Many small businesses have inherited a logo from "back in the day," when nobody had time to really put together something proper. It stuck around and managed to survive. But is your logo still working for you and performing its primary function—building recognition? When placed on your marketing collateral, does it really represent your company's identity?

Whether you've never had a logo developed or you just have that doubt in the back of your head that your logo isn't everything it could be, the following five rules for your brand can help guide the process of creating or updating your logo.

1. The Right Fit

Is your logo appropriate for you and your industry? Some industries have a theme in terms of logos; if you're not in step with the rest of the crowd, you could get left behind. For example, in the restaurant and brewery industries, a crest logo is very common. In the graphic design industry, it's becoming more common to see characters as part of a logo or brand scheme.

Take some time to study your competition and see generally what they're doing. You can also study common trends for logo design to give you an idea of what seems to be working well.

That's not to say you have to fall in step. In fact, maybe you should do something completely different in order to stand out. But make the decision based on information and research.

2. Simplicity

Generally speaking, a logo should be very simple. Remember, the goal is to build brand recognition. Your logo sums up who you are in a single image. Creating a simple graphic can be very difficult, but it's critical to keep the design as basic as possible. Complex images are less likely to be recalled later, so keep the logo bare-bones. Keep in mind, too, that a simple logo reproduces much more neatly to different sizes. You want your logo to look the same whether you use it on postcards or on your website—or on a billboard ad.

3. Avoiding Special Effects

The temptation to add drop shadows, gradients, and other embellishments is very strong, but you must resist! Of course there are always exceptions to this and every other rule, but in keeping with the idea that the logo should be simple, avoid these extra effects.

In the past, logos were displayed only in very controlled environments—letterhead, company-made banners, billboards, and the like. Today, though, your logo can end up just about anywhere. Complex elements don't always translate well from a printed advertisement to your website. Better to leave the special effects to the movies.

4. Color Connections

Colors carry meaning (and they can vary by culture). A little research can help you decide which colors may best suit your brand. If you've already got an established brand color scheme, make sure your logo ties into it well.

Keep the color selection down to 2-4 colors, if at all possible. If your brand is entirely online, this may not be an important consideration, since your logo will almost always be displayed in full color. But, for example, if you intend to advertise in various formats and media, it's better to keep the color scheme basic.

5. Functional Big and Small

How does your logo look when it's blown up to the size of a house? Now what happens when it's printed on the corner of your letterhead and you're looking at it from across the room? Can you still tell it's your logo? That's an important test for determining whether your logo will function in all the potential places it may be used. As noted earlier, just because it looks good on screen doesn't mean it will translate into a recognizable logo when it's very large, or small, when printed.

Brand Guidelines

Make sure that you develop some guidelines for the use of your logo. Examples include the exact color swatches you used in the design, how much space to keep around the borders of your logo, and various file formats so others can use high-quality versions.

Brand guidelines can go far beyond these details, but having even these basic pieces of information available means that your logo will be used more consistently. More consistent usage means customers are more likely to remember your brand.

Making the Change a Big Deal

If you do make a change to your logo, or roll out a new one, make an event out of it! Press releases and even a companywide event are great ways to build awareness of your brand change with clients and employees. If the change is significant—if your logo was completely redesigned—then letting the world know becomes all the more important. Pinterest is one of the best social media sites for such announcements.

And Finally...

Of course, with a new logo, you will also have to create new marketing collateral, promotional materials, letterhead, business cards, and so on.

One way to cut costs, get lots of designs to choose from, and engage the public is by crowdsourcing your new designs. Use your website or social media accounts to announce a crowdsource contest. You can also create your own designs in house, for example using design templates for business cards and postcards.

One last tip: making changes to your logo is a very big deal since it's so closely connected to your brand. Therefore, make certain that a change is actually needed before going through the process. You may even want to test out a redesign with your customers.

The point of revamping your logo is to increase recognition or eliminate a dated look; if those considerations don't apply to your logo, then don't change it.

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image of Tara Hornor

Tara Hornor writes for, an online printing company offering flyers, brochures, business cards, posters, postcards, and more print media.

Twitter: @TaraHornor