The usual answer to this question is “it depends”, and this drives business owners mad. In this article, I explain exactly what it depends on, and share details on timelines in my own logo design process.
A few years ago I published several articles on logo design which raised a bit of dust, and some designers felt called out and expressed their contrary views in the comments. One of the commenters posited that us uppity designers work in an “inefficient way” and spend too much time drawing simple shapes (which is why we charge so much), whereas the author of the comment can complete logo designs much faster. I tried to explain the following to them:
Drawing is just one part of logo design, and it’s not even the most important, or the most time-consuming part.
This is what inexperienced designers often don’t understand: researching and conceptualizing new ideas are the most time consuming, and the most valuable parts of design. Literally anyone can draw a circle in Illustrator or Inkscape—but not everyone can figure out why a circle is a good visual symbol for a particular business, and how to make it distinctive from other circular logos that already exist.
(The articles I refer to are How to avoid getting ripped off by a logo designer and The difference between the $100 logos, $1.000 logos and $10.000 logos. You don’t have to read them in order to understand what I’m talking about now, but it may provide additional context.)
Every designer has their own process, which is what makes our profession so interesting.
Yes, some processes are objectively worse than others (like redrawing another designer’s work and calling it your own). But overall, having no set rules as to how we must be performing our job gives us the opportunity to tailor our career to our strengths, instead of having to fit into a mould.
My logo design process is a result of two decades of experimentation and optimization. It makes perfect sense for me, but I don’t expect everyone to conform to it.
Let me explain how our processes can differ and how it affects the speed at which designers can complete a logo design project.
The depth of logo meaning
In my article Is your logo sending the right message? I mentioned 4 levels of brand message depth that a logo can communicate:
- Product or service features
- Product or service benefits
- Emotional or sensory brand qualities
- Brand core values
Features are the surface level of meaning, and they’re portrayed through literal symbols of a particular craft (scissors for a hairdresser, stethoscope for a medical doctor, cup for a café, etc.). This means that different brands in the same industry will often use the same cliché symbols in their logo if they rely on this level of meaning.
Benefits are slightly more compelling than features, and include more abstract, intangible symbols or metaphoric meanings (for example: security in a data backup company portrayed with a lock symbol, elegance of a fashion brand portrayed through typography choice).
Qualities are speaking to the instinctual part of our consciousness, and are focused on sensations and emotions. They’re even more abstract in their symbolism and often display a very strong sense of style.
Core values go to the very essence of how and why your business does what it does. Broadcasting your core values through your visual brand is a powerful way to capture the attention of people who are a great match for your business. Since core values are high-level concepts (like love, connection, strength, excellence, growth, etc.) their portrayal through the visual language is also either abstract or metaphorical.
A single logo can express one or more of these levels of messages. Which messages the logo will focus on depends on how saturated the market is, and how sophisticated the clients and customers of the brand are. For a business that wants to strongly differentiate themselves from their competitors, I recommend focusing on deeper levels of meaning.
(To learn more about design as a visual language and how logos communicate messages on different levels, read the entire article.)
Let’s see how different designers may approach these messages in logo design.
Approach 1: Fast and furious
In my article on logo design prices, I explained that designers who work fast can afford to charge fees like $100–$300 for a logo design, since it doesn’t take that long to complete a single concept. However, “fast” may mean that some universally accepted phases of the design process are omitted in order to “get to work” as soon as possible.
Taking into account the time it takes to:
- Sketch out ideas.
- Render the best ideas in vector.
- Present top 1–3 concepts to the client.
- Revise the concepts based on feedback.
- Present the final logo.
These logos can be done in under a week, perhaps even in a few days if the client quickly offers feedback.
A designer using this approach can be working on several projects at a time, which appears to be a very efficient way to design logos.
How do I know this? In my early career, I used to work at an agency where logo projects were done in this way because we didn’t know any better. I wasn’t even present at client meetings! I’d sit by my desk and sketch logo concepts based on the briefs I was given, send finished concepts to my boss, and they’d present it to the client with little explanation or context. While some logos did turn out OK, it was definitely not the best work I was capable of.
Logos which are made in such a fast manner tend to be obvious and literal.
Since they stick to the surface-level or shallow messages (features or benefits), they don’t differentiate the business as strongly. I mean how deep can you really go if you only have a couple of hours to sketch out ideas and render concepts?
Now, I’m not saying I never design logos fast. A few years ago I worked on a project for a university center that had secured a budget for their website, but they haven’t even thought of needing a logo. Since I’ve known the client for ages and they were an amazing referral, I really didn’t want to nitpick on scope. I set out to create the logo in a faster manner than usual, so we don’t break the budget.
This is the result:
Logo for the Center for Artificial Intelligence and Cybersecurity. View more images and project details
The logo design itself took around 6.5 hours, but on top of that I spent time meeting with the clients, reading their documentation, and researching their field, which was all a part of the website project. To say that “it only took me 6 and a half hours” wouldn’t be accurate.
Later, I got approached by the same client to redesign another web platform, and again I had to work within the constraints of a fixed budget. This time they actually had an old logo (clipart of a brain with “digital nodes”), so instead of researching and figuring out an entirely fresh concept, I just redesigned the existing idea to look more professional.
Logo for a tech/business matchmaking platform: limited research, obvious symbolism, simple in execution. Sketch to final logo took me about 2.5 hours, and then another 2.5 hours to animate it (because my animation skills are rusty).
I used to teach a graphic design course for a few years. At the end of the Adobe Illustrator course module, students had to complete their own logo design project for a fake business based on the briefs I provided. They had only 3 hours to do it, but they were allowed to finish their work at home. The majority of logos they created had the same few symbols in them, which are the first things that come to mind when you think about this type of business. (I taught 7 generations and this happened in all of them, so it’s not a matter of students copying each other.)
The students were not wrong in doing this. They simply didn’t have time to do proper research, so many of them went with the first logo idea they had. I was very impressed whenever any of them came up with original symbolism, because that’s so hard to do under time constraints.
Can you design great logos this way?
A designer who is trained to think and work fast, can create some great logos using this method. We’ve all had that project when the spark of inspiration came immediately, and the result was amazing and done in no time. I’ve had those epiphany moments many times.
However, I don’t believe (and I have yet to be convinced by someone’s portfolio) that a designer is able to create great logos fast consistently. When working fast, some outcomes are good, and some are not so good. You accept that there are limits to how much you can do, and so you’re satisfied with “okay” results. It’s not spectacular, but it’ll get the job done.
Expecting inspiration to be there every single day to pull us out of a pinch is unreasonable. That’s not how creativity works. Creatives have ebbs and flows, and while one great logo might take a short time, some take much longer. No one is constantly “on” all the time.
Does this approach have value?
Absolutely. There are businesses for whom it doesn’t make sense to invest a lot of time and money in logos. Either because they offer products or services that won’t increase in value if they’re presented differently, or their competition is nonexistent or unimpressive. If your competitors have a bargain bin brand, doing the absolute minimum will put you ahead of them anyway. Why spend more money and effort than you have to?
A cozy local café or a plumber will get business either way, because people need their coffee (and a place to meet friends), and they need their running water working ASAP. Sure, having a nice looking logo to put on signage or vehicles would be a good thing, so a smart business owner will find a designer who can do that for them, or buy a stock graphic.
Someone who can create fast and affordable logos is invaluable for small businesses who need something simple, and don’t want to overthink it. If both sides are well aware of the strengths and limitations of this approach, I see no reason why they wouldn’t work in this way.
I’m thankful that there are designers who work on these types of projects out there, because people who may not have the time or budget to work with me can still get their needs met elsewhere. Win win!
Approach 2: Slow and thorough
As I’ve explained in my article on logo design prices, a more strategic logo design process consists of additional phases which I consider essential to get the best results from a new brand identity:
- Conducting client interviews.
- Researching the client’s market and competition.
- Developing a brand strategy.
- Creating a moodboard with proposed visual direction(s).
- Sketching logo concepts.
- Rendering the best ideas in vector.
- Testing chosen concepts on examples of digital and print applications.
- Searching websites and trademark databases for potentially similar logos.
- Presenting the top 1–3 concepts to the client.
- Revise the chosen concept based on feedback.
- Present the final logo.
- Create final files of all the logo variants.
- Create the branding and logo usage guidelines.
For me, this entire process takes about 4 weeks, under the condition that the client offers their feedback within 2 workdays.
I’ve had clients who were so busy with their work that it took them weeks to deliver feedback, so those projects stretched out for months. (Two workdays may sound strict, but since I usually present my proposals on Fridays, this also gives them extra 2 days over the weekend.)
My process takes about:
- One week for research, strategy, and moodboard.
- Two weeks for design of logo concepts (two rounds, one proposal per round).
- One week for logo polishing, exporting final files, and preparing the style guide.
Depending on the number of additional deliverables (social media graphics, business cards, document templates and presentation etc.), those might take another week or two to complete.
In order to do my best for my clients, I only work on one to two large projects at the same time. Juggling many small projects and deadlines is stressful, and mental health is a priority for me.
Also note that I no longer design only logos without the accompanying branding guidelines, and these take time to write and design.
Many business owners don’t care about guidelines, but I can’t allow other people to handle my work without proper instruction. When designers do that, clients make rookie design mistakes and the logo looks like crap in applications, no matter how well the designers did their job. Sadly I’ve had my designs butchered many times, even when I included guidelines.
Did I ever complete a good logo faster than that?
You bet I did.
One time a client/friend asked me to design her logo by next week because she had to print business cards by a certain date. I panicked, not knowing whether I’d be able to do my work properly in such a short time. Luckily, I had no other deadlines that week so I was able to commit to this project 100%.
Since I know this person well enough and she provided useful information that I was able to pull inspiration from, I quickly came up with a concept that she loved. There were no revisions—my first logo proposal (only slightly polished) was the thing that went into production.
Hand-lettered Savarakatini logo was completed in a week
Projects like these where I can throw myself into a frantic creative process and come up with a concept that the client will accept immediately are very rare. If I had to work this way non-stop, I’d burn out pretty quickly.
Once I worked on a mammoth brand identity design project for a university that required me to complete an entire brand identity system with a dozen printed and digital applications plus visual website design in a month. For context, 2–2.5 months is a minimum for a project of this size. But the client had a deadline to meet, so I charged a rush fee and worked evenings and weekends for the whole month. I didn’t cut any corners, and I gave the project equal energy and focus that I give all my other projects. At the end of that month I was wiped—it took me weeks of self-care to get back to my normal energy levels.
While it is technically possible to do the work in fewer days in extreme circumstances, it’s not a sustainable way to work.
I know of some designers who work this way all the time. They never take time off, and their days are filled with pressure and anxiety. I had periods in my career when I used to do that too, but not anymore. To me, a sign of career success is when you can take plenty of time off and your business doesn’t crumble. Working 12 hour days including weekends is a crappy way to live.
In case the client is really in a hurry, a 50–100% rush fee is going to make the ordeal worth it.
Slow and more thorough = more expensive
Even though many designers charge fixed project fees, our fees are informed by the amount of time we expect to spend working on the project and our desired monthly and yearly income. The client who feels like this strategic and detailed approach is what their business needs has to prepare a budget that will make it possible.
There are some types of businesses for whom investing in their brand is not only encouraged, but required.
Some signs that your business might need a deeper approach to branding include:
- The market is saturated with competition.
- Or, your service is so new there’s no competition, but your prospective clients don’t realize they need you.
- You want to position your business as a higher-end brand and charge premium fees.
- You target a more sophisticated and discerning clientele who do detailed research before buying.
- You want your brand to invoke a sense of belonging and become an integral part of your clients’ lifestyle.
These are the types of businesses that stand to get a high return on investment from a professional brand strategy and identity design.
Which approach is better for designers?
The approach you naturally lean towards is the one that’s better for you.
If you like working fast and knocking out ten new portfolio pieces per month, keep doing it! I’m not saying that it’s the wrong way to design logos. More power to you if you can do it and still feel passionate and inspired by your job.
For designers who get overwhelmed by working on too many projects at once and feel like their clients are constantly rushing them, the slow approach is a natural choice.
Some designers aren’t aware that they have this choice.
If your clients or your boss set deadlines that feel unreasonable to you, you may think there’s something wrong with you, and that you have to speed up the way you work. My slow process used to annoy my ex boss, and I perpetually felt guilty for not working fast enough. It was only when I became an independent freelancer that I saw what can happen when I manage my own time and set my own deadlines.
It’s easier to make this choice when you work by yourself. Pushing back on deadlines when the rest of the team works in a faster manner is challenging, and not all managers will be accepting of your needs. If you want to keep working at an agency, try to find one that rewards deep thinking and understands that the creative process can only be rushed so much before it breaks down.
Our brains work even when “we” don’t
Once I present a strategic or design problem to my brain, it starts working around the clock and it doesn’t stop until the problem is solved.
When I sleep, my brain is working on the problem.
When I cook, my brain is working on the problem.
When I’m sitting in the bus, my brain is working on the problem.
When I’m reading a book, my brain is working on the problem.
The number of projects you’re comfortable with juggling is a personal matter. I prefer working on up to 2 branding projects at the same time, or one branding project alongside up to 2 smaller digital/print projects. Any more than that, and my focus is too spread out to be able to use my subconscious processes to my best advantage.
The result of this “brain working non stop” approach is that solutions jump at me at the most unlikely times. I’m lying in my bed late at night and I see the solution in my mind’s eye, and then run to my office to sketch it before I forget.
Symbol sketches and calligraphy samples for a fashion brand logo & identity design
Rushing the process means there’s less time for my brain to ponder all the possibilities and spit out something useful. Instead, I have to rely on “ass in chair” creativity, which is frustrating. There are days on which all the ideas I draw feel wrong and terrible and like I will never find a great solution.
Bad ideas are a part of the design process. They’re the fertilizer for good ideas—without the bad ideas, the good ones wouldn’t appear. Even when I feel like I’m not getting anywhere with my concepts, all of that works in service to the final goal.
Having the luxury of enough time to get all the ideas out, good and bad, ensures that every single logo I create is sensible, meaningful, and technically precise.
Ever since I started working this way, I have never, ever, ever had a client reject my logo proposal. Each time I presented the first logo concept, the client loved it. Occasionally we’d do small revisions to polish it up further, but I never had to change the whole concept, and I was never asked to show more concepts. The client always felt like the logo I presented was the one.
(I wrote more about this in my article: One logo design concept, one revision: why this method works.)
My meticulous and time-consuming approach is the reason I can guarantee a quality result. I know I don’t have to come up with a logo overnight. I have enough time and I can keep searching for the right solution instead of rushing it and giving my client something I’m not proud of.
I vowed to never let anything I’m not proud of come out of my studio again.
While I was employed, subcontracting for other agencies, or letting clients direct me as a new freelancer, I created tons of designs I wouldn’t be comfortable signing with my name. I got fed up with that and decided that I no longer want to contribute to mediocre design.
Whether my work is appealing to someone or not is a matter of personal taste, but I stand behind each of these projects and I made them to the best of my ability at the time.
While optimizing your creative process so that you can complete projects in less time is advisable (and it’s a skill I teach other creative business owners), there is a point at which optimizing further would reduce the quality of the work.
I use document templates and software automation for repetitive tasks. When it comes to research, coming up with concepts, and drawing design solutions, I need to put in the time to get the results me and my clients will be happy with.
If you’re a business owner:
Make a decision on how important your logo and branding are for your business at the moment. There is no shame in admitting that they aren’t that big of a priority right now. I will never claim that every business needs to have a spotless brand before they can get clients. Your branding journey is unique to you.
Here are some of my free resources that might help you make that decision for yourself:
- Take the quiz: What stage is your brand in?
- Easy & Free Brand Health Check for Your Service Business
- Struggling with your brand strategy? Start here.
- 6 branding myths that may be holding back your business
- 7 ways a logo can make your business better
- Rebranding 101: Why & how to update your existing brand
- The vital elements of a premium brand
If you need something fast that won’t break the bank, there are plenty of designers that are able to provide that for you. I also recommend you to get a copy of my book The Human Centered Brand and the bonus workbook, because it will help you communicate what you want to your designer, which will result in a better logo for your business.
If you’re willing to do a deeper and more meaningful transformation of your brand from the inside out, check out my branding services and let me know if you’d like to chat.
My approach is immersive and at times it may feel like a lot of effort, but in the end you’ll be very glad that you did it! How do I know? Because that’s what my clients always say, and you can read it in their own words on the services page:
If you’re a designer:
First of all, release any shame you may have about how you naturally work.
Some of you reading this may think I’m critical of the designers working fast, and that I’m calling you shallow like it’s a bad thing. People like shallow! There’s a reason why all those real estate companies have a silhouette of a house or a roof in their logos. It’s a clear message: “We sell houses”. Some clients and consumers value speed and simplicity over layered metaphors. If you enjoy the projects you’re doing, keep doing it the same way.
If you’ve been called “too slow” in the past, let me assure you that you are not the only one, and you are definitely not wrong. The way you process information and turn it into visuals takes more time, and that’s just the reality of it.
You need to be mindful of the deadlines in the professional world (it’s good that they exist because they force us to keep our perfectionism in check). If you’ve been consistently late to deliver your logos to clients or bosses in the past, it’s time for a reality check. How much time do you actually need? Discuss this with your boss and help them establish more realistic project deadlines. If your boss won’t listen to your needs, look for another agency that has a healthier work culture. (Easier said than done, but they do exist.)
If you’re a freelancer, give yourself more time to complete a project than you currently do. (And don’t forget to charge accordingly.) Set the expectation for your clients on what is a realistic deadline, and limit how many “urgent” projects you take on. One or two per year is fine, but if you constantly work in emergency mode, you’ll never get to do the work you’re truly proud of.
About Nela Dunato
Artist, brand designer, teacher, and writer. Author of the book “The Human Centered Brand”. Owner of a boutique branding & design consultancy that helps experienced service-based businesses impress their dream clients.
On this blog I write about art, design, creativity, business, productivity and marketing, and share my creative process and tips. Read more about me...
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