Thoughts on branding, design, writing and life by Kevin Potts. Established 2003.

The Golf Ball Logo Test

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned over the years concerns logos. If it looks good on a golf ball, it will look good anywhere.

I once worked for a creative director who came from the old school. His father was a creative director before him, and he firmly believed the position warranted the same level of respect as any marketing executive. He commanded much influence through the company, managed both design and copywriters, and taught me countless things about design, business and management.

One of the key lessons that has stuck with me through the years concerned logo design. It’s not a fancy or even novel idea, but it boils down everything about the technical drafting of logos I’ll ever need to remember:

A logo should be able to look good on a golf ball.

Think about it. A mark should be unique and simple enough to be stamped on a tiny plastic white ball and still make an impression on people whacking it several hundred yards with a nine iron.

One of the more interesting things I’ve noticed about branding in general is that the larger the company, the simpler the logo. Microsoft. IBM. FedEx. CDW. The new Sprint logo. All of these brands can be reproduced perfectly on a golf ball. Common traits:

  • Works just as well in plain black as it does in full color.
  • Works well in dramatically reduced sizes, like a half inch.
  • Simple design. Printing on a golf ball is not easy, and those little bumps are going to cause subtle distortions and possible ink runs. (One could almost replace the word “simple” with “forgiving.”)

For designers, marketers and brand managers, golf balls are just the beginning. Think about all the places logos appear. Newspapers. Blimps. Embroidered shirts. Pens, mugs, mouse pads, t-shirts, websites and business cards. A logo without 400 colors, gradients, weird text and tiny embellishments will create far fewer headaches.

In this day of gratuitous use of technology to create needlessly complex marks (UPS, DC Comics), it’s nice to know that some companies — even the largest ones in the world — understand the value of simplicity in their logo.

commentary + criticism

The Co-worker

wrote the following on Thursday July 21, 2005

I couldn’t agree with you more. The challenge for us designers is to come up with something that is distinguishable, yet simple enough for the morons who run these giveaway companies not to mess it up.


wrote the following on Friday July 22, 2005

Good points. I also make sure that the logos I design can be cut in 1-color-vinyl for use as stickers on cars… so the one color thing is definitely a plus.

Also, here at disney we recently redid our online park maps. We tried to use the ride logos on the maps but it turns out that the actual text of most of the logos was much smaller than the design as a whole. This made it impossible to read at such a small size.

We released the maps yesterday with plain text boxes instead of logos.

I love seeing little pointers like this, btw. (c:


wrote the following on Wednesday July 27, 2005

Quite a challenge, pack a whole concept and communicate it via a simple graphic – or logo. It becomes an image that just screams the name of the company behind it wherever the eye perceives it.

As Jimmy says, this kind of “lessons” are, whitout a doubt, the most valuable ones. Direct wisdom, I’d call them.

Keep them coming!


wrote the following on Thursday August 18, 2005

I couldn’t agree more. Best advice one could ever get.

I am currently working on a logo for a golf association thus I have to admit, the pointer really made damn good sense.

Yup. Wisdom. That’s what it is.


wrote the following on Friday August 26, 2005

I find it interesting that you say ”...the larger the company, the simpler the logo.” By that do you mean that you think more smaller companies should use simpler logos, maybe the abstract “meaningless” (until it becomes associated with the company) type or do you need to be a big company to pull that type of logo off?


wrote the following on Friday August 26, 2005

I think every company should strive for as simple a logo as their brand will allow. I think the large companies have more simple logos for two reasons:

1. They can afford to throw massive amounts of cash behind their brand. Look at H&R Block. Not many companies could pull off a green square.

2. Their logo is going to be used in everything from middle management PowerPoint slides to well … golf balls. Keeping it simple keeps it easier.

Daniel Scrivner

wrote the following on Monday December 12, 2005

Great pointers! The ‘one-color test’ is true test for purity in a logo design.

And there’s more than one reason that simplicity is essential in logo design. One HUGE reason is that simple logo allow for ‘extrapolation.’ You can use in them in different colors, on different materials, using different printing techniques or graphic elements and still get the same powerful effect.

And a true designer can’t help but love the fact that simplicity – reducing a complex idea or identity into a single mark – is where true beauty lies.

Greg Haxton

wrote the following on Tuesday February 14, 2006

Exactly! After doing thousands of company logos on golf balls over the last decade, the ones that stand out and make an impression are the simple ones. You can make as much hay as you like with the packaging though letting your company contact info and slogan as well as other graphic uses on the packaging then keep the ball print simple.

Suzanne Wesley

wrote the following on Wednesday July 16, 2008

I’ve learned to always make a full-color, a two-color and a one-color version of every logo I make BEFORE I even present them to the client.

If nothing else, it helps to point out that although they may WANT all the bells and whistles as they start their new company (i.e. full-color, 3D, motion graphics etc.) the bottom line is that it costs more money and their budget might not want to handle on a regular basis.

And … as pointed out here. Can you put it on a golf ball or print it on an ink pen to hand out to prospects and still tell what it is or what it says? Don’t just sell the logo – show them how they can use it! Keep in mind that bleeds on letterhead and business card designs can cost more too! Always check with your printer before they fall in love with a design that may cost them more. Customers appreciate knowing upfront.

Great article.

Corporate Logo Golf Balls

wrote the following on Thursday July 31, 2008

Thanks for the interesting information about designing logos that pass the golf ball test. I mentioned your test in a recent post regarding corporate logos on golf balls:

Deron Sizemore

wrote the following on Friday March 6, 2009

Nice article. Enjoyed reading it. all points I hadn’t really thought about previously. I’m a big fan of keeping the logo as simple as possible, but ensuring it works on a golf ball is a good rule of thumb.

BTW: You must be a monster on the golf course to hit a nine iron “several hundred yards.” ;)


wrote the following on Friday March 6, 2009

I know less about golf than just about anything. I couldn’t hit a golfball more than three feet without a rocket launcher.

Gary Callaghan

wrote the following on Saturday April 11, 2009

This is a superb article. I have never thought about this idea before but it does make alot of sense and its a plain simple way to convey the idea of logo design.

Thanks for this great article.

golf ball printing

wrote the following on Tuesday June 2, 2009

This is a superb article. I have never thought about this idea before but it does make alot of sense and its a plain simple way to convey the idea of logo design.

Thanks for this great article.

Logo Golf Ball Printer

wrote the following on Wednesday July 1, 2009

A very well written article, that is still driving comments 4 years later.

Being a logo golf ball printer – Our company deals with this daily. Thanks for helping others to keep it simple.

Design Inspiration

wrote the following on Tuesday December 22, 2009

Very interesting concept and I couldn’t agree more. There are a lot of different factors to take in when you design a logo, and this is probably one of the best ideas that I’ve heard in a long time.


wrote the following on Thursday October 21, 2010

Simple is always best – if you look at many popular trends, they’ve always kept it simple – whether it was the Google website interface or the Apple range of products, the user experience and interaction is about simplicity and ease of use.