How do you create a logo that is worthy of love? Ask Shawn Pals.

February 24th, 2021

In the business world, logos are hugely important and provoke lots of drama. They are after all, the signature of your brand. Changing a logo design is more than a makeover, it’s a full body transplant. It’s easily one of the most stressful and costly things a company can ever do. And when it’s wrong, it’s felt for years.

There are increasingly few people who truly understand what goes into designing a logo that can brand billions of dollars of business’ communications over decades. Those who can are an elite group of highly disciplined practitioners. One of those people is our Group Creative director, Shawn Pals.

Here, he takes us through the process of creating a logo with lasting impact.

What purpose does a logo serve? 

The goal of a logo is to create brand recognition, with a legible and recognizable mark that demonstrates the attributes of your brand. A classic example is the way Nike has both a wordmark and an icon that can work either together or separately to represent speed and boldness. Even the italics on the typeface create a sense of movement.

It's every designer's responsibility to stay on top of trends so they have an awareness of what’s feeling overdone. The tricky part is creating something that feels fresh, yet classic and timeless at the same time. Because a great logo can last forever. That being said, it’s definitely time to switch your logo up if it’s feeling dated or of a specific era.

What does your design process look like?

First, I work with the strategy team to conduct a brand workshop, so we can hear directly from the client what their needs are and uncover their brand attributes. This creates a launch point for the design process to begin.

From there, I do plenty of my own homework. This includes reviewing brand considerations like what the company stands for, what they want people to think when they see their logo and auditing the competitive landscape.

Next, I get the loosest ideas down on paper. This is when I start to explore font style and iconography in black and white. Now, it’s time to fire up design programs to get things more polished.

How do you cull things down?

In total, I usually explore 50-100 versions of designs. And a few seem to naturally rise to the top. From there, I finalize a few favorites and make them “pixel perfect.” That’s when you give special attention to kerning (the space between letters) and leading (the space between rows of type).

This extreme attention to detail is one thing that makes all the difference between a decent logo and a great one.

Color comes last, after every other detail has been decided upon. And speaking of, there’s a lot to consider. From color theory and consumer psychology to avoiding fleeting trends. I’m looking at you, plum.

How do you know when you’re ready to share what you’ve done?

I ask myself a few questions. Is this the best possible version of this idea? Would I be happy if this design was chosen? Does it fulfill my client’s needs? Is this accomplishing what we set out to do? Will it still look timeless in 30 years? If the answer to all these questions isn’t "Yes," it’s not ready yet. Simple as that.

Let’s talk about our new logo. What inspired the original design and recent update?

The mountain itself goes back to that research phase I mentioned earlier. After a little Googling years ago, I realized that Yamamoto wasn’t only the last name of one of our agency’s founders, Hideki. It also means “base of the mountain” in Japanese.

It seemed fitting because as an agency, we’re small but mighty. We’ve successfully taken on some giants. It’s something we can exclaim and be bold about. That’s what led to the mountain exploration in the first place. From there, “Moving mountains” became a key part of our agency’s strategic positioning.

But recently, I felt like our logo needed to be refreshed because it no longer completely matched our brand and how much we’ve evolved over the last 41 years. Because in addition to being bold, we’re also super friendly and check our egos at the door. So I definitely wanted it to have more warmth and approachability.

What did you update from the previous logo?

I started by illustrating more than 50 styles of mountains, making the design simpler and simpler with each iteration. Until there were three peaks, to represent each of the agency’s founders. I also slightly adjusted the kerning and font.

It might seem like a lot of work for something the average person wouldn’t think twice about. But I believe that’s the point of great design. Looking effortless, communicating on a subconscious level and creating brand affinity.

What happens after a brand lands on a logo they love?

Just imagine going through a version of that entire process for every single element of your brand--from the color palette, to font, icons and other form factors. Not to mention brand voice and tone, taglines, messaging and naming conventions.

How do brands know when it’s time to freshen things up?

Every couple of years, ask yourself the hard questions about your branding as a whole. Is it communicating all that you need it to? Is it recognizable, clear and easy-to-understand? Does it stand out in the crowded marketplace? Does it represent your brand values? Does it create a cohesive unit?

If not, give us a call.

Reach out at lsharbono@go-yamamoto.com (Minneapolis new business) or bwendle@go-yamamoto.com (Chicago new business).