Ever see a logo for a brand and feel like you’ve seen it before, but for someone else? You’ve probably just come across a generic logo—a cliché in the logo game—a been-there-done-that, uninspired graphic that isn’t doing much for the brand it represents. Chances are, you’ve seen this a lot.
Logos are more than just an image and some text. A logo is the face of an entire brand, which means that an unoriginal, overused logo design signals to potential customers that a brand is also unoriginal. In today’s crowded marketplace, why would people want to give business to a brand that feels generic? A customer may take his or her business somewhere else, solely based on the image that the brand puts forth. For a brand who wants to attract customers and stand out from the competition, a compelling logo design is the first opportunity to send the right messaging out into the world.
What is a generic logo?
Generic logos feature design elements that have been used so many times, they no longer feel like original creations. Some of these common, overused logos are easy to spot—think anything that looks like old Microsoft Clip Art. But others are less obvious to the untrained eye. Fear not! We’ve rounded up the most overused logo design concepts so you can learn how to avoid them.
We the people, not V the people
The V-Man, or the instantly recognizable abstract, gender-neutral humanoid, has been used across a variety of industries, from social media to service oriented businesses. While it’s great in theory—all customers are humans, and customers who are excited about your brand are the best—the V-man is devoid of originality.
Sometimes the V-man comes alone, and sometimes he travels in a pack. One of his favorite ways to travel is in a ring.
Globe logos are not always worldly
The globe is a “tale as old as time” in the logo world. Companies latch onto the idea of wanting to represent themselves as global and end up using such an overused symbol that they appear dated.
Graph logos usually don’t point up
A graph that goes up and to the right means you’re successful. A graph logo, on the other hand, is a concept so common it has lost it’s meaning. It doesn’t show anything unique or different about your business.
Generic wordmarks and lettermarks don’t say anything
A wordmark or lettermark logo can be an elegant way to brand your business. However, some of them have been done so many times that they are completely unmemorable. Any logo with your name or initials should say something about your business. Make sure it says you’re unique.
Generic logos by industry
In addition to the above concepts, there are some overused concepts that are unique to specific industries. Here’s a collection of the designs to avoid if you want to stand out from your competitors.
Accounting, finance and business consulting
Finance industry logos tend to involve the company’s initials arranged with a geometric shape.
Generic real estate logos focus on—you guessed it—real estate. Specifically, they like to feature rooflines and shapes that could look like buildings or a skyline.
Computer, internet, technology and communications
Have you ever done a Google Image search for “the internet?” It returns a lot of globes, lines that symbolize connectivity and other images that harken back to a 1990s era hacker movie. Not surprisingly, technology companies gravitate towards these image concepts when trying to illustrate their own non-tangible businesses. And they end up looking common and incomprehensible.
Shopping involves money, price tags and carts! Not surprisingly, these are the images that make it into overused retail logos, as well.
Medical, health and pharmaceutical
There are several universally understood symbols in the medical profession. These are great for communicating type of business (and were originally designed so that it was easy to recognize a doctor or apothecary even if you couldn’t read). The problem with something universal, however, is that using it makes it hard to stand out.
Generic automotive logos use emblems (often within circles, and featuring a surprising number of wings considering flying cars are still a thing of the future) and abstract car shapes.
Hey, what do dentists do? They clean your teeth! What does a generic dental logo look like? A clipart image of a tooth!
Environmentalists love trees. And water. And the earth. It’s not surprising that these images show up in the most overused environmental logos. Bonus points for when you build a tree with a V-man trunk!
Don’t see your industry above?
Try doing a Google Image search for your business type + logos. A quick scroll down the page will help you easily identify what are common logo images among your competitors.
Tips for creating a unique logo
Understanding what not to do for your business is a great first step. But it’s also important to know what you should be doing to create a compelling logo for your brand.
Keep it simple, but unique
A good logo is one that isn’t overly designed, but still conveys a message when people see it. Instead of basing the logo design on basic (simple) shapes—which are often overused and generic—a successful logo taps into the underlying qualities that the brand is trying to express.
If having the best customer service is integral to your brand, reconsider the V-Man from above. Instead of reusing that overdone humanoid shape, can a more distinctive take on that idea help convey your message of great customer service to new clients?
Tell your special story
In the same way that you want your logo to stand apart from the competition, it’s important to remember the ways in which your brand already does this. Keeping your brand’s mission statement or distinctive details about your company at the front of your mind—and your designer’s mind—will help keep logo design centered around the concept of your business, rather than a generic version.
For example, “I own a coffee shop” won’t take you nearly as far as “I own a coffee shop that was opened by my aunt in the 1960s and maintains the look and feel of the original, beat-generation-inspired shop.” There are more possibilities to expand on the story in that second, richer brand story.
It’s important to note that it is possible to create a good, unique logo with common concepts, as long as you find what’s unique in your business and translate that into a visual image. There will always be toothy dental logos and tree-loving environmental logos, but there are ways to give these symbolic images a new life and highlight what makes your particular practice unique.
Give it the scroll test
If your logo design is a potential customer’s first glimpse into your brand, it’s important that your logo attracts them to your business, rather than deters them. Think about a Google Image search for logos in your industry. How many of those would you quickly scroll past? So much clip art, so little time!
You want to make sure that your logo inspires people to pause and reflect. A well-designed logo is not just an aesthetically pleasing graphic, but it’s also the key to winning new business. When shopping, consumers are faced with a lot of different options, and it’s critical for a business to stand out in such a crowded marketplace.
Ready to stand out from the crowd? Get a custom logo design for your business.
This article was originally published in 2011. The current version has been updated with new information and examples.