Looking for feedback on logo/icon design

Hello, I’m new here. I’ve been learning UI/UX and general design.

I’ve been involved with an open source CAD software, and they are looking to ‘evolve’ their logo/icon branding. In the included image you can see the existing logo (far left) and a few concepts I’ve drafted in Inkscape.

I’d like to hear people’s opinions on which concept I should pursue and technical merits of my designs. Suggestions on how to tweak and improve these would also be very welcome.

Thanks in advance!


You don’t have three different concepts. You have three variations of the existing logo — whose concept was to combine a red F and a cog.

Were you actually engaged by FreeCAD to redesign their logo (with a contract and payment), is this a personal project or is this a response to a crowd sourcing or contest site?


I suppose you’re right, these are just variants of the existing logo.

FreeCAD is looking to update its logo without changing the visual identity, and I was offered an opportunity to coordinate a contest for a redesign. So that’s exactly what I’ve been doing. As part of that, I’m also working on my own submission. I figured I’d come here to ask for opinions from people experienced in design and unbiased about FreeCAD in general.

I actually like the concept of the F and gear, but the execution of the existing logo is quite poor, so I’m trying to improve upon it and make it look a bit more professional.

Sorry, I am not trying to be a butthead, but I can’t help on this. Spec work in all of its forms, including contests, is a not healthy for the industry. I would suggest you do some homework on the subject — especially if this is an industry you’re wanting to move into and profit from. You might start with No Spec or the AIGA.

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It seems that I don’t see a 1:1 correlation here. While yes, I do hope to break out into the industry soon as I retire from a career in the military next year, this contest isn’t really much of a contest as there are no promises of, or potential monetary compensation, or future employment. Based on your link, that seems to be the premise of what constitutes spec work. I also agree that spec work as defined in that article is toxic for designers. I appreciate the education on such matters.

I submit my design understanding there are no royalties or compensation, and if it’s chosen to be the updated logo there’s no business built around it. It would be released under a creative commons license. I do respect your position on this though.

Thanks for the measured reply. I will reply and try to clarify a few things, but it won’t be until later this afternoon or possibly tomorrow due to work.

Try working up something that doesn’t include skinny outlines.
I don’t so much mind the white border on the 2nd one, but if that is a hairline dark stroke around the F and the gear, rethink that. Small elements like that tend to get lost and they make sign guys hate you.

The intersection of F and gear on the 1st and 3rd aren’t working.
Beware of leaving tiny open elements like the interaction of the gear to the bottom of the F.

I assume you want to make a “living wage” from the industry, correct, and you’re not willing to work for free? Well, contests degrade the industry by devaluing what professional designers do and what a seasoned professional brings to the table. What other professions have contests? Would you take your W-2s and 1099s to a bunch of different accounts, have them all prepare your tax returns for free, and tell them that whoever can get you the biggest refund wins the contest? Of course not. But designers (or “designers” or people wanting to break into the industry) — when essentially faced with the same scenario — are happy to work for free with no promise of compensation. Also, this sort of thing takes away from the demand for professional designers. The only consolation is the idea that if a potential client cares so little about their business that they are not willing to seek out a professional and invest in quality work, they are not going to be a good fit for me.

Without the benefit of a direct conversation, it seems like you’re potentially contradicting yourself. On the one hand, when you say “this contest isn’t really much of a contest,” it sounds like you are you trying to justify the behavior. On the other hand, you say “I also agree that spec work as defined in that article is toxic for designers” which sounds like you understand why contests are bad and why designers should not participate.

Why? Why participate? Why work for free? You’re training this client, and others, to think that they can get design work for free or for next to nothing by having a “contest.” Your time is better spent learning the art and craft of the trade and then looking for an employer who can benefit from your skills or for clients that understand the value of working with a creative professional. How do you plan to pay your mortgage, put food on the table, keep the lights on, and pay for your kid’s education participating in contests with no hope of compensation?

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@Steve_O because the work is for an open source project which is primarily consisting of work by individuals provided to the project gratis. There is no clear ‘client’, there is no design budget, there is no store front, there is no letterhead, there is no promotional schwag, no signage. It’s like Linux, but without the backing of the “Linux Foundation”, no board of directors, no leader, no “benevolent dictator for life”. If this was some business, yes, I would wholeheartedly agree with you. FreeCAD gives me usable software free of charge, if I am reciprocating with some of my labor free of charge to a truly non-profit organization I don’t see how in that case it is harming the design industry.

The ‘maintainers’ of the project are big on the ‘community’ aspect of the project and as such is looking for a community led/community selected update to the branding of the software. If my submission is selected by the user community and it becomes the next symbol of the software, great, if not no big deal. As a user of FreeCAD, I’m also quite tired of seeing the MS Paint circa 1999 style gradient laced nightmare that is the current iteration of the logo. The programmers write the software for free. I don’t program, I do design things though.

Regarding a career, I am quite aware of the importance of knowing my worth, and holding ideals and standards. I am not looking to become a freelancer, and if I can’t find a company to hire me as a design professional at a livable salary, I can make better money working for the defense sector due to my extensive experience. I would just prefer working in UX and graphic design. I’ve been conducting market research on salary in the sector already, and have a pretty good idea what my entry level pay targets are.

@PrintDriver thank you for the input, I did correct the gapped intersection between the F and gear elements. Regarding the dark outlines, I’ve shifted towards using a darker shade of the base colors to help ensure contrast across light and dark background since this will exist almost exclusively digitally and find itself superimposed on a variety of backdrops and desktop wallpapers.

I’m confused about who is looking to evolve their branding. With no leadership, who is making the decision that a change is needed, and who will decide what that change will be?

With 40-plus years doing this kind of work, I have an observation that I’ve found to be almost universally true. When an organization’s logo is amateurish (as theirs is), when its overall visual branding is no better, and when it’s been using that visual brand for years, it’s a solid indication that it won’t recognize something better when it’s proposed.

There are exceptions, such as when a new CEO takes over — someone more savvy and fully intent on remedying the problem. However, the decision to launch a contest to spruce up the logo without a significant change to the visual brand (as you mentioned) is a sure-fire signal that the organization is clueless about visual branding and that the results of the tweaking will be just as incompetent as what it was meant to replace.

I don’t have a problem with open-source software and the volunteer efforts that go into improvements. For example, most of the websites I’ve built run PHP and Apache on Linux servers. For that matter, I’ve built most of those websites around Joomla—all open-source.

For me, the problem isn’t open-source volunteerism; the problem is ensuring competency and professionalism in all aspects of the project, including the non-core, peripheral aspects, such as branding.

The existing logo looks like it was cobbled together by a committee of software engineers who fancied themselves as designers. I know nothing about the FreeCAD software — perhaps it’s fantastic. However, the organization’s existing logo and how you’ve described the plans to improve it suggest the organization’s competence doesn’t extend beyond the core product.

There are open-source organizations with good or great logos—Mozilla, for instance. Great open-source visual branding is certainly doable, but not unless the people calling the shots realize the problem and choose to solve it by enlisting the efforts of experts (volunteers or not) instead of holding a contest with entries from their user base, which in this case are CAD users.

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B, I appreciate you taking the time to respond to me. I’m sorry to have wasted everyone’s time with something you all view as either toxic, abusive or logically futile behavior. My own inexperience in the field of design doesn’t help. While I appreciate the philosophy, I came hoping to get some guidance on my designs themselves. I feel like coming here was a grave mistake. I wish you all the best.

Just because you didn’t get the answer you want, don’t dismiss your coming here as a mistake. Take the advice of seasoned pros. I have around 30 years’ experience and I whole-heartedly agree with them. Chances are we aren’t all wrong.

Don’t be disheartened or discouraged by this. Stick around, you’ll get a lot of solid advice – even if sometimes it’s not what you want to hear.

Your question read a bit like someone going to ask seasoned mechanics how to fix a rattling tappet, when the fist thing they see is a severely worn big end. Naturally, their advice is bound to be something along the lines of, ‘Let’s deal with the tappet later, but for now we’ll park it and deal with the glaring elephant in the room’. At best, you’d expose your inexperience if you insisted on fixing the tappet.

As I say, stick around. I only wish I’d had a resource like this when I was starting out. Brutal honesty from people who are, firstly, qualified to give the advice and secondly, prepared to be brutally honest is a rare and incredibly invaluable resource.


@Obelisk79, I don’t suppose you will return to read this, but I want to address your original question about your modifications to the logo. I was hoping you would infer from my response that there were deeper problems related to the logo that you weren’t considering and that as a consequence, your modifications were heading in the wrong direction.

@sprout picked up on this with his engine tappets analogy. In a sense, your solution is to simply adjust the tappet gap to eliminate the noise without first considering why the tappets were clicking. Perhaps the owner had been consistently using the wrong viscosity engine oil, causing wear on the rocker arms. If this is the cause, adjusting the tappets might temporarily reduce the clatter. But it will do nothing to fix the original problem, which will continue to damage the engine components.

Your proposed logo adjustments assume there isn’t a more fundamental problem when it’s quite obvious the original logo is broken due to underlying causes related to how it was first designed, approved, deployed, and maintained.

There probably is some brand equity and loyalty in the logo since it’s been used for so long. There are probably ways to salvage this equity by incorporating the F and the gear into a new and better logo. However, there’s the bigger problem of those making the decisions not realizing that a tweak to the existing logo won’t fix the underlying problem. Fixing this bigger problem requires a fundamental visual brand evaluation and development in addition to a commitment to maintain and nurture the revised and improved brand.

All of those things are reasonable. You are also correct about the brand equity/loyalty. The deeper branding and development go far beyond the scope of what the organization desires and could even hope to budget for. This isn’t to say that it isn’t needed, but they don’t realize that either, and I certainly have no desire to go to such lengths as would be needed to accomplish full branding overview, development, and maintenance/support. Just to put into perspective here, you mentioned Mozilla and how they have quality branding/logo for an organization built atop Open Source software. Mozilla has an annual revenue of $440,000,000 USD. Whereas FreeCAD has an an annual revenue of less than $50,000 USD. That’s 1/10,000th of the budgetary power.

For my own benefit, can you recommend some resources that I can use to gain a more technical understanding of brand and logo development?

Well, resources are actually quite easy to find. Books, videos, tutorials and the like are easily available…though that’s like trying to learn any other skilled trade or craft from a book. Designers learn those skills, then intern and then practice them for years to develop them. In other words, learning design is a process, not a goal.

@dgolas indeed that is correct, but a study of methodology and concepts has value and provides foundation. I only ask if there are recommended resources because there are often no shortage of material, but a glaring shortage of reliably good material to consume.

I’ll do some searching of my own.

Most of what I wrote comes from my own experience. However, you might want to read the book Logo Design Love, by David Airey. It’s an easy read, but it covers many of the considerations and strategies that go beyond just making a nice-looking logo.

I notice that Airey has a new book — Identity Designed: The Process: Research, Strategy, Design, Implementation — coming out in June that sounds interesting.

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Sorry about the tone of my reply and I didn’t even make a suggestion.

I’d second looking at Dave Airey or Aaron Draplin. I work in packaging so I did a lot of analysis of packaging designs and logos. I talked with other designers about them…

One of the things I found the most helpful was looking at high profile, historical logos, like the ones for airlines. I guess what I’m saying is I don’t like the how-to books or tutorials as much as looking at good work. I was incredibly inspired by some of those designers like Doyald Young.

Thanks both of you for the reading suggestions!