Small Business Tips

Designing a logo for Letterheads, Envelopes, Business Cards and other Corporate Identity Materials

Designing a new business identity can be frustrating. There’s a lot to consider. A simple logo on a letterhead, business card or envelope, has to clearly reflect the aims, personality, and business type of the company that you’re promoting. Thanks to the internet and web promotion, it’s now trickier than ever to design an image that will suit both onscreen and offscreen mediums — designers have to think about how the company image looks on both paper and in pixel terms!

I have seen far too many logos that look great onscreen but look truly awful in print. Logo design is about communicating a clear, concise visual message. That message becomes cluttered when people overcomplicate company branding with complex images, elaborate typefaces, and complex colors . When it comes to logo design, less is always more!

A designer has to be aware of how a company logo will be viewed. Every time a customer sees a piece of paper with a company logo on it, they should immediately recognize the name and company that it came from. Whether it’s a full color letterhead, a business card, an invoice, or even a blurry-old fax report, the logo should adequately represent the company and possess a common and immediately recognizable design thread. It is absolutely essential that your logo is as easy to understand in black and white, as it is in color. It should also still be recognizable, even if its a really small image! You need to maximize your logos potential so that it can be used anywhere, in any medium.


Your logo should look good in both color and black and white

The true logo test:
A company logo should still look half-decent even when photocopied by a crummy old black and white photocopier that’s lived through too many office parties! You know the one, that old office dinosaur that coughs-out tired and faded documents!

There are a few things a designer should seriously consider staying away from when designing a company logo brand:


Will probably look great onscreen but they often print really badly! Once your logo is reduced right down, believe me, those gradients won’t look so good! If you’re dead-set about creating a logo with gradients, create an alternative logo, without gradients, to present to your client.

Web 2.0 Reflections and Complex Shadows

These are the glossy and glassy semi-transparent reflections that were popularized by Apple Mac (ipod, itunes, etc) and copied by just about every web designer at some point since the late 2000’s. I’m mentioning this effect because it seems to have also sneaked into the world of print design (less successfully) and is now used a great deal in logo design and branding. This effect really does look cool and stylish and is ideal for the web, but it just doesn’t print well – you certainly don’t get to see the glossy and reflective qualities of this design style on paper.

Text Effects

Stay away from text effects. These are mainly available to a designer in programs such as Photoshop where embossing, gradient overlays, inner glows, outer glows, etc, can be used to add some really dramatic depth to your text and design elements. Unfortunately, these effects don’t always transfer very well to print. Again, what looks great onscreen, doesn’t transfer very well to print.

Difficult to read fonts

Don’t use fonts that are hard to read. Certain trash, grunge, distorted, and fancy fonts are superb for use in your own personal projects, for the youth market, or of you’re promoting a company has a very “alternative spirit”, but in the regular business world, fancy fonts really shouldn’t be used. It’s not “boring” or “dull” to use standard fonts. Fonts such as Century Gothic, Eurostile, Baskerville, Helvetica and even Arial (to name but a few) have lasted the test of time because they are readable and have a simple design elegance. It’s not always about the choice of font – it’s about how you use the font in the grand scheme of your design. Just because it’s a corporate company that you’re designing your logo for, doesn’t mean you can’t be bold and creative with font use. In fact, designing for a business environment is often more of a challenge and can produce even more satisfying results. So use your fonts wisely, and creatively.

The poorly designed logo for HD Sound Systems uses many of the design elements mentioned above (albeit quite badly). It suffers from having too heavy a gradient and too many text effects. It won't resize well and it won't print well

The poorly designed logo for HD Sound Systems uses many of the design elements mentioned above (albeit quite badly). It suffers from having too heavy a gradient and too many text effects. It won’t resize well and it won’t print well

Using the right design program to create your corporate identity

I’m probably telling you something you already know if you’re a design professional or freelancer, but you really should use a vector program to design a company logo. Any designer worth their salt knows why! When a designer creates a logo in Illustrator, FreeHand, CorelDRAW, Inkscape or other vector program, the resulting image can be resized to fit a 2inch onscreen web banner as easily as it can be resized to fit a 14ft outdoor banner! Also, the clean and sharp lines that are created with vector programs suit logo design far better than any bitmap based design program. If you are serious about design, you really need to learn how to design vector artwork.

Before designing a corporate identity package for a business, there’s a few questions that you need to ask yourself:

What kind of business are you promoting and therefore what type of image or persona do you want to reflect; bold, cheerful, technical, professional?

Who are the target audience for the company that you’re promoting? This will give you a good idea of the type of colors, font styles, and graphical elements you should use. For instance, McDonald’s brand color and style is really young, bright, and playful (because it’s audience is really young, and playful). The “M” logo is reminiscent of two fries bending and curving to form “welcome gates”. If you were creating a logo for a Financial Company, would you choose those bright red and yellow colors and playful graphical shapes? You would be a fool to do so!

What colors represent the company? As mentioned in the previous paragraph, McDonalds is famously represented by bright red and yellow. Color has really distinct meaning, for example:

Dark Red: Vigor, courage, leadership
Olive: The color of peace (and olives)
Dark Blue: Knowledge, power, integrity
Purple: Royalty, luxury, extravagance

Most color choices are common sense choices for a good designer. Much of the time it’s a lot of trial and error during the initial design stages of your logo design. However, it’s really helpful to research your color combinations before starting a design. I find Kuler to be a massively helpful site when it comes to color choices.

Can you visualize a particular shape, theme, icon, or character that represents the company? The Nike “swoosh” for instance just looks “fast” and the three-point Mercedes Benz logo gives us the feeling of “precision” and “richness”. It’s amazing how our minds subconsciously give meaning to even the most abstract shapes and graphics. Alternatively, sometimes simple and obvious is a better way to go. i.e., a logo that uses a cake graphic is perfect to promote a company that makes cakes! Some may say that this is too obvious! I say that obvious and straightforward is good! I think that the most effective way to make a graphical connection with your audience when promoting a company that makes cakes is to give them a nice tasty cake graphic to think about! The key to creating an effective brand is to be as visually quick and immediate as possible with your audience.

Who says it's unoriginal to use a cake graphic for a cake Logo! I really like this elegant cake logo!

Who says it’s unoriginal to use a cake graphic for a cake Logo! I really like this elegant cake logo!

Look at the company’s competitors brands – what is my logo competing against? It is always helpful to look at other company brands, logos, letterheads, and other corporate identity materials. This will give you ideas and a feel for the type of design you might use to create your own logo design.

What exactly is the client looking for in their logo? Knowing what the client wants is the most important factor to consider before designing their logo. Knowing their tastes and business ideals is really important – it will help shape the design. The more you know about the people and company that you’re designing for, the better. Be specific. Ask what they produce or what exactly they do as a company? Ask what their customer base is and who they specifically want to appeal to within that target? If the business already has a corporate identity, ask what they like/dislike about their current image? Above all, listen carefully to your client before starting a design.

The reasons why we design logos for companies

It’s sometimes easy to forget why we’re creating a corporate identity. Try not to think of it as your own personal piece of artwork to show-off to your friends, try to think of it as an important business and marketing tool for the company that you’re designing for.

Building a decent image for a company with letterhead, envelopes, business cards and other very visible company products, generates a good name for a company. A professional looking logo will go a long way to building trust for a company. Every time someone receives a company correspondence, an email, or visits the company website, it reinforces that name in their minds.

By building a professional brand name for a business, people will feel comfortable with that business and associate it with the product or service that the company provides. It is also a way to make the business you are creating a brand for to feel more professional and legitimate – a moniker for the business to stand behind!

As a designer, your job is to create a visual connection between the business, the product, and the customer. Large corporations spend millions on rebranding their image from time-to-time. They realize the importance of an instantly recognizable brand.

It makes great business sense for a company to create a really well designed corporate identity. A business can make itself really appealing to customers with a smart and professional image. As a designer, you have a responsibility to design the absolute best logo for your client that you can possibly envision.