Logo Creators, Logo Makers & Whiz-bang Generators

Logo Creators, logo makers, robot thingamajigs, machine whatchamacallits. Doesn’t matter what you call them. They just ain’t very good at designing logos.

If you’ve been looking for logo design stuff on the internet, pretty sure you’ve bumped into gizmos and sites that call themselves logo creators, logo makers or do-it-yourself generators, logo assembly thingamajigs that all promise a you variations of logo Nirvana. All you have to do is select an icon from their library of clip art logos (oh yes they are), type in your company name and Bob, as they say, is your Uncle. Here’s a few top-ranked versions that I’ve snagged from a Google search.

“Make Your Own Logo – No clip art. Professionally Designed 1000s of unique logos. Only $49!”

And this one:

“Make your own company logo. Custom symbols just $39!”

Nice. click on any of the links and you’ll find helpful folks claiming that anyone can design a logo for free (though the ‘free logos‘ bit is unabashed link-bait), paying only $39, $49 or $99 to own it. Certainly reads like a deal. But like the sage advice tells us, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Upon closer inspection, these sites aren’t selling ‘logo design’ per se – more accurately they’re making a library of clip-art icons (some good, some not so good) available via a web site, as opposed to those cumbersome clip-art books of days gone by.

How do-it-yourself logo creators, makers & generators work.

Simple really. You add your company name using (usually) public domain (ie: free) typography, and then download the so-called ‘customized’ design. I’d argue that changing the size of artwork is not customization. Neither is flipping, flopping or changing the colors. This is simply the digital era version of clip art with a funky web-based, Flash-driven, distribution system. And while these kind folks exclaim that their services do not sell ‘clip art’, by the every definition of the phrase, they most certainly are. Let’s take a looksee…

Library of pre-fab designs. Check.
Offered to multiple people. Check.
They continue to hold the rights to the design so that other folks can purchase. Check.

Sounds awfully like clip art to me. We could also describe the process as the employment of logo templates, another bad idea. One even goes on to outline their ‘design process’ thusly –

“Just five quick steps and you’re done:
1) Choose an image,
2) Find your industry,
3) Select a symbol,
4) Add your company name, and
5) Create a layout.”

That’s pretty well verbatim the how I’d write a ‘five step how to use a clip art in your logo‘ feature for our blog. There’s more serious concerns too. If you read the fine print (buried under ‘legals’, 5 monitors deep and written in 9pt type), you’ll see that they’re not even sure(!) if the designs that they’re selling are theirs to sell, even when offered in the context of clip art. Accordingly, they’d like you to police the intellectual property rights of their artwork, and if you run into any legal issues, please drop ’em a line..

“(3) Third Party Rights. If Users believe any content appearing on the Web Site infringes another party’s rights, please to notify us of this infringement.”

Nice touch. If one of their (one claims 10,000, another 15,000) pre-fab icons just happens to infringe on someone else’s copyright and/or trademark, could you be so kind as to let the good people know. Not a word about what might happen to someone who’s already downloaded one of these gems and are happily reproducing it on every shred of business and marketing material they own. In case you were wondering about what responsibility these ‘Do it yourself’ sites have, the disclaimer of one clearly states what responsibility they’ll ultimately own up to. Nada.

“…no obligation or duty to perform trade or service mark searches to validate the propriety or legality of the customized logo.”

They’re under no obligation to check if they can legally sell the work. They’re not even claiming that you WON’T infringe on someone else’s trademark..

“…does not represent or warrant that we have the exclusive right, title and interest in and to the products or services provided to you or that such products or services do not and will not infringe on the intellectual property or proprietary rights of any third party.”

I’ll say it again for emphasis – legally, they claim no obligation to make sure that any logos are original, or even legit to use. They’re not even claiming that THEY own the icons in the first place. And when you buy one of these logos, how much of it do you actually own? Ahm. Not a scrap.

“The rights for the image itself are retained by XXXXX. The symbols will remain on the database for possible further use.”

‘Possible use’ is legalese mumbo-jumbo that sees the outfit retaining the rights to sell the logo you’ve purchased to someone else. One can presume a lot of someone else’s. I guess what really aggravates me off about these sites is that seem to view the small business owner as an idiot who’s not supposed to realize that this method of ‘building a brand’ is suspect, and not supposed to realize that a logo is supposed to be an original idea.

Penny wise. Pound Foolish.

The small business owner probably figures they’ve just saved $100s, or $1000s, of dollars on their brand identity, bypassing snooty designers by using this new-fangled ‘do it yourself‘ technology. On one logo creator site, and according to their FAQ, visitors have repeatedly  asked the question – “Can I trademark my logo?” The helpful answer:

“Yes. What makes a logo unique is the combination of the symbol with the company name, its colors, and their spatial relationship. Therefore, although XXXXX retains the copyright to the symbol you choose, you can still trademark your logo.”

A couple of things. The first, they just claimed they can’t tell you if they even have the rights to sell the icons, so how would they know if you can trademark them. Second, the ‘customization’ described is a misnomer – nobody is actually ‘customizing’ the logo but merely adding type to it. Or changing the color. And while INAL (I’m Not A Lawyer), and my legal opinion is worth what you’ve paid for it, the last time I looked, ‘spacial relationship’ had very little to do with trademark (try telling the USPTO that it’s okay for you to use the Apple Universal logo because it’s further away from the text than the original), color has absolutely nothing to do with it (as far as I’m aware, most TM registration documents are in BW) and a trademark can be turned down if a design is even remotely similar to another.

If you did manage to get a trademark?

Though, taking their word at face value, and if you did manage to jump through the hoops required to get a TM on one of these icons, you sure as hell shouldn’t sit back while 10s, or even 100s, of other companies use the same symbol that you just spent thousands to trademark. I’d want my hot-and-horny lawyer to STOP other people from downloading the same icon from the site I bought it from. See, that would be the trademark infringement that these guys aren’t sure about and my trademark attorney would be typing Cease & Desist letters as fast as I could give them addresses to send them to.

This was originally published in the older version of our Client Lounge but due to some housecleaning and moving things around, we’ve republished it here to get it out of the way. It’s still a pretty solid piece that nobody found in its old spot, so we’re golden.