A Practical Guide to Logo Design for Online Schools

November 1, 2014

A Practical Guide to Logo Design for Online Schools

Logos are possibly the most widely recognized designs on the planet. For example, McDonald's golden arches will always mean the same thing, no matter where in the world you are.

At its core, a logo is a visual definition or representation of a larger idea. Since your logo will define your school, it should accurately reflect the personality, tone and subject matter of your courses. It’s for this reason that designing a logo should be an exercise in self study.

Know Thyself

Before you can determine what typeface or colors (if any) to use in your logo, you must first have a deep understanding of what your logo should portray about your school. This will be influenced by several factors, most notably the content of your courses, your teaching style, and the audience for which your subject matter is intended.

It's often a good idea to incorporate elements or ongoing themes of your content into your logo. For example, suppose Ed wants to start a school that offers courses about electrical engineering. His logo could incorporate the basic idea of electricity into his brand, like this:

Eds Electric logo by Josiah Jost

Note how the capital “E” is cleverly used to form the prongs of the plug. Without reading the name of Ed’s school, you could probably guess that it has something to do with electricity. This type of creative thinking makes your logo more recognizable and memorable, while helping to unite your content under a common theme.

Online educators employ a variety of teaching methods, tools, and styles, which makes our community a diverse and vibrant way to learn. If you’re an energetic and effervescent person, your logo should reflect that. Using bright colors and a fun typeface is a great way to express this energy. If your teaching style is more forthright and intellectual, you can draw on that to illustrate a sense of academic success using muted colors and strong, stately type.

I put together a quick example highlighting the difference between typefaces and colors, and how they speak to the character of a made-up financial institution:

Olympia Bank logos by Josh KennedyWhile the logo on the left is approachable and relatable, it doesn’t speak to the character a bank should possess. The one on the right feels steadfast and reliable - if you entrust your money to them, they'll likely manage it well.

By nature, human beings are lifelong learners. Given the ubiquitousness of online education, the demographic of online schools is increasingly diverse. In order to communicate your school’s message, your logo should appeal to your demographic.

For instance, if your school offers lessons on mathematics, you could be teaching to kids in elementary school, or perhaps college students. Which one of the logos below would fit best with with each age group?

School of Math logos by Josh KennedyThe logo on the left is definitely more appropriate for the elementary schoolers, while the logo on the right is more collegiate.

There's also the possibility that you have no distinct market or audience. Maybe your school is for anyone eager to learn about your area of expertise. In this case, it’s even more imperative that you emphasize the first two points, using the style and content of your courses as your guide.

Logo Design Principles

With a deeper understanding of your school’s DNA, you’re ready to start designing your logo. While it might seem daunting at first, here are a few tips and tricks you can use to ensure your logo’s success.

Before you continue, you may want to brush up on a few design guidelines. Check out a post I wrote a few weeks back for some useful tips.

A distinctive logo doesn’t have to be riddled with complexity. Simple shapes and ideas make an impression more quickly. Companies like Starbucks have realized this, and have thus simplified their logo several times over the years.

Starbucks logos over the years

Contrast is the degree of difference between the relative brightness of two colors. Certain color wavelengths juxtapose others, creating an attractive distinction between them. Using effective contrast aids in the visual acceptance of your logo, as the eyes don’t need to work as hard to process what they’re seeing.

In the example below, you'll see what makes up good contrast on the left, and two examples of the principle in action on the right. The first example in the right half illustrates how contrast can go wrong - it hurts your eyes and it's difficult to read. Below it, however, is a pleasant color juxtaposition.

As you observe the figure, think about how you can use contrast to your advantage to make your logo memorable.

Please use contrast please.

Use Color Wisely
Using fewer colors in your logo will help maintain simplicity. Furthermore, color hues play a significant role in the tone of the logo - think lime green vs. forest green, as shown in the example above. Does having more colors strengthen the message your logo should portray? This is a question you should now be able to answer given the principles we've illustrated above.

Crafting Your Logo

If you’re ready to begin designing your logo, there are a number of great resources for learning how to use design applications like Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator. It can be expensive to buy these apps, but they’re tried-and-tested industry-standards that have been used for more than 20 years.

If you don't want to go with Adobe just yet, we recommend Sketch for Mac. It’s a lot easier on the wallet, yet still packs a punch by providing a slew of powerful tools for designing logos.

One of our favorite places to find great clipart alternatives is The Noun Project. There you can find thousands of finely-crafted icons and shapes to get you started. Many are free or very cheap to buy, and using custom artwork like this is a great way to set your logo apart from others.

If you’re looking for something a little easier to get started, our friends over at Squarespace built a neat tool that lets you design a logo with relative ease. You can choose from a bunch of different styles and shapes (from The Noun Project!), and further customize the logo by dragging elements around until they’re right where you want them. It’s free to download a small version of the logo, which you can then upload to your SchoolKeep school, or you can get a high-resolution version for just $10.

My awesome logo built with Squarespaces logo designerDesigning a logo is well worth the time and effort that goes into it. We hope these tips give you a decent starting point for making an awesome logo for your school. Don’t be afraid to jump in and experiment! Your future students will thank you.



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