How to Become a Logo Designer

Logo design, part of the bigger world of graphic design, is rarely viewed as a stand-alone career in itself. However, it does mean something to say that your specialty is logo design – you are the person to go to when companies are branding or re-branding their businesses.

What is logo design anyway? It sounds like a no-brainer to write down the name of a company, make it look pretty and maybe add a couple of icons. However, it is true that a good logo is an essential part of any business and will often define its branding strategy. Not only does a logo need to represent the name of a business, but it also has to appeal in color and shape to the customers, and spark associative thinking that will be the first step towards buying a product. In the long-run, it is what a customer recognizes as soon as they look at a label, package or service board and identify with.

So the job of the logo designer is actually quite key for companies, and it is one of the graphic design services that is often most difficult to outsource, since the designer has to have a strong affinity with the market they are working for. Most, however, do combine logo design with other graphic design and/or marketing specialties. These professionals can work in-house within larger companies or freelance, but in either case, they can expect unpredictable hours due to deadlines and negotiations with their clients. However, for the right creative personality, this could be an ideal work setting.

Take a look at this infographic for some extra information on logo design.

WHAT THE EXPERTS ARE SAYING

Colleen Conger

Digital Photo and Design

Quick Look Bio

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Understanding My Career Path

  • When I graduated from high school in the late 80s, the idea of being a logo designer was not even on my radar. Surprisingly, both my mother and grandmother were gifted artists so naturally, I thought I would inherit some type of artistic DNA. That was not the case. My sole desire was to be a professional secretary.
  • It wasn’t until the mid 90s, during my job as office manager of a small landscaping company in North Carolina, when I was asked to design a logo for my boss’ invoices and letterhead to make his company look professional.
  • Since the Internet was still fairly young and I couldn’t manually draw a stick figure to save my life, I relied on drawing programs such as Microsoft Paintbrush to digitally sketch out logo designs on the computer.
  • The more practice I put into drawing in Paintbrush, the more confident I became, and before long, I had amassed a small portfolio of logo designs.
  • As the Internet grew, so did my access to online tutorials in both written (blog posts) and video format (YouTube).
  • Year after year, I updated the graphic programs I used from Microsoft Paintbrush to Jasc Paint Shop Pro. Then I eventually taught myself how to use Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator.
  • I sought out portfolio websites where I could upload my logo designs. I also created my own website to showcase my logo portfolio in addition to providing a way for potential clients to contact me.
  • I joined online groups and forums to learn more about logo design, primarily foundational principles, to fill in the holes.
  • While in those groups and forums, I connected with other designers in my field in addition to making connections with design agencies and businesses looking for logo designers.
  • I’ve since expanded my logo design expertise into my graphic and web design business to offer branding and marketing services.

Recommended Organizations

  • The American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) is one of the industry’s oldest and largest professional membership organizations for design. Their community includes designers from around the world who come together, to not only support each other, but to learn and inspire one another.
  • The Graphic Artists Guild is another organization that encompasses all graphics artists, including logo designers. Like the AIGA, their doors are open to designers at all skill levels.

Advice

On whether or not she recommends a formal education
If you have the time and creative inclination to learn on your own, you can become a successful logo designer. Speaking from my own experience of not pursuing a formal education, I assumed that I would never get accepted into any type of design school or program because I didn’t know how to draw freehand. I used to be embarrassed to tell people (clients too) that I didn’t have a degree in art or design, but I realize that my portfolio of work speaks for itself and that I’m a successful logo designer without having a degree.

Create a portfolio of your logo designs
You can use existing client work or create your own designs for a fictitious company or brand. Don’t use every single design. Select your absolutely best work. Take those logo designs and showcase them on your own website as well as other portfolio websites like Behance and Dribbble.

Grow a thick skin to take constructive criticism
Design in itself is highly subjective. You might create a logo that, in your eyes, is the most extraordinary design on the planet. Your client, however, might think it’s the ugliest thing they have seen in their life. Constructive criticism is just that – the use of both positive and negative comments and opinions to improve the outcome for all parties involved.

It’s not what you know, it’s who you know
It’s an overused cliché, but when you’re an up and coming logo designer, it’s smart to introduce yourself and make friends with not only other logo designers, but influencers in your field. Join Facebook and LinkedIn groups; participate in discussions; and offer helpful insights and solutions. Comment on blog posts and/or YouTube videos that have helped solve a particular problem or issue. Become an authority on logo design, and use that to help others.

Have online presence
Be everywhere. Create a website to showcase your logo designs. Better yet, explain what you did for your clients and how you solved a particular problem they were having in relation to their logo. Be sure to get a strong testimonial from them to add to your website. Also, display your work on other portfolio sites such as Carbonmade, Dribbble, Behance, DeviantArt and Coroflot.

Stay away from spec work
Basically, with spec work, you’re just giving away your talent and design in exchange for the promise of compensation, future employment, etc. Instead, invest your time in building your logo design portfolio and getting your name and fantabulous work out into the universe.

Lisa Sipe

Binary Star Systems

Quick Look Bio

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Understanding My Career Path

  • I studied Fashion Design at my community college for 2 years. I received a small scholarship from Finn’s Fabric House for one of my wearable art designs and competed in the Fashion Group Competition of Chicago placing as a finalist in the Wearable Art Category. By the end of my second year of college I realized I didn’t like to sew and didn’t like the unrealistic standards of beauty required by women in fashion. I decided to become a Graphic Designer.
  • I applied to design schools in warm states to escape the cold of Chicago and was accepted into the graphic design program at Arizona State University. At ASU I participated in the Graphic Design Student Association and joined the American Institute of Graphic Arts as a student member. I had my design work accepted into the College of Design Juried Exhibition Poster Design and I received a Leadership Award in Graphic Design.
  • In between my junior and senior years, I was a graphic design intern at Design Tower.
  • My first job after graduation was in the corporate world as a Junior Designer for Fender Musical Instruments. I stayed there for a little over a year.
  • I decided to switch jobs because I wanted to see what life was like in a studio environment. At Catapult I had the opportunity to work with a wider variety of clients on a broader range of projects.
  • After those first two professional jobs, I continued to make choices based on my interests in the field. I briefly went back to Fender Musical Instruments because I had the opportunity to work in web design, then I switched to a small tech start-up so I could work more in user interface design. Eventually, the culmination of all those experiences inspired me to start my own design business.

Recommended Organizations

  • AIGA – the professional association for design. AIGA is excellent because they have groups specifically for students with access to jobs and internships, the ability to get exposure with an online portfolio and the ability to network at local and national events.
  • Graphic Artists Guild – This organization writes the industry Bible for design and illustration professionals, Handbook: Pricing & Ethical Guidelines. This book has invaluable business information for young designers, including how to price your work and when and how to use a contract. In addition to receiving a copy of the book as a member, you get access to professional webinars, online portfolios, access to health insurance and tons more!

Advice

On whether or not she recommends a formal education
In the design industry, if you have a strong portfolio and skills, employers won’t care if you have a design education. Even with that reality, I still recommend a formal education. I think it is important to get a solid foundation in the fundamentals of design, as well as receive feedback on your work.

Do an internship
Do a couple of internships if you have time in your schedule and work for different types of companies. There are so many benefits to being an intern: experience with real projects and deadlines; the possibility it could turn into full-time employment; having professional references and real work for your portfolio.

Study and be inspired by art
Watch documentaries on art; learn the history of art; take as many hands-on art classes as you can. Those early art classes will teach you so much about color, balance and design.

Get involved
Participate in logo design organizations or meetups. A lot can be learned by hanging out with people in the industry. They can offer great career advice, help you network and are usually more than happy to share their experiences.

Mitch Dowell

Branding Experiences

Quick Look Bio

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  • Mitch Dowell
  • Baltimore, MD
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  • Branding Experiences
  • @brandingexp

Understanding My Career Path

  • I was actually pursuing a career in the recording industry in the early/mid 90s, where I got a lot of practice developing and designing press kits, flyers, brochures and a variety of other visual marketing materials.
  • After 8 years in the recording industry, I finally threw in the towel to pursue a “real” job. The late 90’s were prime for creative marketing professionals as the dot-com era was in full swing. However, the only “marketable” business skills that I had to lead with revolved around my graphic design and visual marketing work, and with such a healthy job market at the time, the timing couldn’t have been more perfect.
  • I spent 13 years working in small, high-tech start-up environments doing a lot of design-heavy marketing work. I intentionally chose companies that had limited marketing budgets and were unable to outsource their design work to agencies. That way my in-house design skills would actually become part of the marketing strategies themselves, which provided more opportunity for me to rapidly advance my skills and experience.
  • I had a lot of superiors and mentors throughout my career encourage me to strike out on my own and start my own design business, but I rejected the notion numerous times. It wasn’t until a layoff during the Great Recession when not only was the timing right, but the new “project-based” economy was dominating. So in 2010 my company, Branding Experiences, was launched.
  • Over the past 5 years, I’ve done design work for 52 clients, across 3 different time zones, in both the U.S. and Canada. My work has been split about 60/40 between print design and web design, and about 60% of the print work involves logo design.

Recommended Organizations

  • AIGA – a good place to start for new logo designers or those interested in the career field. They have a lot of career and educational resources that are often very sought after, and their networking events tend to be high-quality.
  • ADC – another worthwhile organization for aspiring logo designers to keep an eye on. They have many award program opportunities for younger designers, as well as many educational and professional programs to leverage.
  • Meetup – I’ve made a lot of valuable business and career-field connections through networking resources like these, and I highly recommend them for any aspiring designers looking to meet others in the field.

Advice

On whether or not he recommends a formal education
I don’t have a design degree, and have never felt a strong desire or need throughout my career to pursue one. But perhaps there was a bit of luck and perfect timing on my side that may not have been needed had I chosen to pursue a design degree. It’s hard to say, it’s all rather hypothetical at this point.

So, if you have an opportunity to pursue a design degree, I actually say go for it. It takes a unique individual and personality to break the “rules of education” and still make a living in their chosen field. What a design professional may “lack” in terms of formal education, they are going to have to make up for in other ways until their design chops reach a truly competitive level.

Explore psychology behind logo design
Learn why certain colors and shapes evoke certain emotions and moods. Learn why certain industries tend to use specific color palettes or styles. Look for any recognizable “patterns” in some of the most well-known logos, and try to make the psychological connection as to why they make a connection and resonate with target audiences.

Get good at accurately reading people
Specifically, when trying to communicate and convey creative concepts. For example, adjectives play a big role when communicating creative concepts, but the same adjective may not have the same meaning or deliver the same emotion for all parties involved.

Become a master at time management
As fun and creative as logo design work is, you will always be on a deadline. Learn how to balance the joy of creativity with the pressure of a hard deadline. Learn how to watch the clock without losing your creative focus. It’s not easy.

Network to get into the industry
When going to networking events, I recommend to avoid falling into the trap of only hanging out with the creative crowd. Although that may be where the “pixel-level” conversations are, that may not necessarily be where the work is at. Make sure you have a healthy mix of non-creative networking events on your calendar as well. A logo is one of the first things that a company needs created. Find your way into those early moments of a brand by mingling where entrepreneurs and company starters often gather.

What Kind of Education Do I Need to Become a Logo Designer?


Logo design is a career that falls under the general area of study of graphic design. Universities, colleges, and specialized schools all offer courses and degrees on the subject, while you also have the choice of self-teaching through resources available online and in books.

Either way is valid and can lead to a successful career. Nowadays, if you do not go to school, you will have quite a bit of competition from graduates, who complete 2 to 4 year programs. This being said, you will have spent a lot less money, and if you are the type of person who does not learn well in a classroom setting, then self-teaching might just be the right option for you. Remember that it will still require an investment in software and technology, as well as some possible complementary courses.

Those who are thinking of getting a degree should choose their program and school very carefully. Graphic design is offered almost everywhere, but quality and specialization will be different every time, as well as your fit with the school you choose. Look into how strong the graphic design alumni society is. Check out the type of technology the university offers. Do they have an internship or some sort of hands-on component? How much will the program allow you to build a portfolio? These are all questions to ask yourself before selecting a school. And very importantly, consider whether you will be able to build an excellent network and portfolio when you are there, this will be essential to you future success.

WHAT IF I DO WANT A DEGREE TO BECOME A LOGO DESIGNER?

  • Auburn University
    The College of Architecture, Design and Construction at Auburn University in Alabama offers a BFA in Graphic Design and focuses its program on identity development. Students have the opportunity to take semesters abroad, participate in annual events, be part of subject-related communities and display their work in their final year. Tuition is $5,100 per semester for in-state and $13,692 per semester for out-of-state.
  • Kansas City Art Institute
    KCAI is exclusively focused on arts related programs, offering students a major in Graphic Design. This program is heavily focused on teaching the strategic development part of graphic design, as well as extensive in-studio work. Practical experience components are also available. Annual tuition is $32,268.
  • Otis College of Art and Design
    Located in Los Angeles, California, the Otis Communication Arts Department offers a comprehensive Graphic Design program, focused on technique and hands-on learning. Students also have the choice of studying Illustration or Advertising Design. Tuition here is $38,290 per year.
  • Academy of Art University
    This San Francisco University offers a range of program levels for those wishing to study Graphic Design. Students have the option of obtaining an Associate degree, a BFA, an MFA, taking online courses and credits, or completing one of the graphic design certificate programs. Estimated annual undergraduate tuition is $22,086.
  • Philadelphia University
    The Kanbar College of Design, Engineering and Commerce at Philadelphia University offers a Graphic Design Communication degree, which is focused on problem-solving and generating concepts to formulate branding and design strategy. Students are offered the opportunity to work on real-life projects and build their portfolio. Undergrads pay an estimated $34,280 per year.

GETTING MY FOOT IN THE DOOR

There are different points of view regarding the best way of getting your foot in the door when it comes to logo design. Some say it’s a good idea to do internships or free work for visibility; others suggest only focusing on your network and digital presence to start building up a client base. However, one thing that every person in the industry does agree on is that you need an excellent portfolio.

Whether you design for class, fun, friends, as an internship, or for ad-hoc jobs doesn’t matter. What does is that you need to build a portfolio that will impress. Logo design is very competitive, especially since you are often competing with an international market, and therefore, you should show your best through your work. If you would like to focus on logo design, then don’t include pieces that are not relevant. Instead, only have your logo and branding in the portfolio you present to clients.

Once you have put a portfolio together, then you should begin to network with people in and outside of the industry. Everyone needs a graphic designer at some point, so make sure your connections think of you first when they need or hear of someone looking for the services you offer. Have your business cards and web page ready to go, and always leave a professional impression.