« Back to Blog November 12, 2015 | Logo Design

How to Sketch Effectively When Designing a Logo

After I’ve worked out all of the details for my fictional client and established a solid base of information, it’s time to start sketching. But I can’t just dive in and start exploring all of the fun ideas that have been running through my mind while reading the questionnaire and client notes.

I love working in my Field Notes. There’s something about putting an actual pencil to paper that makes the whole logo design process so much more satisfying and “real.” I also love to look back at my finished sketchbooks later on and see how I was thinking when coming up with different logos. It’s extremely gratifying.

Sketches when designing a logo are so much different than drawing anything else. Early on, I need to focus very intently on the most basic structure of the logo. Only taking in to account the shapes and hierarchy of the design. I can’t get bogged down in style too early or I’ll be so focused on getting the style right, that the structure of logo may not be optimal.

I’ve made that mistake plenty of times. It’s a hard one to get around when all you want to do is start experimenting with cool new techniques and styles. I’ve found that doing a brain dump of every style I’ve been considering helps alleviate those feelings long enough for me to do the important groundwork that is necessary for a more successful logo design.

For Gumption Brewing, I decided early on to try and pursue a simplistic style based on early to mid-century typography from industrial logos. This decision came from the client information that they loved “the hard working American spirit.” Narrowing down your focus in this way helped me explore a specific style to determine whether or not it will work. I could always try new things, but this felt like a good path to start down.

Once I decided on following this particular style, I used my initial sketches as a foundation for experimenting. By basing my decisions on these foundational sketches I can be sure that the logo will be much more effective than trying to replicate a style alone. If there’s one trap I fall into time and time again, it’s that I wind up sketching the same concept over and over. Usually this is a clue that I’m liking something about that concept, but drawing rough thumbnail sketches multiple times is not an effective use of time. Once I notice myself doing this, I make a note to explore this concept more in-depth in the next round of detailed sketching and leave it alone for now.

After coming up with lots of different rough concepts I go back through my sketchbook and pick out the ones that stand out as the strongest or with the most potential. Now I move on to more detailed sketches that actual start to resemble finished logos.

A photo posted by Airship Design Co (@airshipdesignco) on

It’s important at this stage to still not focus too heavily on the details. Think of it like levels of zoom. In the rough sketch phase, you’re taking a picture of your friend from over 100 yards away. You have a human shape, but not much detail. In the detailed sketch phase, you are taking a full-body photo from 10 yards away. The details are filling in, but not everything needs to be 100% clear. When working on final concepts, that’s the portrait from close up. Don’t worry about the details until you’re at that level. Details will come, get the structure in place first.

I’m constantly fighting the urge to just sketch finished logos over and over again, but I can’t allow myself to do that. It’s ineffective and a waste of time. Staying as rough as possible for as long as possible allows you to focus on the details that are important at the time.

To counter that desire to sketch out more complete work, usually I make myself switch gears and do something else to distract that part of my brain. Usually I pull out my personal sketchbook and just draw for fun to scratch that itch. It’s important for me to remember that taking a short break to get that feeling out of my head can lead to a much more productive and effective work afterward.

When I’m working on detailed sketches, I try to think ahead to the next step which is moving into Illustrator and doing the vector work. The main question I ask myself is, “how much detail does this sketch need to give me enough for this to work in Illustrator?” Sometimes I’m designing a hand lettered logo, so the detail needs to get worked out in the sketch phase. Other times I’m working on a cleaner concept that may rely on existing typefaces, so the details don’t all need to be in place for a sketch to be good enough for the vector phase.

The logo design process is very fluid. I constantly need to look back at the client notes to make sure I’m still working toward the goals we set at the beginning of the project while considering the next step so I don’t overwork on the step I’m on. Even while I’m trying to consider these other steps, I really need to focus on the task at hand to make sure I’m only doing what’s needed. Keep your mind on the task at hand and only let your mind move between phases when it helps you make a decision you’re currently working on.

I often struggle with deciding on how many sketches and concepts are enough to move forward. I want to come up with as many as I can to make sure I’ve explored a wide range of options and the best ones possible will surface, but I can’t spend all of my time coming up with concepts. I need to continually make progress or the project will stall out.

Once you have the detailed concepts ready, it’s time to move on to the final stage, the vector phase.

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