Should designers blog

Design by committee invariably leads to complex logos with mangled, overwrought metaphors that are a pain to build a brand around. It can even torpedo a project entirely..

Very, very true story: our studio was developing a logo for a small town – let’s call it Whereverville – for their bicentennial celebrations. The job seemed fairly straightforward and in the original project brief, the client outlined that they wanted to add a visual reference to a famous landmark – a monument in the city square – to the design.

Fair enough.

The monument was unique to the town, was where most of the planned events were to take place, and instantly identified the logo as representing Whereverville. The initial round of preliminary designs went to committee (where many concept problems arise) and the request for modifications came back. The monument graphic was just peachy but.. “we’d like to add a few more things” to make the logo “wow.” (roh-oh.) torpedo-photographHere’s what the “few things” entailed. They wanted a train (lots of people arrived at Whereverville by rail,) the train needed a station (obviously) so add that, the community boasted lots of farmers so work in a barn (naturally the barn also needed a windmill,) throw in a few cows, some trees, there’s these mountains, and oh yeah, Whereverville looks great at sunset so if you could toss that in too, well, that would be great. And while you’re at it, the residents of Whereverville are particularly proud of the new City Hall so we’d like a fully rendered graphic of that to boot.

That’s a little bit more than “a few.”

Design by committee

A few design elements had become a laundry list – a veritable cornucopia of disparate graphic elements, all competing for real estate and attention. The logo was to be used on freebie keychains so one of the planned uses saw the design being reproduced at just over an inch wide, and it was inevitable that every one of the elements would end up as featureless squiggles when reproduced at any size less than, oh I don’t know, 15 feet tall. The problem was that everyone on the committee had an idea of what represented Whereverville.

To them.

And they’d be damned if the logo wasn’t going to have it in there somewhere.

Expanding timelines.

The designer handling the gig voiced concerns about the complexity of the logo – and the predictable headaches – but was overridden (client knows best doncha know) so each of the requested elements was sketched, rendered and added to the increasingly complex graphic. Of course, creating this myriad of illustrations expanded the time line significantly, so in addition to a skyrocketing production times, we also had an increasingly impatient client on our hands. She had to explain to her committee why “everything was taking so damn long.” No doubt something about “flaky designers” and such.

Back to the drawing table. Literally.

Once the revised graphic was completed, it went once again to committee, where it was decided that well, maybe the logo was now too complicated, and maybe we could pare it down to just feature the monument from the town square. For those not paying attention, that was two weeks ago, when the prelims were handed in.

But now the client was frustrated – “this is taking far longer than we expected.” The designers was too, as their perfectly rendered barn, windmill, cows and train would never see the light of day and remain forever digital artifacts (we can’t even use them here, lest we ID the client.) This “take shit out” till it works routine went on for several more weeks and at the end of the day, we ended up with a serviceable logo (certainly not a great one.) The client wasn’t terribly happy either – they felt they’d been rushed (though the project had dragged on for months) because of the impending deadline that loomed large over the project. Were they happy? They were okay, but probably not to the level they’ll want to work with us again. And to be honest, I wouldn’t want them to either.

Their damn committee has too many cooks.

Moral of this story?

Overall – the simpler the better. Designers sometimes criticize The Logo Factory for designs that sometimes lean towards an ‘illustrative logo‘ style, so we’re not as arbitrary in applying this ‘rule’ as others, but generally speaking – the simpler the logo the more chance you have of if being remembered, and the less headaches you’ll have in various applications, especially when used as smaller sizes. More importantly in the context of this woeful tale – if you’re going to have a committee oversee a logo design project (not uncommon) task one person, maybe two, to be the deciders of what’s what and accept their decisions. Keep in mind that it usually the loudest (and dare we say, the committee staffer with the largest ego) who invariably makes their opinion heard, not the committee member who has a keen sense of design. Better to select a ‘voice’ for the committee who is keenly aware of your group’s goals.

Trust me, everybody will be better off.