I need to make a distinction here. When I talk about designing a logo, I'm not talking about branding. Branding may include a logo. But, a logo is a component or artifact of branding. Even branding style guides are more a part of the logo and brand design, than it is branding itself.
Branding is about positioning and reputation management. This is done through communicating a brand's values, area of focus, and audience. And the work of communicating these messages are done visually, audibly, and written.
So, the logo must support the branding effort. But it isn't branding.
Since this is the case, when we approach logo design we need to consider two important questions: What is the message the logo can carry, and how does this message support the brand?
For instance, let's say we are designing a logo for a plumber. The plumber want us to design something that represents what he does. And he wants to show that he is a seasoned professional, and he cares about cleanliness. He wants us to stay away from cliché images like pipes and wrenches. And he likes the color red.
Let's apply these two questions to this request.
What is the message this logo can carry?
This plumber wants people to recognize he's a plumber when they see his logo at a glance. But, he's unlike a typical plumber (no images of pipes or wrenches). We may also want to communicate his seasoned professionalism and cleanliness commitment. But we can only hint at cleanliness because the logo is more about being a plumber than about being someone who cleans.
Also, the color red may take away from what we are trying to communicate. We may need to revisit the color issue.
How does this message support the brand?
This may take more discussion with the plumber. How does he plan to show up in different places? And when people see his business, why should they value what he has to offer over other plumbers?
The logo will come to be associated with his business reputation wherever his business appears. So the logo will either live with or fight with his brand intent.
Let's say the plumber wants to have a local reputation as the little guy who gives personal service — unlike the big national brands. People can trust him, because he works to build personal relationships, not just do a job. And he wants to have a reputation as more than a plumber. He's a rare master craftsman.
Our logo approach.
You can start to see how this informs our logo approach. We don't want his logo to look corporate like the big guys. But we also don't want it to look amateurish either. So we need to apply some skill and craftsmanship to the logo design. Also, we want to make a connection with friendliness.
This isn't the only approach we can explore. We can consider creating a nostalgic character illustration, and use an old-style lettering reminiscent of nostalgic 50's type service. Or we can explore a wordmark as the main design element, or focus everything on a symbol. The point of this thought process is to make sure we are listening to what the client needs, not just hearing what the client wants.