pixels. As you scale them up, you’ll get more and more pixelated edges. 

Vector graphics, on the other hand, are defined by vectors. These vectors describe the shape of your logo mathematically and when you scale up your logo, they scale with it. No matter how big your logo is, it will always have smooth, clean edges. 

7 characteristics of a bad logo and how to avoid them

The limitation of raster graphic logos is that you can’t scale them upThese logos look best at their original size (e.g. the logo you have is 2000 pixel by 2000 pixel) and when you scale them up (e.g. to 4000 pixels by 4000 pixels), you’ll notice blurry pixelated edges.  

You won’t be able to use these logos on bigger surfaces like applied as a wall decal in your office, applied on corporate cars, banners, and displays. 

How to avoid: 

  • DO NOT buy a logo package if the logos are only in PNG or JPEG format. These are raster graphics.
  • Look for AI (Adobe Illustrator) or EPS file formats. These are the most used vector graphic file formats.  
  • SVG files are also vector graphics. These are developed for web usage and some WordPress themes even support SVG logo uploads. 
  • In some cases, Photoshop files can work. But you have to make sure that the graphic elements inside these files are vector graphic. In Photoshop, the layers must be either “shape layers or “text layers” because these are limitlessly scalable.  
  • In some cases, PDF files can work. You have to make sure that they were exported from Illustrator thoughWhen you receive a logo in PDF, try to open it in Illustrator. Then, with the direct selection tool (shortcut: A) click on each shape. If tiny points  and narrow blue lines appear on their edges, that means that they are still in vector format. If there’s only one rectangle around all the elements, they are rasterized.
7 characteristics of a bad logo and how to avoid them

#2 – BAD LOGOS HAVE RASTER ELEMENTS 

Having your logo in Adobe Illustrator or EPS format is still not a warranty for getting vector graphic files. I saw many examples in recent years, where the logo consisted of both vector graphic elements and raster graphic elements. 

A good example is watercolor logosThe watercolor part is usually a PNG file (raster graphic), while the text part is vector graphic. When you scale these types of logos, the text will stay nice and crisp while the watercolor elements become blurry. 

How to avoid: 

This isn’t always easy. As a designer, I usually see whether an element is raster or vector graphic, but it won’t be as obvious to you. The best thing you can do is to reach out to the designer and ask them“Are all the elements in the logo vector graphic? What about the tiny flowers on top of the text?” 

A good way to recognize raster graphics elements in a logo is that they are more detailed. However, with the improvement of Adobe Illustrator, you can see almost as detailed vector illustrations as their raster graphic counterparts. 

7 characteristics of a bad logo and how to avoid them
7 characteristics of a bad logo and how to avoid them

#3 – BAD LOGOS ARE HARD TO READ 

Another recent trend that you should avoid: hard to read fonts.  

If your logo is not legible, you can’t expect people to go and visit your website. They couldn’t even read your business name to start with!  

I understand if you find handwritten, cursive fonts cuter or more feminine. You can still go with these fonts but make sure that your logo is easy to read. 

How to avoid: 

Before purchasing, ask the seller/designer what type of fonts she used in the logoIn many cases, you’ll be able to find these fonts on font marketplaces like MyFontsGoogle FontsCreative Market. The good thing is that these marketplaces let you preview your text with the chosen font.  

Just type in your business name to get a preview with that font. Then take a screenshot and show it around your friends. Can they read your business name easily? If not, then don’t buy that font and that logo. 

Letters that can be problematic when written in cursive fonts: I, J, f, r, z. 

If your business name has accent marks (e.g. é, á, ö), make sure that the font in the pre-made logo template supports these characters. 

#4 – BAD LOGOS ARE OVERCOMPLICATED 

You’ll see that all the well-known brands have a more simplified logo than what they had decades ago. The less is more philosophy is true for logos too. 

7 characteristics of a bad logo and how to avoid them

One good reason for this is the way we interact with companies and logos today. Many of these companies have apps or at least websites – which I guess you also have or you’re planning to have soonWith smartphones and smartwatches, we have to recognize these logos in smaller sizes, sometimes as small as the nail on your pinkie.  

If you go overcomplicated, your logo would look unrecognizable and hard to remember. 

How to avoid: 

  • Scale down your logo to see how it will look on your website. Show your friends and ask them if it’s recognizable. Take away what’s not necessary (for example tiny parts that are hard to see at smaller sizes).

  • Don’t use too many colors. I usually don’t use more than 3 colors in my logos. There are rare exceptions, but 90% of the time 1-3 colors are enough 

  • Don’t use more than 2 fonts. I usually use 1 font for my logos and maybe a second one for the tagline.  

  • Don’t buy pre-made logos with unnecessary styling (drop shadows, bevels, embossing effects, outer glow, textures, etc.) You really don’t need these unless you want to have a logo that came straight for the 90s. 

  • Purchase logos that have simplified, alternate variations: this means that you have a main logo and also a separate logo or symbol that can be used on its own on smaller surfaces.

7 characteristics of a bad logo and how to avoid them

#5 – BAD LOGOS DON’T RESPECT BASIC DESIGN RULES 

This might be more visible for you than the rest of the bad logo characteristics. When you look at these logos, you feel that something is wrong. The reasons can be: 

Wrong font manipulation:  

  • The designer compressed or widened the font 

  • The designer made the text in small caps format, but the original font doesn’t come in small caps version 

  • The designer forced the italic format on a font that doesn’t come in it 

  • The designer used weird tracking (distance between fonts) 

7 characteristics of a bad logo and how to avoid them

Wrong color combinations: The designer used colors that are hard to read or see because there’s not enough contrast between them 

How to avoid: 

  • Look at the font used in the logo. Does the logo look like it has a distorted version of that font? If the logo is written with small caps, italic, bold, wide or narrow fonts, then the original font family must have these versionsFor example, the FF Celeste Small Text font family has small caps versions or URW Bodoni have narrow and wide versions by default. 
  • Look at the colors. Is there enough contrast between the colors and between the logo and its background? 

#6 – BAD LOGOS ARE MISLEADING 

Bad logos sometimes lead to very funny – or embarrassing – consequences. Just think about Pepsi’s logo which looks like a fat guy showing up his plumber’s crackHere are some other shocking logo choices. 

7 characteristics of a bad logo and how to avoid them

How to avoid: 

  • Look at your logo from different angles. Does it resemble something completely different?  

  • Squint your eyes and look at your logo that way. Do you see an inappropriate shape in your logo symbol? If yes, avoid or rework the logo. 

#7 – BAD LOGOS DON’T THINK ABOUT THEIR ENVIRONMENT 

Bad logos don’t think about their environment… No, I’m not talking about their carbon footprint.  

I mean that bad logos come as a standalone idea, not respecting the space in which they are going to be used. This can come up in multiple ways. 

Bad logos come in only one version/orientation: this makes it hard to apply them in different environments because the orientation you need in your website menu (horizontal) is different than what you need for your Instagram profile picture (square). 

Bad logos don’t have a connection with the rest of your visual identity: this means that you only get a logo, without a color palette, without font recommendationswithout extra graphic elements, patterns, etc. You either have to define these on your own or don’t even buy the logo in the first place. 

Bad logos aren’t consistent with your brand voice: this means that the logo doesn’t reflect your brand appropriately. This is why a serious law office won’t use a logo written in Comic Sans (honestly, no one should) or a children’s clothing company won’t use dark, depressing colors. 

How to avoid: 

  • Only purchase pre-made logos if they are part of a bigger system, for example, they come with brand style sheets showing you the color palette and font combination, any extra graphic elements that work well with the logo 

  • Always consider the tone and voice of your brand before purchasing any pre-made logos 

  • Always consider where you want to use the logo and what orientation (vertical, horizontal, square) it requires 

  • Always consider your business core values and vision before purchasing a pre-made logo and make sure that the appearance of the logo is aligned with them.

A FINAL WORD 

After this long list, I wouldn’t be surprised if you sigh with exasperation… “Why does this need to be so complicated?” 

But believe me, it’s better to take your time choosing/designing your first logo and visual identity. This is where you lay a proper foundation for the look of your company and with good work, this foundation will help you for years, making your future work much easier. 

Now, I’d like to hear from you: what are your biggest frustrations when it comes to purchasing a pre-made logo or working on a logo by yourself? Don’t forget to leave a comment below. 

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