Digital-first branding: Creating a flexible logo for online use

logo designer creating a flexible logo for online use
The fundamentals of good logo design haven’t changed much over the years. The best logos make sense for the business or organization they represent. They are uncomplicated, memorable, and versatile.

As recently as ten years ago, most companies were still doing a lot of their communicating offline. Think memos on letterhead, direct mail collateral, magazine ads, and other popular forms of print marketing.

The best logos worked when they were scaled to a variety of sizes, from thumbnails on business cards to jumbo-size on billboards. Logos had to look sharp and make an impact when converted to black and white for communications like faxes—remember those?

Things are a little bit different nowadays. Three out of ten adults report they’re almost always online, according to the Pew Research Center. Given this booming universal web usage, most marketing communications today are taking place on the Internet. Having a logo designed to work well on the Web is not just a “nice-to-have.” It’s essential.

Read on to learn more about how to create a flexible visual identity optimized for different uses online.

With modern logo design, web usage should be your priority

For companies, your logo is often one of the first things potential customers will see and shape their impression of your business. It’s crucial to create digital-first branding that gets it right, whether the application is in a retargeting ad graphic, website landing page, email signature, or product packaging.
“When a design is completed, it should seem natural and obvious. It should look like it has always been this way. And, it should last.”—Roger Black
This shift in how we primarily communicate means that logo designers have to think about all the different devices—and ways—people might interact with elements of a company’s brand identity online, from wordmarks and pictorial logos to abstract icons and emblems.
It remains critical to get a logo’s flexibility, boldness, and simplicity just right during the design process. Still, it’s also essential to think about how a logo might be animated, further simplified for use as a website’s favicon, or cropped when saved as a social media avatar.

Top considerations when designing a logo for online use

Today, designing a new logo without planning for its online applications is usually risky, often resulting in second-rate digital usage because of compromises that have to be made to “make it work.” But, there’s a better way.

Just as website designers now think through the mobile user experience at the start of a website redesign project, the best logo designers serve their clients by thinking digital-first—whether they’re refreshing existing brand elements or creating a whole new visual identity.

Digital-first branding must-haves

Use these must-haves to assess if your current visual identity assets meet modern usage needs.

Logo
  • Simplicity
  • Flexibility
  • Memorability
  • Appropriateness as the “face” of your business
Color Palette
  • Matches your logo
  • Aesthetically appealing
  • Accessibility (check contrast between values)
Typography
  • On-screen readability
  • Balancing the number of weights vs. loading time
  • Matches your logo
Photography
  • Distinctive
  • Matches your color palette
  • Flexibility (e.g., extreme crops and usage with text overlays)
Icons & Illustration
  • Matches your logo
  • Uses hues from your color palette
  • Scalable
  • Aesthetically appealing

Your visual branding foundation should be functional and fantastic

Does your logo look good? Does it look bad? How does it work cropped as an avatar on LinkedIn? How does it look when it’s converted to a favicon? Does it fit into your website design without overwhelming its top navigation? Does it complement your other digital brand elements, or does it feel discordant?

During the web logo design process, what works and what doesn’t is always subjective. Everyone will have an opinion, but the people you need to listen to are those in your target audience. A logo fails if it turns off your customers because it’s too complicated or doesn’t make sense.
It was supposed to be a joke, but...
Porsche updated its crest with a QR logo to show what it might look like if their company embraced digital-first branding
For April Fool’s Day in 2019, Porsche pulled a prank by announcing it would be integrating QR codes into its class crest.

Car aficionados who didn’t know it was gag were aghast at Porsche’s digital-first logo, but now in 2020—as our society becomes even more “touch-free” in light of the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak—the idea of updating your mark true so that it is true to your brand identity, as well as flexible and functional, is an idea worth thinking about more seriously.

Imagine if you could pull up a landing page with a car’s model information, statistics, and price just by scanning a QR code integrated into the manufacturer’s bumper adornment? Maybe revisiting using QR codes as part of your visual branding isn’t such a bad idea after all.
When you’re exploring options, ask yourself: does the relationship between this logo and your company’s service or product match the expectations of the audience you’re trying to reach? How does it help you meet your business needs and those of your target audience?

Though design and technical execution preferences are always subjective, the best logos for online use always create a sense of aesthetic joy. They are memorable because they’re executed flawlessly and solve a problem.

Case study: The University of Chicago

A versatile refresh maximizes impact

The University of Chicago has been one of the leading institutions in the world since its founding in 1890.

UChicago’s digital-first logo shield redesign
For 100 years, its iconic brand identity stayed—more or less—the same. Though the renowned research university has always been at the forefront of scientific and technological breakthroughs, their visual identity struggled to keep up with the demands of the Internet age, and its use looked little dated in digital applications. (Full disclosure: I should know. I spent a good part of my career there, and the struggle was real. Everyone was doing their own thing to make the brand work online, and the results were inconsistent.)

Things turned around in 2012 when the university unveiled its current brand identity guidelines. The crisp new look was rooted in the institution’s rich tradition but reinvented around contemporary needs and featured forward-thinking, updated visuals—finally meeting the varied needs of designers across campus.

The refreshed, digital-first brand assets were streamlined, finally making it easier to achieve greater consistency across the influential university’s multiple digital channels.

UChicago’s digital-first brand assets work well integrated into social media videos and in their appsUChicago’s digital-first brand assets work well integrated into social media videos and in their apps.

Case study: truTV

Bold typography plus playful animation = memorable branding


truTV’s digital-first logo goes to the next level using motion graphics
American cable and satellite television channel truTV rebranded in 2017, refreshed its new look in 2018, then further reworked its identity again in 2020 to play up the ethos of their original programming line-up. The new animated logo graphic treatments were designed to be flexible so they could work with—or without—footage from their shows.

The best logos adapt with changing business needs. Home to unique shows like At Home with Amy Sedaris and Hot Ones: The Game Show, truTV’s takes their visual brand one step further in support of their brand identity as a destination for fun, distinctive content.

Case study: Samsara

Simple yet distinctive mark strengthens company’s visual imprint


Samsara’s digital-first logo features a memorable owl mark
Founded in 2015, Samsara—a leader in Industrial IoT—entered the marketplace with a unique solution that required a unique brand.

Samsara chose a simple-yet-striking illustration of a wise owl motif for its mark to reinforce its reputation for providing tools to help companies increase the efficiency, safety, and sustainability of their operations.

Samsara’s design team has adapted this memorable icon successfully for every detail—big and small—in their digital marketing, from the company website’s favicon to their social media avatars.

Samsara’s digital-first branding makes an impact on its desktop and mobile websitesSamsara’s digital-first branding makes an impact on its desktop and mobile websites.

Case study: Baker Hill

Comprehensive digital-first brand assets supports company’s online marketing


TBH Creative helped Baker Hill create icons and refresh its logo and color palette to modernize its brand identity assets for more flexible digital use.

Their dynamic, cohesive, and comprehensive identity system is prioritizes working in a wide range of applications, both online and offline, by addressing the opportunities and challenges of consistent digital marketing.

Baker Hill’s comprehensive visual identity assets support its many digital applicationsBaker Hill’s comprehensive visual identity assets support its many digital applications.

Case study: King Arthur Baking Company

King Arthur’s digital-first logo features a bold wheat crown
Modern visual rebrand “doughs” right by beloved identity


This summer, the 230-years-old King Arthur Flour Company became King Arthur Baking Company as part of their rebrand to better represent who the company is today.

In addition to a new name, the oldest flour company in the United States unveiled a new logo, patterns, and other assets that “celebrate the brand’s commitment to baking” and support its reputation as products of superior quality.

Business goals aside, the new logo is also a great example of strategic, digital-first branding.

King Arthur’s updated visual identity includes flexible assets, like the new wheat crown iconKing Arthur’s digital-first rebranding includes new wheat crown icon, which they’ve already put to use in a playful, community-driven brand awareness social media campaign.

Need help developing new digital-first branding or refreshing your current visual identity for stronger application online? TBH Creative can help you avoid the pitfalls of the logo design process and help you create a suite of beautiful assets that will support your marketing goals, differentiate you from the competition, and delight your customers.

Ready to upgrade your marketing strategy? Let’s talk
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Joy

About the author | Joy Miller

Joy is the creative director at TBH Creative and uses her expertise to help clients use their online communications to build, design, and manage their brands. She likes to blog about content marketing in all its forms, the latest trends in digital marketing, and share tools with readers.

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