Joshua Krohn

Finding Inspiration: Logo Design

When I want to learn something new or try to improve my own craft, there are one of three ways I go about it:

  1. Figure it out on my own
  2. Watch someone else do it
  3. Read about how to do it

I was designing logos even before I had a design education. Although I had some knowledge of design principles, I was essentially figuring out logo design on my own. It was terrible. I apologize to all my past clients who hired me to design their logo and got a flat 72-DPI JPG file instead. Figuring it out on my own here didn’t work.

For me, the best way to learn something new is by watching someone else do it and then applying that knowledge to my workflow. I’m confident in changing the brakes on almost any sedan because of the one time I watched my buddy change his brakes. But when it comes to logo design, I can’t just invite a skilled designer into my office and watch them work. While services like YouTube, Twitch, and Skillshare are making this kind of thing easier, it’s not the same as sitting next to the iconic logo designers of past and present. So what can we do? The next best thing is to read about how to do it.

Now, I haven’t come across any useful books that teach you explicitly how to design a logo. But what I have found is that studying the works of past designers gives me the inspiration I need to learn. By examining what makes these logos so classic, we gain a better understanding of how to create better logos ourselves. The following list includes some of my favorite go-to resources when looking for logo inspiration:

Handbook of Designs and Devices, Clarence P. Hornung, 1959
This book isn’t so much a logo reference as it is a look at simple shapes and their various combinations. It’s a great foundation for logo marks.

Designing Corporate Symbols, David E. Carter, 1978
Corporate identity design from the 1950s and 1960s is my favorite era of logo design. What I love about this time period is that logos were designed before favicons and app icons existed, yet they still flawlessly communicate in these functions today.

American Trademark Designs, Barbara Baer Capitman, 1976
This book takes corporate identity logos from the 1950s to the 1970s, and categorizes them according to their industry. It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in; the same logo design principles apply.

Symbol, Angus Hyland and Steven Bateman, 2011
While this is more recent relative to the other titles presented so far, this 300+ page book explores symbol trademarks for companies from the 1960s to 2010s. Over 1300 symbols are organized according to their visual characteristics. Short case studies are also included throughout the book.

Identify, Ivan Chermayeff, Tom Geismar, and Sagi Haviv, 2011
One of the favorites on my shelf, this book chronicles the works of Chermayeff & Geismar, one of the most prolific, present-day design firms. Nearly 100 logos are accompanied by case studies giving incredible insight into the processes behind the world’s most iconic logos.

Logo Modernism, Jens Müller, 2015
This book is the newest to my collection and it quite literally stands alone. At fifteen inches tall and weighing in at nearly eight pounds, this mammoth resource won’t even fit on my bookshelf. Like Symbol, this book brings together 6,000 trademarks and organizes them by their visual characteristics. However these all come from the 1940-1980 period, which makes this my favorite source of logo inspiration yet.

Studying the works of influential designers allows us to stand on their shoulders, get a better view of the landscape, and discover new ways of designing (hopefully) classic logos.

Where do you find inspiration?

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