The successful execution of a logo is the toughest, sweetest, most frustrating, and rewarding task of a graphic designer — at least in my experience. It requires that you enlist all your design fundamentals and problem-solving skills to create a mark which, against all odds, must communicate, identify and adapt in seemingly impossible ways.
This task becomes infinitely more difficult when you try to operate out of a vacuum. A desire to be "original" (not a real thing) or "unique" (not an accomplishment in itself) often leads folks to become paralyzed by a fear of duplication or of not creating a pure, self-informed solution. So here's my advice: don't be an island. Allow yourself to be inspired. This is what successful, happy practitioners do.
As I can't lend you my go-to hardbacks (they're hard to come by these days), I'll instead point to some of the spots where I get inspiration online.
Vintage Logo Collection
This is a Flickr collection of vintage logos, conveniently alphabetized, showcasing a variety of fundamentally sound, "stamp-it-and-call-it-good" logotypes and monograms, usually employing no more than one or two gimmicks in otherwise blatantly graphic treatments. This collection is super useful when you need to explore ways you might abstract the letters of your logo without abandoning legibility.
This Instagram feed showcases marks that are relatively similar to the vintage marks above. However, it is a curated version, with usually a couple marks shown per day. Rare is the occasion when I see one of these posts and don't think, "Man, that's beautiful/genius/infuriatingly simple."
While we're on Instagram...
I've said for a while that I find some of my greatest inspiration from strong designers and artists that I know. A couple friends who I do this with are this guy and this guy. So see what your peers are up to, give them feedback, take their feedback, and investigate how you might apply some of their logic to solving your problem. Try instagram.com/[your-favorite-designers]
This series of podcasts is uplifting, calm, and inspirational. While not always related to graphic design, it is always inspirational and insightful. One particularly relevant episode is about flag design. Another interesting episode is about an abandoned phone booth in the middle of the desert. Look them up.
This faithful old resource focuses on rebranding efforts, with its most popular feature being a before and after look, along with analysis of recently redesigned brands. Here's how I like to use this site: simply take a look at the imagery first, and analyze it yourself. Then, read the curators' take on it, as well as the stories behind the changes. Finally, re-examine your view.
If you're going to look at a contemporary gallery of design work, this one is about as fresh as it gets. Seeing how others have treated similar subject matter can open your eyes to possible solutions to your own riddle. Even more interesting solutions can be found by looking at successful marks related to a completely different industry.
Here's a gallery that can be poisonous if you don't use it properly. (Improper use = Looking at pretty pictures out of context and getting down on yourself for not making work as interesting or getting as many likes.) Through the proper lens, dribbble can be great. For example, some people use this as their primary portfolio area, and the "in-progress" nature of the site allows you to see not only some early-stage work but also variations of a logo. I specifically find this site useful when doing monogram, crest or lettering work, with my muses of choice being folks like Simon Walker and Jessica Hische.
Logo Design Love
This blog on identity design features anything from simple book features to stories of lost identity treasures and behind-the-design looks at famous marks and famous designers. The power of sites like this and Brand New are that they are a sort of anti-Dribbble, letting you in on the factors that actually lead to legitimate design solutions.
If nothing else, this site is good for a mild chuckle. It shows what might happen if the thoughtless, over-simplified approach to logo design which we identify as "hipster" were to transform popular brands. The result is usually a mark that is pretty, but lifeless. It is worth considering whether the approach you're taking will lead to the same: logos that sacrifice character in the name of simplicity and trendiness. I also refer to this approach as "copping out."
Youtube / Live Music
Don't try to get all your design inspiration from design. I suggest that you open YouTube, and search for live versions of your favorite songs. For one thing, this is good for your soul, and it is preferable to be a happy designer. But note how the most evocative music uses proper measures of silence and sound, harmony and dissonance, with the extremes being more pronounced in live performances. Similarly, the best logos use appropriate levels of complexity and simplicity, positive and negative space.
How do you get inspired?
No amount of resources can replace research, goal-setting, process, and blue-collar tenacity in the discipline of identity design. However, there is no reason to make things harder on yourself by working like a hermit. Because, after a decade of doing this, I can tell you this: designing logos the right way never gets any easier.
Use these sites as a launching pad for finding your own inspiration. Or throw them out. But do infuse your design life with inspiration, real experiences, and the influence of those you respect.
What websites, books, hobbies or experiences do you find most helpful in breaking free of mental ruts?
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