How to spot a bad logo design

Black and white image of male giving thumbs down

Nowadays it seems many people are claiming to have the knowledge and expertise available to design professional quality logos.

But the amount of work involved in creating a unique identity is often underestimated. It’s incredibly difficult to make a living as a freelance graphic designer when you’re charging a pittance for your work.

If someone claims to be able to provide you with a professional quality logo for £50 (or even lower), you have to question exactly how much time and effort is being spent on developing your design

Not a lot I’ll bet.

Why the quality of your logo matters

Your logo is what identifies your company and helps you stand out from the competition. It’s your first chance to make a good impression.

If it’s a cheap, dated, generic design, what does that say about your company?

When it comes to your branding it’s always best to seek the expertise of a professional, experienced graphic designer.

But with so many people claiming to be able to offer professional logo design at rock-bottom prices, how can you spot a bad logo design if you don’t know anything about graphic design yourself?

Here’s 10 things to look out for in a designers’ portfolio that may give away their lack of expertise.

1. Generic, unimaginative design

Be aware of literal, ‘obvious’ logos or those without any real idea behind them.

One of the first things you think of that relates to a hair salon is probably a pair of scissors, a library would likely be a book.

Has the designer done something clever or completely unexpected with the idea, or have they gone with an obvious or generic design?

2. Poor Typography

This the most common sign a designer lacks experience. A professional designer will pay close attention to details that you probably wouldn’t notice unless you were made aware of them.

One of the most important and time consuming processes is known as kerning. This involves manually adjusting the spacing between each letter, one at a time, to make the text a lot easier to read.

Here’s an example of un-kerned text. Notice the uneven spacing between some of the letters (particularly ‘been’).

Here’s some kerned text. Everything’s much tighter. The spacing between each letter appears much more equal.

You might not be able to notice a significant difference, but some some fonts have worse automatic kerning than others. If it’s not adjusted, the text can look ugly or even look like another word completely.

The word ‘click’ for example…

Unkerned text

Or even worse, ‘CLINT’…

Unkerned text

3. Poor choice of typeface

Would you even consider leaving a loved one in the hands of a funeral director who’s logo features their name in a cartoony font?

Funeral director logo with cartoon writing

I know I wouldn’t.

Typefaces imply a tone of voice and help towards a feel or emotion related to your company. Ask yourself “What tone of voice does this logo convey?”

A poor choice here could be devastating for your brand.

4. Poor choice of colours

Neon logo

Colour is an important consideration in the logo design process. It can say a lot more about your company than you think.

There are many colours that work together and many more that don’t.

The colour can be affected by the paper stock being printed onto. The printing method can also affect the appearance of colour.

A professional designer will be able to advise you on colour values to use and which to avoid.

Basically, stay away from bright neon colours!

5. Pixelated edges

Pixelated logo

Logos that feature pixelated edges* could indicate the logo has been created in Photoshop or another software package that’s not intended for creating logos.

Photoshop produces raster images created from pixels (tiny squares), whereas a vector image is created through math.

Put simply, vector images can be scaled up or down to any size without losing quality or becoming pixelated. Raster images will not, and therefore you will find yourself with a logo that looks pixelated at any size other than the size it was created at.

* It’s entirely possible that the image itself is pixelated and not the design. I wouldn’t base your decision on this alone but certainly look for pixelation in any printed material.

6. Uses photographic images

Photographic logo

A photograph is a raster image created from pixels. You therefore cannot change its scale without losing detail and causing pixelation.

Any logo that features photography is a clear sign the designer has no idea about logo design.

Stay well away.

7. Uses clip art

Clip art logo

Copying an image from a website, slapping a company name on it and calling it done is not professional logo design. The abomination created is not a professional quality logo.

Don’t waste your money.

8. Reliant on effects

A good logo should work entirely in black and white, ideally without text (unless it’s a typographic logo of course).

Using subtle gradients on logos is a bit of a trend at the minute, but it’s important to remember that the logo must also work as a solid black shape without the effects applied

Here’s a ‘logo’ that has some ‘nice’ gradients and glass effects applied to it.

Glass effect logo

Here it is without the effects in pure black and white.

The same logo without effects in plain black and white

It’s basically just a circle above some text. It could be the logo of any company.

Not very interesting, unique or memorable is it?

 9. ‘Familiar’ designs

Designs based on the Yahoo and Coca Cola logos

Arguably the number one sign you should stay away from a designer.

If their portfolio features designs that are similar to existing logos or are based on concepts from recognisable brand identities, stay well away.

Should they design you a logo based on an already exiting logo that infringes copyright, then it will be you that’s hit with the legal difficulties, not the designer.

You can argue all you want that the designer is at fault, but the responsibility lies with you.

10. Extra clutter

Cluttered logo

An effective logo design relies on simplicity. It’s not about what you add, but what you take away.

Think of how simple some of the most iconic brand identities are; the McDonalds arches, the Nike tick, Apple’s apple…

These logos are great examples of effective design. They’re simple, memorable, describable, they work without colour and without text and you’d recognise them even at a smaller scale.

Extra ‘stuff’ just detracts the eye and cheapens the design. It also affects legibility at smaller scales.

Cluttered logo at a smaller scale


Hopefully this post has given you an overview of what to look out for when viewing a designer’s portfolio.

There are many sites that claim to offer professional graphic design and will happily take your money and throw together a logo for you in a matter of hours. This is not what I would consider a professional service.

Understandably, everyone has a budget to stick to but it’s worth seeking out a true professional and getting your brand designed properly. Shop around for quotes from different designers.

Graphic design doesn’t have to be expensive, but typically you get what you pay for.

Your brand is the face of your company. Try to see it as an investment, not an afterthought.

Image source.

8 Replies

    • Hi Ravi, thanks for commenting.

      The best advice I can give is to just keep reading about and practicing design. Joining forums to discuss graphic design and get feedback from others on your work is a great way to improve. Keep at it.

  • I have to ask, did you have fun making those logos as examples? 🙂

    Great article. I sometimes think that despite being frustrating to see bad work out there, it’s sometimes necessary. It brings balance to things, it makes it ultimately easier, for the good one, to stand out from the rest.

    It goes the same with companies that use crappy logos. It makes it easier for other companies who DO value it, to stand out better than those that aren’t.

    I know it’s a bit philosophical what I am saying, but it’s basically the same principle with crappy jobs that bear no knowledge. SOMEONE has to do it, you know?

    • Thanks for the comment Marco, I really appreciate it. I actually found it quite hard to create logos that look as bad as some of the “professional” ones I’ve seen.

      I think you’ve summed it up perfectly. Sadly not many people realize just how much time and expertise goes into brand identity design which is perhaps why a designer criticising the work of a non-designer is often seen as snobbery, though I think it’s more about trying to retain a sense of pride and value in what we do.

      For someone to undercut and undermine the whole industry by claiming to offer the same service for a fraction of a professional rate is insulting. It’s these sites that are partly responsible for the misconception that professional graphic design is overpriced. If you want a professional level of work, you need to be prepared to pay a professional. It’s that simple.

  • Great post, some great points. Just wish more people would read this instead of cheaping out on the most important image of the business.

    • Thanks for the comment Adam. My intention was to give people looking to get an identity designed a few pointers on what to watch out for. There’s far too many sites claiming to offer the same quality of design that you would get from an experienced designer or agency.

      If people want to go for the cheap option for their designs then that’s understandable, but hopefully this post will prevent others from being ripped-off by so-called professional designers.

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