Don’t start a branding project with a logo

That title certainly caught your attention, didn’t it?

During my career working with clients, agencies, and partners, I have seen many cases where a brand designer proactively jump-starts a branding project with a logo design and cases where a client pressure the designer to start with a logo. While there are successful cases, the number of failed projects certainly proves that it’s never a good idea to start a branding project with a logo. But why exactly? In this article, as a brand designer, I will give you my reasons for disproving this approach and describe what I think should be the first step in a branding project.


Starting a branding project with a logo can lead to several drawbacks that compromise the effectiveness of the branding process. The true essence of a brand lies in the end-users' beliefs, perceptions, and connections with the business. By focusing solely on a logo, designers risk losing sight of the end-users' needs and may create aesthetics that appeal to them rather than reinforcing brand-user relationships. This approach also undermines the time allocated to develop other crucial brand elements, weakening the overall foundation. Furthermore, diverting attention to the logo can hinder meaningful discussions with the business owner and management board about broader brand strategies and internal coordination. Instead, designers should prioritize understanding the business and its end-users as the first step, aligning design decisions with the brand's essence and objectives. This approach ensures a more comprehensive and effective branding process beyond visual identity.

Why not start with a logo?

It makes you lose sight of the end-users.

Before I explain why you should not start a branding project with a logo, let us first revisit the definition of a brand.

The Dictionary of Brand (written by the great Marty Neumeier) defines a brand as “a person’s perception of a product, service, experience, or organization.” To rephrase it, a brand is a collective set of the end-users beliefs about a business. This set of beliefs consists of many aspects, from the perceived appearance and attitude to philosophical recognition. Therefore, to successfully create a brand, a branding project must seek to build or reinforce such beliefs among the end-users.

Jumping head-first into designing a logo could easily make you, a brand designer, lose sight of the end-users. In the pursuit of beauty, it’s not difficult for designers to stray away from the project’s ultimate goal, which is to build a brand that connects the business to its users, to create what they think is cool. As a result, they may create an aesthetically appealing logo or brand that speaks to the wrong audience, damaging the business and worsening the designer-client relationship.

It derives you of your time.

As stated previously, a brand is a set of beliefs among the end-users. A logo, therefore, does not fully represent a brand. Functionally speaking, a logo serves as one of the many identifiers and as one of the first points of contact for the brand, helping to signal the brand’s existence to end-users. Once the end-users have become aware of the brand’s existence, other elements such as the products and services become the primary means of conveying and reinforcing the brand. This doesn’t mean that a logo ends its function after the first stage in a customer’s journey. It just means that a logo is only as important as other elements.

Going back to a branding project, by diving into the logo as the first step, you run the risk of being unable to spend sufficient time to develop other aspects of the brand, leading to building a weak foundation for it. It goes without saying that without a sufficiently developed foundation, it is almost impossible to build a strong brand image among the end-users.

It leads the business owner’s attention astray.

Jumping head-first into designing the logo could also diverge the business owner’s attention, harming the brand as a result.

A branding project consists of internal and external aspects. While the visual identity, which includes the logo, plays a key role in external branding, so do customer-relationship management and other marketing efforts. On the other hand, activities that a brand designer usually does not come into contact with, such as internal employee training and management or business strategy development and execution, play a vital role in the internal aspects of a branding project.

As a result, for a branding project to be successful, it’s necessary for you, as a designer, to earn the understanding and cooperation of all departments within your client’s organization. Of these departments, it’s not exaggerated to say that the management board, which usually includes the business owner, holds an immense impact. With the support from the business’s management board, although indirectly, a brand designer can coordinate the efforts and redirect the company to work toward building and maintaining a unified brand image, an important goal to ensure the brand you’ve built can be managed after the branding project has been completed. By over-focusing on the logo at the start of the project, you risk leading the business owner‘s and the management board’s attention astray. While discussing what an ideal logo should look like is essential, such a discussion shouldn’t be the central focus of your meetings. Instead, a discussion on how the management board could convey their vision of the brand internally or a discussion on how the board can continue to build and expand the brand in the future takes priority. Without these vital discussions, a brand could quickly fail after its initial activation.

Then, what should I start with?

The short answer? Understanding the business and its end-users.

Now, I know that this sounds like a no-brainer to some, but hear me out. From my experience, although trivial, many designers and even small- to mid-scale agencies tend to skip this important step.

When starting a branding project, as a brand designer, you should always begin by seeking to understand the business and its end-users regardless of the project’s scale. What is the business about? What differentiates it from others? What is the business’s vision for the future? Who are the end-users? What trends do they follow? What topics do they pay attention to? And so on. These questions and their answers will provide you with more precise insights into the direction of the business, the gap in communication between the business and its end-users, and the threats and opportunities that you could exploit to ensure your project’s success. These insights will also help shape the direction of your design, minimizing the risk of reworking.

Don’t overthink this step, and don’t be anxious that doing this will take too much time out of the project. For a small-scale business, an afternoon meeting with the business owner for some deep-dive discussions and some observations will be more than enough to help you answer these questions. A workshop spanning over a day or two with managers and the management board will be sufficient for a mid-scale company. And for a large-scale enterprise, believe me, they won’t mind it even if you take months to conduct research.

Some last words

Let me repeat my title again: Don’t start a branding project with a logo. Instead, begin with seeking to understand the business and its end-users. Don’t be tempted to start right away with a logo only for the sake of producing short-term results. If the client pressures you to do it this way, remember that you are the designer and that you can always consult and explain why it’s not a suitable method.

Now, go out there. Your next project is awaiting.

Published on
June 9, 2022