Logo Design on the Cheap

DCS Innovation Labs needed a logo on the cheap, so I, a frontend developer without more than one or two artistic bones in my body made us one.

I'm sure as hell not a professional designer, but I think that I may be able to share a few tips that I came across in my process that could be helpful to anyone in the same situation. This will just be a quick look at the process I went through, not an exhaustive tutorial.

Recently, I've been doing a lot of work on coming up with consistent branding guidelines for DCS Innovation Labs. Something that's probably not obvious to readers of this blog is that DCS Innovation Labs is actually a branch of a larger, established company called DCS Information Systems. While the fact that a tech company has been in business for 50 years is impressive, it also shows in our branding and design. DCS Innovation Labs aims to be a fresh branch with a fresh look.

Professional logo / branding designers create absolutely brilliant work that can capture the culture and mission of a company in a single graphic. Take a look at this mind blowing rebrand of SpaceX for example. The problem is, hiring one of these creative geniuses will cost thousands of dollars, something that's simply not in our budget.

Consistent branding requires a logo representing the company, so the task fell to me.

Most professional logos take in the order of days to weeks to create. I time boxed this task to 8 hours.

1) Sketching

To start off, I just sketched out some ideas that I had floating around. I'm not able to draw anything remotely fancy (or really draw better than a toddler for that matter), so I stuck to stylized text. No idea was too silly and no sketch too bad. I spent about an hour coming up with and sketching ideas, and was left with this:

Picture of logo sketches

As you can see, these are all embarrassingly terrible, but the point is to get something sort of resembling your ideas down on paper. This will help you to narrow down the ideas that you want to take further. If you're anything like me, you are way better with a computer than you are with a pen so you can refine the ideas in a digital medium.

2) Narrowing down

The next step I took was to pick a couple of ideas that I wanted to take further after seeing how they turned out on paper. I decided that I wanted to make something with a bit more heft to it than plain text, so I chose to continue with the ideas for the circle logo and the badge logo. Two isn't necessarily the magic number, but narrowing down your selection to a small number will let you take those ideas to fruition and allow you to further refine them instead of ending up with a pile of rough unfinished logos.

3) Initial digital draft

I use Adobe Illustrator and Sketch do do the majority of the little design work that I do, but free alternatives like Gimp and Inkscape can be workable as well.

I started off by just roughly creating the logos I put down on paper in Illustrator. For the circle logo, it looked like this:
First digital draft of circle logo

And the badge logo looked like this:
First digital draft of badge logo

4) Revise revise revise

From that point, I started messing with different fonts, colors, spacing, etc. I kept doing this until I had two logos that I was pretty happy with. Here, you can see the originals (that I kept for reference) and what they ended up becoming:
Revised badge and circle logos along with original logos

5) Feedback

At this point, I had two logos that I was happy with, but to have a consistent brand, you need to have a consistent logo. I couldn't decide myself which logo to continue with so at this point, I sent off my two logos to a couple of coworkers (also not designers) to look at. The circle logo proved to be the more popular of the two, so at this point I abandoned the badge logo to continue on refining the circle logo.

6) Refine refine refine

At this point, I had one logo to focus on so with the feedback of my coworkers in hand, I worked on refining the logo by adjusting fonts, colors, and spacing some more. After spending an hour or so doing this, I ended up with the final logo:
Final circle logo

Lessons learned

The most helpful process for me was the initial sketching phase. This allowed me to explore many different ideas very quickly. Having an audience to critique the logo was also immensely helpful as after spending a good amount of time looking at something, it's hard to pick out the flaws.

At the end of the day spent designing, I had a workable logo. It doesn't have a pretty graphic or do an incredible job summarizing our brand, but it's ascetically pleasing and can be consistently used across mediums.