Bad logo design: how to recognize it and avoid it

What’s the best way to get a good logo design? Better yet, how can you avoid bad logo design?

That may seem like an oversimplification, but there’s a lot of truth to it. The best designers are aware of the most common mistakes that can happen when designing a logo—mostly because they’ve made those missteps themselves at one point or another during their career—and are able to catch poor choices before they make them.

In logo design, certain “what not to dos” occur more frequently than others. Seeing these ineffective choices in action can help you sidestep them in your own logo design.

In this article, we’ve collected the most common mistakes in bad logo design so you know what to look out for. If you’re already guilty of one of them, don’t worry—read on to see our solutions!

  1. Outdated logos
  2. Logos that are too detailed
  3. Logos with irrelevant imagery
  4. Vague logos
  5. Logos with conflicting themes
  6. Generic logos
  7. Confusing logos
  8. Just plain ugly
  9. How to turn over a new leaf

1. Outdated logos

A common problem with bad logo designs is that they’re using outdated techniques, visuals and effects. The logos above look like they have been created decades ago—and not in a good way. Back in the 1980s and 90s effects like old-fashioned skeuomorphism, 3D gradients, clip art and certain fonts were used excessively. Now, they makes these logos look particularly dated.

Solution

If you’re dealing with an outdated logo, the best solution is to give it a redesign. Sure, retro design is on trend. But if you want a logo with a retro vibe, do it purposefully. Only use vintage design elements that are currently in style. For example, take a look at the hand-drawn vintage look of the Spruce logo below. This is a great example of retro logo design that feels current and trending.

handdrawn vintage logo design

Vintage logo by Agi Amri via 99designs by Vista.

2. Too detailed

It’s not that detailed logos are bad—they’re just not scalable. If you’re working with a large billboard, mural or vehicle wrap, a detailed logos may actually work very well. If those were the only places you’d display your logo, detailed logos would be the norm! However, you’ll want to consider how often your logo is going to appear on smaller, harder-to-see surfaces.

The problem with detailed logos is that they look terrible on small screens. Think: smartphones, swag and merchandise, pens or even business cards.

Sure, many detailed logos look great and are designed with skill. But remember that those visuals are wasted at small scales, where your logo may be indistinguishable, or even illegible.

Solution

If you don’t want to abandon your detailed logo, you don’t have to. A perfectly viable alternative is a responsive logo—where your logo is also available in smaller sizes and other variations. In other words, keep your detailed logo for large placements, and ensure you have others for small placements. We explain this strategy fully in our guide to responsive logos.

Take the Bluffton Inn logo below. The classic architecture of their building is a strong selling point. The use of a detailed sketch works well in creating a rustic vibe. But when they need to print their logo on small spaces, they use specially designed versions.

logo design for Old Town Bluffton Inn

Logo design by Agi Amri via 99designs by Vista.

3. Irrelevant imagery

In other words: “good logos, but badly matched.” This isn’t always exactly a universally bad logo design—the mismatch is just bad for that particular brand. Take the three logos above, for example. While they look great, they don’t accurately depict their brands. They could easily be confused for companies in other industries.

Above all, your logo should represent your brand. You can use all the expert design principles, but if you don’t design something that echoes the feeling of your own company, it won’t be effective. For brand recognition, or for building customer loyalty.

Solution

Stick with imagery that’s directly connected to your company, reflecting either your company’s name, or what it does. The trick is to be creative. You can still use familiar and iconic imagery without making generic logos.

Eaglehead Woodcraft could have gone in a number of different directions with their logo imagery: carpentry, furniture, even eagles. But they cleverly chose a tree. This is directly related to woodworking, while still more thought-provoking and sentimental than actual images of woodworking.

logo design for Eaglehead Woodcraft

Logo design by pswizzard via 99designs by Vista.

4. Vague

Again, if your logo looks good but doesn’t say anything about your brand, it’s still a bad logo design. One of the goals of logos is to explain who you are and what you do. Even if it’s the first time someone sees your logo! That’s not easy, but some particularly bad logo designs offer up no information at all. Think: ambiguous company names and random images.

These logos above could all easily work, if they had just a little more description that sheds light into their companies.

Solution

Sometimes the most obvious solution is the best: in this case, just add a description! You don’t have to give your whole elevator speech, in fact, with logos, less text is more, but you can easily add a few words to explain what you can offer to customers, or at the very least your name.

The logo for Phoenix Internal Medicine is simplistic and beautiful. It represents the brand’s namesake while employing modern logo trends like minimalism and using a trustworthy blue color. But without the description, it could be quickly misinterpreted. The wings could be buildings for an architecture firm, for example, or even piano keys for a brand in the music industry.

logo design for Phoenix Internal Medicine

Logo design by milan gavrilovic via 99designs by Vista.

5. Conflicting themes

Logos can help set the mood for your brand. Are you a serious brand for serious people? Consider using angular shapes and muted colors to appear more professional. Are you a tech company hoping to come across as innovative and future forward? Consider communicating your brand values using appropriate imagery, like wire circuits or astral grids.

The trouble is when themes are mismatched and you’re building the wrong feeling for your brand. Is a scary-looking man in a gas-mask the best mascot for a 420-friendly gym? Seems they’d want to distance themselves from connotations to smoke inhalation.

Likewise, an angry child might be a literal mascot for a children’s anger management group. However, does that inadvertently come across as aggressive? A more welcoming image for newcomers might instead be the final result: a happy child!

Solution

Both your imagery and your artistic style should echo your branding goals. Using universally-recognized icons and the preferred themes of your clientele is a short-cut to effective communication.

Take the Amazing Outdoor Adventures logo below, clearly designed for nature-lovers (and made by nature-lovers judging from the design). Silhouettes against sunrise/sunset is the perfect artistic style; nature lovers go nuts every time the sun disappears or reappears! The logo also highlights swimming, canoeing and animal-watching. It also extends the messaging with additional icons in the frame: an arrow, boating paddle and compass.

logo design for Amazing Outdoor

Logo design by Dexterous” via 99designs by Vista.

6. Generic logos

Logos are most effective when they’re memorable. On the other hand, generic logos featuring the same trends and styles as everyone else, have the opposite effect. Do what everyone else is doing and there’s a good chance someone will confuse your brand with another.

The thinking behind generic logos seems logical—copy the logos that people already like. However, after a few months or years, the market becomes flooded with logos that are all doing the same thing. Logos that were once unique become nothing more than dime-a-dozen.

Be particularly careful to avoid the “V-man”. This is an ambiguous human figure that started as a creative way to represent the “everyman” or “everywoman,” but ended up an overused logo design cliche. Similarly, tooth clip art for dentist logos or generic house clip art for real estate businesses are more examples of generic choices.

generic logo examples of V-man

Beware the V-man — he may tell you he’s your friend, but he says that to everyone!

Solution

The best way to safeguard against generic logos is to keep abreast on what everyone else is doing. Check out our guide on generic logos to know which trends are most overused and to-be-avoided.

Generic logos often start out as good logos, so you may not want to abandon all the trends just yet. Just be sure to add something that stands out.

For example, Headstash uses mountain imagery and old-fashioned lettering like many other businesses. However, they add unique elements that set it apart. The composition, the style of illustration used for the mountain and the combination of framing and ornamental aspects of lettering all create a unique logo design.

logo design for Headstash

Logo design by GOOSEBUMPS via 99designs by Vista.

But before you worry that this logo is too detailed, Headstash employs the strategy we recommended in the first section: use variant logos for different locations.

logo design for Headstash

Logo design by GOOSEBUMPS via 99designs by Vista.

7. Confusing

Like logos with irrelevant images or conflicting themes, visually pleasing logos can still miss their mark with confusing and unconnected imagery. This is a common problem in any artistic endeavor; what’s in the head of the creator doesn’t always come across to the viewer.

Just look at the On The Heavy Side logo. Do you know what they do? We can see camping equipment, but it’s not clear why golf clubs and a tennis racket are also featured. And the description, “don’t let your size stop you” creates more questions than it answers.

Solution

Opt for clarity above all else. You can use any of the strategies we advise above, such as familiar icons, easily identifiable images and small text descriptions. It’s always a good idea to get a fresh pair of eyes on a design before finalizing it. Creators can sometimes miss the trees for the forest. An outside perspective can reveal what doesn’t come across like it should.

Tactical Wealth Management combines iconic imagery with a plain textual description. This tells viewers everything they need to know about the brand. Once the basics are established, the designer is free to take some creative liberties with areas like color, typography or the graphics themselves.

logo design for Tactical Wealth Management

Logo design by Peaqs™ via 99designs by Vista.

8. Just plain ugly

Sometimes, there’s no rhyme or reason about why a logo doesn’t work, it’s just plain ugly. Brands big and small succumb to ugly logo designs (even London, one of the richest cities in the world!). Their Olympics logo was panned by nearly everyone, labeled ugly and incoherent.

The same can be said of Mans Cave. Even if we forget the sexual innuendo in the term “man cave” and the unfortunate pink imagery of the cave walls, this logo tells us nothing about the business. Half Badger follow suit, with a odd badger-like creature that doesn’t elict much in the viewer.

Solution

Unlike the other common bad logo design mistakes, there’s no cut-and-dry solution. The only way to avoid ugly logos is to understand the graphic design principles that make good logos.

If you want to learn graphic design yourself, you can always bone up on the best practices with our article on “How to design a logo”. But if you want to ensure that your logo uses the most effective graphic design principles, your best option is to hire someone who already knows them by heart.

Working with a professional logo designer can make all the difference. They know the best design techniques as well as when to use them. You’re not just paying for their artistic skill, but for their expertise and business-sense as well. Just look at what purpleri came up with for a client who wanted “a Siamese cat somehow incorporated into the logo, and anything else that helps stand out as luxurious.”

Logo design for siamic

Logo design by purpleri via 99designs by Vista.

Design sinners turn over a new leaf

Breaking into design can be difficult, especially with no prior experience. Don’t want to succumb to the common bad logo design mistakes? Avoiding these pitfalls is a great first step on your journey to great logo design. Learn more about evaluating logo quality here. And if you need help creating a professional-looking logo, consider working with an experienced graphic designer.

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Author: Matt Ellis