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  • Writer's pictureCajvanean C. Alexandru

The Beautiful Process Behind Pictorial Logo Designs. A Symbol That Speaks a Thousand Words.

The Beautiful Process Behind Pictorial Logo Designs Cajva

The main categories when it comes to types of logo design are as follows:

Letterforms - a letter is the main element usually the first letter of the brand’s name (McDonald’s Facebook, Tesla)

Monograms - where we combine a few letters to create the main element, can be achieved by using the initial of the brand name or first letters from the name (Coco Chanel, Electronic Arts, Volkswagen)

Wordmarks - also called logotypes, make use of typography to characterize a brand’s identity(Coca-Cola, Google, HBO) Check my post about Wordmarks.

Abstract Marks - an abstract representation of an idea or a set of values (Nike, Adidas, Slack)

Pictorial Marks – the icon represents something specific and meaningful (Apple, Playboy, WWF)

Emblem – badges, seals, and crests are included in this category (Harley-Davidson, Starbucks, Warner Brothers, BMW)

categories of logo desing types by cajva

The discussion is open, Warner Bros. could easily fit into the monograms category while Starbucks has a well-defined Pictorial Mark. These main categories are defined so we can make a better idea of how these logos actually work but in my humble opinion, they do not establish clear borders. For example, a logo could be easily put in more than one category. The Airbnb logo could fit the letterform category but might as well be dropped into the abstract marks box. Burger King has a beautiful wordmark but also contains graphic elements, some consider this logo to be a combination mark which is perfectly fine. You can combine any of the categories to create the perfect logo.

The beauty of the pictorial logo design and why so many people have developed a form of love for this type of design.

While some designers defend a strong belief that design is not art and vice versa, it’s almost impossible not to see the art behind some of these gorgeous creations.

I want to talk about the Pictorial Marks in this post. What are my approach, my vision, and my beliefs when it comes to the creation of an icon that speaks directly or metaphorically about the brand? A pictorial mark is easy to create but you need quite a few years of experience to do it right. In the beginning, I used to focus on the idea and the idea only. And for good reasons is a bit hard to go past that. These kinds of logos require a skill that only time can develop it. Observation.

In the field of design, observation is cultivated through a series of exercises, one of which is drawing. Drawing requires a lot of patience, time, and practice. Frustration, stress, and even depression are part of this activity but as everything worthwhile, one needs to push through. For me, drawing involves study and observation. Observing is understanding. Understanding the world, nature, and the environment so we can see the geometry and the structure of it all. Assimilate, reproduce, and simplify until we get to the essence of the form. That’s how these simple pictograms are such brilliant storytellers. An entire universe as complex as a cosmos of things can get, is captured in a few simple lines. I truly believe art and design go hand in hand.

halfcowforsale logo sketches and final logo

There are designers out there who are making amazing pictorial marks but have no idea how to draw. At least that’s what they say. I think they underestimate their ability to draw, thinking the drawings they are doing are not pretty or aesthetic. And here I want to make a good point, your drawing does not have to be pretty to capture the core of nature. Your observation skills are the most important. Your open mind makes you see far of into the nucleus of things. Your brain engages in thinking and designing even when you are not actively doing it. Are you not looking at a sunset and thinking to yourself “Isn’t that beautiful, I want to capture it” and in the moment you pull out your phone and take a picture? See? You are a keen observer already. But then you find this so awe-inspiring that you feel like you might recreate it. And you can. In your way, you can recreate because beauty inspires beauty.

That’s how I do it. I see it and then I aim to recreate it. I see an olive tree with its curvaceous trunk, the slim thick crown of leaves and olives, and the gorgeous lines and colors of the bark. I want that, I want to create something as beautiful as that tree. In my conquest for paradise (those who love Vangelis music, I see you) I create and recreate until the most complex lines and textures are transformed into simple shapes and forms and in the end just the core symbol. Even a simple leaf can make us think of an entire forest. This is who we are, explorers of symbols, shape crafters, and form makers. In our constant search for the foundation of the universe, we keep wondering how can all this be brought to a better understanding.

cajva sketchbook

This is how pictorial logos are made and how they work. By capturing a company's values in a simple recognizable shape.

We must see beyond the CEOs, beyond the people who are working there, and beyond the product itself. We must see how the world understands and creates a relationship with such an entity. The boring and practical side of this involves engaging in accurate speculation using inaccurate data from individuals with questionable expertise. Putting it in simple terms, transforming a brief into a modern wonder. Which is totally doable at the cost of your happiness, family, social life, and your hair. Laughs maniacally . . .

While you know the exact letter for a letterform or the combo for a monogram, it’s just a matter of a stylistic approach to convey the right message. The entire thing shifts when we approach pictorial marks including abstract ones. Searching the good ideas, and finding the right concept is not something that comes easy. Some briefs have good values established and a good story but when it comes to the actual icon it’s just blank. Sometimes not even the naming can give us a visual clue.

So what do we do? Dig deeper. Keep on asking more and more questions. Even sometimes, unrelated questions can give us the right answer. Both the client and the designer must come down to earth from their expectations heavens and establish clear and reasonable design directions. Things that must be touched and discussed include demographics, brand personality, competitors, and all the adjectives that a brand might or wants to reflect. It’s seductive to have a client that gives you free hand. “You are in total control” or “just do your magic” could be some of the design directions. While romantic, unfortunately, these reflect the lack of vision and leave too much room for interpretation. It’s like thinking outside the box where there is no box to begin with. Extremely rare this kind of approach works. What I tell my customers is to establish clear rules so I can get creative to break them.

Once we have the right direction, the information is satisfying and the ideas start pouring in, we get to sketching. Do not be cheap when it comes to sketching. Search for as many ideas as possible, this will not only guarantee the best result but will help in building the entire visual identity with good arguments of why some other ideas don’t work in the first place. I’ve done the work, it’s been taken care of, is not possible. This helps both sides to see what, how, and why the final decision is the right one. When I started my career I was so cheap with my sketches and I thought those were the most valuable inputs in a project. They are not.

kehpri scarab logo sketches by cajva

The process is the valuable thing. Thinking and searching for the right solution. That is the valuable thing, and that is what you are being paid for. I was thinking I was going to lose my valuable ideas, what if I ran out of ideas down the road? Firstly, the ideas are never your own. A lot of other people might, will, and already executed the same idea as you. Secondly, if you think you will run out of ideas, you’re right. If you don’t think you will ever run out of ideas, you are also right. Drawing and sketching is a process that can also empty your mind of a lot of crap ideas that might pour in and push us away from the software approach where we could be limited in a way. Just let your ideas go from your head into your hand and then on paper in a natural flow.

Once the concepts are established we are going to work on the values and the data from the brief to decide the right aesthetic for that concept. Say your concept is an icon of a rooster, now depending on the demographics the rooster can be made more feminine or masculine, more young or mature, and so on. You take your sandpaper and sand the concept until you find the right expression. The aesthetic has to blend with functionality down the road. No doubt about it. Redraw, redraw, and then draw again. The final result never fails to surprise me. In the end, all this refining will add precision and make a simple idea reflect a high degree of complexion.

Then I get to execute them. State-of-the-art software makes this process beautiful and accurate. Patience. Just have patience. Each concept executed should have a wide variety of versions with small differences between them to force the limits. Using a pen tool to trace a complex shape or using the shape builder can help us establish well-defined grids and proportions. Don’t forget to save each version of the logo concept you are working on. Further along the way you may stray too much from the initial concept and you'll wish to return to an earlier state, so keep them at hand. Ctrl+S for the win. ( Command-S for Mac users)

Parcae Logo Process by cajva

On pictorial logo designs, the font is neutral or muted. The key element is the symbol so choosing a font that doesn’t create too great of a contrast helps. Is like meeting a new person, you tend to forget the name in the first five seconds but you remember the face. That’s how these types of logos work. You see them once and then you will vaguely remember the next time you will see them again. That’s why consistency is key for long-term branding.

Simplify the final logo until there are no unnecessary anchor points, check angles, and save everything you worked on. Working files on personal folders, delivery files ready to be sent to the client for all sizes and formats required. Prepare a- Brand Guidelines, Logo Usage, Colors, Typography, and everything else in between.

Examples of Pictorial Marks I've done over the years.

Pictorial Logo Examples Collection by Cajva

Just the tip: Ensure that you provide thorough information and education on all necessary steps to fully utilize the logo's potential. It is your responsibility as a designer to do this.


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I write on this blog almost weekly and you can find details about my graphic design work and get in touch on this website.

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