Monolithic Design


"...(of an organization or system) large, powerful, and intractably indivisible and uniform."

Before looking at the actual process you might apply to when creating a logo, monogram, or other singular, high contrast iamge let's stop and think about what actaully makes a good design.

The first and primary factor that you'll always need to consider is that, with logos specifically, you are designing an image that will have multiple uses in unknown environments. Unlike other forms of art, such as drawing, painting, or layout design, you can not be sure if you've got the complete attention of any given viewer. With a painting we can presume that we have the viewer's attention, create the composition around this presumption, and chance including more subtle elements that take time and thought to appreciate.

This won't be the case for logos to be used by businesses, sports teams, or any other organization. The whole point of a logo is that it represents a complex idea or group of people in an easily recognizable and effecient manner.

For instance let's look at two factors to be considered with basic logo design; proxmity and motion.

Let's look at an example of variable proximity first. Scroll down and look at the following images. Try and see if you can identify them. First with a glance, then by looking close if need be. When you are ready scroll down even further to see the same logos at a more recognizable scale.

The same images enlarged.

As you can see now that the images are larger, both of the logos belong to Apple Computers. The first the modern version, the second is the little used "Newton Crest" from 1976.

What this comparison shows is the importance of considering the design of your logo from a distance. In this case the simplified Apple logo is much more recognizable since it is comprised of a round shape with a round chunk missing and an oval-like leaf at the top.

It doesn't have the benefit of the actual title in the name but that's another considertion altogether.

Let's look at another example. This time one involving motion.

Again let's look at two logos, this time at a normal size. Again try and see if you can identify the company inolved before scrolling down to see the umodified version.

The same images without motion blur. On the left is the classic "full eagle" logo used from 1970 to 1993, and the newer logo adopted at that time.

What this example shows is the importance of clarity during motion. All too many graphic designers of commerical logos don't take into account that very few logos will, on average, be seen with the viewers complete and still attention. It's not uncommon to see a logo on a billboard going by at 70 MPH, or on a vehicle while you are on foot, or even just by those with an extra spring in their step.

So while it may not be exactly "realistic" to see such motion blur it's important to visualize a logo in motion.

In the case of the USPS logo above take note of how the new logo has more horizontal movement than vertical. It's quite possible that the designer of this logo took into account the possiblity of a moving environment (a mail truck) and decided upon horizontal lines because they are less likely to be lost during horizontal movement (whereas vertical lines would be quickly covered by the blue areas surrounding them).

Notice how the older logo, with no predominant horizontal lines, loses its form faster. The only purely horizontal lines is the pair of red strokes and they do not necessarily contribute to the actual symbol of the company - the eagle.


As with any creative process it can be very beneficial to make low quality versions of a product to see if you like them. Whether you call it concept art, thumbnails, or pre-visualizations, it helps test out different versions and actually see them with your own eyes before you decide whether a particular idea is good or not. Even if you're fairly sure what you want.

Want to make a logo depicting a cat? Fine, but what kind? Long hair, short hair, curled tail, straight tail, ears forward, ears back, whiskers visible, or not. Each of these seemingly small things can have a very noticeable affect on the readability or emotions evoked by your image.

Many new designers will think too much of the thumbnailing process. Especially in a class room setting there is an expectation that everything you touch should be of a good quality. In actuality the secret to a good thumbnail is the lack of quality, not neceassarily in the final product, but in the goal. Thumbnails should be messy and look as if they were done quickly.

The Process

Once you've decided to move to a computer to start actual production on the design. Be aware that almost all designs should be completed using vector tools and will not be raster-based images. Why will become more clear as we go.

A preliminary comp is a semi developed idea using the techniques of a final version but not the quality.

Even if and when a particular thumbnail has been chosen as a target goal it still may not be best to begin production on a finalized version. Sometimes a "preliminary comp" (composite, sometimes "composition") may be called for, either by a boss who wants different vairations on a more finished design to choose from, or simply for your own sake when two early thumbnails stood out as strong candidates.

A final comp is the culmination of the design and tweaking process.

If including such a step in your workflow it's important to dedicate your time to the elements that matter. Preliminary drafts should consider actual image features and not be about fine tuning. How many tuffs of hair a cartoon character should have or the number of branches on a logo depicting a tree are questions to find the answers to during preliminary stages. If you are moving individual points of a vector graphic by only a few pixels at a time then you should be in production of your final design.