In life, imitation may well indeed be the sincerest form of flattery. In logo design, however, it’s called copyright infringement and that’s a big no-no.
Now, that’s not to say that you can’t “borrow” ideas from other brands. That is called “inspiration” and let’s face it, basically, every idea you’re ever going to have is pulled from bits and pieces of inspiration you’ve garnered over the years. Visually, this is the way we learn — seeing something that appeals to us and storing it away in our memory. Every “original” idea is a compilation of images you’ve already experienced and logged in your mind.
So how then, can one hope to create a unique logo for their business if nothing is truly unique? By creatively borrowing from those images that appeal to you, using psychology to determine the colors that convey your personality and by choosing fonts that accurately reflect your brand. Rest assured you’ll come up with an idea that’s uniquely you. But where to start?
When designing a logo, be a borrower
The best way to find inspiration is to merely look around; see how others before you have done it. If you’re a retail business, walk around town and look at logos of other retailers. If you’re a lawn service, pay attention to the trucks, uniforms, and signs of other landscapers. And don’t be afraid to draw inspiration from logos outside of your industry. Look at big brands, small businesses, industrial and more.
When you do find a design that appeals to you, ask yourself why. Is it the color? The shape? The symmetry? Don’t look at it as a whole, instead pick out the elements that hold the most significant interest to you.
Find logo design inspiration in unexpected places
While established brands and logos are great places to start, inspiration can come from many other sources. The more you seek out other influences, the easier it is to avoid plagiarizing another business’ logo. And that even happens to the most prominent brands.
In 2017, for example, Apple was sued by Chinese clothing brand Kon for trademark infringement. Kon alleges that Apple’s new App Store logo (three sticks with rounded ends that overlap each other to form a triangle) was plagiarized from the logo they’ve owned since 2009.
By seeking out inspiration in surprising places, you can avoid potential legal issues while discovering a whole new way to differentiate your business, and perhaps your entire industry. Pay attention to nature, architecture, fashion, artwork — solutions often reveal themselves in the most unusual places. Take the invention of Velcro®. Invented in the 1940s by George de Mestral, Velcro’s inspiration was drawn from the tiny hooks of cockle-burs that were stuck on his pants and in his dog’s fur after a hunting trip!
Keep inspiration in mind but out of sight
“Trademarks & Symbols of the World: The Alphabet in Design” has been a source of inspiration for designers since 1989. Recently, however, the “inspiration” of a few modern companies has been called into question. Spencer Chen, the VP of Marketing and Business Development for Alibaba, has pointed out the striking similarities between the logos of Beats by Dre, Medium, Flipboard and Airbnb with designs from the 70s and early 80s. Coincidence? Perhaps. But by having a reference book such as this at your table or desk as you work on your design, you’ll inevitably continue to refer to it. Instead, design a logo from memory to keep your logo as original as possible, ensuring you avoid:
Avoid legal trouble
Unknowingly or not, if you end up with a logo design that too closely matches that of another company, you could be sued. Just ask Apple.
Understanding trademark issues
If you plan to trademark your logo (and why wouldn’t you?), it needs to look original. If your design is too similar to another company’s, your trademark application will be denied resulting in a lot of wasted time and money for your business.
Don’t confuse the customer
As a small business, your logo needs to work. It needs to convey who you are and what you do, all at a glance. Most importantly, it needs to differentiate you from the competition. If your logo design looks too much like that of the other guy in your industry, potential customers will struggle to separate you from him.
Your unique logo is out there. Take your time finding it. By putting in the early effort of researching, observing and, yes, borrowing, you can create a logo design genuinely worthy of your business.