How we built Outpost, part 3Editor’s note: We’re launching a new product, and we want to take you along for the ride. So, we’re pulling back the curtain to give an inside look at what really goes on behind the scenes of building and launching something new.

After you’re finished reading this article, make sure to read all about how we launched our new producthow we decided on a name, and the strategies we used to create our sales forecast.

If you’ve been following some of my other blog posts, you’ll know that we’re in the process of launching a new email product called Outpost. I’ve been documenting the process, talking about how we discovered that there was a need for it, and how Outpost got its name.

Today, I’m going to talk how we developed the logo for Outpost.

Don’t worry, this post isn’t just for designers, and doesn’t require that you run out and buy Photoshop. Instead, I’m going to walk you through a process that can work for anyone, regardless of design experience. It’s the process we used ourselves to find a designer and develop our logo. It worked for us, and it should work for you, too.

Start with a creative brief

As tempting as it might be to run out and start looking at designer portfolios to find a style you like, it’s much more efficient and effective to start with a written description of what you need.

It’s called a “creative brief” and it’s the critical first step in the design process.

A creative brief is a document that you can give to a designer to communicate what you’re looking for in a design. It packages everything that you know about your company (or product) into a meaningful, two to four page document that will help guide them.

Creative briefs should be as short and concise as possible. You want your designer to read it completely rather than skim it—and potentially miss important things.

Fortunately, through our naming process for Outpost and the market research we’d done, most of the information that we needed to write down for our designer was already at hand. If that’s not the case for you, don’t worry. You can easily start here, at the creative brief stage, and create what you need as you go.

Let’s dive in and look at what’s in a creative brief.

The creative brief template we used to get the logo we wanted

Each section of a creative brief is designed to help you think about what you want from your logo and to help guide your designer. Of course, you may decide to add or delete sections—that’s fine. After all, this document just needs to work for you and your designer to get you the results you need. It doesn’t have to be the same for every company.

Throughout this creative brief template, I’m going to refer to “your company,” but you could easily use this template to build a creative brief for a product or service logo, too.

A step-by-step creative brief template:

1. What is [your company name]?

Start with a simple, one or two sentence description of your company. What do you do? Try to make your answer as short and concise as you can.

A great way to think about this question is to imagine yourself at a dinner party and another guest asks you what your company does. How would you describe the company without going into incredible detail?

Here’s what we said about our new product, Outpost:

Outpost is a team email inbox for small and growing businesses. With Outpost, everyone can respond to customer email from the same inbox, without stepping on each other’s toes.

2. Your value statement

Your value statement is really just an expanded version of the short description that you just completed. Here’s a formula for your value statement:

If you think it’s hard to [insert the problem your company solves], then you should try [your solution] which lets [value—why your customers will pay for your service].

I’ve gone into a lot more detail on how to craft a value statement in a previous post, so instead of repeating that info here, go ahead and check that post out.

Here’s the value statement for Outpost:

If you think it’s hard to manage info@ and sales@ emails with a single email account, and customers sometimes get the wrong response or no response at all, you should try a collaborative team email management tool like Outpost, which lets everyone work in the same inbox without stepping on each other’s toes and makes sure customers get better support with fewer headaches.

3. Your competition

List your competition here. You don’t need to include everyone you might be competing with, but at least include your top three competitors.

This is important for designers because they’ll want to see how the logo they design will stand out from the competition. Also, you don’t want to accidentally end up with a logo that looks too much like the competition, so sharing this list will ensure that designers stay away from a particular style.

For Outpost, some of our competitors aren’t direct competitors, but the tools our potential customers are using to solve their problem today.

In Outpost’s case, these are tools like Gmail, Outlook, and other regular email systems.

4. How you’re different than the competition

List a few bullet points that describe your key differentiators from the competition. This is important because it will help your designer better understand how your brand stands apart from others that are out there.

Don’t focus so much on feature differentiation here. Instead, describe how you expect your brand experience to be different. Will customers have a different feeling when they buy from your company? Are you targeting a different audience than the competition?

Here’s how we described Outpost’s differences:

  • It’s for regular, “main street” small businesses, not tech startups.
  • It’s lightweight and easy to set up. You won’t pay for features you’ll never use.
  • Outpost is focused on doing one thing really well: eliminating the hassle of shared inboxes. It doesn’t try to do everything.

For your company, you might be different than the competition because of price, value, features, or any number of things. Think about how you want to stand out from the pack in this section.

5. Your customer persona

A persona is a fictional character that is your ideal customer. A persona description describes this fictional person in detail: where they’re from, age, gender, hobbies, goals, motivations, and so on.

Companies often have multiple personas that they’re hoping to market to, but for the process of building a creative brief, you’ll want to narrow it down to just a couple of personas. Ideally, you can focus on one core persona that represents your ideal, perfect customer, but it’s O.K. if you need to include two. I wouldn’t include more than three personas, though, as that can just make your target audience too broad. When you’re trying to appeal to everyone, it’s difficult to make your brand appeal to anyone.

I’ve written about creating a persona if you need to create one. For your creative brief, you really just need a quick summary of your persona, so don’t let this step slow you down too much.

Outpost’s main persona is Nicole. She owns a well-established vacation rental management business in Wilmington, North Carolina. There are a lot of additional details about Nicole, but it’s just too much to include in this post.

6. Your brand personality

If your brand was a person, who would they be? What would their key attributes be?

In this section, take a few minutes to describe who your brand is and what they’re like. Your brand could be a friendly professor, or that friend who’s always up for anything. Maybe your brand has a sense of humor and talks like a California surfer.

Our product, Outpost, is like your neighborhood barber. He’s friendly, honest, and isn’t afraid to tell it like it is. He’s not going to try and push a bunch of extra products on you (like those fancy salons do). You either need a haircut or you don’t—that’s all there is to it.

This section of your creative brief helps designers understand the personality that your logo should communicate to your customers. If you need a corporate and serious presentation because you’re a law firm, your designer needs to understand that.

7. What your brand symbolizes

List a few bullets that indicate what your logo should symbolize. Should it be a symbol of movement and growth, or perhaps stability and calm? This is where you help set the mood for your potential customers.

For Outpost, we listed:

  • Utility
  • Growth and success in business
  • Being in control
  • Efficiency
  • Quality and stability

8. Your “no” list

If there are things or colors that you absolutely do not want to see in logo concepts, list them out here. If you don’t want to see any “swooshes” or images of a globe, say that here. If a purple logo is a no-go, your designer needs to know that.

We didn’t have much of a “no” list for Outpost, but wanted to make sure the brand wasn’t too tied to handling just email. We might want to branch out to other forms of messaging in the future and want to keep the door open for that.

9. Logos and styles you like

Try and find five to seven logos that you do like. Add these logos to your creative brief here so that your designer can get a sense of the aesthetic that you’re looking for. General guidance here can be hugely helpful and will send a designer in the right direction.

These example logos ideally don’t come from your competitors, but are simply styles and fonts that you like.

I like looking at designer work on portfolio sites like Dribbble and Behance to find things I like. That’s what I did for Outpost and it worked out well.

10. Your color palette

If you already have a color palette that you’re working with, be sure to include it here.

We had a few colors that we’d started using in the design of the Outpost app, so I included them in our creative brief.

11. Images

If you already have your product in hand and can share pictures of it, do that here. If you’re going to put your new logo on your product, you want your designer to know what that product looks like.

The design of your product can also help designers better understand your product and brand personality and design a logo that works for that design.

Here’s a sneak peek of the Outpost design:

12. Other brands

If you’re designing a logo for a new product and you already have other products in the market, share your existing company logo and other product logos here. If you aren’t at this stage yet, just skip this section.

We run Bplans, LivePlan, and have our corporate brand, PaloAlto. I shared all of those logos as part of our creative brief.

That’s it! Creative briefs don’t have to take a ton of time to create and they can really help organize your thinking around your entire brand.

Finding a designer

Now that you’ve got your creative brief in hand, you’re ready to shop for designers. There are a few options that you can consider here and I’ll give you a quick overview of each option.

1. Crowdsourcing

Sites like 99designs and Fiverr let you post your creative brief and then have designers compete for your business. You’ll get lots of different design ideas from lots of different designers and you choose the designers and designs that you want to move forward with. Quality can be a mixed bag, but thankfully these sites offer satisfaction guarantees. 

You’ll pay anywhere from $5 to $1,500 for these services depending on what add-ons you choose and how many designs you want.

You’ll definitely save money by going with one of these crowdsourcing sites, but you won’t get to work face-to-face with a designer. Quality can also be hit and miss, but you can also get great results if you provide honest feedback to designers on these platforms. If you decide crowdsourcing is the way to go, you can read our review of the best crowdsourced logo design sites here.

2. Choosing a designer

Another option is to find a designer that you like and see if they’ll take on your project. Sites like Behance and Dribbble are great starting points to find designers that you like.

This option can be more expensive, but you’ll know exactly who you’re working with and can have Skype meetings and phone calls to make sure your designer knows exactly what you want.

3. Working with an agency

Finally, you could choose to work with a design agency. Agencies can bring a lot of firepower to the table—you’ll get a project manager, potentially multiple designers working on your project, and even market research resources that can be utilized.

If you’ve got the budget to work with an agency (at least $5,000 and often much more), then it’s an option to consider, but there’s still no guarantee that results will be better than working with a crowdsourcing platform or an individual designer.

Make sure to check an agency’s references and get a full review of their recent work before jumping in.

Getting bids and getting started

Once you’ve decided on the route you want to go, get out there and get bids from multiple potential providers.

If you’re going to work with an individual or an agency, be sure to find out how many initial design concepts you’re going to get and how many revisions you’ll get during the process. You definitely want to understand the full design process before you sign up with anyone.

If you go the crowdsourcing route, all of this is made pretty clear from the beginning, so you’ll have less to worry about there.

For Outpost, we ended up working with 99designs to get some initial concepts for around $500 and then worked with a local designer to help polish a design that we liked. 

That’s it! You’ve got all the tools you need to get your own logo designed. If you have any questions, please hit me up in the comments or on Twitter @noahparsons. Best of luck with your new logo!

AvatarNoah Parsons

Noah is currently the COO at Palo Alto Software, makers of the online business plan app LivePlan. You can follow Noah on Twitter.