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This is an excerpt from a free chapter of Smashing Logo Design

Many moons ago, when a lens flare was still a twinkle in Adobe’s eye, logos existed. There was no software to help or confuse a designer—just pure creativity using traditional tools. Over time, logo design has evolved, but the function of the logo has remained the same.

Logo design is changing so quickly that what was once viewed as a single element of graphic design is now recognised as its own separate industry and profession. These changes have meant that the people who design the logos have had to modify their design behaviors to keep up with the evolution.

In this appendix, I fill you in on the people who create the beloved logos we see every day. You’ll gain an understanding of just how far the industry has come since the inception of graphic design as a recognised profession. You’ll hear from a variety of designers about their thoughts on the industry today and where it’s headed.


The real roots of logo design technology are as simple as the human mind and a pencil, which are, of course, still used today. The only real difference between the first designers who picked up their pencils and the present-day industry is the introduction of the computer.

Leighton Hubbell, an award-winning logo designer from California has been designing logos since the late 1980s. He shared with me his view on how computers have become an essential part of the everyday life of a professional designer:

“Many significant changes have taken place in the design industry since I got my first job in 1987. When I started out, the use of the computer hadn’t really taken hold yet. In contrast, a good number of my colleagues now have never known design without a computer—and some, the Internet.”

There are arguments both for and against computers in the use of design, with some designers claiming that it stifles creativity and goes against some of the fundamental principles of design. Yet there is no denying that the computer has made the process ten times quicker. Computer software plays a pivotal role in logo design today, especially in the way in which a logo is reproduced. It is now impossible to design a logo effectively without the computer.


Regardless of which computer software you use, there seems to be a new update every year—it can be difficult to keep up. The good news is that you don’t need the latest software in order to create a functional and successful logo. As long as the software you use is able to output vector graphics, that’s all that matters.

Steve Douglas, founder of The Logo Factory, a graphic design company based in Ontario, Canada, has a wealth of experience in the art of designing logos. I asked him how the tools he uses to create logos have changed since he first got into the profession:

“When I first started professionally, back in the early ’80s, we didn’t have access to computers and desktop publishing technology. My trained “skills” were in the use of Rubylith, Bainbridge board, Letraset, stat camera, galley type, ruling, and technical pens. When I entered the workforce as a junior graphic designer in 1980 (even back then there were very few full-time gigs for illustrators), desktop computers and desktop publishing were pretty well science-fiction. Everything was done by hand on acetate overlays. My first exposure to computer illustration and design was at home through the old Amiga platform in the mid ’80s.”
“I remember there were two “professional-level” design programs for the Amiga—Pro Draw (pretty well a poor man’s Illustrator) and Pro Page (similar to a very basic version of Quark)—and tooling around with them allowed me to understand the technical side of things. Fairly rudimentary stuff—only came with three fonts—but the basic principles (Bezier curves, kerning, and so on) still applied. I had a LaserJet printer that needed a PostScript interpreter cartridge to print anything, and downloading to the printer often took an hour per page. At the time, it was state-of-the-art. I remember telling my old boss that desktop publishing was going to change the way design was done. He laughed at me, telling me that computers were a passing fad.”
“That’s how many people looked upon computers as creative tools back in the day, so most “training” consisted of learning how to do things by yourself. I used the Amiga loyally until about ’95 (when it blew up) and I had to borrow money from my parents to buy a Macintosh. My first was a 6100/66 (the 66 referred to 66 megahertz processing power) and I had to borrow Photoshop and Illustrator from friends. In those days, Photoshop took about five minutes to fire up, there were no layers, and there was only one level of Undo. I stayed on top of the technology by reading books (the Internet wasn’t really in wide use) and by practicing. Lots of practice. I considered going back to night school for some courses, but I seemed to adapt fairly quickly, so I never bothered. Do I miss the old techniques? Sure. There was a certain amount of skill that was lost when the design industry moved from analog to digital.”

Mike Erickson AKA Logomotive based in California, believes that although the advancement of technology has helped, it hasn’t changed the fundamental practices of designing a logo:

“You can easily design a logo with tools as simple as a pencil or crayon. Of course you would have to turn it into a digital file but the bottom line is, you’re using the same tools. The effects in the software are the only things that really change the technology. Everything else remains unchanged. The vector formats, Bezier curves, color fills, and so on—they remain consistent. I’d rather use the same old pencil or program that gets the job done.”

This isn’t to say that software is evil and should be discredited. It has played an integral role in streamlining the workflow of logo designers. Luckily, designers have had multiple options as technology has evolved:

  • Adobe Illustrator: Adobe Illustrator is perhaps the most well-known vector graphics program due to the massive popularity of the Adobe Creative Suite. It was originally developed by Apple way back in 1986 when vector-ready software was still in its infancy. Having gone through more than 20 updated versions of the original package, Illustrator is now one of the established options on the market.
  • Macromedia Freehand: Some experienced designers still prefer to use Macromedia freehand, which is very similar in the functionality of Macromedia. No updates for Freehand have been provided since 2007 and none are planned thus far.
  • Corel Draw: Released three years after Illustrator, Corel Draw was provided as part of the Corel Corporation’s desktop publishing suite. Corel was the first vector software that I purchased in 1995, and it has come a long way since, with the program now in it’s 14th release.
  • Inkscape: Inkscape is a freeware application, available to everyone free of charge. As result, it’s becoming a more popular option for new designers.

Does this mean the death of the pencil?

With software being such an increasingly important part of the process, this question is a logical one. I’ve spoken to some designers who carry out the complete logo design process onscreen, bypassing the option for sketching using traditional media altogether.
Mike Erickson believes that the easy access to computers often leads to overuse and a premature reliability on the machine to do all the work for you:

“The younger generation has been brought up with computers as part of their everyday environment, so when it comes to design, they rely on the computer to do everything for them. In the old days, we did everything with the pencil and ink. All the art work had to be camera-ready, but it’s a lot different now—everything is digital. The pencil is mightier than the mouse.”

Ultimately, it would be foolish to think that the art of drawing would become completely extinct, but it’s partly dependent on the education that new designers receive and also any bad habits they may have picked up. You can easily design a logo without having to draw on paper, but I think that this opportunity for traditional artistic expression can only help to broaden a designer’s skill set, not to mention his mind.

In the next part we take a look at the importance of design education within logo design.

You can purchase Smashing Logo Design from Amazon, Barnes & Noble & Waterstones.



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