If you’re thinking about getting yourself a new logo, you might be looking for some inspiration, or a general idea of “what the kids like these days.” Whether it was Google, a link from a friend, or fate that brought you here, no worries. I’ve got you.
I’ve been a web designer since I was fifteen – so, as you can imagine, I spend a lot of time on the internet. These past few weeks, I’ve spent a large part of that time digging through recent logo trends. My findings are a result of recent research, and general observations made throughout the past year.
Whether you’re planning on having a new logo created this year or you’re just here to keep up with current trends, read on to find out what’s hot and what’s not in the world of logo design.
A Couple of Notes before We Go On
These important notes might enhance your enjoyment of the article overall, and ease my troubled designer conscience. You’ll see what I mean.
First, a lot of these trends are going to overlap, and can even be combined, in some cases. Any good design is based on tried-and-tested principles, with a splash of the designer’s own personality and skills. This means you’re going to see some similar logos across multiple categories. That’s normal.
Second, all logos – unless otherwise specified – were found on Logopond.com.
Third, if you ask the best designers in the world, “Which trends should I be looking at?”, most will say something like, “Why on earth are you following trends? Please don’t do that!” Mostly, they’re right. You don’t want a logo that looks like all the rest.
This list of trends is not a guide to blindly follow through this confusing world. I’m an opinionated nerd, not a guru. Use this list as a starting point, if you like… a source of inspiration. For that matter, you could use it as a list of things to avoid for the next year, though you might not be left with too many options if you avoid all of them.
Just… for the love of all that is holy and good in the world, don’t follow trends blindly. Choose an aesthetic that fits your company, your goals, and even your personality. With that rant out of the way, the yapping chihuahua that is my conscience can go do something else. On to the trends!
3D and Pseudo-3D Effects
Man, here’s a throwback to the ‘90s and early ‘00s. Remember when every other website logo was a 3D-rendered planet? For a while, trends swung toward the opposite end of the spectrum, and everything was “flat.” Don’t get me wrong, I do like flat design to an extent, but I’m glad that the design community no longer feels like it’s mandatory.
In recent years, we’ve seen a growing movement that’s bringing back 3D graphics and pseudo-3D graphics alike. Like any design technique, it won’t be right for every brand, but it’s certainly an option, and I don’t see this trend stopping any time soon.
In my personal opinion, actual 3D graphics are a good fit for tech brands in general, and any brand that’s going to be using their logo in motion graphics. 3D graphics and animation go hand-in-hand, as they have ever since the former was invented. Pseudo-3D graphics can work for just about any brand. Go nuts!
This… this is less of a design trend, and more like a plain-old good idea that’s finally taken root, especially in this age of mobile devices.
Sometimes called flexible branding, or responsive logos, it’s simply the idea that sometimes, a logo will look good in one context, but not quite right in another. For example, if you want to use the Twitter logo, their press kit provides a blue version, and a version to be used in monochrome (black and white) contexts.
Taking this further, it’s sometimes a good idea to actually change the shape of a logo to make it look better when displayed at smaller sizes. Or you might have one version for print media, and another for digital media.
Here’s an example: I ran a long, long contest for Website Planet to see which of the major logo design services were the best/worst, and get a new logo designed for the site (read more about my experiences in my full logo design service comparison). When I was reviewing Designhill, I had the designer make two versions of the logo concept I liked best: one for larger sizes, and one for smaller.
In the image above, you’ll see how the size of the rocket changes relative to everything else. The rocket lines up with everything else better in the first version, but the second doesn’t lose as much detail when you make it small. While this design didn’t win the contest, it’s a great example of an adaptive logo. (For more information, read my in-depth DesignHill review.)
Full disclosure: I addressed this concept last year, too. This trend isn’t over, though, and I hope it never will be. It’s just too useful.
Art and design have a few things in common, but most notably they’re intended to evoke emotion. With art, the specific emotion felt is left to the beholder. With design, you’re trying to evoke specific emotions. Plenty of brands attempt to evoke trust, excitement, nostalgia, hunger, or that pleasantly sinful feeling you get when you partake in something that’s luxurious. Other brands are more ambitious: they aim straight for the heart.
There’s been a surge in brands that attempt to look cute, or make you laugh, or straight up evoke “happiness.” This style of design was once relegated to brands aimed at children and parents, but has since been applied to almost every industry. What can I say? More and more of us want to be children at heart for as long as we can manage.
One warning: this style tends to feature more elaborate illustration and typography design. As such, it can lose detail at smaller sizes. If you want a logo like this, you may want to embrace an adaptive logo design, like I mentioned above.
Pro Tip: Wondering which fonts to use for your logo? Our list of the best free fonts for designers has over 70 fonts in any style you can think of – and they’re all free for commercial use as well as personal use.
Here’s another trend that’s still around from last year… and it’s never going away. Let’s be real. There will always be a market for things that look bespoke, and handmade. There’s something about a hand-drawn style that conveys a sense of uniqueness that’s hard to replicate with any other design technique.
Somewhat counterintuitively, the appeal of this style is in the “imperfections.” Now, you can program a computer to generate graphics that seem semi-randomized, and thus more “human-made,” sure. It’s been done with some success. But there’s something about the way humans transfer their ideas to paper (or tablets, these days) that’s very hard to imitate.
The personal touch helps to create a sense of intimacy and connection to another human being. And that’s something most people want, really: to deal with other people. People can be reasoned with, and are more likely to understand you, the customer. A cold, faceless “business” can be harder to contend with.
I’m not saying every logo should look handmade. Sometimes, more stolid, subdued branding is exactly what you want for your business, especially when marketing yourself to other businesses. But the handmade look is hard to beat for brands centered around creativity and personal attention to customers.
Mascot logos are as old as… well… logos. They saw a particular rise in use during the early days of the web, and again (very briefly) during the Web 2.0 era. They (almost) disappeared for a while, and now here they are once more. And who do we have to blame thank for this? In part, it’s actually thanks to gamers.
Major esports teams have embraced mascots, much like the physical sports teams that came before them, but they’re hardly alone. Some of the world’s most famous individual gamers also have mascots, including Tyler “Ninja” Blevins. I mean, he’s been on conventional TV, that’s how big his brand is.
Mascots tend to overlap with the amusing/funny/adorable category I mentioned above, but are also used to portray confidence, aggression, and competitive spirit. Because mascots often have faces with recognizable, human-like expressions, they’re uniquely able to represent brands in a very… well… human fashion.
It’s a technique that goes back a long way, and isn’t just used in logos. Think of Rosie the Riveter, and other US wartime propaganda from the mid-1900s. Think of almost every political cartoon. Putting a human (or humanoid) face on a concept is eye-catching and easily interpreted, and those are both useful in a logo.
Ornate logos tend to border on being retro, but they still belong to their own unique aesthetic style. Simply put, these logos are intentionally designed to be complex, in order to inspire an image of luxury, and… well… expense.
It’s a style steeped in tradition and goes way back to when only rich people could afford anything that was stylized, highly decorative, and (in the parlance of kids these days) very “extra.”
After several decades of luxury brands embracing minimalism, there’s been a small upswing in the number of brands returning to the classics. My personal opinion on this can be summarized with a shrug. If you feel opulence best describes the image you want to go for, do it.
A word of caution: This style doesn’t always work for logos, especially if viewed at smaller sizes. The inherent complexity of the style means that, in many cases, details will be lost. There’s a reason these are often used on item labels and packaging more than anything else.
Again, using an adaptive logo is probably best. For example, you could use the full, fancy version of your logo on product packaging, and just use the actual typography in your website header, minus all the frills.
This is an old trend that’s still going strong, and it’s one of my favorites, if I’m honest. Unlike purely abstract logos, which use completely meaningless shapes to differentiate themselves in a technical, copyright-compliant sort of way, pseudo-abstract designs are still recognizable as objects or concepts. They’re just… stripped down to their essence, if you will.
It’s a combination of minimalism and symbolism that just tickles my fancy. A traditional illustrated logo mark might tell you what a company does, but one that’s more abstract can tell you a lot about a company’s culture and personality. Or, you know, the culture and personality they want to publically project, anyway.
My favorite examples of this style are the “fotogenio” and “lovemusic” logos above. The combination of shapes used in the logo marks is used to display two separate concepts at a time, combining “what they do” with “how they do it.”
Here’s one more trend that’s coming back from last year’s edition of this article. Well, sort of… Last time, I talked about logos that were distinctly styled after ‘90s tech logos. Since then, the market for retro logos from all eras has expanded. That’s right, nostalgia isn’t just for hipsters anymore.
Look around, and you’ll find logo styles from almost every era, starting around the 1800s. Now, there’s a particular market for ‘80s graphics at the moment, thanks to Stranger Things and every other show and documentary that’s aimed at those who spent their childhoods growing up with Madonna and He-man. This particular trend has a limited shelf-life, though.
The real advantage of intentionally retro designs is that they are, in a sense, “timeless.” Since they purposely make no effort to keep up with modern trends, they rarely need to be changed or altered in any way. So, if your business deals in retro-futurist ideas, then hey, maybe an ‘80s-style logo would be perfect for you. Then again, you might go for that ‘50s-’60s futurist style, when all the cool cars had fins.
You might adopt that sort of “stamp” look, like the brands used on old shipping crates. It’s a style used a lot by coffee companies, but you don’t have to sell coffee to embrace a style that evokes a sense of legacy, and history.
Or, you could always have a more modern logo like the “Software Nanny” example in the screenshot above, but incorporate one or two retro-themed elements.
The term “retro” covers a wide variety of eras and styles, which is why this section has been so darned long, and it’s a flexible concept. Explore the ideas here, and make sure you know exactly what kind of retro you want before you talk to any designers. Trust me, it’ll cost less.
Here’s another comeback from the early ‘00s, also known as the age of Web 2.0. For developers, Web 2.0 meant the proliferation of social media, and integrating social media into almost every other website. For UI designers, it meant making everything super shiny. Frankly, it got taken a bit too far, and the anti-shiny backlash hit at the same time skeuomorphism became a dirty word.
Context: skeuomorphism is when you make digital interfaces look (and sometimes act) a bit like real physical objects. Remember when half the iOS apps had leather textures somewhere in their UI? Kind of like that.
While physical-looking textures are still largely unwelcome in the design world, shiny-looking objects are back and here to stay. What can I say? Human beings are like proverbial crows: we like shiny things. Is the shiny look right for your brand? Well… that depends on just how ostentatious you want to be.
Logos with Thin Lines
There’s a lot to be said for logos that feel brash, bold, and solid. Even so, we’ve been steadily seeing more and more logos characterized by lighter, thinner lines for a decade now, if not more. Thinner lines have traditionally been associated with luxury, elegance, and sophistication. Heck, there’s a long-standing association between things that look fragile, and things that are very, very expensive.
In more recent years, thin lines have also become a staple of simple, minimalist design. They’re used in tech brands, general business brands (where solid-looking logos once reigned supreme), and all sorts of retail brands. For some reason, thin sans-serif type is also associated with romance, particularly the romantic comedy. Your deity of choice only knows why.
Due to the drastic differences in the ways logos are displayed in print, and on different-sized screens, this is one more trend you’ll definitely want to combine with adaptive branding.
Trends Come, Trends Go
In case you skipped my notes at the start, I just want to quickly reiterate that trends should not be followed just because they’re popular. Are we clear on that? Good. On to a personal observation:
For the first decade of my design career, I saw the online design community swing from one extreme to the other. Repeatedly. Shiny then flat, small then big, complex then minimalist, and back again. While the traditional, print design community has largely had their act together for a century or so, this new breed of multimedia-trained designers struggled to find its feet.
In recent years, that’s changed dramatically, as standards have been developed and taught, and designers have learned from the past, as well as their own mistakes. The trends I’ve seen this year, and in the previous few years, are increasingly diverse. There’s a sense of balance between all kinds of design styles that wasn’t there before. It’s an improvement, and one that was long due.
As aesthetic styles and schools of design become more established on the web, I honestly don’t know how much longer it will make sense to write about “trends” in the way we do now. I only hope that what you’ve read and seen here will inspire you, and get you thinking about the right logo for you.
Once you have an idea of what you want, take a look at our logo design service reviews. We have loads. I should know, I spent a lot of time writing them.
- Wordmarks: Logos made up of typography alone, with no icon or visual
- Lettermarks: These logos are typically made up of one or two letters.
- Combination logos: Possibly the most popular type, these logos are made of a combination of icon and typography.
- Pictorial icons: These logos feature an easily recognizable icon or image.
- Abstract icons: These feature a shape or other abstract form.
- Emblem logos: Typically shield- or oval-shaped.
- Mascot logos: Possibly the most detailed of the bunch, these logos feature a character.