Logos can be a sticky topic with nonprofits because lots of founders and long-time nonprofit leaders can get a little bit attached to them, not just because they were possibly involved with creating the logo but also because the thought of redoing all the printed marketing materials and stationery can seem a little daunting.
But I have to tell you, if you are moving forward with any kind of website makeover or a new campaign of any kind, that logo can really drag down your new designs. So if you just don’t feel like you have the budget and/or you want to take baby steps to improve your logo, here are some ideas below.
I’ve just done screenshots of nonprofit logos that looked like they needed some help or were using some old-school design elements and used my eraser tool and some font changes to show you how you can push a logo a little more toward modern, making little differences that go a long way (these are not intended to show actual makeovers). Then below quickie “before and afters” I show you some examples of other nonprofit logos that have used similar techniques (but more advanced) to create great modern logos.
1. Let your logo out of the box (or circle).
This doesn’t mean you can’t have a solid box or circle in the background, just remove the outlines that enclose the box. The outlined boxes or circles are reminiscent of earlier days when logos all looked like official seals. The Yosemite Conservancy logo has a red outline (left), that when removed, actually looks a lot cleaner (right). In the Samples below that you can see that American Cancer Society and City of Hope both technically use boxes but they are used more for color-blocking purposes than to physically enclose something.
2. Stop playing with extreme kerning.
The Tenement Museum logo has a couple of issues with it – the first is the same boxing issue discussed above. It has the appearance of a red outline around everything, making it looked boxed in – not only that, but the letters are so squished they look like they desperately want to escape (left).
Remember the days when we used to use full justification in Word and we had all those stretched out sentences? It looked weird and no one does it anymore. So stop squishing or stretching your logo font to the point where it’s unrecognizable. We took the outline off the bottom part of the logo and unsquished the font (right) – it’s so much easier to read now. In the examples below that, LiveStrong stretches their title but not to the point where it looks strange and both examples use color blocking well.
3. Pull the color from your graphic into your text.
Sometimes it looks like someone different came up with the graphic and someone else just slapped in the text. To make them look unified, pull one color over into the text portion. This is so simple, but it makes a big difference. For the American Youth Policy Forum logo (left), I brought the blue into the text but also made the text a little bigger and bolder (right) – you never want the graphic portion of your logo to overwhelm the text. It can be bigger than the text (sometimes this creates a nice asymmetrical look) but not so big that it overpowers it.
The samples below show how nice it looks to bring color to the text. Also if you are using grey, use a dark grey and even replace black with a dark grey – it makes it more readable than the medium or light gray and less harsh than a black.
4. Get rid of any people or stick figures in your logo.
Now. Please. It just looks awful. You are better off having a text only logo than having an awful graphic attached to it. Graphics in logos should never be so literal; you need to portray whatever it is you want to portray in an abstract way that suggests something without spelling it out specifically. The sample below I just removed the people and brought in the grey color (which is also used throughout their site) into the text only version which is actually a lot easier to read. I also have 2 examples of text only logos – a very popular trend.
5. Remove the line separating your logo from your tagline.
Unless the line has something to do with the overall design or serves to enhance the logo, you really don’t need it and your logo will look cleaner without it. For Providence House, I removed the line, made the tagline match the width of the logo and changed the color to a darker, greyer version of the green color they use for the house. In the examples below that you can see 2 nicely done logo / tagline combinations.
6. Place emphasis with a different color or font.
In the Oxfam example you can see the word American much smaller below Oxfam portion – which just looks weird as it’s not a logical place to separate in the MIDDLE of your organization’s name and no logical reason to emphasize one word so significantly over the other. At least that we know of. And then you have the tagline literally hanging off the word Oxfam. The whole thing looks confusing. I just moved the word America up to where it seems it should belong, moved the tagline below and created emphasis on the first word by making it a different color. I also made the graphic slightly larger.
You’ll see a lot of logos that emphasize one word over another especially to break up the monotony of an all text logo – by using color (2 different colors) or thickness (regular vs. bold font) or style (regular vs. italicized). This is a great way to add interest to your text. I also show 2 great logos (Rebuilding Together and UJA Federation of New York) that emphasize portions of their text this way. Note that the Rebuilding Together logo uses stick figures, but they work – they are obviously designed to be part of the logo – not clip art figures just slapped on top of text. Stick figures should only be attempted by really great designers!
7. Balance your logo elements.
Balance does not mean everything has to be perfectly lined up and square. It means laying out elements on a page so that they are visually appealing. I’m really not sure how to put this into words so I’ll go straight into the example. The graphic for Charleston Parks Conservancy has some kind of flower thing-y at the top that is narrower than the rest of the graphic. I would leave that flower on its own to stick out above the text rather than stretching the text out to hit the top of the flower. It looks out of balance. So I actually enlarged the text a little but condensed it back in to a normal width and height, bringing it in to line up with the bottom of the graphic not the flower. Now it looks in balance.
The Great Schools logo has great balance also – you can see that the designer created the text portion to start about 1/3 of the way down the graphic, lined up nicely with the point of one of the white “arms” (white line); the top of the star lines up with the top of the blue “arm” (red line); the tagline fits nicely – right justified – into the angle formed by the G hanging down in Great (red lines); and the dark blue of the arm on the left balances with the dark grey of the tagline on the right (blue circles).
8. Get rid of any extra detail in your graphic.
Detailed graphics look busy and decidedly un-modern. I have 2 examples for this one: in the Heal the Bay one, I’ve always been disturbed by the skeleton thing in the middle of the graphic. Does that mean the fish is dead? What are they trying to say? Shouldn’t it be a nice healthy fish if the bay is being healed? I don’t know. But I can tell you it looks less scary with the skeleton removed.
And the Beyond Housing logo has the most ginormous house I’ve ever seen in a logo. Housing organizations need to convey “housing” without showing an actual building and especially not a 5 bedroom house. So I removed part of the house, and now the graphic doesn’t look like it’s overwhelming the text portion. For the good examples, in the Girl Scouts logo you can kind of see girls within the Girl Scout trefoil – it’s abstract not literal. And a housing organization doesn’t have to have an actual house graphic.
9. Make sure your text stands out.
It’s not about the graphic unless you are as big as Apple or Twitter or as adventurous as Prince in the 1990’s and no longer need any text of any kind in your logo. Overwhelming means that your eye is drawn to the graphic first and the text gets ignored or the text is not readable.
In this example, Humane Society’s really unattractive giant green animal globe is so big that you don’t really notice the text. Or you are stunned into not seeing the text (left). No really easy fix here for the graphic but it’s an easy fix to make the text bigger – and I placed some emphasis on the word international and squared the text (right). I have additional examples to prove that your logo doesn’t have to have the weight of the world on it’s shoulders…
10. Move logo elements off center.
Having things off center, when done properly, can make your logo more interesting. For the Volunteers of American logo it seems a shame to not utilize the angle of the V and follow it with the text instead of left justifying the text; it looks more interesting and less rigid.
If you are using lower case letters in your title you may be able to take advantage of a “cozy area” made within letters that are hanging down below the line or if you have your logo graphic dividing up words, you also have a nice space to place your tagline or a 2nd line i.e. in the example we used earlier – the UJA Federation of New York, it actually looks better to nestle the tagline between the graphic and the last letter of text. And below that I have some examples of logos that are not perfectly centered or left-justified!