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Do it yourself logos

A frank look at ‘do it yourself’ logo design solutions

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 no clip art logos either!) 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 do it yourself when it comes to your new logo? Well, yes. And no. You might be able to design your own logo using one of the following do it yourself methods, (and save a few bucks into the bargain). That’s the ‘YES’ part. Though, as this website is supposed to be dedicated to developing the very best logo possible, we have to ask ourselves is that benchmark possible? 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.

Logo design software

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 over $600. What’s the difference? The advertised version of logo design software is not actually ‘design’ anything. At best it can be called clip-art composition software (and that’s being very charitable). The premise is that you can pull a few (badly) pre-designed ‘logo templates’ together and add some 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 even 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. In fact, ALL of these DIY logo design ’solutions’ – including the shiny web based Flash logo generation websites – are nothing more than template logos with pretty packaging. And using a template is NOT the way any professional should want to brand his/her company. In our obviously biased opinion of course.

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 preverbial how-to list, describing in somewhat simplistic terms, how you can design your own logo. It goes something like this:

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 design 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 which as we’ve just discussed – is a totally ineffectual way to develop any professional identity (and against their own advice, bypasses the ’sketch’ phase with a whole 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.

Or accounting .

1) – Add stuff up.
2) – Subtract stuff that you bought.
3) – Submit taxes on this amount.

It’s easy to write a how-to list. Not so easy to make it work. The real jaw-dropper phase 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. This is added to the how-to as an after thought (the how-to fails to mention that Adobe Illustrator costs around $600 and has a rather steep learning curve, one that takes experienced designers years to master). If you do wish to try your hand at developing your own logo, try to use vector based programs, rather than pixel based programs. Furthermore, this is what the professionals use, and when it comes to developing your brochures and other advertising material, most printers worth their sand would prefer to receive their print-ready artwork in this format. With the suggested pixel based program (such as Paint), if you are to change the sizes of your logo, then it’s going to produce the “blurring effect” that we’re constantly trying to avoid.

Template logo designs

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). We’ve even seen some of our work show up in logo template libraries (even bought it too, just to make a point). The templates are usually sold to multiple users, creating potential copyright and/or trademark issues. Also, the ability to copyright or protect these types of logos once purchased is very unclear. Template logos are sometimes marketed through web sites that advertise themselves as ‘make your own logo’, etc. While these sites claim the logos available in their ‘extensive’ libraries are NOT clip art logos, there is very little doubt that they are. Clip art is defined as artwork being available for many users as opposed to stock logos, a much more preferable solution, in which the rights are carefully 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 (even these new-fangled ‘customizable’ icon websites) doesn’t allow you to purchase the logo outright (and subsequently removes the logo promptly after you check out), walk. 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 so that you, in theory, can develop your new company identity. 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 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.

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 company logo project. 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 quite a few instances where our work has been submitted as entries (one was 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 clip art, they are probably the exception rather than the rule. Will you be so lucky? Who knows. Alas, despite some of the new fangled techniques of developing a logo (mostly as a result of fierce Internet competition and the McLogo effect), 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 The Logo Factory®. While I certainly hope you do (that’s the point of this entire website), there are literally thousands of design studios and freelance designers out there – all capable of producing great corporate logo 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.

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