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What objective (that is, not aesthetic) qualities should (almost) every logo have, that should you take into account when designing a logo or ask for when hiring someone to create a logo for you and why?

For example, a logo has to look good in black and white and not only in full color because even if you design the logo for a web site it's very likely you will need to print a B&W document with the logo sometime in the future.

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From a technical standpoint, ideally the logo should be readable on any of the colors that your office uses for that particular logo. The question of printing on white or black is typically necessary for certain branding principles, but in some cases there are examples that show certain designs that are required to be printed only on certain colors, and those decisions can be made on a case-by-case basis (for example, some universities in the US only print their logo on one of a subset of colors, usually 2-4 including black white grey and one of the main school colors).

At the risk of slipping into Marketing Lingo, a good logo really needs to communicate the identity and integrity of a brand. A great example is the arrow in the FedEx logo :
http://www.thesneeze.com/mt-archives/000273.php

The arrow is also present as the primary design element of the new fedex office logo :
http://www.brandsoftheworld.com/logo/fedex-office-0

In the latter, the three arrows converge to make another arrow. In the former, the arrow is integrated into the logo itself.

Logos communicate much more than just the name or icon of your company: they should tell someone what your company DOES. If nothing else, they should be easy to quickly recognize, even from far away or in very small places.

EDIT:

I discovered this today and thought I'd add it to my answer, it's a great reference: http://brand-identity-essentials.com/100-principles

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I disagree with your point "Logos ... should tell someone what your company DOES". Apart from anything else, companies usually do more than one thing. To quote Paul Rand: "A logo is a flag, a signature, an escutcheon. A logo doesn’t sell, it identifies. A logo is rarely a description of a business. A logo derives its meaning from the quality of the thing it symbolizes, not the other way around." –  e100 Jan 5 '11 at 13:24
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I see your point, but I would offer the counterexample of the following quote by Kerry Light : "The primary focus of your brand message must be on how special you are, not how cheap you are. The goal must be to sell the distinctive quality of the brand." Maybe I over-simplified by stating the simple fact of stating what your company "does," but more specifically what your company provides that others do not. It's like the common philosophy "we don't sell websites, we provide solutions to your existing problems" etc. –  NateDSaint Jan 5 '11 at 14:33
    
+1 for the FedEx link -- that was a really informative read. –  ixtmixilix Jan 5 '11 at 15:05
    
Also, +1 for taking the answer further than the question and daring to focus on the (gasp) non-objective qualities of logos. –  ixtmixilix Jan 5 '11 at 15:57
    
"a good logo really needs to communicate the identity and integrity of a brand"--that doesn't really say anything. The logo needs to act as an identifier for the brand, but it in and of itself doesn't say anything specific usually. The integrity of a brand is entirely dependent on what the company does over time--it's reputation. –  DA01 Jan 19 '11 at 2:00
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Nate implied this in passing but I think it's worth emphasizing: one of the key features for a logo is for it to be effective (readible or legible and recognizable) at very small sizes, medium sizes and very large sizes. Some designers make variations for different situations, but in general it should be able to communicate its message equally well as a favicon or as a billboard.

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In my experience, sooner or later most company logos need to be reproduced in just one solid colour, or 'channel' in applications where even halftoning/greyscale aren't achievable.

Fax used to be the classic example. This isn't often a concern these days - but here are some other real life examples I've dealt with:

  • Low resolution single colour printing: till receipts, post address labels etc
  • Etching/engraving on metal: iPod backs, USB Flash drives
  • Frosting (or frosting-effect film) on glass
  • Embossing/debossing into metal tins
  • Die cut foil overlay on colour print

Edit: you'd normally use a special variant of the logo for these purposes of course, but you need to consider how the underlying design will adapt - will it still be recognisable?

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This stretches the question a bit, but as well as the logo artwork itself, you're going to need to need some guidelines on how to use it.

This might be as simple as a couple of bullet points, e.g.

  • Only resize the logo proportionally - don't stretch it in one direction
  • Make sure it's legible - e.g. don't place a red logo on a red background, ensure text is readable
  • Only use master artwork - never try to edit or recolour
  • Don't add shadow or other effects.

Obviously visual examples will help here.

In a large corporation, logo usage guidelines can be very substantial and form a major component or visual identity (aka corporate identity) guidelines, along with colour, typography, application on stationery, signage, websites, vehicles.

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+1 for suggesting branding guidelines. –  Philip Regan Feb 25 '11 at 15:34
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