My logo & brand identity design process explained
Published by Nela Dunato on in Branding, Creative process, Graphic design
If you’re preparing for your new logo and brand identity design project, I’m sure you have many questions, especially if you’ve never worked with a designer before. In this article I explain what my brand identity design process looks like, so you can see all the work that goes into it!
Please note: while my design process has similarities with that of my colleagues (since there are some standard elements present in every design process), there are also some differences. Be sure to ask your designer how they work so there are no surprises.
1. Getting to know the prospective client
When a business owner reaches out to me to talk about the project, the first thing I do is evaluate if there’s a good fit between what they need, and what I can and want to do. I evaluate inquiries based on several criteria:
- The client’s industry interests me and aligns with my ethical principles.
- The project deadline fits within my availability window.
- The client’s budget range covers my minimum fees.
- The client seems like a reasonable person (in writing at least).
If I can tell from the inquiry email that the client’s industry is way outside of the fields I want to be working in, or they don’t have a sufficient budget to cover the services they need, or I’m booked and can’t meet their deadline, I respond right away that I’m not available so they can find someone who is. If the client sounds like a difficult person, I turn the project down as well. (By now, I can mostly tell from the first email when someone is going to be a pain to work with.)
If the client and the project both sound good, I send them an email with my Welcome Guide—a digital brochure that outlines my design process (what I’m writing about in this article), my design philosophy, my feedback guidelines, as well as my business policies, so they can decide whether they’re OK with all of that before we proceed. The same email contains a link to my appointment calendar, so they can book a time to meet me over video call.
The initial meeting
Our first meeting is a chance for the client to get to know me and how I work, and for me to learn as much as I can about the client’s business: their current services, their future plans, why they’ve decided to rebrand their business right now, who their clients are, and any specific needs they have in terms of deliverables.
In addition to the logo design and brand style guide, every client needs at least a few additional graphics they can use for marketing and communication purposes (like social media profile and cover images, email signature, letterhead template, etc.). If they tell me what they need, I can make an accurate project scope.
This video call typically runs under one hour, and even shorter if the client is very clear about their needs and comes to the meeting prepared.
Few people think of client on-boarding as an integral way of the design process, but it very much is, since it affects how the project is going to go. Nearly all the problems that creatives encounter during the project stem from mistakes made during this phase. Writing sales and legal documents is an important part of being a creative consultant, and it impacts our work greatly.
After the initial meeting, I go through my notes and write a detailed proposal for the project that outlines:
- Project scope: an itemized list of all the services the client needs, and clarification of what is and isn’t included in the project fee. (Add-on services, number of revisions, etc.)
- Phases in the design process describing what we are going to do, in what order.
- Project timeline with a list of activities we’ll be doing each week.
- Fee and payment terms.
When I was starting out as a freelancer, my “proposal” was a short email telling the client my fee and project duration estimate. Over the years, my proposals have grown from a single page to multiple page documents. It gives clients clarity about what they’re getting into, and it also shows them how methodical I am.
If the client agrees with my proposal, they email me back to accept it, and we’re good to go!
Signing the deal
I recommend to both designers and business owners to sign a written agreement before working together, because a contract protects both parties from getting ripped off. My contract repeats the key information from the proposal, as well as my business policies that the client is agreeing to. We use Adobe Sign to digitally sign this document.
I also send the client an invoice for the advance fee, which is half of the total project fee.
After the deal is signed and paid, we move from email to Trello, my project management app. I created a Trello template that I reuse for each brand identity design project, which follows the exact same process I described in my Welcome Guide, and my proposal. Trello is very simple, and my clients get used to it quickly.
3. Brand strategy consulting
In order to make sure that the new logo communicates the right message, we first need to establish what that message is, who the client is speaking to, and in what manner. The brand identity design needs to stand on the foundation of a well thought-out brand strategy in order to work.
I created a brand strategy methodology for service-based businesses and explained how it works in my book The Human Centered Brand. Some of my clients are familiar with the methodology because they’ve read the book and used the accompanying free branding workbook. For these clients, I arrange a shorter consulting session (about two hours) where we go through their notes and clarify the elements of their brand strategy further.
If a client is completely unfamiliar with my methodology, or wants to involve their team (which I’d always recommend), we arrange a full-day workshop. During the workshop, I explain the basics of my method and facilitate team discussion to help them reach understanding and agreement about their brand strategy.
Brand Strategy Guidebook
The notes we take during the consulting session or the workshop are full of insights that need to be distilled and organized into a user-friendly document. This document must be shared with every client-facing or media-producing employee, as well as with any designers, copywriters, advertising agencies, and other consultants that produce communications on client’s behalf.
Brand strategy guidebook for a natural medicine practitioner brand
When I create logo concepts and other brand assets for clients, I always come back to this document to guide my decisions. Following these guidelines helps everyone stay “on brand”.
4. Agreeing on the aesthetic direction
After all this groundwork, I usually have a pretty good idea of where I want to go with the project, but I want to check in with the client before I put in a lot of work. I create a mood board for the client with examples of what I’m thinking about, and they give me the OK if that’s what they want as well. The mood board usually contains the following elements, each set on a separate page or several pages.
Stock photos of the client’s target audience
I want us both to be able to imagine who we’re trying to reach with this brand. Photos of people that correspond to the demographic and psychographic profile of the business’s primary audience reminds us of their goals, preferences, and needs. If the business happens to have photos of actual clients that would be ideal, but most don’t.
Target audience photos for a hospitality consultant brand
In my quest to understand the client’s services and what is unique about them, I look up photos, illustrations, charts, and other imagery that shows their process, equipment, results, atmosphere of the business, future possibilities… Some of these images come from the client’s own archive, and others I find online.
Usually there will be a seed of symbolism present in these images, or maybe an interesting color palette. The point is not to copy anything from the images, but to use it as a jumping off point for further exploration.
Visual inspiration for an audio-video production company brand
Sample color palette
Color palette is the first element of brand identity that I select. The reason for this is that colors are highly suggestive of mood and have a strong emotional impact. Color is also the easiest way to differentiate a brand: if every other competitor uses blue, and you use orange, suddenly all your ads and graphics stand out.
Color palette ideas inspired by food and wine for a hospitality consultant brand
This initial color palette is a work in progress. Sometimes I create two or three sample palettes we could choose from. I refine the colors further in the final stages of logo design.
I look up fonts that fit the desired aesthetic qualities the client and I defined during our brand strategy consulting session. I like to show this to the client early on, so they can see how the aesthetic descriptions translate into font choices. Very few clients can actually visualize what “elegant”, “fun”, “feminine”, “technical” looks like, and I want to show them what’s possible and confirm that this is what they had in mind.
Two potential typography directions for a hand-lettered boardgame cafe logo
I’ll narrow down to three different font directions at most, but usually it’s only one or two. Each direction is demonstrated on a separate page by 5–6 font samples.
Examples of logo direction
There are different types of logos, such as hand-lettered logos, symbolic logos, typographic logos, or emblems. There’s also a variety of stylistic approaches: minimalist, vibrant, colorful, monochrome… During my research, I pull together examples of up to three different logo directions, and present each direction on a separate page using 5–6 examples of existing logos (both my own and other designer’s work).
Two potential directions for a nonprofit organization logo. The client had a strong preference for the second one.
Sometimes the client immediately knows that they like one of the proposed directions better than the others, while other clients say they’re open to either of the proposed directions. This is very useful information for me, because if the client tells me outright they don’t want something, I won’t waste many hours drawing and polishing a concept they won’t like for sure.
Examples of brand identity applications
If a client has expressed an interest in specific brand identity applications, I like to find photos and design samples of real world projects (window decals, interior signage, laser cutting, foil stamping, etc.).
Stationery and office decoration examples for a law firm brand
When I send the mood board to the client, I ask them to respond what they like the most about it, and to mention if there’s anything in it that they don’t like at all. I make a note on their preferences so I know where to focus my efforts, and what options I’m not going to bother with.
5. Logo design
Most of the logo design action happens behind the scenes. Usually this entire phase will take about two weeks.
I always start my logo design work on paper because I enjoy drawing traditionally. It can be a totally blank piece of paper, or it can contain a grid if I’m doing a precise geometric design. I find this gives me more freedom to explore than working directly on the computer or on a tablet.
At the very beginning, I fill up page after page of rough ideas, starting from the most obvious associations, to the more original ones. This part of the process is always challenging. It takes me a good long while to get to the treasure. Sometimes I spend hours sketching, yet I feel like I’m not getting anywhere. In that case, I’ll try again tomorrow. Usually if I’ve given my brain enough time to ponder, eventually I’ll get an idea that just clicks into place.
Pencil sketches of logo ideas for a nonprofit organization brand identity
Sometimes the idea will hit me when I’m not at work. I always carry a sketchbook with me, so if I get a flash of inspiration, I sketch it immediately and then work on it a bit more when I get to my work desk.
By the end of one or more sketching sessions, I’ll have a few different ideas I’ll refine in more detail. If it’s a hand-lettered logo or an organic-looking pictorial symbol, I’ll draw it in a larger size and pay attention to the details. I may redraw it several times until it looks exactly right.
For more hand-drawn looking logos, I’ll redraw it once again in ink using a brush pen. This allows for natural line variety and rustic details that are often lost when working exclusively on the computer.
Traditional hand-lettering with an organic tree motif for a music band logo
The majority of my conceptualizing process happens on paper, and I can see right away which concepts would work well as the client’s logo, and which definitely wouldn’t. I select a few sketches that show the most potential, and take them to the next step.
I scan my favorite sketches and open them in Adobe Illustrator, where I manually trace the outline of the logo shape or the structure to get a digital vector graphic.
One of the selected calligraphy samples and the first vectorized lettering for a hand-lettered natural medicine practitioner logo
After I vectorize the logo concepts, I refine them by repeatedly duplicating the shape and making small tweaks to improve legibility and balance of the logo. I print the concepts in different sizes, and this helps me spot if the logo becomes fuzzy and unclear at a very small size.
Above: Different clover symbol variants for a real estate company logo.
Below: Shortlisted variants with varying direction and line thickness.
When I’m happy with the shape, I start testing colors and picking the exact shades that look good both in print and on the screen with the help of Pantone color swatch books.
Exploration of symbol/monogram color variations for a science and technology platform logo
If the logo is entirely hand-lettered, I skip this part unless I need an appropriate font for the tagline.
Based on the direction in the mood board, I’ll look up fonts that have similar visual characteristics (serif, sans-serif, geometric, futuristic, elegant, fun, etc.). I’m specifically looking for fonts that echo the shapes present in the symbol, so that they look harmonious next to each other. Here are examples of some of the criteria I use:
- If the company name is very long, I look for fonts with narrow letters.
- If the company name is short, I look for fonts with wider and maybe thicker letters.
- If my symbol has lots of curves and rounded corners, I’m looking for fonts with softer lines.
- If my symbol is geometric and sharp, I’m looking for geometric fonts with similar letter angles.
- If my symbol is monolinear, I’m looking for a font that matches the thickness of the outline.
I’ll start with a list of 4–10 different fonts and test them alongside my symbol.
Exploration of fonts for a hospitality consultant brand identity
I’ll keep narrowing it down until I decide on a font that appears harmonious with my symbol and looks great even on small sizes.
Highlighted similarities between the curves and corners in the symbol and the font of a dental practice logo
Presenting the concept
After many rounds of tweaks and trying out different fonts and compositions, I narrow it down to one concept that meets all of the criteria that the client and I agreed on in the beginning of the project.
I show my clients one polished logo and brand identity concept because:
- It’s always clear to me that there is one logo that is far better than all the other concepts I created, and that’s the logo I fully stand behind.
- I want to show the entire brand identity context for the logo, so the client can see how it will live in the world. Doing it for several logo concepts would be costly for the client.
- I’m able to invest time in creating additional logo variants and graphic assets like icons, patterns, and other elements that elevate the brand identity.
I’ve written about all the benefits of this approach in my detailed article One logo design concept, one revision: why this method works.
The logo presentation is all about explaining why the logo looks the way it does, and showing what it would be like in real-life use. I start my presentations explaining the logo symbolism. Sometimes the meaning is obvious, but it can also be layered and deep. Occasionally I will show the logo construction on a grid, and highlight certain details in the symbol and the wordmark.
Symbolic meaning of a logo mark for a nonprofit organization brand identity
The logo usually comes in several compositional and color variants, and I present all of them so that the client can see the variety of uses. It’s not just one logo, there’s many of them!
Compositional and color variants for a logo of a university department for AI and cybersecurity
I’ll also present the color palette and font selection, and show examples of different uses that are tailored to each client. For a consultant, I’ll show what it looks on their business card, letterhead, presentation slide, or their LinkedIn profile. For a fashion brand I’ll put the logo on a paper bag, clothing tag, Facebook page, and Instagram profile.
A small selection of logo application visualizations on printed materials, signage, and digital use for a university brand identity
This final part is what brings the logo to life, and helps the client visualize their new brand. And I’ll be frank, it sells the concept like nothing else. Even if they were skeptical until that point, seeing the logo in context exactly as their audience would see it flips a switch and they realize that this is for real.
The client’s reaction to my proposal is almost always delight and immediate approval. Because we did all the strategy work and set an approximate direction in the very beginning, I can be certain that my concepts are spot-on. In the years that I’ve been following this process, I’ve never had a client reject the first logo I’ve shown them.
I will allow one round of revisions so that if there is anything about the logo that the client has issue with, we can change it. These are minor cosmetic changes that don’t have an impact on the concept, for example switching one warm bright color for another, making the company name slightly smaller or larger compared to the symbol, or choosing a different typeface.
Occasionally a client will ask for a revision that goes against the “rules” of good design, or would totally mess up the concept. I try to explain right away why I think that’s not going to improve the logo, and in most cases they see my point and agree with me. Sometimes I make a version with their change, so they can see for themselves why it wasn’t such a good idea. Even if I don’t agree with the client’s revision request, I try to understand where they’re coming from, and come up with a solution that follows design best practices and achieves what they wanted. The final logo ends up being much better, and we’re both very happy with it.
Above: Initial proposal for a university logo.
Below: Revised logo based on client’s feedback: university name was changed, and the goat symbol was changed to look more like a buck.
After I revise the logo, I make another presentation that shows the first version and the updated version side by side, and repeat all of the elements from the first presentation (logo variants, color palette, typography, mock-ups, additional graphic assets) with the new logo.
The client then approves the logo, and we’re both happy and relieved that this biggest, most challenging part of the project is done.
Final logo files
I then move forward onto creating all the files for each logo composition, color, language, and format combination:
- Full-color, inverse (light on dark), and black variants.
- Horizontal, stacked, icon/monogram only (if applicable).
- RGB color for screens, CMYK and Pantone colors for print.
- AI, PDF, PNG, and SVG file formats.
With all these combinations, a logo project can amount from 40 to possibly hundreds of logo files (my current record is 315 files for AIRI). They’re all descriptively named and sorted into folders.
6. Brand style guide development
As I described in my in-depth article Branding guidelines (style guides) demystified, this is a document that contains the rules for how the logo and brand identity will be displayed across different media (printed, electronic, video, photography, etc.) Like the brand strategy document, brand style guides must be shared with anyone who communicates with clients and the media, or produces communications on the company’s behalf (designers, web developers, photographers, videographers, social media managers, virtual assistants, etc.).
Brand identity guidelines for a student union brand identity
The essential brand style guide includes:
- Logo variants.
- Logo usage guidelines.
- Palette with color formulas for different color systems.
- Typography guidelines.
Larger brand identity projects may include a whole lot more, so a style guide can range anywhere from 10 to over a 100 pages.
Since everything in the branding guidelines is created after the logo concepts and brand identity application mock-ups have been approved, there is no need for approving the guidelines document itself. It just gets delivered alongside the finished logo files.
7. Graphic design of additional materials
The client may require additional graphics as a part of the brand identity project so they can start promoting their business professionally as soon as possible. A typical project for a consultant may include:
- Business cards.
- Social media profile pictures and cover images.
- Email signature.
- Letterhead document template (for proposals, invoices, and reports).
- Presentation template (for sales and training sessions).
Depending on the client’s industry, they may also request printed folders, indoor and outdoor signage, vehicle graphics, branded uniforms, digital or printed brochures, or branded gifts. The possibilities are endless—it all depends on your budget for design and print. If a client orders many graphics and applications, I prefer to treat it as a separate project with its own proposal, contract, and payment schedule.
This probably goes without saying, but I’ll mention it just in case: the design fee does not include any printing costs. Printing costs vary based on the number of printed items and the printing technology used. Fancy effects like die-cutting a custom business card shape, letterpress relief, foil-stamping metallic details, or glossy spot UV details will increase the cost of print. Talk to your designer about your printing budget, so they can provide designs that can be printed economically if needed.
8. Finalizing the project
Now that the creative part of the project is done, there’s only a few administrative things left to handle.
At the end of the project I export and organize all the files that I need to deliver directly to the client or to their printer into a Google Drive folder. I send the final invoice to the client, and as soon as their payment arrives to my account, I give them the link where they can download all their brand assets and start using them immediately.
This is an exciting moment both for me and my clients, because we can’t wait for the world to see the new logo and brand identity that I spent so much time and effort creating!
If the client is a larger company or an institution, we’ll organize a reveal event for the employees. During this meeting, I’ll show them the same final concept presentation that I’ve shown to my client earlier, as well as all the graphic assets and documents that they’ll be using from now on, and provide instruction on how to use them.
This is the official end of the project. However, most of my clients continue collaborating with me over the years so in reality it’s just the beginning of our journey together.
I hope this answers your questions about my logo design process!
If you’d like to know more, feel free to comment here or send me an email.
If you’re ready to create a gorgeous and meaningful logo and brand identity for your consulting business, check out my brand identity design services and get in touch.
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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The cost of a logo design is anywhere from $0 to tens of thousands of dollars, but if you’re a small business or startup looking for quality design, a good logo design should cost between $300-$1300. Logo design prices can vary, for instance the price of a logo design depends on the quality and who created.
Thanks for your comment Rolwand. I actually have a very detailed article on logo pricing and everything that affects it. (The link is in the “Reader favorites” in the sidebar.)
It’s a bit more involved than that, and the ranges are wider than you suggest even for small businesses. But you absolutely do get what you pay for.