When is the right time for your organization to get a new logo? You might imagine that someone who does design for a living would answer, “Right now! Let’s get started!” But the truth is, you may not need a new logo. And there’s no prescribed lifespan for an organization’s identity. (Sadly, this is not the same for web sites, which need a refresh—if not a complete overhaul—every couple of years at least.) Instead, an identity is exactly as valuable as the work that it’s currently doing.

We all have our subjective favorites among the logos of the world, and aesthetics make up a big part of our conscious reactions. But truly good design is the design that’s effective—even if it’s not novel, trendy, or exciting. For nonprofits, the most important criteria by which a logo or identity should be judged are:

  • How uniquely and appropriately it represents your organization
  • How positive are the associations it creates in the minds of your audience
  • How much public-recognition value it has

[toggle title_open=”Design terminology: is it a logo, identity, mark or brand?” title_closed=”Design terminology: is it a logo, identity, mark or brand?” hide=”yes” border=”yes” style=”default” excerpt_length=”0″ read_more_text=”Read More” read_less_text=”Read Less” include_excerpt_html=”no”]

Sometimes these terms are used interchangeably, but there are subtle differences:

Logo: Simply put, a visual identifier. It may have different orientations, colors, and may or may not include your organization’s name. (It may also simply be a creative rendering of the name itself with no separate icon; this is called a logotype or wordmark.)

Identity: How your organization presents itself visually. This includes the logo, but also involves the fonts, colors, or other elements that keep your communications consistent.

Mark: A mark specifically refers to the unique graphical icon within the logo, sometimes exclusive of any typography. In Ideal Design’s case, the little blue bird is our mark. It can be used effectively without accompanying text, but only with care—and after the logo has gained some traction.

Branding: Your brand is your voice or personality: the way your audience experiences you. Branding represents the intangibles that surround an organization, which you can try to guide but which are only so much under your control. (Think of your most hated cable TV company: they might sink millions into branding, but if you associate them with bad experiences, they will likely never escape it.)

Many definitions exist on these terms, but I recommend Branding, Identity & Logo Design Explained by Jacob Cass for a good introduction.[/toggle]

When it’s definitely time for a change

NPCA before and after

NPCA’s old logo was no longer representative of their story, and had potentially confusing religious symbolism. Together with Whitmoyer, we gave them an energetic new identity, while embracing some of the familiar themes of the old logo.

Over time, even a wonderfully designed logo can begin to fail across one or more of the measures above, often due to unavoidable external circumstances. A logo is meant to speak for your organization. Is it saying the wrong thing?

The following are some good reasons to consider completely overhauling your logo:

  • Your organization’s mission/focus has changed
  • The logo no longer represent your institutional story or voice
  • There are negative values associated with the logo
  • The logo communicates something you’d rather it didn’t

When to proceed cautiously

Girl Scouts logo before and after

A great example of a logo refresh is the mark for Girl Scouts of the USA. The original (by design legend Saul Bass) was ubiquitous, elegant, and much loved. Yet, hairstyles do go out of style, and this one was looking a bit…‘70s. Design firm OCD gave it a subtle update that better relates to girls today.

If none of the above reasons apply, your logo could potentially be improved with minor updates. A good plan might involve a combination of tactics, including: refreshing the design of other communications; rethinking how the logo is used; standardizing various logos across the organization; and modernizing your logo, typefaces, or colors.

Good reasons to consider simply refreshing an existing logo or identity:

  • Your identity appears dated
  • The logo fades into the background when placed among your competitors
  • Your staff is excited about a new campaign or program and wants to bring that energy to all of  your communications
  • Your identity is inconsistent across your communications (for example, does your logo feature the full name, but your organization is more widely known by its acronym?)
  • Your old logo doesn’t work well on web applications or social media

Learning to love the one you’re with

Sometimes, everyone at an organization is just tired of the logo. Unfortunately, though, that may not be reason enough to change an identity that still has valuable associations for your audience. Making an unnecessary—or poorly planned—overhaul could create confusion, or worse, damage your authority among your constituents.

These are probably not sufficient reasons to change your logo:

  • Your logo’s been around for a long time
  • A new director has come on board and simply wants to make his or her mark
  • Your competitors have new logos and you’re worried that you need to follow suit

If there’s a great deal of internal negative energy around the identity, consider some of the refresh/update options listed above instead. Rebranding around the logo might strike a better balance between creating something new and maintaining assets that still have value. This might also be a great opportunity to invest resources in an exciting new identity for a specific program or campaign. That way, you can keep the equity of your brand, while allowing you to stretch into a new communications space.

Ultimately, the decision whether to keep, revise, or rethink your logo should be part of a larger conversation about your organization’s communications strategy. A professional graphic designer is an important part of this discussion, and can help guide you on the best path forward.