Whether you're starting a business or rebranding an existing one, your company's logo is likely taking up a lot of mental space lately - with good reason. Your logo is your company's handshake, first impression and lasting symbol all rolled into one. Think about the logos of some of the most successfully branded companies like - Nike, Coca-Cola, McDonald's, NBC - you could immediately identify the logos even if the name wasn't attached.
That's your goal in designing your own logo. You want something that encompasses your company's mission so completely that the two are forever linked in customers' minds. Now, this is a very detailed, complicated process based on psychology - entire degree programs are focused on perfecting the process. It's always better to hire a professional for just this reason. But if your budget doesn't allow for designer fees, you can at least design your own logo using the same process experienced designers use.
Do Your Research
Too many people make the mistake of immediately sitting down and picking out fonts and colors. A professional, on the other hand, knows the value of research. Look at other companies in your field who target your chosen demographic. See what's out there. The goal is not to copy these logos, but to make your own design different enough to stand out while still fitting in.
You really have to know your demographic for this to be effective, so research that too while you're at it. Understand when to be flashy and when to be understated, when to be edgy and when to be sophisticated. Not only does the feel of your logo have to appeal to your audience, but it also has to accurately represent the "personality" of your company.
Your brain will be full of ideas at this point, so get them all onto paper. Sit down with a pencil and a ream of copy paper and just brain dump everything that's in there, no matter how stupid it might seem at first - sometimes you have to get the trash out of the way before you can see the gold.
Don't worry about your lack of drawing skills - these aren't sketches for clients, these are just rough ideas. As long as you know what they mean, you're fine. Don't worry about recreating fonts or perfect lettering, just fill in rough shapes and suggest the overall look of each design. The more you do, the better - pros might sketch a couple of hundred designs in this stage.
Once your brain is totally empty, step away for a bit. Come back the next day, look through your sketches and set aside the ones that immediately catch your eye. Narrow the field down to the three best, and it's finally time to get to the computer.
Fonts and Design
Refine your sketches in your software of choice - Adobe Illustrator is practically made for this, but whatever illustrating app you have will probably work. Keep it black and white for now, just focus on choosing fonts and refining the shape of your logo. Work on all three finalist sketches, and analyze them when you're done - often, a clear favorite will emerge during the refining process. When you think you have all three to the point of being as perfect as they can get, choose a winner. It's usually helpful to step away from the project for a day or so to clear your perspective before choosing your final design.
Choose a color scheme for your brand - work with color swatches before you fit them into your logo. Don't just choose your favorites, pick your colors based on psychology and color symbolism (Google is your friend). You'll need a dominant color plus one to three others that can be used for contrast or harmony, depending upon the mood you're looking to create.
Once you have your colors down pat, fit them into your logo - don't go overboard, sometimes simplicity is best. You don't even have to use all of your colors in the logo, because there will be plenty of room for the "leftovers" in other branding applications like signage and collateral. Do as many different combinations of color and design you can think of, then choose the very best one.
So, you have your basic logo at this point, but there's always room for improvement. Experiment with font size and placement (not all letters have to be the same size), spacing, negative space, and just generally tighten up the design. Keep scalability in mind - your logo must be legible, clear and cohesive whether it's in 6-pt. type or on a billboard.
Once your logo is perfected, create alternate versions for other applications. Professionals usually create both horizontal and vertical orientations, plus full-color, black-on-white, white-on-black and two-color versions. These come in handy for print applications, collateral, etc.
See? You just created your very own professional logo, and it only took about three days out of your life and added a few dozen gray hair. Now you understand why graphic designers charge what they do, and that professionals of all stripes only make it look easy.