Design Help Center
Startup: Before we design anything.
Do It Yourself Logo Design
A frank look at DIY branding & logo development options
Many business owners are the very definition of ‘do it yourselfers’ – probably applies to you as you’re taking time out of your hectic schedule to read this lengthy page. You’ve cobbled together a successful business from scratch, with little to rely on other than your wits and imagination. Like most business owners, you want to take a ‘hands on’ approach to every aspect of your company, and when it comes to developing a logo for your business, who knows the market, audience, and company personality more than you?
You know the direction you want to take your company, it’s strengths and selling points, as well as what makes your company unique from all others. Designing a brand yourself can’t be that difficult, can it? You may have some some great ideas for a logo. If you don’t, fret not. There’s tons of do-it-yourself software (only $30!) and loads of so-called do-it-yourself web sites ($39 with a starbursty claim of “Nooooo Clip Art!”) where you can peruse a series of icons, swishy things and scribbles, slap on your company name, and Bob, as they say, is your Uncle.
Can you design your own logo?
Yes. And No. Sure, you might be able to cobble together a fairly serviceable logo using one of the following DIY methods and save a few bucks into the bargain. That’s the ‘yes’ part. As this website is supposed to be dedicated to developing the “Very Best Logo” possible, we have to ask ourselves is that benchmark possible using them? Alas, that would be the ‘no’ part. The decision on whether saving a few bucks outweighs the caveats is a decision only you can make.
Recently I received this notice via SPAM e-mail. “Now available – Logo design software. Only $30.00″. A little odd. I have what could be called logo design software – it’s known as Adobe Illustrator. Cost me a lot more than thirty smackers, let me tell ya. What’s the difference? This advertised “logo design software” is not actually “design” anything software. At best it can be called clip-art composition software (and that’s being rather charitable.) The premise is that you can pull a few (badly) pre-designed ‘template logos‘ together, add some (usually awful) text and ‘viola’ – a logo. Sounds like a great idea, but on further inspection not so much. The templates cannot be protected by copyright, or more importantly, a logo trademark. You see, you never own the icons supplied – the company that sells you the software does. And because hundreds of people are using the very same templates, you can forget about unique. You can also say hello to reproduction hell – most of these templates are in pixel based format so they require four color reproduction, cannot be resized for larger applications and are impractical for most applications other than the web. This software likes to advertise as “no design skill needed.” That shouldn’t come as a surprise – there’s very little design taking place, skilled or not. In fact, ALL of these DIY logo design ’solutions’ – including the shiny web based Flash logo generation websites – are nothing more than template logos and clip art with pretty packaging. And using a template is NOT the way any professional should want to brand his/her company
Getting your hands dirty and jumping in
On a popular ‘how do I do this or that’ themed website, there’s a section on graphic design which leads, naturally enough, to do-it-yourself logo design. They offer up a slew of suggestions, encapsulated by the proverbial how-to list, describing in somewhat simplistic terms, how you can design your own logo. It goes something like this:
Designing Your Own Logo:
1) – On a piece of notebook paper, make a rough sketch of your logo.
2) – On a white sheet of computer paper, use a fine-point black permanent marker to re-draw your logo on one side. If you have no large shaded regions, skip the next step.
3) – Flip the paper over. On this side, you will notice that the shaded regions have bled through.
4) – Re-color those shaded regions on this side, to give the logo an even shade. Flip the paper over.
5) – Using ONLY colored pencils (erasable works best), color in the areas that need color. When done, go over the color areas again with the colored pencils. If you don’t have a flatbed scanner, skip the next step.
6) – Take another sheet of computer paper and place it under your logo, to prevent any shadowing when scanning.
7) – Place the logo in the scanner. If you have a flatbed, place it face-down. Scan. If you don’t need to scan it again before saving the image, skip the next step.
8) – In your scanning software, create a bound box around your logo with a 1/2 inch (12 millimeter) size and save the image. This will cut your image down to a size that includes only the logo.
9) – Edit your logo in any photo editing software, as needed. Apply the logo to whatever you have in mind.
So there you have it. Who needs to hire professionals when all it takes is to sketch your logo idea, scan it, and then edit the artwork with either an amateur level paint program (that will render your logo unusable for almost every application) or one of the most sophisticated (and difficult to master) design software programs around. Of course, if you follow the links in the article you’ll find that the real purpose is to promote another version of do-it-yourself ‘logo design’ software and against their own advice, bypasses the ’sketch’ phase or their list with a mess of mass-produced templates. While I don’t want to be overly critical of someone else’s design suggestions, there’s so much wrong with this how-to list that I don’t even know where to start (ahm – colored pencils?) But in a similar ’spirit’ – here’s my suggestion for do-it-yourself dentistry –
1) – buy tools.
2) – find cavities.
3) – fix teeth.
1) – Add stuff up.
2) – Subtract stuff that you bought.
3) – Submit taxes on this amount.
Anyway, you get the idea. See, it’s easy to write a how-to list. Not so easy to make it work. The real jaw-dropper of this logo how-to is the first – ‘make a sketch of your logo.’ That one simple step is the reason tens of thousands of designers go to art school and colleges and spend a lifetime honing their skills and talents. They go on to suggest that you scan this logo into a photo paint program, edit to your hearts content, and apply to everything you want. Sure, if you want an RGB low resolution pixel based image that always has a bounding box (filled background) and can’t be printed as a spot-color on business cards, brochures and the like. If you do wish to try your hand at developing your own logo, try to use vector based programs, rather than pixel based programs. Software of this nature (Paint for example,) is going to produce the “blurring” and “jaggies” that we’re constantly trying to avoid.
Template & “ready-made” logos.
The sales pitch of this method goes something like this – rather than a custom logo design, business owners can select from a library of pre designed images and customize (minimally – usually just a matter of adding your name) for their company. Generally costs anywhere from $25 – $150.00. Often the images are low quality, and may be copied from other sources (without permission.) Or they’ve sat around the internet for so long they’ve been copied by others. In any case, there’s simply no way to guarantee originality or even legality of using these designs as your logo. We’ve even seen some of our work show up in logo template libraries (even bought it too, just to make a point.) The basic model of the “ready-made logo store” is flawed from the get-go; the templates are usually sold to multiple users creating potential copyright and/or trademark conflicts off the hop. The ability to copyright or protect these types of logos once purchased is very unclear. While these sites claim the logos available in their ‘extensive’ libraries are NOT clip art logos, there is little doubt that they are. Clip art is defined as artwork being available for many users, which is exactly the premise of the site. Stock logos are a marginally preferable solution, as they are supposedly rights managed, and/or the artwork is only available for outright purchase. Here’s a rule of thumb – if the template site you’re purchasing a logo from doesn’t allow you to purchase the logo outright (and subsequently removes the logo promptly after you check out,) walk away. And if a template site offers BOTH exclusive and non-exclusive purchase options, walk away faster. How do you know someone hasn’t ALREADY purchased the design as a non-exclusive license, hmm? That’s right. You don’t.
Hosting a logo design contest
Logo design contests have always been with us, though the Internet has seen the rise of this phenomenon to almost deafening levels. There are even a slew of websites dedicated to the practice – euphemistically known as ‘crowdsourcing‘ – which promise to bring clients and designers together. The basic premise is this – you offer up a cash prize and ask a whole bunch of designers to submit entries from which you can select a winner. The benefits to the client are supposed to be the sheer volume of entries and designers. Much more selections to choose from. Sounds fair enough I guess. The benefits to the designer are… well, there aren’t any benefits to the designer, except the winning one, and he/she may have had to enter so many contests beforehand that’s probably arguable too. Which, as it turns out, is one of the main reasons that logo design contests are a pretty poor way to have your logo developed.
“We’ve witnessed many instances where our work, and logos owned by our clients, and work of our peers, and work of designers we know on Twitter, have been submitted as entries.”
Logo design via “the crowd.”
Design contests are the bane of the industry, and not only frowned upon, are actively campaigned against. Most design organizations have an absolutely no-go policy on this practice, viewing it as unethical and damaging to the field itself. There’s even an organization – No Spec! – who’s only purpose is to educate designers and clients why this kind of activity is bad, bad news. Why should you care one way or another? Simple – the designers who enter these contests don’t even view themselves as professionals, so (at risk of alienating some) aren’t experienced enough to be working on any professional level in the first place. As much as it pains me to say this – contests also attract some design charlatans – folks who aren’t above submitting ‘borrowed’ work in order to have a chance at winning the cash prize. We’ve witnessed many instances where our work, and logos owned by our clients, and work of our peers, and work of designers we know on Twitter, have been submitted as entries (several were even selected as the winner.) Too, as these contests generally take place on anonymous web forums, there’s no way of telling who is presenting those fab ideas. Do you really want “designguyz5145″ developing the brand you hope to present to the world? And how easy will it be to contact him when your brand roll-out goes horribly wrong?
Best bet – let the professionals handle it from scratch
While it’s true that there may be some companies who are successfully promoting themselves via a self-made logo, a contest winner or maybe even some “ready-made” template logo, they are the exception rather than the rule. Will you be so lucky? Who knows. Alas, despite some of the newfangled techniques of developing a logo (mostly as a result of fierce Internet competition,) there’s only one sure-fire way to create a logo that is worthy of representing your great new venture – working with a seasoned professional who has a client’s best interests in mind, as well as a pride in his/her craft. Most successful business people I know hire experts to do what they’re good at, while the business owner focuses on what they’re good at. In almost every instance, this is the main reason for the business’ success in the first place. And while I may have an axe to grind, let me point out that you don’t have to hire my shop. Sure, I certainly hope you do (that’s the point of this entire website,) but there are literally thousands of design studios and freelance designers out there – all capable of producing great branding work, and better results than any of the so-called ‘do-it-yourself’ solutions listed on this page.
Hit one or two of them up on Twitter and you’ll certainly be better off for the experience.
Design Help: 5/44
Logo Design Help Center
A collection of helpful and informative tutorials for designers, do-it-yourselfers and anyone interested in branding their company.
Logopalooza!A free digital magazine about logos and design. Examples, case studies, news, trivia and more. No subscription required, just come and get it. Logopalooza! 4 currently shipping. L5 available May 6.
Learn more about logos, design & branding: