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Brand Self-Care: Logo Design

Last week we dove into the sketching phase in our Brand Self-care series.

Today we’re getting to the good stuff — logo design! Buckle in… it’s going to get juicy. Grab your sketches and Discovery Phase, and open up Illustrator to join me for this week’s challenge.

Keep in mind that there is no way I could condense my entire design education + experience about logo design into one blog post. In our lesson today I’m getting practical and hands-on :).


Here are a few considerations as you design for your brand.

  • Scalable — Are your logo + submarks legible when reduced to .5”, and also look good scaled to 5’? As you’re designing on the computer, be sure to zoom in and out often to check on scalability.

  • Unique — What separates this brand from the next?

  • Simple — Complexity might look more artistic or more “designed,” but that doesn’t mean it’s best for a logo.

  • Timeless — Avoid trends for logo designs to make sure the brand will still be relevant decades later.

  • One-color — I always design in black/white for any design work, and then apply color. Doesn’t matter if it’s logo design, wireframes, or a PDF… removing color allows you to remove distractions and create something more unique.


In my opinion, typography is the foundation for any visual identity (aside from the strategy side). I can glance at a design and within seconds can guess if the designer is experienced at setting type, or still getting the swing of things. It’s my “tell” if you will :).

I’ve taken two university classes on setting type, and have over a decade of hands-on experience mastering my type-setting skills… so it’s going to be impossible, to sum up everything in this little section.


When designing for brand identities, I will hop in Illustrator and copy/paste the brand name multiple times. From here, I’ll apply various styles. Keep in mind, I’ve already done a lot of thumbnail sketches and the discovery phase which serve as a filter for setting type. I know from my initial discovery phase for our example (Dwell Hotel) that I want the brand identity to replicate the mod-retro + swanky feel of the hotel. As a designer, I’ve filtered out any classic, sophisticated, bold, playful, feminine, and traditional typefaces.

Each typeface has a personality, so my initial strategy work helps me narrow in on the type of personality that should be considered. For the Dwell Hotel example, here were some of my initial thoughts:

  • Extra bold all caps typefaces felt too modern

  • Loose hand-drawn lettered styles felt too feminine or boho

  • Classic serif typefaces felt too traditional

  • … and so on

So I began playing with different typefaces that had character, had a retro nod, and not overly formal.

Here are a few of my type explorations. You’ll notice I incorporate some styles that are all caps, others all lower, etc.


After I have a ton of type variations set, I’ll begin eliminating the type that doesn’t align. You’ll see in the image below that I’ve also applied the same process to “hotel” as I did for “dwell” so I can get a feel for how type is pairing together. After I have my primary brand name words listed out, I’ll begin the process of combining and playing with the type.


Legibility + hierarchy are primary concerns when setting type. I won’t get too much into the weeds of kerning and such, but just know that this should be top of mind when setting type for your brands. Should Dwell be much larger than Hotel? Do people call it “Dwell” — so that could be a standalone wordmark? These are the questions to consider as it relates to visual hierarchy. Also — will this scale to .5” and still remain legible?

I try my best to not filter much at this point, and embrace the messy artboard of several lockups!


I like to bring in my pencil sketches into Adobe… even if they aren’t refined. It helps me to have a guide to pull from, as looking at a blank Illustrator artboard can feel too polished and a roadblock for designing illustrations.

For our example of the Dwell Hotel, I kept coming back to the entry tile at the front of the hotel. Remember — this is a mock project, so I don’t really even know what their entryway looks like! Just something I imagined as I dove into the discovery phase.


This tile could come in through a graphic element, patterns, within submarks, etc. I placed my image of the tile pattern into Illustrator and began pulling out one of the unique marks. Again — not sure where or if this would come into the brand yet! Embrace play during your process — it’s not polished.

The goal with any brand identity is connection. When the customer walks through the hotel lobby they’ll notice the floor. When they receive their room key with the logo, they’ll connect the geometric shape back to the iconic floor pattern. The connection is key for a cohesive brand experience.

I begin placing the graphic element in different areas with our type lockup. Again — not getting too tied to one lockup quite yet!


If your brand lends itself to a more involved illustration (we do these all the time too!), there are a few tools I’d recommend:

  • Procreate on the iPad — a tool designers love to use for digital illustrations. If you keep it pretty simple, it’s really easy to pull into Illustrator and incorporate into your design.

  • Live trace — if you’re like me and prefer hand-sketching over digital (or you aren’t able/don’t want to use Procreate), live trace is a tool within Illustrator that brings sketches to vector, allowing your artwork to scale at various sizes. You’ll want to pull up the options to play with threshold, noise, etc until you get the right look for your illustration.

  • Smooth tool — a tool with Illustrator that helps smooth outlines. (seriously don’t know how I just discovered this tool a week or so ago!) Use this after live trace. I’d also recommend duplicating your artwork prior to the smooth tool, just in case you need to revert back to the original!

  • Shape builder — This allows you to merge, subtract, etc. into different shapes within Illustrator. It’s a new tool over the past couple of years that helps with more geometric illustrations.

  • Pathfinder — Similar to the shape builder. I use this when I finish up a logo to make the forms all one shape, rather than separate shapes grouped together.


Oftentimes when bringing in an illustrated element, I toggle back and forth between designing for the primary logo, and submarks. I love bringing in graphic elements into submarks that sometimes don’t make their way to the primary logo. It’s something unexpected yet still cohesive in cases like website footers, stickers, promos, etc.

Though I have many thumbnail sketches for submarks, naturally the design evolves once getting on screen. I begin with my thumbnail sketches, yet I’m also open to new lockups for the logo + submarks.


For our example, I’ve begun combining the d + h, along with our floor tile shape. You’ll see that I have various lockups at this point, and begin editing later.

The tough part of the logo + submark process is EDITING. You’ll see a few of my submarks get a little too cluttered. Simplicity is ideal when crafting logos because it leads to a highly legible mark, easy to recognize, people won’t have to think about it, and it won’t look overworked or cluttered. This is a tough balance to create something unique, yet not overdone.

I’ll always hear one of my previous Creative Directors asking us “does that element need to be there?” Ask yourself this after you have multiple designs on the screen and begin editing.


After I finish the primary submark, sometimes I’ll begin creating an alternate submark that includes a tagline, descriptor, established date, “made in XX”, etc. Something fun and unique for the brand that builds in versatility. During the process, I’ll consider various enclosure shapes (circle, triangle, etc.), as well as standalone. I try to not go by a “formula” for submarks, and allow the concept to drive the design. I’ve seen a lot of similarities in submarks being a circle with type wrapped around and wanted to note that you don’t have to feel tied to a specific composition. Unexpected enclosures and layouts are great to experiment with for submarks.

For our example, I wasn’t digging the enclosures and opted to favor simplicity. I created the tagline “stay swanky,” and a lock-up based on that concept. I pulled in a graphic from an icon I created for this mock project that brought in a vintage CorningWare plate pattern. Again — looking for connections between experiencing the visual identity and staying at the hotel.


Here’s the final logo + submarks for our Dwell Hotel example. The primary logo is simple, yet distinctive to the brand. For the primary submark, I’ve created negative space between the letterforms, and also customized the top of the forms so that it feels as though it’s one shape. It’s custom and feels unique, yet it’s not complex. The “stay swanky” tagline mark compliments the primary submark + logo.


Whew! Today’s “Brand Self-care” lesson was meaty. But hopefully, you appreciated some insight into our process. Your action item today is to take your Discovery Phase and sketches to the computer to create your logo + submark designs.

Comment below, I’d love to see what you’re working on, and also if there’s anything hanging you up in this process! I’m here for ya.


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