“Creativity” and “problem solving” are not usually found in the same context, let alone right next to each other. But in fact, creativity and problem solving have a lot in common, and it is in their overlap that the best brand identities and logos are born.

Creative problem solving in graphic design

Creative problem solving is the science of taking a clear look at what a business wants to convey, to whom and how it wants to convey it and creatively aligning all these elements into one beautifully structured solution—a crisp, multi-dimensional brand identity that works on every level.

Creativity is generally associated with some artsy dude laying on his couch, waiting for inspiration to magically strike, while problem solving conjures up that uptight classmate who methodically took the lead in team assignments. But regardless of which group you relate to, the key to success lies in refusing to connect to one way of doing things, instead resting somewhere in the middle.

I think the passion I have for my profession is not so much about graphic design as it is about problem-solving. I think a personality type who is fascinated with a problem being presented and can not rest until it is solved adequately is a natural corporate identity designer. That’s me.
- Sagi Haviv, renowned graphic designer who has designed logos for Armani Exchange, Harvard University Press and many more, in an interview for Logo Design Love.

So where does creative problem-solving start?

It starts with the brief

A graphic designer can only address a business’s identity issues if the business clearly outlines its vision and goals—and this is usually accomplished in a brief. From there, the graphic designer can take those smudgy ideas and sensitize them like a photo negative. A good brief is the start of a beautiful conversation between client and designer, with each exchange solving more and more problems until a trouble-free brand identity is reached.

It continues on a sheet of paper

Balloon museum logo
A creative solution for a balloon museum. Logo design via Sagi Haviv

After reading the brief, the next step is to begin jotting down anything about the company that comes to your mind. During this stage, it’s good for your mind to wander and enter a flow state.

The computer will not help you connect with your creative impulses. A pencil will.
- Sagi Haviv

Don’t be stingy with your ink or paper, hash everything out: the company’s traits, mission, goals, values, vision, culture, story, overall feel, its product/offering, what problem it’s solving, how it is solving it, who does it solve it for, the target audience’s outlook, lifestyle, dreams, and anything else you can make out of the brief directly or indirectly.

Library of Congress logo
Knowledge is wings. Logo design via Sagi Haviv

This stage is similar to when a detective asks a witness to a crime to share any details he or she may remember even if they don’t think it’s relevant. You never know what may deliver the Eureka moment. When it comes to logos, less is more, but during this phase, less might result in nothing. Even the mere act of writing things down will start shaping images in your head.

Control the chaos

But just because problem solving is creative doesn’t mean it should be chaotic. Once you’ve got a feel for the brand, you can start getting more selective and systematic with your brainstorming. Only the most prominent details should make the cut.

Come up with a system that works for you. For example, you can divide a piece of paper into four parts—on the first one list the business’s most defining features, on the second outline the problem it solves through its work, and on the third list out the target audience’s most sensitive emotional triggers.

Above these three parts, make an overarching note of the logo’s must-haves and limitations as set by the client. This way, the images that pop in your mind will slowly and seamlessly start adhering to all of the client’s guidelines until the logo checks all the boxes, or in other words, solves all the problems.

A visual view of logo creation

Aerial photo of buildings and roads
via Aleksejs Bergmanis

As you can probably imagine, the bigger the paper, the better. A big whiteboard is often a great way to approach this method. Creative and artistic expression can provide an aerial view from which the complex becomes simple, which is exactly what a logo does for a business—it is a brand’s boiled down essence, an intersection where all its identity problems meet a common solution. In order to see that intersection, you need something that can encompass all major problems and their possible routes.

Two-birds-with-one-stone logos

Studio H logo
When less is more. Abstract logo design by Milos Subotic

Take a look at the logo above. It’s for a landscape architecture firm which wants to convey a myriad of ideas: they want a logo that has to do with nature since they do landscaping, yet it has to clearly distinguish them from landscape contractors and maintenance companies. They also want something that looks high-end but can appeal to smaller clients as well; and they want the logo to allude to its second branch and the two parties’ synergy—all this through a clean and minimalistic design with a touch of bold.

Now that’s what you call a problem! Even the firm itself admits it in the brief. What many designers would probably dismiss as yet another client’s impossible whim, Milos Subotic saw as fertile soil for creative problem solving to blossom. His logo has two abstract, sophisticated leafs whose overlap creates a beautiful symmetry that invokes pure, simplistic class. Just spectacular work! If a problem as complex as this one can be reduced to such an “easy” solution, any brand identity can be boiled down to a core that pulses with all its nuances.

Artman logo
Two into one. Logo design by toometo

Creative problem solving is not easy, but when done right, it looks like a piece of cake—or the logo above. It’s for a production studio that does all kinds of creative visual work like computer graphics, brand films and advertising, as well as interactive museum exhibitions and projects. In the brief, they define themselves as a company that borrows a bit of both the cooperate and the informal hipster world, with a culture of innovation and professionalism with a personal, friendly touch. They specifically mention they want a minimalistic logo, but with a twist that separates them from the branding trends among their competitors, and they request that “Artman” remain one word.

The graphic designer has masterfully captured the thread which keeps surfacing throughout the brief—the company clearly seeks unity between its two counterparts, something that seamlessly intersects sophistication and creativity, just like the name “Artman.” The logo is the result of creative, yet methodical deduction: a bucket of paint with the perfect, tiny tweak to incorporate the universal symbol of a classy gentleman.

Detail Geeks logo
Logo design by CQ Design™ for Detail Geeks
CityGeek logo
Logo design by – Haroon – for CityGeek
TwoNerds logo
Logo design by Mori Summer for TwoNerds

Now take a look at these three logos. They all revolve around geeks and nerds, but within different contexts, and are designed to solve different brand identity problems.

The first two share some similarities. Both companies were looking for something simple, yet there is an important difference between the two. The first one reflects modernity, while the second aims to convey youthfulness.

The first logo is for a mobile auto detailing company that wanted someone who looks smart, but not nerdy, and the clean-cut style is the perfect embodiment of that vision. In addition, the tiny touch on the right lens to make it into a G very elegantly alludes to the idea of details which is already in the name. On the other hand, CityGeek is an app that finds restaurant deals for young people, and the boyish, smirking geek with hair made of skyscrapers fits the bill. Two geeks, very different in style and purpose.

The third logo, on the other hand, speaks for itself. It’s for a mobile gaming app company, and the name “Two Nerds” is imaginatively translated into two child-like figures, immersed in their phones, which together make a gaming headset. One look at the playful logo and it’s easy to understand what the company is about, yet the design is anything but plain or straightforward.

Reverse the process: write a brief based on the logo

One of the best creative problem solving techniques is to reverse the process and test out how successful your logo really is. Try to forget about the company the logo is for and write a brief based on your creation. Better yet, ask someone who really doesn’t know and see how close their brief is to the original.

idearoute logo
Logo design by brandsformed® for idearoute

The logo above is for a start-up that helps other start-ups realize their goals by analyzing their ideas and mapping out the most strategic path toward their materialization. The company wanted something sophisticated, modern and literal, yet creative. This logo falls right onto the “yet” in the sentence. You probably wouldn’t be able to guess exactly what the company does by just looking at the logo, but the nature of their work is unmistakable.

This logo is a testament to the clarity of the client’s vision as well—the logo literally illustrates the two components of the company’s name.

Creatalytics logo
Logo design by CostinLogopus
Think Higa logo
Logo design by toometo for ThinkHiga
Zero Limits logo
Logo design by Ian Douglas
Green Lantern Solar logo
Logo design by SpoonLancer

Each of these examples couldn’t be more different from the other: they have different styles, colors, feels, complexities and most of all, they solve completely different problems for completely different companies. However, throughout all of them, there’s one recurring theme and that’s the pulse of creative problem solving—beautiful, pinpoint accuracy. There’s not a single dot in excess. Every element serves a specific purpose. This is what creative problem solving looks like when applied specifically to logo design.

The ultimate symbiosis: creativity and problem solving

Creativity and problem solving are two streams of thought that flow in the same direction. When it comes to business, uniting them into one, steady current can lead a brand identity from muddy to crystal-clear waters. Creativity is something you are born with, problem solving, however, can be mastered even by the most unorganized, chaotic mad genius. Problem solving does for creativity what practice does for talent. And we all know how far talent goes without practice. So, what are you waiting for, go and solve some problems!

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About the author

Petar Petrov writes about culture, art, advertising, entertainment, society, and lifestyle, and anything in-between that can make for a fun story.